12/31/16

"People Are Reading Claire's Blog," And Why Andy Tauer Is Totally Full Of It



Friends, it looks like we have another diatribe against perfume bloggers, made by a successful perfumer who blithely throws shade at the practice of giving samples, while hypocritically extolling the the value of Facebook "advertising." Andy Tauer, one of the most successful indie-niche small-house perfumers of the last ten years, is evidently a bit nonplussed by something written by ClaireV at takeonethingoff.com (I not longer link to other blogs, simply because I don't want to make indirect endorsements).

To sum up, Claire simply observed the overnight success of relative newcomer Parfums Dusita, which recently smashed luxury market expectations, releasing new fragrances at $100 an ounce without feeling the familiar sting of shooting high and missing. Dusita's fragrances are selling quite well, apparently. There are many super wealthy people willing to plunk down four hundred dollars for yet another obscure oud perfume. Good for Dusita. What does this have to do with Andy Tauer?

Andy wrote a memo to fans on his own blog, addressing what he feels are the changing times in the business. According to him, free samples and "sample draws" on fragrance blogs bring no new customers - absolutely none. And Andy feels that fragrance blogs used to be useful sites, capable of drawing customers, but are no longer of any value. Bloggers don't understand, says Andy. They don't understand the market, they don't appreciate what it takes to succeed, they applaud $400 perfumes without knowing what they're doing, and nowadays they're no better than purveyors of "fake news."

Pardon my French, Andy, but I think you're full of shit. I distinctly recall a couple years ago your linking my reviews of your fragrances on your Facebook page, with plenty of "likes" to give your older fragrances an instant publicity bump - free of charge. My blog wasn't "useless" in those cases, was it? I was praising your fragrances, and rightfully so. Your fragrances are terrific. To my knowledge, most (if not all) fragrance blogs have done nothing but say good things about your fragrances, arguably the only reason you were able to clear the financial hurdles of the first few years of your business and eventually become an inspiration to us all. So what's with the sudden disdain for blogs? You didn't have it when you were reading and sharing mine.

Then we get the Basenotes echo chamber, with countless members weighing in on Andy's post, and Claire's by proxy. (If Andy hadn't mentioned the $400 thing, no one would have connected his rant to her post.) And we get a lot of the recycled bullshit we always get from basenotes members. Let's all agree with Andy! Let's all furrow our brows at Claire. Well not all of us. Let's some of us sympathize with Claire and Andy. Let's act like Andy has a point. Let's pretend that his perfumes are reasonably priced (they're really not).

You know what would be refreshing? If companies like Parfums Dusita and Tauer cut the bullshit and released well made, adventurous compositions using excellent materials for ten dollars an ounce. One basenotes member claimed that people don't understand the actual prices of high quality synthetics, and that some are $100 a ml. Yeah, maybe for you to buy them, but not for professionals. Besides, you're talking apples and oranges when you try to parse the prices for quality synthetics into the retail value of a perfume. Most formulas are using miniscule amounts of each, with the cheapest and most effective pre-made bases comprising the bulk of what you smell, much like the Schiff base did decades ago.

I'm getting really tired of hearing a few things from the perfume industry. First, I'm tired of hearing from perfumers that blogs are useless to their business. If they were, then guys like Andy Tauer wouldn't be reposting my reviews for their own benefit, and they wouldn't be getting annoyed with other bloggers and "responding" to them on their own sites. As one basenotes member noted, "People are reading Claire's blog." The thread on this topic extended into what ClaireV wrote, and if blogs were irrelevant, Andy wouldn't be reading them, and wouldn't have read Claire's post.

Second, I'm sick and tired of hearing all of this false equivalency in the community. Claire, stop prattling on about production and market pricing. Any perfumer creating high-end fragrances is going to pour a bit more money into their formulas then your average mass-market designer brand would, but that doesn't really justify the markup. If I go to KMart and spend twenty bucks on a four ounce bottle of Coty Aspen, I know I'm getting a good perfume at a fair price. It's using most of the same ingredients that Creed uses in Green Irish Tweed, which costs fifteen times as much for no reason other than more expensive packaging, and greedier noses.

The idea that Parfums Dusita wouldn't sell their perfumes at the same volume (or better) if they priced for the lower end designer market is absurd. Can you imagine how many basenoters and Fragranticans would be swarming Parfums Dusita for their frags if they were $40 a bottle? The quality to price ratio would be the biggest draw, and news about it would spread like wildfire in both communities, and across the blogosphere. For the first time in god knows how long, people would have affordable access to unique, well-crafted compositions with perfume strength and the commercial cache of Middle Eastern exoticism. You could sell one bottle to hundreds of American enthusiasts instead of eight bottles to one oil baron in Qatar.

The synthetics and naturals being used are sometimes pricy, but you can price well under $400 a bottle and still make a profit if you're being honest. The sheer volume of perfumes sold would make up for any perceived overhead gap. Niche is struggling in America right now, and it's not because there's a shortage of people who want to buy. It's because niche brands have priced the average American consumer out of the market, and they've done it under cover of apologists who act like it's smart business.

What do true fragrance lovers complain about the most? The shortage of "quality" in what is available.

We all hear the complaints about reformulations, about how natural materials, note clarity, accord fidelity, and longevity have been abandoned by designers. Just think about what could happen if one - just one - perfumer actually kept the faith and produced complex, crystalline perfumes at a fraction of current designer prices. That's a business strategy that takes real balls. That's what nobody is doing, because it's easier to bitch and moan about how difficult the market is for newcomers, how they must price fragrances at a dollar a ml to keep from going out of business. Meanwhile, many still go out of business. Anyone remember J&E Atkinsons? B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful? When was the last time you saw a Floris store in North America? Oh, I remember: ten years ago. How long do we have to watch L'Artisan gasp for breath before they go under?

Allow me to play the smallest violin for these poor suckers.

Go ahead, be a new niche brand, and enter the market charging $140 a bottle, like Kerosene did a few years ago. Tell me again about how you can't afford to charge anything less than that, when you can find online much of what comprises your formulas for pennies on the dollar. When people like Bigsly have supposed perfumers saying on his blog that naturals cost less than synthetics. Pour gallons of synthetics into a big jug, sprinkle them with a few native oils, call the whole stew "niche," and pray that a Saudi prince discovers you.

Then start a blog, complain about other people's blogs, and tell me that giving two or three free samples to readers doesn't generate any sales. Which brings me to my third and last complaint: perfumers bullshitting people about samples. No Andy, giving a handful of free samples to as many anonymous people online won't generate additional sales. What do you expect? You have to be generous with samples, and offer sizable coffrets for free, boxes with four or five samples. You have to send them out to anyone who asks for them. You have to give them away like candy. That's what designers did for years and years. Take a little loss on them. But take that loss knowing that if your perfumes are getting into people's hands for no money, just a few more may be willing to spend your asking price on a bottle of whatever they liked.

Your mentality is, "samples don't work." Yeah, they do. You just don't want to take the necessary risk on them anymore. So you're bullshitting us with the argument that they don't help sales. You tell readers that free sample draws, where one or two readers are privy to maybe three or four samples, do zero good for your bottom line. No shit. I'm stunned.

As long as the mentality shared by Andy and Parfums Dusita pervades the fragrance world, middle class buyers don't stand a chance.

The future is bleaker than these people realize. Making perfume unaffordable to all but a few only works when the few are allowed to prosper by all. With enough time, enough Trump, enough middle class anger and disgust, even the upper echelon of niche may realize they limited their growth potential and damaged their brands by only catering to the one tiny subset of people that isn't growing: the rich.



12/29/16

Socal for Men (Hollister)




After a year of reviewing cheap wetshaver ferns, it seems fitting that I close out 2016 with one more opinion on the same sort of thing, this time courtesy of The Hollister Company.

People talk about "iconic" masculines, the fragrances that shaped entire genres of scent, stuff like Acqua di Selva, Brut, Z14, Cool Water, Fahrenheit, A*Men, etc. And when the conversation steers into wetshaver waters, classics like Old Spice and Aqua Velva (and if you're European, Tabac) are always mentioned. But far less discussed is the eternally underrated great grandfather of semi-sweet, proto-gourmand fougeres: Skin Bracer.

In previous decades, fragrances were influenced largely by Old Spice and Tabac, with the "fresh" scents attributed to the long arm of Aqua Velva, but in the last ten years or so men have experienced an undeclared revival of Skin Bracer, and it's been quite a surprising journey for me. For instance, I never expected to smell Skin Bracer in Cool Water Night Dive. Nor did I reckon for it in Playboy VIP, or the somewhat older Cotton Club by Jeanne Arthes. Man.Aubusson Intense and Joop! Homme Wild were weird ones for the aftershave thing also, evoking memories of granddad after a shave, despite all their efforts to seem "cool" and "modern." Are perfume companies banking on something other than a great formula here?

I think they're counting on the fact that young guys have little to no interest in things from the past. This is a sad reality in America; "Millennials" are people who hold themselves and their generation's interests in the highest esteem, to the point where Katy Perry's songs are "oldies." I often wonder what would happen if I drove down to Yale, walked up to a random guy on campus, and handed him a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash's debut vinyl. He'd probably have a nervous breakdown right there on the sidewalk. Youngsters have no interest in understanding how prior generations lived.

They're not interested in knowing what music from the fifties, sixties, and seventies sounds like. You know, music from when people actually played instruments AND sang at the same time. And old movies aren't on their thumb drives, either. Humphrey who? Oh, Madonna copied Marilyn Monroe? None of these twits own a real suit; most own but one tie.

So it's not hard to understand why perfumers believe they can get away with this. Out of ideas? Fuck it, just dredge up some forgotten oldie. Sure, anyone over forty knows what it is, but the rest won't have a clue. Skin Bracer used to be in every bathroom, and now it's on the bottom shelf at Rite Aid, buried under mountains of Axe body spray. But tweak it, stretch its proportions here and there, and give it a new name by a new brand, and boom! New fragrance. Every asshole with a tattoo sleeve and gym membership must have a bottle.

