9/7/15

Kouros, September, My Readers, & The Danger of Trusting Others Over Yourself



It's September, that weird month where summer sees its end, and the bridge to autumn is raised (yet intense, July-like heat simmers on interminably). I used to hate September because it was "back to school" month, but I found a way to temper my ire: just wear Kouros.

For the last six years, I've been wearing Kouros strictly in September, and loving the hell out of it. This year I ran out of my white-shouldered version of the scent, and had to seek out a new bottle. I decided to skip the most recent formulation (which lacks the term "Eau de Toilette" on the front entirely), and opted instead to find an older, chrome-shouldered vintage. I'd already sourced an incredible deal at a brick and mortar shop in Connecticut, $37 for the 3.3 oz size, so I just drove on over, grabbed it, and bought it.

The code on the back of this "new" bottle reads: 51AA, which puts its manufacture date at January of 2004, arguably making the actual vintage of the juice itself autumn of 2003. Which makes it the oldest version of Kouros I've ever owned. As such, I expected the fragrance to be incredibly dense, long-lasting, and viciously strong, the sort of frag you can only wear two or three spritzes of to take you through the day, twelve hours and counting. After all, most written accounts on the internet suggest as much:

"I have a bottle of vintage (pre-L'Oreal) Kouros and once splashed on the skin it opens with that fantastic sweet civet urinous scent which is like nothing else out there. For me this is well balanced with hints of pine (I see why some think or urinal cake when they smell this) , balsam and toluene in the background. As anyone who smells Kouros will know, the sillage is MONSTROUS (again, a reason to love it, not fear it) and its longevity is the stuff of legends (24 hours+ on my skin)." - scotrob

"I am smelling the vintage and oh- what a stunner! So rich and opulent." - Labaloo

"I have as good a vintage collection of this Legend as anybody...absolutely stunning stuff. The complexity, depth, power, and sex appeal of vintage Kouros has no comparison in the history of male fragrances." - Jude1321

"I had this bottle of Kouros (Sanofi-era/Vintage) . . . The barbershop vibe with the aldehydes, citrus, white florals, smooth honey, pungent herbs & spices, warming musk and pronounced civet (as well as costus root in the early formulations)...with smooth amber, rich oakmoss, and leather with a beautiful incense accord in the base is very different from the powdery talc infused with some of the original notes in the current. Everything is dialed down now." - ericrico

So imagine my surprise when I found that my pre-L'Oreal vintage smelled surprisingly smooth, mild, and tame in comparison to my 2009 and 2011 vintages. Instead of a monster, I got a mellow, super-smooth, relatively low-sillage fragrance that resembles a restrained seventies barbershop splash more than an intense eighties powerhouse.

Now, this isn't to say the scent doesn't have complexity, depth, or legs. It definitely has throw, it's as complex as can be, and much richer than the L'Oreal version. But judging from the reviews, I expected more. I figured an older bottle would be that much better, to the point where bothering with the new version is pointless. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case, and I've actually needed to use the 2011 version to help bolster the longevity and intensity of the older Kouros, literally layering them before going to work in the morning.

I also noticed something troubling about the reviews for vintage Kouros - none of them mention ambergris. I think a really old review on Now Smell This points it out to readers, but on Fragrantica the word isn't used at all (except in my review). And there happens to be a huge ambergris note in the 2004 version that is lacking in subsequent versions that I've smelled. If you're familiar with ambergris, you know it's a very salty/metallic sweet smell, with a clear mineral quality, and a decidedly musky edge, a note that "sparkles" when it is conveyed with good raw materials, as it is here. This is why it's so popular in Creed scents. In truth, vintage Kouros smells more like a Creed than Creed's own Orange Spice, which uses a rather pale ambergris in comparison.

This highlights my point about Dior's new fragrance, Sauvage. The point is that you really can't know whether or not you'll like or dislike something, or why you'll like or dislike it, until you've tried it for yourself. Reading other people's impressions, and going by them alone is a sure way to be led astray. Now, you may be able to glean some half-truths from reading reviews. You may be able to get a good idea of what you're in for, and they may take the element of surprise away from your sampling experience. But until you've judged for yourself, no real judgment can be leveled.

An experienced reviewer that I sometimes read recently wrote the following:

"Therein lies perhaps the biggest problem with a release such as Sauvage – what does it have to offer someone like me, and after looking at the list of notes, none of which is compelling to me, why wouldn’t I think that the reviews, which seem to be as uniform as I can remember for any new release, are good enough for my purposes? . . . I would be very surprised if I didn’t like Sauvage, but that’s not what I’m seeking, and for someone to presume to know what I’m seeking (as some seem to) is laughable, considering all that I’ve written on the subject on this blog and the major fragrance sites!"

The question as to what it has to offer the writer can never be answered, as long as he refuses to try it. There can be some "good guesses," from impartial reviewers who are simply describing their experience with Sauvage, and there can be some misleading statements also, particularly from those who only try it on paper.

