6/25/15

Clones Are Rarer Than You Think: The Real Philosophy You Should Adopt Regarding So-Called Copies of Popular Scents


Similar smells, or similar ideas?

Amazingly, basenotes remains an unpleasant forum to read, even after losing several dim-witted members, and having what appears to be a collective change of heart among the moderators (they now allow intelligent bickering without automatically shutting shit down and banning people willy-nilly). The problem these days isn't the mods, it's the members, or I should say, it's still the members. People just can't be civil, can't let anyone have the last word, and can't let any little thing go without an unnecessary chest-thumping session. The latest case in point is this thread.

You can read a few pages without any major static, but eventually the conversation devolves into a nitpicky sausage fest of redundant, pseudo-intellectual nonsense. The gist of the topic is that a relatively inexpensive fragrance by a relatively new brand called "Armaf" smells a lot like a relatively expensive scent by a relatively old brand called "Creed." Got it? Good. I'm not going to belabor the details of whether "A" smells a lot like "B" because it's boring, and frankly I've never smelled "A," so I don't have a dog in this fight. Then there's some off-basenotes commentary astutely pointing out that comparing "A" to "B" is not the only way to go about it; by combining fragrances that fall into the same general category, one can achieve an effect that is comparable to something else, almost to the point of smelling the same - but not quite. The act of combining fragrances captures an "idea" in another fragrance, which can be directly or indirectly related to one's perception of what is similar between them all. Think of it more as an "A"+"B"+"C" = "D," and/or "A," "B," and "C" = "A," "B," "C," or "D." According to the author, either equation works. It's "fuzzy math" thinking at work, for sure, but at least it's liberal minded and fair.

I rarely agree with him, but in this matter it's hard not to. However, I do think that he and other basenotes members are still missing the "reality" of the situation in regards to clones. First, let's back up a little, and take a look at what makes something a "clone." Usually the original fragrance is very successful. It's either a mid-shelf designer frag (Bleu de Chanel, for example), or an expensive designer-niche frag (like Silver Mountain Water or Aventus). After a year or two of the scent taking the world by storm, cheap scents by unknown brands begin to appear, and they smell suspiciously similar to the superstar. They're often available for anywhere from half the price to a tenth of the price of the superstar, and some smell remarkably close, to the point of rendering as folly any further purchase of said superstar.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's go on to popular opinion. Currently people are claiming that Armaf's Derby Club House Blanche is a very good clone of Creed Silver Mountain Water. Armaf's scent can be found for anywhere from thirty-five dollars to sixty dollars, which makes it roughly one quarter the price of discounted SMW. Some folks are also claiming that a scent called Sun Java White for Men by Franck Olivier is a SMW clone, and it retails for twenty bucks. And of course, here on this blog, I have touted Al-Rehab's three dollar roll-on oil called Silver as being an excellent clone of the Creed. So popular opinion says there are at least three good clones of SMW, which could make spending more money on SMW pointless, if any of these three fragrances are satisfactory to you. But the question remains: what makes a clone satisfactory? More to the point, why do clones sell if they're made of cheaper materials, by less accomplished perfumers, under labelings for obscure, poorly-established brands?

You have to read. Sometimes you even have to read between the lines. In the case of these SMW clones, only one fragrance has achieved near unanimous approval - Al-Rehab Silver. One hundred and sixty-one people have made the comparison using the compare feature on Fragrantica, more votes than any other clone. When you read about the others, you find that reliable voices don't really smell a quality clone in Armaf's scent, nor do they sound quite as enthusiastic about Franck Olivier's version. Silver, however, continues to get good press. People acknowledge that it smells cheaper and more simplistic than SMW, but can't help but admit that the overall effect achieved by Al-Rehab comes remarkably close to that of the Creed. It helps that Silver also has its own original flourish of warm musk and Moroccan rose, which aids Silver in maintaining an aura of originality, despite being obviously inspired by another perfume.

Still, people will continue to seek Derby Club House Blanche, and Sun Java White for Men. Why? Because people want to smell variations of SMW's characteristics as something new, original, yet similar. And why do they want to do that? Because people don't just like Silver Mountain Water. They like the idea of Silver Mountain Water, enough to want other fragrances to play with the same idea in new and unique ways. But if people just like the idea, why do they call the fragrances "clones?" It's a poor term to use in many cases, because in reality, none of the other fragrances are clones of SMW. They aren't attempting to smell just like the Creed. They're simply trying to smell similar to it. There's a huge difference there.

In my opinion, true clones advertise themselves as such. Here in the States, drugstores like Walgreens and CVS sell discount lines of fragrances labeled as "Our Version Of (Fill in the blank)." These are cheaper copies of designer scents. You can smell someone's "Version Of Polo," or "Version of Obsession," or even "Version of Creed," if you live in a big city. Usually these clones try to smell as close as possible to their template, and any divergence is attributable to budget constraints, and not artistic license. Contrast this with scents like Derby Club House Blanche and Silver, which aren't directly copying anything, and you find there's a big difference. By not directly copying something, these scents maintain individuality, making them viable choices for people who may like the original scent just as much. If I love Green Irish Tweed, I may love Cool Water just as much. They're different enough to love both, without forgetting that they're similar.