Hollister's Socal for Men is basically a retread of Skin Bracer, although unlike many of the others mentioned in this post, it has whiskers of its own; it was released in 2007. Unfortunately it smells less complex than its drugstore progenitor, and most of the others. It's even inferior to Man.Aubusson Intense, which takes skill. It's bland in comparison, and a bit plasticky and "blobby" in its evolution, but it ticks all the right boxes: fresh, clean, lavender, powder, sweet, tonka, vanilla.

Needless to say, spending $50 for a bottle of this is insane. If you want a good variation of this theme, Cotton Club is still the best way to go, and it costs a third of what Hollister is asking. I still think the best bet is to just drop five bucks on seven ounces of Skin Bracer, but what do I know? I'm old. I'm in my mid thirties (gasp!). My younger brother just turned 30, and he likes Socal. He wouldn't be caught dead wearing Skin Bracer. Go figure.




12/27/16

Soap Review: Rad Soap Activated Charcoal Moon Rock Body Bar




This one breaks my heart. If you shop at Whole Foods, you may have spotted these soaps there, normally priced at around ten dollars a bar, which is about right for Whole-Paycheck Whole Foods. I'm not one to explore the "activated charcoal" fad in upscale soaps, mainly because charcoal is black and dirty and prone to staining white tubs, but occasionally a concept jumps out at me and makes me wonder. Such is the case with Rad Soap's Moon Rock bar.

The bar is hefty, pitch black, and pitted to look like a rock. The scent is charcoal and black currant, and I can verify that both notes are beautifully rendered, striking a harmonic balance usually reserved for high performance engines. The charcoal is sooty and dry, almost bready, and the currant is mild, not urinous or fetid, a soft sweetness suggestive of ripe berries. On skin this combination is even better, emitting a clear freshness very similar to Claiborne Sport's saturnine, wine-like essence.

What saddens me is that the bar itself is a disaster. Texturally it feels like a solid, somewhat oily compound that becomes quite greasy as you lather, and actually melts off itself in water. Cue the black streaks, with sizable fragments of soap dropping from the bar and clogging my tub drain. The thing just won't hold together. After two washings I gave up and had to toss the bar. Adding to the misery, I noticed black streaks had formed under the soap holder built into my shower wall; the Moon Rock continued dissolving long after the showers were over.

These soaps aren't especially hard to find, and I think there are ten more in the line, give or take. Maybe the others fare better, but the Moon Rock just doesn't pass muster. I wish it did, because its cleansing properties and fragrance are both quite good. Note to the Rad Soap company: you're almost there - just tweak the density of your product. Meanwhile, back to Irish Spring for me.



12/26/16

"You Smell Like Powder"


"And so do you."

I work with a young woman who greets me, on many mornings, with a backhanded compliment, saying with a laugh, "You smell like powder." Now, it should be noted that many masculine fragrances do in fact smell like powder, and that I own and occasionally wear a few of them. If I were to wear Royal Copenhagen, and she were to tell me that I smelled like powder, I would say she has an astute sniffer. Ditto for Tabac, Old Spice, Caron's Third Man, Brut, Canoe, KL Homme, Lagerfeld Classic, and Rive Gauche Pour Homme.

But she rarely mentions the powder thing when I wear those scents. (Granted, some I rarely wear.) No, she mentions the powder thing every single time I wear Grey Flannel. That's right, Grey Flannel. Green, mossy, flowery, earthy, woody, dark, somber Grey Flannel. The greenest old school masculine I've ever encountered. And it doesn't matter if I'm wearing vintage or new; her reaction is always the same. It actually makes her laugh: "Bryan, you're wearing baby powder again."

That this girl should associate Grey Flannel, even Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel, in all its Green Irish Tweedy glory, with baby powder, is simply a testament to how differently our minds interpret things. And is she wrong? I've always felt that GIT has a bit of a talc-like powder element in its far drydown, and I've also noted a mild powder element in Grey Flannel's heart, so her comments aren't obviously "wrong."

However, I rarely think of Grey Flannel as being a "powdery" scent. If I want powder, I don't reach for anything Beene. I reach for any of the others mentioned here. I reach for Grey Flannel when I want dry, green, floral, mossy. I wear it thinking "soapy" and "woody" and "bitter" and "fresh." Galbanum has a powdery aspect to it, and this burst of hazy greenness greets me every time, but it is soon followed by rich citrus esters, and the brisk snap of violet leaf. So what's up with this powder thing?

There's a simple lesson here. No matter how well you think you know a fragrance, or how well you understand its effect on you, your interpretation of what you perceive upon smelling something will not be the same as someone else's. The other person will likely have a slightly different interpretation of what you're wearing, or an entirely different take altogether. If it's the latter, then this turns your perception upside down completely. Until I began working with Ms. Powder Nose, I always thought of Grey Flannel as "green."

Now I can't help but think of powder, specifically baby powder.

But it gets better. One day I wore Mitsouko to work, and again, the powder comment. "You always smell like powder!"

Does anyone think Mitsouko smells powdery? I don't. Of course, as with all scents, there may be an element of powder in the fragrance, and this is usually where the florals are. But to completely identify Mitsouko with "powder" is very strange.

Perceptions vary, and in the case of this person, I can only say that she apparently perceives many synthetic compositions as being powdery, or of having prominent powdery qualities, regardless of whether the fragrance is generally thought of that way. Grey Flannel and Mitsouko are two frags that I generally consider "mossy." But who am I to argue with her?



12/10/16

What NES Classic & Hatchimals Teaches Us About Buying Vintage Perfume On EBay


A little while ago, a friend and coworker came to the office excited about something. Just the day before, Nintendo did the unthinkable and rereleased their original 8-bit system with 30 pre-loaded games, including all the major megahits of the late eighties and nineties. It retails for about sixty dollars from most of the big box stores (Walmart, Target, Toys-R-Us, etc.), and in their usual fashion, Nintendo has strategically issued a very limited quantity, letting stores stock an average of ten systems at a time.

The catch is that these systems are being throttled out to the public just two weeks before Christmas, making them the most sought-after gift of the season, second only to Hatchimals. Yes, that's right, Hatchimals, a weird, gimmicky, oddball toy that children and parents across the country must, absolutely must, must, must have. Last week a Hatchimal was retailing for $50. Earlier this week their prices went up, and now you'll pay anywhere from seventy to eighty dollars for one, if you're lucky enough to find it in a store. Most buyers aren't that lucky, and are forced to buy their Hatchimal from eBay.

Which brings us back to eBay, a wonderful place where every predatory seller and gullible buyer can convene and engage in the 21st century's idea of open commerce. If you search for an NES Classic Edition system on eBay, you will find a few, most priced at $250, and some for $300. Think about that for a second. An 8 bit video game system - an 8 bit system - with only 30 available games, is being sold for $300. This system lost currency twenty-five years ago, when Nintendo 64 finally invaded every thirteen year-old's living room and unseated the little grey king.

If you search for a Hatchimal, the $70 store prices disappear, and you can say hello to $95, $115, and even one $5,000 item, none of which are any different from what Toys-R-Us had in stock mere days ago. The craze for these weird little stuffed animals is intense, and competition for them is fierce. What is less clear is whether the craze will even last until Christmas, or if this is a rare case of a holiday hot ticket item that supernovas into a black hole of disgusted parents who gave up and got little Sammy or Susie a Cabbage Patch Kid instead.

My sense is that the lofty prices for these two items on eBay signify a desperation on the part of the buyer, and a veritable goldmine for the seller. My buddy at work has stood frozen and exhausted in eight lines in front of as many stores, huddled next to his girlfriend in a tent for six to eight hours straight, amidst ten or fifteen other wackos, waiting for the moment the store opens its doors and hands the first few people their ticket to buy a Nintendo. So far he has made $850 selling eight systems, basically doubling his money.

In recent years I've gone on and on about the ridiculous prices for discontinued and vintage perfumes on eBay, pointing out that many of these fragrances are being billed as somehow "desirable," despite being taken off the commercial market or simply being reformulated and kept in the game. You could spend eighty dollars on a new bottle of Polo from CVS, or you could hop on eBay and consider buying a vintage bottle of Polo priced at $300 by seller bad_doggy! The choice is yours.

Despite how absurd the choice is, I have been told repeatedly that the reasons for the $300 bottle of Polo, and for any similarly priced vintage fragrance that saw perhaps a little popularity in prior decades, are abundant and self-evident: they have "fan bases," they are examples of supply and demand, they are products that never deteriorate in chemical quality, and thus appreciate in worth, etc. Of course none of these reasons actually address why someone like bad_doggy! might think their price is reasonable.

They touch on subjective interpretations of the state of Polo cologne, and how the public interprets its worth, but fail to find a causal connection for why anyone would attempt to sell a bottle for four times the current asking price of the very same fragrance, or for why anyone would be crazy enough to buy it. To date, I have still not read a cogent argument for why I should consider a vintage bottle of any fragrance to be worth anything more than its original price, adjusted for inflation.

A 4 oz bottle of Polo cologne in 1978 was probably priced at about $35. Adjusted for inflation, that makes bad_doggy!'s bottle worth $129. Where does he get the other $171 from? Not only is his bottle of cologne probably a bit skunked from age, but it is in no measurable way superior, in packaging or practicality, to the $80 bottle at CVS down the street. You can't even argue that his vintage is rare; I have seen at least a dozen other such bottles on eBay over the last five years. (All of them were priced at over $200.)

What I see with the Nintendo and Hatchimal phenomenon is how inflated prices on eBay are actually formulated. The Nintendo is currently in very high demand, but there are almost none of them available, making supply egregiously low. The physics of commerce suggests this is the reason their prices are astronomical at the moment. But there' a little wrinkle, a crucial wrinkle, to that theory. NES classic will be available in wider distribution in January, after Christmas. Prices will remain fairly static for them in stores. If you're desperate for an NES Classic, why not wait until January?

