Try Before You Buy A Fragrance, Or Its Reputation On the Internet

Or Perhaps It's Really Good. Who Knows?

In an altogether common bit of irony, there was recently a thread on basenotes about Dior's Sauvage, in which the OP elicited such member responses as:
"I haven't smelled it yet, but I suspect neither has many of the people who posted reviews about it on fragrantica." - silentrich

"I suspect this also to be the case. Either way I'll be deciding myself after a good testing." - adam090273

"I'm looking forward to trying it, but judging something on the basis of Fragrantica's reviews is probably not fair. The hit rate there is much lower." - gimpy
What makes me laugh about these comments is that they're in a thread posted by a person of questionable intelligence who truly hasn't smelled Sauvage yet! Also, the comment by "gimpy" couldn't be more untrue. Fragrantica boasts much, much higher hit rates than basenotes, across the board. Alexa.com organizes its traffic ranking statistics for site popularity in descending order. Currently, basenotes' ranking resides at a paltry 27,993, while Fragrantica enjoys a much more comfortable traffic rank of 4,905. So I have no idea where "gimpy" got his information, but put simply, he's dead wrong.

Anyway, is it wise to get seven or eight hundred perfumes into this "hobby," and then decide your nose is experienced enough (and jaded enough) to preclude the chore of trying presumably unadventurous mainstream designer fragrances?

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding "no." As in, no, it is not wise to get a few hundred fragrances down the road, and then consider yourself to be "above" smelling future mainstream releases based on what internet chatter says about them.

There comes into the picture an awkward question of why one should bother trying something that just smells "good" or "nice" if that's literally all it accomplishes. Why spend eighty or ninety dollars on something that smells nothing more or less than "nice," when you can get a "nice" scent for a few dollars?

Comparing things based on mundane descriptors is a fool's errand. I could argue that every fragrance in my collection is equally nice. Yet their prices fall across a fairly broad spectrum, and their effects on the nose and on people around me are quite different. YSL's Kouros is "nice." It's a dense, unique, dirty-clean composition that is as wearable as it is unforgettable. It costs about seventy dollars a bottle, a price that varies by roughly twenty dollars in either direction, depending on source and vintage. When I wear it, I feel good, and it always makes me feel that way.

Jeanne Arthes' Cotton Club is also "nice." It costs about ten dollars. It's a light, crisp, sweetish Saturday spritz that elicits compliments. Wearing it feels as comfortable as wearing my own skin.

So two entirely different fragrances smell "nice."

If I consider Dior's Sauvage, and decide it's not worth smelling because reviewers collectively peg it as being little more than "nice," or something akin to "nice," I'm letting an entirely useless idea influence my judgment. That isn't very smart.

And what about price differences? One could make the argument that for some people, spending eighty dollars on a department store frag is the equivalent of spending four dollars for others, but who cares about that? Price is only a primary concern when buying a perfume. Price should be (but sadly isn't for many people) a distant secondary concern when it comes to liking a perfume. I'd rather know what both the eighty dollar and the four dollar fragrances smell like, and base my purchases off how I feel about those smells. If someone includes information about the health of their banking statements in their reviews, and tries to use that as some sort of useful information about the fragrance, I'll likely consider their reviews a waste of my time. That you can afford a fragrance that you've experienced is of little to no interest to me, and it shouldn't interest you, either.

In the language of behavior analysis, the theory behind differential reinforcement of higher rates of behavior (DHR) indirectly comes into play for those who limit expectations based on frequent and recurring satisfactory results from relatively cheap fragrances. If you enjoy the effects of cheap clones and drugstore-quality frags, and begin to base your standards off whether or not other fragrances fall into the same experiential category, you'll remain entrenched in the "cheaper is usually better" idea. All the ten or twenty dollar cheapies you buy and own and enjoy will collectively begin to cancel out your enjoyment of more expensive fragrances. If you try fifteen cheap fragrances (ten dollars or less) and really like twelve of them, and then try two comparatively expensive fragrances (eighty dollars or more) and dislike them both, surprise, surprise: you increasingly believe pricier fragrances aren't worth checking out, simply because your sampling pattern ratios are biased. With this continued sampling pattern, ignoring and not even trying more expensive fragrances because you prefer their cheaper counterparts becomes self-reinforcing behavior.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that, unless you're trying to come across as an "experienced" reviewer who knows what he's talking about. Disclosing that you have a price bias contradicts whatever impression of perfume worldliness you're trying to cultivate in your readers, even if your bias is for cheaper scents. Unfortunately, fragrances at Macy's that cost a hundred dollars are just as deserving of your attention, and your readers deserve to know what you think of them, after you smell them.