Confused? Maybe this will help - take Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche. This old-school fresh fougère has been "cloned" a million times since 1982. But literally none of the so-called scent copies of Drakkar Noir actually smell like Drakkar Noir, except one, also by Al-Rehab, a little oil called "Dakar," which supposedly smells almost exactly like vintage Drakkar. I haven't smelled it yet, but a few very good noses have confirmed to me that this one is different by an almost imperceptible degree. That earns it the coveted title of "Clone," at least for me.

But look at Dakar by Diamond Collection, Taxi by Cofinluxe, and Lomani Pour Homme. These three fragrances all smell very similar to Drakkar Noir in certain ways, at least enough to warrant loose comparisons. Shouldn't they be considered clones, too?

No. Let's start with Taxi. This is an early Mark Buxton scent, obviously inspired by Laroche, yet markedly different. Buxton opted to stretch the proportions of the fougère structure far enough to create an entirely new structure, one where spike lavender is nonexistent, but a spearmint note is almost overwhelming. A brisk dihydromyrcenol accord (arguably apple, lavender, and abstract citrus notes) carries the mint note through to a very blended and transparent base of synthetic "blonde woods" and musk. Remarkably, Taxi also contains a noticeable amount of oakmoss, which is listed on its box. That's ironic, because the current version of Drakkar Noir has none. Needless to say, Taxi smells somewhat similar to Drakkar in a vague, sketchy way, but it's certainly different enough to avoid being a clone.

Then there's Dakar by Diamond Collection. This fragrance is obviously marketed as a clone of Drakkar, for a third of the price. Yet Dakar smells not like Drakkar, but like Taxi! In fact, I'd say it's 95% the same as Taxi, and could be indistinguishable from it, if it actually contained noticeable oakmoss, and if it were blended as well as Buxton's scent. Unfortunately for Diamond Collection, their ten dollar cologne smells rougher than the current versions of both Taxi and Drakkar. The aroma chemicals used in its composition smell scratchy, unbalanced, and just plain crude. On the plus side, they're all the right aroma chemicals, at least as far as Taxi is concerned, and their proportions are close enough to approximate Taxi from afar. If Taxi were discontinued, and only Dakar remained, I just might consider wearing it.

But it's striking that I'm comparing Dakar to Taxi, and not Drakkar. I'd be surprised if the people at Diamond Collection even knew that Taxi existed. They probably think Dakar smells close to Drakkar. It doesn't. It smells like an idea of Drakkar - their idea! Which coincidentally aligns rather closely to Mark Buxton's idea of Drakkar, an entirely different scent! It's funny to imagine the perfumer, with his five o'clock shadow, skulking out of the lab with a test tube, waving it under his boss' nose, and beaming when the big man cries out, "Nailed it!" He's not entirely wrong - whoever made Dakar did nail one thing: a good idea. Thus, the execution of Dakar and its congeners are on the axis of a common idea, not a common note pyramid.

Drakkar Noir spawned the idea that ten percent dihydromyrcenol, mixed with smaller percentages of dry and overtly synthetic green notes, ambers, and musks, smelled very good on men and women. People agreed with that idea, and bought it. Its brisk sales drew the attention of people from smaller, less successful concerns, and they hastened to siphon the cash flow by putting their own spin on the Drakkar idea. To purchase something like Dakar or Taxi is to purchase something that makes different-but-similar use of fresh minty lavender and wood notes. If you want something exactly like Drakkar, just spend twenty dollars more and wear Drakkar.

Lomani Pour Homme is another example of the Drakkar idea, here simplified into two basic accords of dihydromyrcenol and oakmoss. If it didn't wind up smelling so bare, I'd still have my bottle of Lomani, but I didn't care for the bone-dry oakmoss note that remained on my skin after two hours, so I gave it away. It really is just oakmoss, and not much else. Clearly not the same as Drakkar Noir, and clearly not even trying to be. It tries to be similar, especially in that first forty-five minutes, when the heady "fresh" notes of lavender and spiced greens are still burning off. The idea of Drakkar only lives half as long here, before turning into something far more minimalistic. Again, people buy Lomani PH to capture that freshness. For twenty dollars more, they can just wear Drakkar.

So the philosophy should be to regard these types of fragrances as being variations of an idea, quite similar, but in no way meant to replace the original. If they're not meant to usurp their template, then they exist to offer variety instead. This means that each one must be different, even if they all remind the wearer of the same fragrance. Different means they can't really be considered clones. Or perhaps, if you must use the word "clone," you could say they're clones of an idea, but not of a scent.