The Hatchimal situation is a bit less contentious than the Nintendo deal, because supply is slightly better, and resale prices are a bit more reasonable, especially at $90. But again, this is just a crappy toy. A carbon egg with stress lines that is gently crushed by a weak robotic beak from within. Kids may love it, but it's not high tech, it's not particularly rewarding (it only hatches once), and why would anyone think $5,000 is a reasonable price?

Well, maybe because the item is being sold by a self-described war veteran with a tall tale about how catastrophe has struck, and he must raise the money to save his house. In other words, we are supposed to believe a total stranger on the Internet, and spend a gazillion times more than the retail asking price, out of the goodness of our discerning hearts. After all, the vet's story must be true. Nobody lies on the Internet, and certainly not on eBay!

In the case of Nintendo and Hatchimals, we see that supply is limited, and demand is high. In both cases, especially with the Nintendo system, there are people like my friend who see a golden opportunity to cash in by braving the elements, buying the product at the store, and reselling it on eBay for four or five times its retail price. This constitutes a trend where buyers are only buying to sell. In this regard, I see how the Nintendo phenomenon mirrors the vintage perfume situation.

Many vintages are "chronic" list items on eBay. Despite how rare they supposedly are, we always see bottles being listed, with prices that usually do not reflect their actual supply. There are currently 18 bottles of vintage Patou Pour Homme EDT listed, with prices ranging from $80 (for a mini) to $1,998 (for 3 ounces). Patou is supposedly "rare." This supposedly justifies its prices.

Contrast this to Davidoff Cool Water, a fragrance far more sought after, particularly in vintage form. A current search reveals there are no bottles of vintage Cool Water available, yet the Macy's in my city has a bottle accidentally in stock for $75. I have a bottle of late vintage on my bookshelf. I probably couldn't get any more than fifty dollars for it.

So why is a fragrance as dated and heavy and downright anachronistic as Patou Pour Homme enjoying $800 - $2,000 prices, while the far more historically significant Cool Water remains in the commercial doldrums? Why is it that I have to peruse eighteen listings, all of them with contradictory prices, when I search for Patou, yet the truly rare Cool Water gets zero buzz?

It's the Nintendo situation. People aren't really buying Patou PH to wear it. I don't care how rich you are, if you see there are 18 bottles of vintage Patou on eBay, and all are priced over $400, you're going to wait a little longer still to buy one if you intend to actually wear and enjoy it. Some day, you think to yourself, someone will wave the white flag and take a loss. They will take a loss, because almost all the sellers bought Patou for the same reason people are braving wild overnight lines in front of big box stores to buy NES Classic: to resell it.

The difference is that buying Patou PH to resell means you have to raise its already astronomical price to an even higher plateau of absurdity, and then say a prayer that you aren't out $800 in vain, that there really is someone greedy enough to spend $1,900 on your bottle. There is currently an $820 bottle from Germany that I have seen a few times before. I saw it last year for $650, and the year before for around $500. Clearly this bottle will never be worn by anyone. It simply trades hands between sellers, and will continue to do so until someone realizes they fucked up and spent too much on a fragrance mislabeled as "rare."

The difference is also that those buying the NES system on eBay for $299 aren't going to resell it. This price is its ceiling. The prices are contingent on the holidays, buyers know that the window of opportunity is limited, and thus far more competitive than the market for Patou is. Yet Nintendo is around the same age as Patou, far more dynamic in its cultural value, and still far cheaper than the fragrance.

The situation with eBay Hatchimals is simply demonstrative of how "dirty" the Internet is for gullible buyers. For every reasonably priced Hatchimal, there is one with a few dollars too many tacked onto the tag. There are sob stories from fake war vets, unsubstantiated "rare edition" listings, and any other iteration of "scam" that exists. When you stop to consider just how unremarkable the toy is, you realize that spending anything beyond retail for it is a poor investment.

So what is the lesson here? It's not complicated, and easy to remember: eBay is for bullshit artists and people who lack patience and wisdom. If you buy that $300 bottle of Polo, I don't know what else to tell you, other than that there's a Hatchimal with your name on it, and an NES Classic that I'd love to sell you.







11/25/16

Pi (Givenchy)


"A Little Further Than Infiniti." Far Out, Man!


To understand Pi, it helps to be more than a mathematician; you have to remember the nineties, and what cultural changes occurred after the 1980s. Following the conservative Reagan era, when masculine fragrances were either loud "cigar box" ferns and orientals, or loud "musky" compositions with borderline femme floral elements, and downright funereal moss notes (as found in Antaeus and Tsar), people were attracted to fresher, friendlier ideas.

Ferns became sweet and playful (Cool Water, Aqua Quorum, Polo Sport), chypres were hybridized and sunnier than ever (Red for Men, Acqua di Gio, Green Valley), and orientals were divested of unnecessary accords, stripped and compacted and simplified, until only the basics of "amber" and "vanilla" were left. Fragrances like Pasha, Angel, and Givenchy's now Classic Pi were the result. Interested in "fresh" orientals? Try Cartier's idea. Want something "gourmand?" Here's an overdose of Ethyl Maltol and some cheap patchouli, ala Mugler. Need a more traditional citrus-amber fragrance? Pi was the way to go. It is essentially a basic mandarin orange and toasted vanilla accord, and little else. There's a smidgen of cedar and synthetic musk in the base, and that's about it. It smells rich, smooth, almost edible, very warm, and oddly "fresh." It's a nineties frag to the hilt. I hear Gin Blossoms and Sheryl Crow songs whenever I spray it.

But there is perhaps one other aspect to Pi that goes a little deeper than just writing it off as a dull nineties scent. The decade was in many ways a throwback to the seventies. Big cars were momentarily back in style, the economy enjoyed a brief but luminous revival, thanks to the Dot-Com Boom, the President was plagued by scandals that had nothing to do with his political policies, and which threatened to undermine his office, and recent wars had caused an undercurrent of social discomfort and political dissent not felt since Vietnam. Perfume was fresh and sweet, but it was also loud, and very raucous in character, even conservatively speaking. Mugler and CK and yes, Givenchy, were putting noise into the air, competing with grunge music and Nicolas Cage movies to see which could be more obnoxious.

I was a teenager in the nineties, and remember it well. So to me, Pi smells not like a conservative gourmand, but like a boisterous vanilla crossover feminine, geared toward guys with Ceasar haircuts and subwoofed Iroc Zs. There's nothing demure about how one dimensional and fatuous this fragrance is. You can't wear more than two sprays and expect reactions to differ from the snickers and half-assed compliments elicited by Joop! Homme. In its original formula, Pi filled rooms, preceded wearers by ten minutes, and made coffee houses smell like whore houses. Is it an exciting fragrance? No, not by a long shot. But is there more to it than meets the casual nose? You bet. It's the Brut of the nineties, but it was never offered at Brut's price-point, fitting for the inflated ethos of 1998.

I'm not a wearer of Pi, and I don't personally know anyone who wears it, but the stuff is still being made, and still selling, so there must be stragglers from my generation keeping it alive. It wouldn't surprise me if it won over a few next-gen fans as well. Meanwhile, wearing KL Homme, with its crisp balsamic citrus top and warm, vanillic base, it feels like the twelve year interval between Lagerfeld's oriental and Givenchy's gourmand was lost entirely, and I want it back.


11/23/16

Virgin Island Bay Rum (Pinaud) & Why Old Spice Is Not A Bay Rum



A good bay rum is an olfactory sketch of two main notes, with a third note "bridging" them; bay is meant to be immediately noticeable, followed closely by a warm, sweet "rum" effect, with subtle spice connecting the two. Typically the spice is an amalgamation of several spices, be it a cinnamon and clove hybrid, or clove and nutmeg, black pepper and pink pepper, etc. Just as frequently, the spice note stands alone. The most common in popular bay rums is clove.

Eugenol is a miracle drug. Perfumers can take the dullest vanilla composition and give it teeth using but a hint of it. Too much conjures associations with a dentist's chair; too little impresses as merely a weird, camphorous aftertaste. But when it's dosed just right, clove is the height of manliness. Its woody-fresh bite can marry feuding accords like nothing else. Consider the bracing beauty of Z14's lemon aldehydes attempting a peace agreement with its cinnamon, vetiver, and oakmoss foundation, without the unambiguously stark eugenol underlying the citrus. And just as it can act as a savior, clove can also ruin the fun. Remember Copper Skies? What an awful composition.

Pinaud's Virgin Island Bay Rum is a popular cologne with several decades of accolades from several generations of "manly" guys under its belt. It is incredibly cheap ($7 for a 12 oz bottle), and readily available at almost every online retailer, although good luck finding it in your average brick and mortar pharmacy. Its spare plastic bottle and wan, tricolor label are easy to miss, but the liquid within is a bit harder to overlook. VIBR smells charmingly piquant and almost drinkable, with lively "rummy" notes layered under vague citrus, and what is without exaggeration the closest one can get to clove overdose without crossing the dentist's threshold.

That said, I must assert a measure of caution to those considering this fragrance. It's technically an aftershave, but in this case that means they merely added a skin toner to a cologne. You can expect four to five hours of longevity, with subtle but noticeable sillage. For the first hour, you'll enjoy a brisk and linear breeze of boozy clove, very old-fashioned, but undeniably charming. As you near the ninety-minute point, you'll begin to realize that aside from the alcoholic eugenol, there isn't much to play with. There's a very flat, almost stale wafer effect, which eventually settles into a gingerbread cookie. And two hours in, you will understand: Pinaud's VIBR doesn't have any actual bay in it at all. It's just a Christmassy barrage of clove over a cheap gourmand amber.

Now, every so often I visit wetshaver boards and encounter comments about Old Spice that go like this:

"Such a great bay rum. I love this better than my other bay rums!"

Or I'll read:

"A real shame P&G reformulated this. Now it's just a lame bay rum scent."

Comments like this really bug me, because Old Spice is not a bay rum. It has no bay, and It has zero rum. Furthermore, Old Spice's reformulation is actually less like bay rum than its previous formulas, for the simple fact that the massive clove note in the American version exists primarily to darken the fluffy orientalism of its relatively loud orange citrus and vanilla accords. Old Spice is doing other things with clove, things that have a lot in common with contemporaries like Habit Rouge and Royal Copenhagen, and nothing in common with homemade stews of bay leaves soaking in Captain Morgan's. Shulton's formula had an airy transience that I guess one could associate with bay rum aftershaves, but here the association is strictly subjective.