Pointing out the banality of the notes listed, presumably the Fragrantica notes list (and/or Dior's own notes list) is nowhere close to enlightening. Lately Fragrantica's note pyramids have been ridiculously inaccurate, leaving dominant notes out, and inserting notes that don't exist. An example of the former practice can be found in their pyramid for Old Spice, which inexplicably leaves clove out, even though it's the dominant drydown ingredient, front and center, rather loud and going on for ages. An example of the latter is in the pyramid for Mitsouko EDP, where lilac is inexplicably listed. There is no lilac element in this, or any version of Mitsy. So trusting Fragrantica's pyramids is a bad idea.

And Dior's pyramid is the very thing that this writer often rightfully touts as being untrustworthy "marketing," which shouldn't be taken that seriously. Popular ideas are going to be described in corporate note pyramids, and not the actual fragrance sitting on the counter.

Then there's the curious fact that this person seems to view the collective reviews as being "uniform," which is shocking, since they're anything but! Many hate it, and many really like it. Sauvage is polarizing. You can see that for yourself in this basenotes poll on whether or not people like it. Opinion is practically split down the middle. Plus, on Basenotes alone, literally dozens of perfumes have been compared to it, most of which have nothing to do with each other at all in terms of their scents! Here's an imcomplete list of the masculines that Sauvage has been compared to on BN:

1. MFK Pluriel Masculin
2. Bleu de Chanel
3. Eau Sauvage Parfum
4. Platinum Egoiste
5. Acqua di Gio
6. Mont Blanc Individuel
7. Franck Olivier Sunrise for Men
8. Fierce
9. Mont Blanc Legend
10. Nuit D'Issey
11. CK Contradiction for Men
12. Dunhill Icon
13. Invictus
14. Fahrenheit
15. L'Occitane Cade
16. Aventus
17. Green Irish Tweed
18. Dior Homme Eau
19. Bottega Veneta Pour Homme
20. Prada Luna Rossa

That's just the first twenty. There's easily another twenty fragrances this thing is compared to on there! So if anything, Sauvage is the sort of fragrance that a reviewer worth his salt should try for himself, because there is no stable reference for it outside of that. If I believe Sauvage is truly comparable to even half of the fragrances in the list above, that means I believe it is the most complex fragrance ever released in the history of masculines, ever. Show me how Eau Sauvage Parfum and Invictus compare. Oh, wait a sec, nevermind - let me just smell Sauvage . . . not!

The last part of the writer's comment, about "someone [knowing] what I'm seeking," IS laughable, because nobody in the blogosphere has presumed as much. In fact, the encouragement has been for this person to not trust reviewers, and to trust himself only. But alas, this is what happens when you paint yourself in a corner with faulty logic. You wind up boxed into the idea that you shouldn't do something that might enhance your knowledge because your knowledge doesn't need enhancement.

I've reviewed the better part of a thousand perfumes in my time on From Pyrgos, and my readers have their own expectations. I get messages on Fragrantica all the time from people who enjoy my impressions, and openly thank me for them. Doubt that? Just take a quick look at this screenshot of my Fragrantica mailbox (click the pic to enlarge):


Many are spurred by my words to try certain perfumes for themselves, and thus far nobody has ever lost anything in doing so. Trying a perfume is a "nothing to lose" scenario; if you don't like a fragrance, you don't have to apologize for it, nor do you have to buy it. If you do like it, then you've found something else new and interesting to think about.

I'm glad I read all the reviews about vintage Kouros that I could find, and equally glad that I found an older bottle and bought it. Is it what I expected? No, not at all, really. I never expected a mellow Kouros with less citrusy civet and more ambergris. But I found it, because I went for it myself. It's possible that this eleven year-old vintage has aged out some of its top notes, which would be a ruefully consistent experience I've had with vintages (and I really love a fresh citrus/musk top note in this scent), but having read about vintages and tried many myself, my experience here isn't surprising - I expect some degradation, and the older a scent, the more I expect it.

But all told, trying is the key to enlightenment in this pursuit. It's the reason people read this blog. I thank you for that!



2 comments:

  1. A great read - and very well timed for me, as the weather here has just turned (quickly and definitively) from a summer flirting with drought to waxy maple leaves and damp pine needles everywhere. I just had a conversation covering very similar bases with my son, who has started to look into mixing. It is amazing how much of critical writing is not about the subject (art, fragrance, writing, whatever) but about the process of becoming critical. Along with your earlier piece about the 'tasters', I often think of the 'believers', folks who will never revise an opinion because there is too much at stake in terms of perceived self-worth. I think it was the art critic David Sylvester maybe who said that critics are obliged to conduct their education in public... Another (David Hickey) likened critics to fans playing air guitar along to music. Given that both of these situations expose a person to a certain amount of awkwardness, I'd like to thank you for keeping your opinions flexible and open (as with this reception of Kouros). If the subject keeps moving, if we keep moving - flaws and all- then the subject stays alive.

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    Replies
    1. Very well put, John! Thank you for your thoughts and feedback.

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