This may be even easier to understand with a vaguer sort of scent, like Joint for Men. Joint has been compared to Furyo by Jacques Bogart, Kouros by YSL, and on this blog it's been compared to Zino by Davidoff. Of these, I'd say Joint smells most like Furyo and Zino, and very little like Kouros. Furyo is of much higher quality than Joint, but both scents share a similar treatment of musky wood notes, a particular type of "musty" structure that emerged in the late eighties and early nineties. Luca Turin might consider these to be "cigar box" fragrances, but to me they're very warm, woody, and rather oriental in feel. While Furyo is undoubtedly of better construct, Joint smells a bit fresher and airier, perhaps due to its being made of cheaper synthetics (white musk plays an important role). Furyo has thick civet, which actually smells somewhat natural, closely blended with distinct carnation and honey notes. If you were to ask me what I really think of Furyo, I'd say it's a perfected version of Lapidus Pour Homme. That fragrance also contains strong musks and pitchy florals, with a noticeable honey/patchouli/rose accord. Yet Lapidus never smelled finished to me; Furyo does.

Joint, however, smells more like Zino than it does like Lapidus. That's where the vaguery of Joint comes in - people vote it very similar to Furyo, but I smell much more rosewood in Joint, considerably less musk, and far more lavender. Fifteen minutes into the drydown, Joint reveals itself to be a direct clone of Zino, not Furyo. The "Furyo effect" exists for five minutes in the top accord, a simple similarity in how musk is handled. The "idea" behind the civet is the same in both Furyo and Joint. Once that note burns off in Joint, the scent takes a different direction, and the "idea" behind the rosewood, sandalwood, cedar, and patchouli aligns with the same idea in Zino. Which fragrance is better is arguable, debatable, contentious. Most don't seem to feel there's a connection between Joint and Zino. I encourage anyone to smell Joint about twenty minutes into its drydown, side by side with Zino, five minutes into its drydown. If you don't smell a similar accord, there's either something wrong with your nose, or with mine.

Another fragrance that definitely, without much argument from other noses, smells like Zino is Mesmerize for Men by Avon. Mesmerize is a fruitier, simpler, more blatantly oriental take on the dusky woods structure of Davidoff's scent. The similar idea here is in the handling of wood notes, pure and simple. You can take lavender and musks out of the equation. If you were to create a coloring book about them, kids would be drawing crayon lines between the rosewood notes in Mesmerize and Zino, and boom. It's done. Yet again, these are very different scents. Mesmerize shares the wood idea with Zino, but eschews the older scent's brisk lavender and citrus, opting instead for a more mellow citrus, paired with a sweet apple note. The idea for fruit notes in Mesmerize is markedly different from the idea for fruit in Zino. Then the drydown of Mesmerize yields a clean vanilla amber, surprisingly natural-smelling at its price-point (about thirty bucks). Zino, on the other hand, has a more complex patchouli and moss thing going on, with no vanilla to be found. The idea behind the drydown is different.

But I digress - one thing people do agree on is that Joint and Furyo are similar. But ask people how, and their answers will likely vary. I think there's a similarity between the two fragrances, specifically in their treatment of one accord. Then they diverge dramatically. Others may consider the similarities to be between other notes, but the point is that when people have different opinions on what make two things similar, they can't really be mistaken for each other. Therefore, they can't be considered "clones."

The "cloning" here is better viewed as near-identical accords, not identical perfumes. Only parts are close to being the same, but not the whole. Zino was always a better seller than Furyo, because Davidoff's visibility skyrocketed after Cool Water. It stands to reason that Roccobarocco would try to inject a healthy dose of Zino into their formula, but why would they want to copy Furyo, other than perhaps to borrow its incredibly potent and memorable top note?

So if mere fractions of perfumes are really being cloned, why do people think there are so many clones out there? Why do they argue about them? Why do conversations about price and ingredient quality and structural integrity get so heated and unruly? I think people aren't seeing the forest for the trees. It's not about ingredient quality. It's not about "copies" of popular scents. It's not about how well a particular perfume is constructed and blended. It's about the idea behind the scent. Drakkar Noir was a good idea. Green Irish Tweed was a good idea. Zino was a good idea. Furyo was a good idea. Perfumers are intelligent people, and they're going to riff off of good ideas. You're going to smell these riffs, and you're going to be reminded of the good ideas that inspired them.

My advice is to forget about price comparisons and note dissections. Enjoy what you're smelling for what it is, and consider it to be its own scent, separate from whatever it reminds you off. Let the idea behind an original perfume guide you into appreciating the many perfumes that come after it. Your reasons for wearing certain scents on specific occasions are predetermined by your taste and judgment, so why worry about things that people can't smell? You can't smell a two hundred dollar price differential. That Green Irish Tweed smells amazing has nothing to do with how much Creed is charging for it today. The fact that Furyo smells incredible has nothing to do with its obscurity and rareness, or the high prices it commands on eBay. You can't smell that one type of synthetic lavender costs fifty cents more than another. You can't smell that the perfumer behind one scent has a night job as a janitor, while the perfumer behind another is on a book tour in Scandinavia. What you CAN smell is whether or not YOU like something. Go with that. To hell with everything else.




2 comments:

  1. Just think of how much $$ these companies are saving in research & development of a fragrance if they riff off something that's already popular.
    People like what they're familiar with being creatures of habit.
    Even the big perfume houses like Guerlain do it with their bazillion flankers of their most successful fragrances each 'updated' to suit current tastes or slightly tweaked for each new season.
    Buy what you like is right.
    Sometimes the 'flanker' is better than the original too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Drakkar Noir is perhaps the king of flankers!

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