I would argue that Pinaud's bay rum isn't really a bay rum, either. After all, it lacks a bay note. But at least it nods to classical bay rum with its potent rum note. And that massive clove note is just the direction they decided to take the scent. Why they didn't bother with the bay is beyond me, but I would guess it was just too difficult to manage on Pinaud's paltry formula budget. I personally don't consider it a bay rum, but more of a spiced rum cologne with what is perhaps an unintentionally edible facet that makes it a little too "nice guy" for my taste. Don't go by me though, because I'm not really into this sort of thing. If I'm wearing spice, I want it to say "Old" on the bottle.




11/19/16

The Incanto Charms Problem: Why Cheap Gourmands Usually Don't Work


Coca-Cola Can Do It. Why Can't You?


In 2006 the house of Salvatore Ferragamo released a little inexpensive gourmand feminine called Incanto Charms. The fragrance features a fruity, saccharine opening, followed by an Ethyl Maltol bomb with abstract hints of cheap jasmine. The one and only time I wore it, I was immediately self conscious, wondering if my girlfriend would dump me for smelling like a preteen girl. It's not that IC smells "bad," because in all honesty, this is the sort of composition that young girls love, and it's relatively inoffensive, wafting in gentle clouds of nondescript "sweet." But as a fragrance, considered objectively and without any predetermined contexts, it's as dull and forgettable as a Ken Burns movie.

It raised the question as to whether or not the noses at Ferragamo were just lazy, or if their boring gourmand was part of a larger problem. With other gourmands by Paris Hilton, Beyonce, Coty (non-prestige), and Mugler in the mix, I realized that perfumers are largely missing the point of making someone smell "edible." They're operating in a vacuum, informed only by their communal accomplishments in a pseudo niche realm, and they never stop to ask themselves if they should try a little reverse engineering instead. After all, many gourmands on discounter shelves are being one-upped by something as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola, a mass market soda brand. That's shameful.

I often wonder if perfumers ever think seriously about the link between scent and flavor. Why, for example, hasn't anyone ever made a perfume that smells like Coke, or any of its flavors? Soda reviewer Patrick O'Keefe, creator of the prolific soda review site "Soda Tasting," once said that if Coke made an air freshener of Cherry Coke, he would buy it and use it all the time. Given that this guy has taste tested hundreds of sodas, his sentiment is quite an endorsement. (Vanilla Coke is perhaps the only soda that he awarded with five stars.) This got me curious about Cherry Coke, so I went and bought a few cans and tried it. I hadn't had it in twenty years, and my return to it was a surprise. This stuff is excellent.

When we think about soda, we think two things: "cheap," and "sweet." Sodas are usually just a few cents per can when purchased in bulk, and their flavors are generally disgusting, nondescript, and forgettable, much like the myriad of bargain gourmands being foisted on people here in the States. But Coca-Cola is the exception. Unlike their competitors, the Coke brand has paid extra careful attention to perfecting what they do, rather than just shoving HFCS and one or two fake flavors into a syrup. Cherry Coke has the potential to taste like Dimetapp and sugar cubes, but it actually tastes great. The cola is gentle and crisp, and complemented beautifully by an even-handed and well blended fruity cherry accent that leaves a clean aftertaste. The brains behind it all must have spent a year or two laboring over a way to make fruit cola taste elegant, and they succeeded.

Vanilla Coke is even better. It could have been glorified cream soda, but no. They spent time and money on this flavor. The vanilla isn't candy-like. It's actually fresh, with a brightness that works incredibly well against the cola backdrop. It's so rich and smooth and appealing that it's worth poisoning your pancreas to drink it. It helps that Coke's original formula is a masterpiece, the veritable champagne of colas, full of subtle cola, coca, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange flower, and vanilla notes. If ever there was a crime against the genre of gourmands, it's the neglectful stance the perfume industry has taken in not giving Coke its due. These sodas, in all their simple beauty, should be cloned into wearable art. It wouldn't be too difficult for a decent nose to achieve, and I'd wager millions of teens would fawn over such frags.

Instead, we have Incanto Charms. But hey, at least I don't encounter shelves of Incanto Charms at the grocery store.





11/15/16

Bamboo Eau De Toilette (Gucci)




Perhaps the "Alt-Right" has a point after all; it's frightening to think that political correctness has neutered Italian bravado into the stuff of pallid white florals. Yet when I smell Bamboo EDT, a pallid white floral is pretty much the long and short of it. Yes, it's well balanced. Yes, yes, yes, I know, I know, it's well made, I get that. Every synthetic analog of fruit and floral is modestly rendered against a wan, woody, chemical background, all fogged up with white musk. It's a fragrance that smells pleasantly uninteresting on a woman when you're both crunching the company numbers, but which suddenly becomes intoxicating after hours, when fragrance is the only thing she has on. But that's not really a convincing argument for it. A great frag deserves higher praise.

The truth is that beautiful women don't need great perfumes. And by "beautiful women," I mean whatever women you're into. (Beauty is subjective, and honestly, I'm not being "PC" when I say that.) When a man digs a girl, the last thing he's worried about is the pedigree of her fragrance. She could be wearing her husband's Brut, and if a guy thinks she's sexy, he'll assume she's wearing "girl stuff," and his hormones will just block out the rest as they zero in on the score. Men aren't sophisticated when it comes to sex. We're not complex machines when it comes to spreading our genes. Our brains go into autopilot, our senses search out pheromonal stimuli - the invisible, musky smells secreted through skin, hair, mucous membranes - and our "conscious" noses, always eager to identify burnt toast and spoiled milk, take the night off.

Still, it would be nice to return to the days when women wore foghorn frags to dampen the essences of their competitors. Loud perfumes, often commissioned (without irony) by men, played into women's unending interest in the other women around them. Whether to arouse innocent, friendly small talk between office girls on a luncheon, or catty disapproval, with backhanded comments whispered snidely behind unsuspectig backs, feminine "powerhouse" fragrances like Paris, Poison, Chanel No 5, and Gucci's own Rush were patterned for sapphic and tribalistic mores. Women wore perfumes so loud and garish that sharing an elevator with them meant you stopped on whatever floor had the Tylenol. And even though I knew they weren't wearing them for me, I thought their olfactory egotism was charming.

Bamboo EDT just reminds me of everything we've lost.



11/12/16

It's Donald Trump's America. Does This Bring 80s Perfumes Back?



This has been a weird week. Donald Trump, author of ghostwritten tomes such as The Art of The Deal, and reality TV star, Page 6 playboy of the 1980s and 90s, will soon be giving the State of the Union Address. Think about that for a moment. The guy behind Trump Steaks will be signing legislation with sixteen pens in just a few weeks. It doesn't get any more surreal than that.

One of the more entertaining theories I've had about about time, history, fashions, and trends bears a look at what it means to actually time travel. Many people talk about time traveling into the future as if it were a physical possibility, at least as far as astrophysics is concerned. Travel faster than the speed of light (round trip), and twenty years of your time becomes two hundred years of everyone else's. It's basically the premise of Planet Of The Apes. According to most physicists, it's theoretically true.

But traveling back in time is something most physicists would frown upon. There is currently no plausible theory to support the idea. Sure, you could try it, but visiting the past isn't the same schtick. We can't actually shift the time/space continuum manually. It's not a dial we can adjust. We can only accelerate our participation, but decelerating progress is a mathematical impossibility. The Big Bang can't be repeated, not because it can't happen again, but because it already happened.

Yet I've been a staunch believer in the circumstantial nature of time travel. If you really want to return to a bygone era, and don't have a few trillion dollars available for researching and developing your time machine, there is still one teeny tiny little step you can take: just walk the walk. Interested in revisiting the 19th century? Get rid of all your modern appliances, chuck your computers and phones and modems. Lose the car. Lose your entire wardrobe, and replace it with starched tuxedos, top hats, and hoop skirts. Put up a few pictures of Queen Victoria. Scale back your bathing routine. Grow your own food. Mill your own oats. Say goodbye to electricity and running water. It would probably cost you around $100K to shift your time period over, and when you're finished, you'd probably want your money back. But if you were really interested in going back to that era, it can be done. You just have to live it.

Collectively, we've done that here in the United States. We've elected Donald Trump to be our leader. This is a man who has given interviews on TV from inside his private jet, gulped champagne and danced with floozies at Studio 54, and did lines of coke at the Playboy Mansion. He has bragged about everything, including his failures. He surrounded himself with New York City thugs for most of his life. He had ties to the mob. He had ties made in China. He has broken every political rule ever written, and up until now he wasn't even remotely interested in being a politician. And now he is one. The ULTIMATE one. The leader of the free world.

It's a loose return to the days of Ronald Reagan. In 1980, America knew Reagan as the governor of California, and a man whose B movie career had already been largely forgotten. He was unlikely to become President, and yet he did, and at one point even secured electoral votes from every state except Minnesota. He is quoted as telling Pat Buchanan, when asked about this single defeat, "No Pat, we didn't lose Minnesota."

Trump is not Reagan, however. Unlike the Gipper, he has no experience in leadership, and he isn't as widely loved. Reagan was never offensive to people, because he always embodied that old-school Hollywood charm, rather like an American Cary Grant. And Reagan wasn't divisive. He never used bold rhetoric, he never swore, he never singled anyone out. He was a union-busting, anti-gay, anti-socialist asshole, but he usually kept these qualities under wraps. He and Margaret Thatcher were perfect together.

Trump does not represent Hollywood's golden age. He represents Wall Street's Gordon Gecko days. He represents shady business dealings, slick-haired shenanigans, materialism, excess. Donald Trump is the 1980s incarnate, and amazingly his views of the world are still solidly 1980s views. Thirty years ago America was still a racist, homophobic, shallow culture. Doubt it? Just watch Crocodile Dundee. That film was a huge hit. The fact that Paul Hogan grabs a transsexual woman's crotch and calls her a "fag" meant little to audiences, because they just loved characters in Tarzan outfits who walked around NYC with big knives.