What should interest all of us is what fragrances smell like, and whether we like them. Period. When I do come across Sauvage in stores, I'll try it for myself. What I won't do with Sauvage, or any perfume, is pass judgment without experiencing it.


Cool Water Has Officially Been Destroyed

Well, they finally did it. It took nearly three decades and at least four reformulations, but the manufacturers of Davidoff's iconic fresh fougère have officially ruined the fragrance. This is a devastating development for me, as this fragrance was one of my absolute favorites. Let me explain what happened.

Contrary to what you usually read about reformulations (from morons who opine about diminished ingredient quality and dramatic packaging changes), the changes here were insular, streamlined, and sneaky. I've had a theory for a while now that Coty Prestige is beginning to lose faith in this brand. The constant annual cycle of summer flankers and special editions belie the financial hard times this perfume has, in my estimation, fallen on. The truth is that Cool Water isn't embraced by youngsters anymore. People in their teens and early twenties aren't really wearing it. I haven't met a single young person in the last six years who claimed to wear Cool Water, and I've met a few people recently who have actually never even heard of it, which is hard to fathom.

Compounding the issue is the recent rise of the richer-smelling Green Irish Tweed. As of eight years ago, Creed's woodier, muskier take on this genre was still an obscure niche scent with little to no commercial visibility. A handful of eighties fougère connoisseurs knew about it, but it didn't have the notoriety that it currently enjoys. Then the buzz started. Threads began to fill the boards at basenotes, Fragrantica, Badger & Blade, and guys rendered their collective verdict to the world: GIT is better than Cool Water. This cut into Davidoff's cache. Where it once was the popular choice for people who wanted a semi-sweet, semi-green freshie, now it was being derisively labeled "cheap," "chemical," and "inferior." That GIT is just as cheap to manufacture, almost as chemical-smelling, and in no way more effective at what it does than Cool Water did not register. People simply equated "richer" with "better," and that was that.

My guess is that declining sales over the years have spurred Coty to reevaluate the formula. They're in it to save money at this point. I'm intimately familiar with all forms of this scent, including the deodorant spray, and I believe that they used the deodorant formula in the new EDT. Which wouldn't be a big deal, except the deodorant was always simpler and flatter smelling than the EDT. Instead of crisp, long-lasting lavender and green apple notes, the deodorant opens with a muted lavender, only lightly brushed with apple, that swiftly segues to a muted tobacco/musk accord. It's the stale, wet cement note that used to crop up in older versions of CW. It has incredible power and presence, and still fills a room. I imagine it's not immensely cheaper than what was in the EDT, but it's definitely less.

The result is a fragrance that simply lacks dynamism and contrast. It also lacks its sparkle and appeal. I don't want a dull tobacco powder on my skin for eight hours. I don't want something that far removed from the neroli-shimmer of the 2013 formula. Having done a code search, I can tell you that my new bottle was manufactured in December of last year. And oddly enough, Coty's people decided to enlarge the Cool Water logo on the bottle by a few millimeters, which I'm guessing cost them next to nothing (no dramatic color, design, or packaging change), but lets them identify the different formulas by simply glancing at the bottles. I know that enlarging a logo by a few millimeters can be done in InDesign within ten seconds, and would add nothing, or next to nothing, to the printer's bill. But just eye-balling the new bottle next to the old one reveals the difference, and cleverly makes identifying which bottle is which very easy.

