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.


Dior's Sauvage Is Tanking. Is This Any Reason To Act Like Savages?

Film Still, "Le Sauvage" (1975)

Reviews for this one are not exactly glowing. François Demachy, the nose behind such classics as Ungaro Pour Homme and Fahrenheit Absolute (he is Dior's wingman), has once again struck out. Here's a few snippets from the sounding boards, to give you an impression of just how nonplussed the peanut gallery is with Dior's Sauvage:
"The scent is rather ordinary... Too ordinary to be exact, which is a shame for a brand like Dior." - Scent2Bed

"I was pretty excited at first, but I just don't see myself dropping $100 on something relatively pedestrian like this." - DerangedGoose

"It's an overall shame for Dior. Really really bad fragrance." - Albin

"Forgettable department store clone. Designed to compete for the Bleu de Chanel demographic. Beautiful, chunky bottle, but the juice was too high-octane, corporate-designed masculinity for me. Lacks subtlety. Too straightforwardly, unimaginatively 'modern male consumer.'" - michael j.

"How on earth did Dior approve of this garbage? It wreaks of 'mall scent,' cheap mall scent to be exact." - starassist

"I have no praises to offer. The tropical top accord has been overused, and certainly the synthetic sandalwood has been used to death, especially when compounded with an abundance of aromatics and a hint of salty sea spray. There is no, and I mean absolutely no originality present. The end result is of clean laundered dress shirts with a hint of yesterday's scent - something very spicy and a hint of fruit." - Liam Sardea

"'Sauvage' in French means 'savage' or 'wild.' I don't understand how or why these notions relate with this clean and safe scent." - aliks

I haven't smelled Sauvage, but I'm getting that familiar "it's 2010, Bleu de Chanel-was-just-released" feeling:

"No, Chanel, no! I was waiting for everything, but not for this." - antonpan

"What a complete letdown!" - ravjan

"Hugely mediocre and a simply forgetable perfume." - querelle

"Bland and generic - what's happening to the perfumes from this house?" - calyx93

"I can't believe that something so ordinary came from Chanel, the same house that gave the world such classics as No.5, Cuir de Russie, Sycomore, and for the men Pour Monsieur. A big disappointment. Shame on you Chanel." - michael

Yes, shame on you, Chanel. Shame on you for releasing one of the most successful fragrances of the decade, five years old and still selling like hotcakes, with a new parfum flanker to boot. And now, after all these months of hand wringing and finger wagging, we have Fragranticans and basenoters opining on Bleu's positive qualities, comparing vintages, and creating threads about Bleu's clones. It turns out that Jacques Polge's parting shot was a triumphant success, and is now considered very, very good, if not great. I personally think it's just "good," and I'll leave it at that.

My point though is that people act like every fragrance release needs to knock their fucken socks off. It's as if it never occurs to these reviewers that they might not be the demographic Dior is targeting. With this scent, as with most mainstream mall scents these days, the aim seems to be for teenagers and very young twenty-somethings with part-time jobs, full-time school, and scads of disposable cash to spend on whatever's "cool" in the moment, which Dior is hoping will be Sauvage, for at least six months or so. This shit isn't meant to appeal to perfume enthusiasts. It's not meant to be critically analyzed by people who stockpile vintage bottles of Eau Sauvage and Fahrenheit. Its spokesman is Johnny Depp, for Christ's sakes. This is for the insufferable Saturday night posers who want to appear "edgy" without actually having to assume the inherently awkward mantle of those who genuinely embody that trait. Posers like Depp.

I imagine Sauvage smells very contemporary and synthetic, nothing at all like a refined French perfume, but at least serviceable if nothing else is on hand (hard to imagine that circumstance even existing, but you get my drift). If I were to comment on a board about it, that's pretty much all I'd have to say, having never sniffed the stuff.

But as if all the whining isn't bad enough (none of it conveys what the perfume smells like), we have to get the token "rationalizer," who wishes to break down the folly of Dior's ways with armchair analysis, forming conclusions that make no sense:

"Beep beep, boop boop - I am the robot that created this scent and I am offended by many of the comments here!" - Bigsly

"There certainly may be some 'niche snobs' saying bad things about this scent, but I think that there are a larger percentage of us, me included, who don't see the reason why we should bother with an $80 bottle of this one when we really enjoy our $4 bottle of a Playboy scent, for example, more! If they can't create a scent that is much better than my best Playboy 'cheapo' (assuming it is better), then why should I consider buying it at that much higher price level? Are you going to call me a 'cheapo snob?' Can there be such a thing? LOL." - Bigsly, again.

"As I said before, if I can get a 'nice' $4 bottle (100 ml) of a Playboy scent, for example, why in the world would I pay $80 for the same size bottle of a 'nice' Dior (and why would I 'need' it, since I already have the bottle of the Playboy scent)? I think the best thing to do would be to conduct a totally 'blind' test of Sauvage against a bunch of 'cheapos' that are similar. Only then can someone say that this Dior is worth the extra money (IMO), if that person is seeking compliments from others and if Sauvage does indeed come out head and shoulders above inexpensive ones of this genre." - Bigsly, a third time.

Why drag good old Bigsly back into the fray? Partially because it's fun, and partially because I've seen this sort of argument from him and others of his ilk before, and it never ceases to confound me. Even though these are clearly (as written) Bigsly's opinion alone, and have no bearing on how other people should think, he still subjects us to the tedium of parsing past his shit by peppering the review board with non reviews that make no sense, even by his own subjective standard.

The argument is basically this: "Why should I buy this eighty dollar perfume, when I can wear this random, completely different and unrelated perfume, which smells just as 'nice,' and is seventy-five dollars cheaper?"

Well shit, I don't know. Why should anyone wear any eighty dollar perfume, when there are hundreds of four dollar fragrances out there that smell just as "nice?"

Logic check: he believes that because both scents fall into the completely arbitrary and subjective category of "nice," there is no point in buying the more expensive of the two, even if they're completely different, and buyers could have completely different reasons for wanting to wear the Dior over the, ahem, Playboy scent. Unless someone conducts a scientific double blind sniff test of Sauvage against four dollar Playboy scents, and participants unanimously choose Sauvage over the cheap stuff, there's no convincing way to claim to Bigsly that it's worth buying, owning, and wearing Sauvage. The publisher of such a study can be you (points into the crowd), or you (finger swerves randomly, and lands on someone else), as long as it's not Bigsly himself.

I'll just let that stupidity sink in, and hope someone out there can invent a Stupid Idea Crusher (with an internet app) that can recycle these inanities into suggestions that actually make sense. Better yet, recycle them into actual informed reviews with informed comparisons. Find a way to get the Bigslys of the world to actually try the very things they're criticizing, BEFORE they criticize them. This way readers don't have to wish for their five minutes back after stumbling over the senselessness of these words in an already contextually challenged universe of crap.

Why do certain perfumes bring out the worst in people, when they're really just meant to bring out the kids? Enough already. I'm tired of going on review boards and reading knee-jerk reactions to scents, when I should be reading carefully considered perceptions and articulate impressions. And I'm just as tired of reading pontifications on the subjective worthiness of perfumes by people who haven't even smelled them! Sauvage may be another Bleu de Chanel on the horizon, or it may be an incredibly mediocre and forgettable money pit. These days I can't help but wonder if the primary negative factor for the perfume industry is really its figurative lack of imagination, or all the boring complaining and bad-mouthing these perfumes and their creators endure.

Note: I'm still super pissed off about Cool Water. I'll be in a better mood when I return. I promise.


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 a few cents 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.