So what does it mean that millions of Americans have voted for Gordon Gecko? For Paul Hogan? For materialism, unbridled narcissism, and wanton excess? Does my country really yearn for those days to return? Do we want to turn back the clock and watch Madonna and Micheal Jackson tear it up? Do we want to abolish political correctness and put racist and homophobic characters back into our movies? Do we yearn for the days when Communism and Socialism were bad words? If so, does that also mean we want our loud, bawdy, room-destroying eighties perfumes back?

Will fragrance companies subconsciously pick up on this? Will Dior release a reformulation of Fahrenheit that actually smells like the original? Will Grey Flannel come back into fashion, and become as popular as it used to be? Maybe Davidoff will reissue the original Cool Water. Perhaps Chanel will come out with a new masculine that smells so heavy and complex that the IFRA goes apeshit. Impossible, you say? Well, I'm not so sure anything is impossible anymore.

I hope that the fragrance world does "regress." It would be nice to stop hearing vintage enthusiasts complain about everything. It would be great to have all the classics back in their original form. It would really be terrific to smell new releases that explode with woody, spicy, floral aromatics. How hot would it be if people started offending each other with their perfumes again? If a woman's floral behemoth entered the room an hour before she did? If guys emitted vicious clouds of cigar box madness when they went to church? America has a habit of adopting the zeitgeist of its leadership, and letting it pervade all aspects of their society.

With Donald Trump's Presidency, there is hope after all.




10/23/16

Dior Homme Eau (Dior)


I never understood the appeal of the original Dior Homme. Its powdery and bittersweet iris pastiche never felt convincingly dimensional, lacked the fundamental warmth of classical orientals and chypres, and Dior created flankers for it, which seemed akin to flanking liver and onions with tripe. If ever there was a challenging, "stand-alone" composition, it's Dior Homme. Although I'm not sure what makes it popular, I appreciate it as a mature, competently crafted work that I do envision as acceptable fare to a funeral, or perhaps a brit milah. It says plainly, "I'm not smiling today."

I approached the "Eau" flanker with trepidation, but I needn't have, because it's lovely, a crisp, Mediterranean interpretation of the original. Where the first employed a strange, almost waxy iris note, Dior Homme Eau lets the heaviness go to the breeze, allowing iris' inherently cool and powdery freshness to shine. It still evokes the makeup counter at Dillard's, yet also brings me to the beach with splashes of pert citrus, smelling at once nondescript and unfamiliar. Here the alien strangeness of its progenitor touches down on friendlier terrain, yielding a fragrance not as challenging as the original, but quite interesting in its own right, and much easier to wear.

The unusual "lipstick" aspect of this line is not an outlier in masculine fragrance, or fragrance in general, with parts of Mitsouko and Miglin's Pheromone for Men employing a similar quality during various stages of their drydowns. Refined chypres aim to soften their balance of otherwise harsh components (bergamot, oakmoss, labdanum) via sweet florals, precious woods, and musks. What sets Eau apart is its ability to meld an ambitiously classical and dated chypre idea with an unexciting and contemporary woody-amber drydown, while always smelling cheerful and original. No easy task, and a solid effort from Demachy.



10/17/16

Thoughts On An Anonymous Person's Odd Ideas



This is a brief compendium of strange ideas that were posited by a fellow fragrance enthusiast (who shall remain anonymous, to protect his identity), and my direct responses to them. Bear in mind that I am not directly quoting this person. I'm simply presenting a distillation of his ideas in generalized quotation marks, followed by my equally paraphraseable thoughts. Here goes . . .

"When sealed in airtight bottles, and loaded with inert gases to extend shelf life, the chemicals in perfumes don't change."

Ever look at what is printed on 90% of the boxes and bottles on store shelves? It's any variation of the words, "Eau de Toilette Natural Spray," sometimes called a "Vaporisation Naturelle Spray," etc. Many years ago, perfume companies used "gas atomizers," which required a compressed propellant to expel fragrance droplets. These were unique because they reduced the degree of control in application, and cut off one of two common ways that air could mix with the bottled liquid. The other way air could mix with the perfume was if the bottle was not actually "airtight."

"Natural Sprays" eliminate that one fail safe by allowing air to be the sole mechanism of dispensation, simply by creating a suction vacuum in the bottle's stem, which propels the liquid into the button and out of the spout. Ever wonder what happens when you lift your finger off the button? The vacuum pressure eases and a reverse effect occurs, with tiny amounts of external (and internal) oxygen dribbling into the bottle. That's how air bubbles form in the fluid. And of course, the perfume bottles on the broader market are almost never entirely "airtight." Quality is usually good enough, but the area around the atomizer, including where the atomizer's collar meets the glass, is never hermetically sealed. Perfume is not "vacuum packed."

I find the suggestion that any perfume bottle is "airtight" to be a conveniently inaccurate aspect of the vintage enthusiasts' arguments on the subject. And perfumes use "preservatives?" True. But so do foods. Would you eat a twenty year-old can of beans? No, didn't think so.

"Testers are no different from main stock bottles because it would be obscenely expensive and impractical to reformulate fragrances just to make their testers smell stronger, richer, and more enticing than the stuff you actually buy."

Then I guess reformulating anything would cost an obscene amount of money, and the whole idea of reformulating something to "save money" goes right out the window. Remember my recent post on "false narratives?" This is another one. Why is this person talking about reformulations in the context of testers, when testers almost always smell like nothing more than a higher concentration of the same formula? It would be a bit out of their way to do it, but it's not unreasonable to suppose that companies would put an EDP concentration of fragrances in testers otherwise billed and sold as EDTs. Where's the "obscene expense" in that?

As a graphic design student, I learned something interesting about how far companies will go to bait and switch customers. Most companies aren't just selling their products; they're selling the idea that their products are of greater quality than everyone else's. Food labels, particularly cereal boxes, are great examples. It would, in theory, be cheap, quick, and practical to just pour a bowl of cereal, add milk, take a few photos, and print one on the box.

But this isn't how it's done. Elmer's glue (or a glue like it) was used for years as milk's stunt double. The dried glue was carefully sculpted to give the appearance of perfect splash droplets ensconcing those big fat plastic strawberries accompanying the cereal. The cereal itself was the only real thing in the shot. Now that's expensive. It was done for decades, until Photoshop and digital manipulation replaced that process. And even paying a photo retoucher $20 an hour for eight hours is way pricier than just snapping a simple photo and printing it.

Think of how simple a bowl of cereal is, relative to a perfume. Now does it seem so unlikely that they'd put a little extra perfume concentrate into those tester bottles?

"Spoilage is a non-issue. Perfume has two enemies: heat and light. I have twenty year-old bottles that smell identical to the way they were the day I bought them."

Aside from being something a fragrance chemist (with gainful employment) would never say, these statements are absurd because they contradict each other. If spoilage is a non-issue, perfume would have no enemies. Nothing would endanger it. So which is it? Is perfume immune to the elements? Or does heat and light spoil at least some of it? And if you have a memory that can call up with perfect accuracy how a twenty year-old perfume smelled when brand new, why aren't you, or any other fragrance chemist, able to reformulate such things with equally flawless accuracy?

It strikes me as interesting that anyone in the chemistry field would bemoan IFRA regulations when their perfect olfactory memory would simply, by virtue of extensive training in the field, work around the issue. These folks work with their noses, right? Vintage enthusiasts love to act like they "remember" how things from decades ago smelled. But it doesn't occur to them that if such incredible memories exist, at least two-thirds of the reformulations out there would be dead on.

"It's become costlier to reproduce vintage fragrances in the post-IFRA era because synthetics are more expensive than natural materials."

This claim upends the common vintage enthusiasts' claims that the current formulas for classics are "cheap." But it actually doesn't make any sense. If naturals are cheaper, why not cut costs by predominantly using them? Why cut into your profit margin by using mostly "expensive" synthetics? IFRA regs would bite the dust, because the billion-dollar behemoths like Lauder and Chanel would throw all their money behind dismantling the IFRA and going about business as usual.

Clearly synthetics are more profitable to use, and generally cheaper than naturals. You can buy ounces of many synthetics on the internet for the price of a sandwich. Try finding price parity for naturals, like rose and sandalwood EOs, and let me know if they're cheaper than their synthetic counterparts.



10/16/16

The Musky Orientals Of The Nineties



I have been wearing Witness by Jacques Bogart lately, and just wanted to comment on a few things that have come to mind.

This fragrance smells more and more like Balenciaga Pour Homme to me. Its central chord of artemisia, woods, fruity esters, and musk are almost identical to Balenciaga, with the main difference being that these notes are sweeter and less animalic in Bogart's scent. (It also contains noticeable cinnamon, which is absent from Balenciaga.) There are heady terpenes in Witness that evoke pine, juniper, and evergreen woods, and in this regard it resembles Aubusson Pour Homme, another musky gem from the same era. And though it generally smells different, Bogart's Furyo contains a louder, civet-laden version of Balenciaga's and Witness' musk. Can you guess where the connection between houses is?

I read a very interesting review of Balenciaga PH on Fragrantica the other day, posted by member "Michel Vaillant," which, if true, explains everything in one sentence:

"As far as I know, the house of Balenciaga was owned by the Bogart Group at the launch of this fragrance in 1990."

When I read that, it made sense. These spicy beauties were a very distinct style between 1989 and 1994, but their stylistic roots can be traced back to Kouros in 1981, YSL's epic fougere and landmark masculine musk bomb. Whenever people dismiss the importance of tracing fragrance genealogy, I nod to Kouros. From Bourdon's scent springs a generation of "powerhouses" and classical late 20th century masculines, but without this historical context people get confused. From Kouros to Witness, one follows the breadcrumbs to Giorgio, Zino, Boss No. 1, Dali Pour Homme, Lapidus PH, Sung Homme, Ungaro Pour L'Homme, Ungaro Pour L'Homme II, Balenciaga PH, and Joint. Witness is one of Kouros' logical end points.