This would be a true disaster if Green Irish Tweed and Grey Flannel didn't exist. Frankly, I like Cool Water better than GIT. But not anymore. This new version doesn't smell very good. It smells much less fresh and appealing than the version before it, and I'd rather save my money and buy GIT. So sad, and very rare for this to happen. It is literally the first reformulation in my collection that has made me feel this way.


Classic Match "Drakkar Noir" (Parfums Belcam)

True beauty is usually copied.

Drakkar Noir is cheap enough to make spending anything on a knock-off seem silly. It's not like we're looking for an affordable alternative to Creed here. But the fun in spending five bucks or so on a faux Drakkar comes with finding an olfactory alternative that puts a twist on the original, while maintaining the same general profile.

For example, Buxton extended the sweetness of Drakkar's mint and the warmth of its amber, creating Taxi, a different scent that was nevertheless an unabashed Laroche clone. Francesco Smalto Pour Homme diffuses the focused lavender/pine attack of Drakkar into a heady melange of smoky notes, which winds up smelling rather like Drakkar covered in sun-baked grass clippings. Lomani Pour Homme aggravates the dihydromyrcenol and linalool "fresh" effect, becoming at once soapier and more transparent than its congener. Diamond Collection's Dakar scent is closer to Taxi than Drakkar, but it's certainly close enough to Wargnye's idea to pass muster with Drakkar fans. As I mentioned last month, it's arguably useful to dispense with the term "clone," and replace it with the word "idea," because each scent is its own unique experience, and each is very different, but they do play off the same idea.

Enter Parfum Belcam's Classic Match version of Drakkar Noir, which oddly enough doesn't have its own name (the bottle simply says "classic match"). We're given to assume that it's a close copy of Drakkar, because its creators didn't feel the need to bestow upon it an original moniker of any sort, leaving the unambiguous associations of its bottle's shape and color to speak for itself. This makes Belcam's scent an outlier among clones; companies generally attempt to fob off the inherent crappiness of cloning by having fun with letters and rhyming their formula's name with the original's - Belcam chose not to. I already own Drakkar and Taxi, so I figured I'd pay the price of three rolls of toilet paper and pick up a small bottle of Belcam's clone. I've read about this one, and apparently it's very close to the original version of DN from 1982, to the point where scientists conducted a gas chromatography comparison between the formulas. Interestingly, the results show that the two chemical compositions are almost identical.

The differences are, however, quite clear in the wearing. Drakkar is a smooth, soapy, bitter, and smoky fragrance. Its opening salvo of spike lavender, tart citrus, and pine is one of the finest accords in the history of masculine perfumery. Classic Match's top accord is, in my estimation, about 97% the same as Drakkar's, but that three percent is noticeable. There's much more patchouli in Belcam's version, with more than a light touch of woodsy skank, an oilier pine note that hovers between synthetic freshness and earthy intrigue. Most significant of all is a distinct basil note, which doesn't exist in Drakkar. As the minutes pass, it becomes clear that this non-gourmand basil element is Belcam's replacement for spike lavender, and the effect is predictably more herbal. The patchouli tempers it, though. Put simply, it smells paradoxically brighter and dirtier than Drakkar.

The drydown, which arrives in fifteen minutes, reveals a tenuously balanced base of patchouli, synthetic oakmoss, cade oil (that juniper-derived smokiness I've come to love), lavender, and peppermint. It's not very complex, despite how it sounds. It's basically just another Drakkar-like soapy effect, this time from a headshop. What I like about it is that its "clean" elements are gently offset by accents of vaguely filthy wood, which makes Belcam's scent memorable enough to warrant owning. It also smells somewhat natural, although here I'm sure the perfumer would rather I use restraint in this analysis, as the blending isn't so great, and the balance between natural oils and synthetics is somewhat crude. Still, not bad.

Will this replace Drakkar Noir? Is it as glamorous as those eighties power scents that guys like me love? I think it's almost as good as Drakkar, but not quite. Honestly, I think it would make a very good aftershave. It does possess a sort of sexy shimmer of its own, rather like seeing a beauty from a bygone era through a speckled, colorless lens. I don't regret the purchase. If you're in it for next to nothing, why not try Belcam's Classic Match? At least they got the "classic" part right.