Hype and Compliments - What are They Worth?

I've been receiving more compliments lately than I can remember ever getting before. Yesterday I was working very strenuously in close quarters with a young woman who waited a mere forty-five seconds before informing me that I smelled "really good." I was wearing Francesco Smalto PH. A week ago I received several more compliments from female coworkers on Tea Rose and Tea Rose Jasmin. And not long prior to that, I received compliments on other fragrances, with Bleu de Chanel and Grey Flannel coming to mind.

If you were to ask me what difference the compliments make, I couldn't tell you, at least not in concrete terms. But I'm willing to speculate, and then extrapolate my experience to those of millions of other guys who are into fragrances. Without a compliment, a perfume seems relegated to the "maybe" area of the brain. "Maybe" it's a good one. "Maybe" it's worth repurchasing. "Maybe" people think I smell nice. "Maybe" I'll get a compliment on this someday.

Of course, the "Maybes" come with negative connotations as well. "Maybe" I'm wearing too much. "Maybe" people think I smell bad. "Maybe" I'm annoying everyone in the room. "Maybe" I'm kidding myself. "Maybe" I should think twice about repurchasing. Getting a compliment on a fragrance inevitably erases most of these, replacing them with newfound confidence and respect for the fragrance, but the question remains: why?

One idea is that a compliment is a simple affirmation of a preexisting suspicion. If I suspect Bleu de Chanel smells really good, and two women compliment me on it within a four or five week time span, I no longer suspect Bleu de Chanel smells good - now I truly know that it does. Whether or not others feel the same way is immaterial. Someone other than myself has enjoyed it enough to actually tell me so. Naturally this can give way to some hubris on the part of the fragrance wearer. The day after a compliment is received, he may apply too much. He may choose to wear that fragrance repeatedly for weeks. He may decide that it goes with any season and any situation, simply because his skin chemistry makes it wonderful.

Examining these possibilities reveals just how powerful a casual compliment can be. But is a compliment really worth anything? If I wear Green Irish Tweed and never receive a word about it, does that mean the fragrance is not as good as I thought it was? Or does it mean perhaps that GIT is simply overrated, overhyped, not exactly the magic elixir it's been made out to be? These questions lead to the question of why I'm even wearing GIT in the first place, when Cool Water is 95% the same, and 95% cheaper. The answer here is more obvious, though. I'm wearing it because it's been hyped up. People claim it's a masterpiece, better than Cool Water.

GIT is a good example of this, but there have been comments on basenotes lately about certain fragrances being "overhyped," and they make me think about this particular facet of the fragrance collecting experience. We've all read about fragrances that are supposedly "amazing," and "masterpieces." Yet when we wear them, we don't feel the Earth shake. We don't get the "vibe" from it that others claim to be getting. It amounts to a strange feeling of ennui that somehow doesn't seem correlated to the propaganda, yet is.

Consider Rive Gauche PH. For years, basenoters and some Fragranticans considered this fragrance to be one of the best ever made. Luca Turin backed up these sentiments. I believed the hype, and expected it to smell incredible. So I bought the tin can version for about forty bucks on Amazon, and wore it for a while. Guess what? No compliments. I personally felt it smelled really good, but it wasn't something to shout from the rooftops about. Its staidness, coupled with the fact that nobody seemed to notice it, demoted RGPH from being a "masterpiece" to just being a "good wetshaver scent" in my book. If and when I run out, I seriously wonder if I'll bother repurchasing it.

Why do I wonder, though? If I think it smells really good, and consider it a nice traditional fern for the sort of guy who is into wetshaving, isn't that something worth repurchasing? Shouldn't I ignore what other people think, even if they don't think anything about Rive Gauche, and simply go with how I think?