In any case, I'm wearing it again today. Jacques Bogart is one of perfumery's most underrated houses, and Witness and Furyo are among the best in my collection.


10/8/16

False Narratives



I frequently receive emails and comments from readers asking me questions that are based on falsehoods. After a few years of this, I realized these falsehoods are propagated in fragrance forums by men who should end their morning fragrance ablutions with a splash of Sea Breeze and leave perfume connoisseurship to those who can actually smell things. The cultural damage caused by their misconceptions and misinformation is difficult to quantify, but I'd wager it's enough to sway future generations of fragheads away from the sorely needed truth.

Here's a rundown on the egregious falsehoods that have plagued by experiences since the inception of my blog:

"Indian Old Spice is like vintage Shulton Old Spice."

Really? I don't remember my early eighties vintage Old Spice having bright unmistakeable notes of pink pepper and black pepper. To my nose Indian Old Spice smells very much like its own thing entirely.

"Vintage fragrances smell richer and more natural."

Yes, and they also often smell unbalanced, weak, and flat.

"Fragrances don't spoil."

Wrong. They do. A few years ago when I got into a debate about this with an ideological opponent, I did the one thing he couldn't do and produced an industry insider who corroborated my argument. What happened afterward was intriguing. First, Jeffrey Dame's words were carefully interpreted here on this blog. The main takeaway was that most fragrances do spoil, at least technically speaking. They are often still "good enough," and usually still quite wearable, but a considerable number of them will blatantly go "off," and anyone whose nose is sensitive enough (and astute enough) to interpret these changes will probably be nonplussed by them. Dame also pointed out that the most durable and "preservable" family of scent is the classical oriental, whose resinous spice accords are least likely to suffer the ravages of time.

But then my opponent and a few of his readers attempted to discredit Mr. Dame by calling him a hack. This showed me that the "other side" is comprised of cherry-picking, fact-averse people. You can't have an intelligent dialogue with them, and holding their arguments to your higher standards is pointless.

Still, my points are crucial to anyone seeking to understand the realities of buying and owning vintage perfumes. The chatter in the forums is usually very "pro vintage," and it's tempting to buy into it. But the reasons these enthusiasts cite for their support are the reasons you should doubt what they say.

"Vintage perfumes used more natural ingredients."

This is simply untrue. But the untruth is more nuanced than you think. No, vintage perfumes did not contain more natural materials than current perfumes. But current perfumes don't use fewer naturals, either.

Ever notice how the argument about "naturals" evaporates faster than a lemon top note as soon as you start discussing popular contemporary niche perfumes? When was the last time anyone complained that Atelier wasn't using enough "natural" materials? Whenever I read people's thoughts about Slumberhouse, I try to find the comments lamenting their over-reliance on synthetics. So far I haven't had any luck. Perfumes don't go from being loaded with beautiful naturals to being bogged down by crappy synthetics. All perfumes contain some degree of "naturally derived" materials, things like linalool, geraniol, eugenol, limonene, etc. Where they differ is in the quality of synthetics. Atelier and Slumberhouse are using very good synthetics. Coty and L'Oreal are using mediocre synthetics. If you want to steer clear of the false narrative about the "quality" in perfumes, avoid talking about naturals and start discussing synthetics, and how they're being used and misused.

"Reformulations exist to cheapen perfumes and increase profits."

Christ, I hate this argument. Luca Turin recently wrote on his blog that a perfume's smell represents a whopping 10% of its budget. If I bought a bottle of Coty's Lagerfeld Classic a few years ago and started complaining that the original Lagerfeld Cologne smelled better, I'd be implying that Classic was a cheapening of the formula. But why cheapen an already cheap formula? My lamentation of the current formula of Cool Water is not that they cheapened the formula, but that they changed it altogether. They went from the EDT (still quite bold) to the deodorant (not nearly as bold), but they don't change fragrances like Lagerfeld and Cool Water because they want to save money. They change these frags because their sales are slipping, and they're not ready to discontinue them yet. Sales slip when trends change and buyers shift their interest to newer, more exciting things.

Right now, "newer" and "more exciting" means "lighter," "fresher," and "cleaner." The deodorant industry is booming, and brands are now tailoring perfumes to deodorants, a complete reversal from 20 years ago. Lagerfeld and Cool Water have been made lighter and fresher to stay relevant, not to save a buck on their formulas.

"Vintage prices on eBay reflect supply and demand."

This is getting truer as the years pass, but when I started this blog it was entirely untrue. Within the last four years there has been a major market "correction" to the pricing of vintage perfume in general. You can now go on eBay and get the long-discontinued Ungaro Pour L'Homme II for under $100. But the first Ungaro is still incredibly expensive. The first feminine Fendi is still more expensive than a Creed frag. And D&G By Man's prices are completely insane.

Notice the pattern? These fragrances are all discontinued. If there was high demand for them, they'd still be in production. And the "fan base" argument doesn't work either. If the "fans" were so ardently willing to snap up these remaining bottles, they'd disappear from eBay. But they don't; the Ungaros, the Fendis, the By Mans are always there, and the prices are always high. Time to call a spade a spade: eBay is a poorly regulated merchant site full of greedy amateur sellers who repeatedly slap the wrong prices on discontinued perfumes. They erroneously believe that just because they're no longer readily available, these perfumes are worth a fortune. And they have very little to lose by repeatedly gambling a few dollars every month that someone might be stupid enough to drop $475 on their bottle.

"Perfumes don't change."

Sure they do, and the changes are very noticeable. But think about it - if it's untrue that perfumes forever remain the same as the day they were bottled, the suggestion that vintages smell better than reformulations veers into a ditch. What if the changes that perfumes undergo exist in an "arc" rather than a straight line? What if they start out smelling thinner, weaker, more chemical, then macerate and improve after a few years, and finally weaken and disassemble? One could then argue that if true, such changes might make new batches of fragrance worth "waiting out," while very old batches might be "past their prime." You could compare new and vintage to each other and wonder if the vintage used to smell like the new, and if the new will eventually smell like the vintage.

"Everything is called a fougere nowadays."

Fougeres rely on the interplay of lavender and coumarin. Some are blatant about it (Drakkar Noir), others aren't (Moustache). To my knowledge the last blatant fougere on the mainstream designer market was Rive Gauche Pour Homme by YSL. Some folks are now suggesting that Dior Sauvage is a fougere. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but the best way to sidestep the false notion that everything is a fougere is to just read. Most newbies have no idea what a fougere is, or that it even exists, and veterans know better. So it's tough trying to find where all the uncontrolled labeling is taking place. If you read the forums daily like I do, you'll find that fougeres and discussions about them are pretty infrequently raised.

Enjoy your Colombus Day weekend everyone!



10/6/16

I Bought Mesmerize For Men Years Ago And Never Wore It. The Weirdest Thing Happened.



Here's something that never happens. I blind buy a cheap fragrance, and by a stroke of luck discover I like it. It smells like a friendlier, fruitier version of Zino, with a pert apple top note followed by a dusky woods accord, rather like a gentle rosewood, sandalwood, and cedar melange, and surprisingly well balanced for the price.

It's right up my alley, I really like it, and inexplicably never, ever wear it. I'm drawn to its charm and recognize its value, but I snob up. It's Avon. I have Green Irish Tweed and Balenciaga Pour Homme in my wardrobe. Why the fuck would I ever wear an Avon?

So it finds its place amongst the other bottles and remains there, gathering dust for so long that I've lost count of the years. Yes, I wear it a few times, and get around to reviewing it, blog about it, etc. But is it in the rotation? No. Just no.

The other day, after my ponderous reacquaintance with Sex Appeal, I realized it was time to give Mesmerize another whirl. Extracting the bottle from its near-final resting place is like a scene from Indiana Jones. Then I crack open the Ark and whuh huuuuh-huh huh??? What. The fuck. Happened?

The crisp little citrus apple ditty of top notes is now a weird, purple violet thing, no longer edible. It slowly and painfully unfurls itself amid a howl of raw alcohol, revealing a twisted, garbled mangling of wood-like husks, the shocking remnants of what used to be a staid, coherent, remarkably conservative hue. Incredibly, the fragrance now strongly resembles my also-spoiled vintage Cool Water, with the unbridled ionones that once served the apple notes becoming a stark and abstract "fresh" scent.

A weird, messy saltiness also pervades the drydown, which I believe is how the anchoring musk note met its end. Where once it smelled clean and a bit drab, the musk now attempts an ambergris effect on a ten dollar budget. How does that work out, you ask? I won't mince words - it smells awful.

Though it is somewhat interesting, I am appalled by how this fragrance smells now. It is completely unwearable. The base does not emerge unscathed from the wreckage of the top and heart accords. No stage of the wearing experience is salvageable. My barely-used bottle of Mesmerize for Men (a now discontinued scent) is spoiled.

If anyone, including our friend at Wordpress, doubts the veracity of my claim, I will gladly send my bottle to you so you can experience it for yourself. But since I doubt anyone will care that much, I'm happy to just share this unfortunate experience with you here, and leave it at that. Mesmerize deserved better from me. I should have wore it and enjoyed it while it was still good. Rather than throw it away, I'll hold on to the bottle as physical proof that a good fragrance, not abused or misplaced in any way, can absolutely spoil with nothing more than the passage of time.



10/5/16

My Jovan Sex Appeal Sat Forgotten For Five Years. Now It Smells More Natural.



October is here, and I opened the fragrance trunk marked "fall." Tucked in the shadows behind Joint, Vermeil, The Dreamer, Francesco Smalto Pour Homme, Azzaro PH, Polo Crest, Grey Flannel, Zino, Lagerfeld Classic, Ungaro Pour L'Homme II, Drakkar Noir, Witness, Green Irish Tweed, Versace L'Homme, Krizia Uomo, Lapidus PH, Antaeus, and Giorgio for Men were my dusty bottles of good old Sex Appeal. I have it in both splash and spray. (I'm insanely sexy.)

