8/29/15

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.


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