The problem is that the hype doesn't remain normal, everyday hype. It evolves. It metastasizes into something far more dangerous than rave reviews. Instead of hype, a mythology develops. Rive Gauche is an older fragrance. It has seen some packaging changes, and some adjustments to the formula under its new licensing by L'Oreal. This fragrance, though still in production, is actually "discontinued." If you can find the version in the tin can, you're buying a "discontinued" fragrance. Discontinued fragrances automatically smell better than contemporary products, for reasons that are eternally unclear to me.

With this in mind, the issue becomes a bit narrower. Instead of just wondering if I should repurchase Rive Gauche, I now have to wonder if it's worth paying extra for the tin can version, or paying extra for the "new" imposter Rive Gauche by L'Oreal, which comes in a new box and bottle. In either case, the repurchase isn't the same as the initial purchase, and I'm coming out on the bottom, because I have to pay more, and/or work harder to find the version I've been told I should have.

But none of this should matter if I like the tin can version, right? I should just spend time and energy hunting for it. I should pay more for it, because I like it.

Except it's not the only "very good" fragrance of its type. There are plenty of other fragrances still being made that smell just as good, if not better. Azzaro Pour Homme and Tuscany per Uomo are two examples. Krizia Uomo and Jovan Sex Appeal are two more. I can buy a few ounces of Pinaud Clubman for seven bucks and achieve a high quality wetshaver smell that certainly rivals Rive Gauche. With all these competitors, why bother with YSL's scent?

Some would argue that the uniqueness of Rive Gauche makes it worth seeking out. Yet it isn't unique at all. The formula of Barbasol shaving cream that was on the market prior to the current formula smelled about 90% the same as Rive Gauche. I once had a guy walk into my immediate vicinity while I was wearing Azzaro PH and exclaim, "It smells like a barber shop in here." Green Generation for Him has a very similar lavender and anise accord as well. This type of scent is actually quite common.

And all of these are reasons why I probably won't repurchase Rive Gauche.

So with all of these clear contradictions to the common claims about "vintage" Rive Gauche, one final question persists - if I get a compliment on it, will I change my mind? Will I now consider that I've received a kind word about this scent, and not about the others? Will that elevate its status from a "Maybe" to a "Definitely?"

Unfortunately, compliments are not worth much of anything in my view. They certainly affirm a suspicion I may have about something, and they award a scent with enough merit to make me think about it in its context. In the case of Rive Gauche, that context is traditional wetshaver ferns with notable traces of lavender and anise. (What about the patchouli? Frankly, I don't give a damn about patchouli.)

They do not, however, promote a fragrance enough to alter the course I'm taking with it. Other things factor in. If it were readily available in its tin can version at reasonable prices, I'd certainly repurchase it. But because it is discontinued in that packaging, and now more expensive in both its old and new packaging, I'm not inclined to bother paying more for it. Not when a compliment on Azzaro, or Tuscany, or Krizia, or even Clubman is just as likely to come my way.

The true answers to the questions of what hype and compliments are worth lie with you and you alone, making them something very subjective indeed. This subjectivity is what keeps the fragrance world alive and well, and is why we should never assume anything about a perfume, or its wearer.


  1. Hi Bry,
    I find that the opinions and judgments of others have only relative value. Should we care what everyone thinks? We'd be in real trouble if we did, since they so often disagree. Still, it somehow always feels good to receive a compliment, even while knowing that it is more an emotive expression of the speaker's taste than of anything else...

    1. Well, like I said, to me they're not worth much of anything, although they're pleasant to receive. Compliments psych us out. Frags we were just so-so about get slightly interesting if they draw a few.

  2. Well, Luca Turin would disagree with me on this but I think what smells 'amazing' & like a 'masterpiece on one person might smell ' just 'good', blah' or even 'disgusting' on another person.
    Same thing goes for what a fragrance smells like on a paper strip opposed to on human skin.
    I know Mr Turin does not believe that individual body chemistry can change the way a scent smells - but that has certainly not been my experience.
    I love that photo of Sophia & Jayne. Work that 50 inch bust, missy!


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