I figured the fragrance would smell the same as it did five years ago, and spent two days reacquainting myself with it, giving it full wearings. On day one, I discovered what had happened to the scent, and on day two I tried to understand my discovery, but I'll just say this: somehow the blend of chemicals in my Sex Appeal melded into a familiar woody accord, the likes of which I've only encountered in "vintage" fragrances. It's the "smooth wood effect" that defines virtually every vintage woody masculine, from Feeling Man to Zino to Balenciaga PH. It's a mellow, almost natural (but never quite there) sandalwoody, creamy, oakey-lavenderish buzz, and it typically becomes the only thing I'll smell if the perfume is aged enough, which in most cases is at least twenty years.

Except in this case twenty years have not passed, and the mellow, lavender-infused wood accord is in its dawning hours, with perhaps six or seven years of air exposure for the splash, depending on how much sampling occurred in however long it sat on a store shelf before finding its home with me. The spray has at least five years of minimal air exposure, but also some mild light exposure. I remind you that Sex Appeal is a very burly woody oriental to begin with. However, its notes were only briefly discernible with sharp clarity before they rapidly fuzzed out into a nondescript brown haze. Yet its core constituency of natural (as in renderings of things from nature) notes were well balanced for a decent three hours, and their bawdy seventies vibe was worthy of its price point.

What changed, exactly? The fuzzing happens later now, and it happens to a lesser degree. The lavender smells stronger and barely fades; the coumarinic patchouli and spiced woods in the heart smell more vibrant, and also smell clearer. This seems especially true with the splash bottle.

I also notice that the funky musk, which sometimes went overboard, now smells perfectly balanced and often almost imperceptible.

I won't bother getting into the questions of whether the fragrance or my perception of it has changed. The fact that it now, after a five year haitus, smells better, more lucid, and more natural than it used to has only fortified my belief that perfumes change over time. That the changes in these relatively young bottles strongly resemble a particular type of herbal woody accord that I have repeatedly encountered in the first wearings of different vintages of similar fragrances affirms that my experience is about the fragrances, and not a supposed change in how I perceive them.

In another five years, I expect that the rich, woodsy glow in Sex Appeal will overwhelm my senses within five seconds of application, and eclipse the lavender and musk notes altogether. When that happens, I'll know that it's not really representative of how the fragrance ought to smell, and therefore officially a "vintage" stash.



9/25/16

Geoffrey Beene's Bowling Green Is Back. The Question Is Why?



According to numerous internet sources, the long-discontinued sophomore effort by Beene has been reissued to commercial markets at steeply discounted prices. Whether they are new stock or "new old stock" is not entirely clear, but my understanding of Beene's extensive distribution history suggests that it's highly possible the frag has been rereleased by EA Fragrances. Apparently a few people have received bottles with EA stickers, although at least one person has received a vintage Sanofi Beaute bottle, so the situation remains unclear.

I'm not interested in purchasing a 4 ounce bottle from Amazon, even though they're going for about $19 a pop, but the feedback on them is interesting. I remember Bowling Green as being very herbal, spicy, and woody in character, with relatively little "fresh," and a whole lot of old-school eighties-styled "green." It smelled like grass clippings, dried basil, rosemary, pine, lemon, cedar chips, sour citrus, and stale joss sticks. There was a weird, oriental, fake incensey undercurrent, probably because the cardamom and juniper notes had lost clarity and balance. The bottle I used was twenty years old at least. BG's opening accord was spiky and very ruggedly herbal, with only a hint of synthetic lavender. Think Drakkar Noir dressed as a hippie for the first minute, but BG is not a Drakkar Noir clone. It's unique enough, and a very good scent, but nothing great.

Why is Bowling Green back? Recent reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive, and it's safe to say people missed it. But Grey Flannel, which is ten years older, is resoundingly superior in quality and composition. In the late seventies and early eighties, Grey Flannel was Beene's sole creation, a conservative chypre loaded with dry citrus and rich oakmoss, its ruggedness softened by the world's greatest violet note. To suggest that Beene needed a "green" fragrance to follow it is like saying Lincoln needed to offer a "full-size" car after the Mark V.

Yet in 1986, Beene inexplicacably released Bowling Green. The world seemed to like it enough to keep it alive for seven or eight years, but something odd happened. Despite being lighter, airier, and arguably more accessible than its older brother, sales for BG slumped, and Beene had to kill it. Grey Flannel marched on, but Bowling Green was benched. I suspect that things like Lacoste Original, Quorum, Tsar, and Red for Men devoured its market share, and BG just couldn't retain its identity in the face of so much competition, but I'm not sure. Another possibility is that the fragrance suffered from being too ambitious. Beene had a good but limited budget for perfume. Grey Flannel was relatively simple, a stark lemon, coumarin, ionones, and oakmoss affair, but Bowling Green had a more conventionally eighties pyramid of two hundred different notes.

It smells very nice, but also busy and a bit cheap. The money to properly render and balance all the superfluous herbs and florals wasn't really in play. Inexperienced noses give the scent ten minutes and declare it a grassier Drakkar Noir. Advanced sniffers appreciate its unique interplay of citrus and woods, but in thirty years nobody can say why this fragrance exists. Has it been thirty years already? Well now, I just stumbled on why it's back: EA is celebrating its thirty year anniversary!



9/19/16

Preparing For Autumn In Connecticut With A Gorgeous Arsenal Of Rich, Woody Fragrances: Do You Find That Sexy?



A few weeks ago there was an unfortunate video posted by Daver of the YouTube channel "Fragrance Bros," which I've always enjoyed, in which the host criticized another Youtuber named Jeremy, who is known for his "Jeremy Fragrance" channel. Apparently Daver felt that outgoing single stud Jeremy was possibly reviewing fragrances for fragrance companies instead of merely commenting as an objective voice. Daver also seemed a bit nonplussed by Jeremy's fascination with equating fragrance to compliments and sex appeal.

He's not alone; these kinds of "reviewers" annoy many in our tight-knit community. In eight years, I've read on a daily basis comments made by brosefs about how much "chicks love" something they wore. Every Earth rotation brings at least ten or fifteen new ones to my desktop. There are men who shamelessly equate perfume with getting complementary apple pie, and they're quite vocal about it. Problem is, most of us aren't interested in what a drunk chick said about some faceless guy's Saturday night spritz. We've never met these people. Their singing praises about Aventus because it encouraged them to bump uglies has zero bearing on our lives.

I watched a few Jeremy Fragrance vids to see what got Daver so hot under the collar, and learned something: this guy is handsome and friendly. He's an extrovert, exuding confidence and swagger, his gelled hair and inviting, telegenic features drawing me in for more views with an effortlessness usually reserved for A-List Hollywood celebs. After fifteen minutes of Jeremy, I knew why Daver had posted his unnecessary vid. He's jealous of Jeremy.

As I said at the start, I've always liked the "Fragrance Bros," especially when Jer was on. Lately it's been a solo act, and although he's quite affable and knowledgeable, Daver lacks charisma. He's average looking, very scripted, and on substance he's disgustingly obsessed with niche and high-end designer, with what amounts to an allergic aversion to anything classical, "old-school," or vintage. I don't hold his love of niche against him on a personal level, but as a viewer seeking something of myself in the reviews made by like-minded folks, I resent that 90% of his reviews are for niche frags, stuff that really doesn't interest me, and the remaining sliver is for ubiquitous department store fare that I don't need Daver (or anyone) to talk about.

Jeremy covers a more designer-based range of products, and a fair amount of niche, and frankly I find his content even more lacking, but it's funny . . . He makes me want to watch. He's enthusiastic. He owns the screen. His powers of persuasion are far greater than most. When I was in middle school there was a poster hanging in the art room with a little wide-eyed, happy looking kitten that read, "Act enthusiastic and you'll be enthusiastic." That's Jeremy in a nutshell.

But he does prattle on about female compliments. Oh lord, does he ever. Look, I get it. I love women. When they compliment me on my fragrance, I smile inside. I agonize over what to wear on dates. I'm always on the smell-out for whatever female coworkers are wearing. We all like and want sex. Our sense of smell is directly built into that. But if you're serious about fragrance - key word "serious" here - you get over it and talk about the millions of other more dynamic facets to the fragrance world. Serious fragheads don't wear fragrance to wow potential mates. We wear fragrance to wow ourselves. We hope that if we're impressed, others will be, too. We don't enjoy fragrance in a vacuum, but we're not single-mindedly focused on winning the prize every second of the day, either.

It's autumn in Connecticut this week, and you know what I'm doing? Poking through my collection for fragrances that wear well on crisp October days. Stuff like Zino, Aubusson Pour Homme, Mitsouko, Lagerfeld Classic, Pheremone, Z14, Azzaro Pour Homme, Witness, Furyo, Mesmerize, and Drakkar Noir are making the cut. I want to smell like I stepped out of 1993. Is that sexy? Is a 35 year-old single guy living in a 1950s ranch, buffing a 2003 Buick and reeking of pine, lavender, rosewood, and tobacco sexy? Only if I don't care about it. Women hate insecure men, and there's nothing more insecure than traipsing around nightclubs asking barely legal girls if they think the latest designer junkola smells sexy.

There's no such thing as a "sexy cologne." Alone, without their wearers, fragrances are just pleasant chemical mixtures. Royal Copenhagen or Aventus, it wouldn't matter; Pierce Brosnan could wear either one and elicit the same response from women. The man makes the fragrance. It ain't the other way around.




9/8/16

My Vintage Kouros Got Stronger - Again!




This is not the first time it's happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last. As you may recall, I wrote a post on September 7th of last year, in which I talked about an older bottle of Kouros that I had acquired. The bottle was full and unused. Its performance was unexpected:

"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."

Well, that was a year ago. Last September I wore Kouros every single day without deviation, and by the end of the month had only an inch of fragrance left. Fully aware that Kouros ages and intensifies, I packed up that inch and didn't touch it again until this week. Since Kouros is only worn one month out of the year, I forgot I had so little. I gave myself the traditional three small squirts and went to work.

I rarely worry about offending my coworkers with my scent, but by the time I arrived at my job I was worried I'd be sent home. It wasn't "loud." It was pounding.

What happened? I'm not sure what exactly transpires with this particular scent. Kouros is an oddity in that it takes dozens of musk molecules and somehow channels their shrill, stinky-freshness into a civilized and legible form, like fireflies carefully ushered into a jar. The result is a fragrance that smells bawdy but smart. I always know when I'm wearing too much because the interplay of incense, musk, lavender, and honey lingers in my nose. Likewise, I can tell that I've dosed it correctly when it disappears and occasionally wafts. Last year this particular bottle was potent enough to sense for roughly six of the eight hours in my workday, but was never too strong, and frequently not strong enough.

I suspect that the air in the bottle "oxidized" and partially evaporated some of the perfume, causing just enough water and alcohol reduction to concentrate my small pond of Kouros and make it twice as potent as it was twelve months ago. There is no evidence for the notion that fragrances get stronger the more you smell them, but there is plenty of evidence in the scientific community that our sense of fragrances can diminish with repeated exposure to them. So far no scientist has come forward to explain why I might perceive the same sample of Kouros as being stronger this year than it was last year, or whether my perception is real or illusory, but I invite one to comment here.

As it stands now, with three half sprays doing the job of eight from a year ago (I actually had to refresh this scent last year to make it through longer days), I'm going to go ahead and say that no, this isn't my imagination. My Kouros got stronger - much stronger. And that's a good thing, especially with less than an ounce left until I'm spritzing fumes.


8/24/16

Why Are Sales Associates So Inept At Their Jobs?


"Hi! Can I Hinder You?"


One thing that never ceases to amaze me in the fragrance world is the army of sales associates tasked with "moving units." I encounter them whenever I step into a store.

We've all read the complaints, usually posted in forums after members meet snotty sales reps who hear very little and understand even less. Sometimes they're in stores, and sometimes these insane conversations happen on the telephone. There are a slew of reasons why these people wander department store fragrance floors, but people outwardly wonder why they're working in a field they know nothing about. How can someone whose job is selling perfumes be completely ignorant about perfume? Why don't department stores hire people with experience? People who actually know and love fragrance? What's wrong with them?

I'll bypass the lengthy editorializing and cut right to the answer: America's culture. Or, more specifically, America's "meritocracy." You think that department stores don't know what they're doing when they hire morons? You think they're oblivious to their customers' needs? Think again. Upper management, those invisible nobodies who do all the hiring, know exactly what they're doing.

In America, we have something called a "meritocracy." It's the fantasy idea that if a person gets an education, his "merits" in his field will grant him access to an upper middle-class lifestyle, making six figures by age forty. First you have to spend sixty thousand dollars of the government's money on an institution that dispenses the degree of your choosing. Then you have to take a high paying job that will make paying down your debt while living in your own place feasible, which is no easy task. Eventually, the thinking goes, you'll come out ahead, and become one of America's prized elite.

This, of course, is utter bullshit. If it were true, our economy wouldn't be in the toilet. The majority of jobs gained since 2009 would be white collar careers, not minimum-wage crap. The middle class, the largest customer base for degree-awarding institutions, would be growing, not shrinking. America would be on the rise, instead of in decline.

The truth is that the "meritocracy" is a good way to keep most of the population from ever becoming wealthy and truly successful. It's a terrific way to keep people down, so a select few can stay up. Most of the world's biggest successes never earned a degree - they didn't have that sort of time to waste. Think about it: if an education is being "bought" so that someone can "succeed," and it isn't being sought after for personal enlightenment or truly educational reasons, then the maxim "buyer beware" suddenly applies. Instead of gaining ground, an educated person in America loses years of his or her future to paying back incredible debt. The average college degree costs $35K. Most degrees are actually much higher than that, in the realm of $50K - $60K. A not insignificant number of young Americans attend Ivy League schools, or "big name" schools with religious affiliations that can land them $100K+ in the hole.

Great way to start your life.

What about those who can't afford an education? The single mothers who got knocked up at eighteen? The guys who simply lack the temperament for pointless lectures and filthy dorm life? The people who just aren't interested in going that deeply into debt for something so very far from a sure thing? What happens to those poor saps?

They wind up earning minimum wage, or around minimum wage, usually in the restaurant or retail sector. Waiters, busboys, sales clerks, cashiers, drivers. They won't rot away in a gutter, but they'll just barely get by. These are the folks working the fragrance counter at Bloomingdales and Macy's. They're kids off the street. They're women who wanted to bypass beauty school and work in "sales" instead. They make anywhere from $9.50 to $12 an hour. They work 37 hours a week, so the store doesn't have to give them full-time benefits. They work a "flex schedule," never knowing what the week will bring. They earn a 3% commission. They're not unionized.

They cost the stores very little.

This is how American companies want it to be. You see, if they actually required their employees to know something about the sector they're placed in, they'd tread dangerously close to needing people with "specialized skills." People who fall under that umbrella cost more, because they're usually educated. They're not looking to work for minimum wage. They want a salary.

So the stores decide to go the other way. They hire people with little to no knowledge of anything, and throw them on the floor. These people aren't there to know things. They're there to ring up sales. That's it.

And that's who we encounter when we have questions (and when we don't). That's who approaches us with samples and nonsensical comments about how much better some piece of garbage designer scent is than anything we've ever smelled before. These are the people waving coffee beans under our noses, as if that actually does anything. They're stupid because that's what keeps overhead low and profits high. That's Capitalism at its finest.

Of course, the job of selling perfume does require knowledge on the part of the SA, and it would be very good if SAs had an extensive background in fragrance, with intricate understandings of pyramids, families, and even a healthy dose of perfume history. It would be incredibly beneficial for every major department store in the USA to value knowledgable SAs, and hire based on how much they know. It would be helpful if they actually paid their SAs a competent living wage, but that's not how Capitalism works.

A Capitalist society values profit. You can only maximize profit by minimizing overhead and maximizing profit margins. You can only minimize overhead by hiring as few employees as physically possible, and paying them rock bottom wages. And that's only possible (and justifiable) if you can point to these employees and say, "Look, they're unskilled labor. That's why we pay them shit."

So the next time some little turd with a silver name badge and clip-on tie throws you a predatory grin and picks up a smelling strip, don't think of him as the problem. Remember how American society works these days, the miles of horseshit we've piled on ourselves with the "meritocracy" lie and the legion of twenty-somethings permanently damned to lower middle-class life because they're starting out with fifty times more debt than their parents or grandparents ever did. Remember the fact that Macy's can't afford to sell you a bottle of Bleu de Chanel if it can't afford to pay the SA to "move units." Remember the Alamo.


8/12/16

A Note To "Newbies"




If you're new to fragrance and interested in exploring all that the fragrance world has to offer, I suggest you secure a steady confidence in yourself first, because there are dangers.

One danger, perhaps the least of them, is the issue of finances. This is in every form a pricy pursuit. There are certainly a few thousand "cheap" scents that can be had by the bottle for anywhere from $5 to $25, and running through them won't necessarily break the bank. But bear in mind that there are literally thousands of these "cheapies" out there, and if you're set on amassing a thorough collection of all of them, $5 a bottle suddenly takes on a different meaning.

Which brings me to the next danger: addiction. Yes, you're smiling. You're thinking I'm being an alarmist. Take it from someone who felt as you do; entertaining my interest in olfactory exploration seemed entirely innocent at the outset, but before long I found myself needing to own things I wasn't completely prepared to buy. I couldn't help myself. If I liked something, I wanted it, and eventually bought it. The feeling is not unlike that of "needing" a cigarette. You think you're in control by abstaining, but all the while you can't get it out of your head.

Another danger is what I call "collection confirmation bias." You have a fully formed opinion of a certain type of fragrance, and only partially formed opinions of others, and your collection is limited to your bias, and you automatically assume you smell terrific. Chances are only 50/50 that you're right. I see this all the time on Badger & Blade. That community is full of guys who collect cheaper "wetshaver" fragrances. Their bias is typically for things that are inexpensive and old-school. Many of these fellows wear this stuff exclusively, and they think they smell terrific. But do others agree? With such a limited range in their collections, it's likely they appeal to other people half of the time, and the other half they're actually annoying everyone around them. They've stopped on the one kind of fragrance they enjoy, and failed to diversify. A stopped clock is only right twice a day.

This brings me to the final and most relevant danger that you face. As a "newbie," you're hungry for information, for guidance, and you're impressionable. You scour the boards for tips, and take advice from others seriously. Most people are out to help you, but some have their heads up their asses. These are the people who imply that there are "wrong" fragrances and "right" fragrances, and that wearing and liking the "wrongs" makes you "inexperienced" and/or "naive."

In the fragrance exploration business, the "rights" and "wrongs" come in groups, not as individual scents. For example, liking and wearing Tuscany by Aramis is automatically "right." If you like it, you should wear it and enjoy it. But only pursuing aromatic fougeres, and strictly wearing those kinds of compositions is not the most open-minded and enlightening approach. You're better off branching out into other realms also, because who knows what else you'll discover and come to love? There are some excellent chypres and orientals out there as well.

Don't let anyone tell you that liking something specific is "wrong." Don't let people attach any meaning to your preference that strays beyond "you like it, and that's all that matters." If you like a specific designer frag, and many in the community do not share the sentiment, you're still "right," because what your nose appreciates is all that matters - your nose is the only one you have! There are no external social forces, no ideologies or beliefs that can outweigh your own feelings. There is no cost-to-value ratio that supersedes the priceless sense of pleasure gleaned from something you enjoy.

Why should anyone else dictate what you like? Why should you have to explain yourself? There are no reasons to entertain that audience, because there are no authorities in the community. Don't let anyone tell you that they know more about fragrance because they've smelled thousands of fragrances. A man with five thousand reviews under his belt has still only experienced 1% of what's out there. In 2016 there are as many perfumes in the world as there are stars in the sky. No man has experienced enough of them to claim the title of "expert."

Now go forth, and enjoy your new passion. A brave new world stretches yonder.