6/4/16

The Peculiar Reviews Of Vermeil For Men


Burning Questions



There's an unusual little trend in the ever-growing community of fragrance reviewers, and I thought I'd share my thoughts about it here. It seems that recent reviews for Vermeil's signature masculine all have something in common: they suggest the fragrance lacks a tobacco note. They are in stark contrast to earlier comments about this scent, most of which acknowledge a distinct tobacco note in the composition. I attribute these differences of opinion to a social trend in how people perceive certain fragrances, with another example found in a thread about Zino.

You can see in the thread that there are divergent opinions about the reformulation of Zino, with a few members claiming to smell no change in the scent, while others complain about extremely noticeable changes. Both parties acknowledge that the packaging of the formula in question is the same, but disagree on the fragrance itself. What makes for interesting discussion is how firmly both parties believe what they're saying. The participants feel their experiences are only relatable as self-evident truths.

With Vermeil for Men, the issue is a bit more vague, and raises a few more questions. First, let me quote the following reviews from Fragrantica members "Ray Achnioach," "Spankrabbit," and "Chicago Tony T," respectively, and please bear in mind that the original Davidoff scent is what Vermeil is usually compared to in the blogosphere:
"While this is supposed to be a 'tobacco' scent, the bottle looking like a classic lighter, I don't notice anything tobacco like here. It certainly isn't at all like the 'Cuba' type frags . . . It starts off just very 'perfumy' in a nice way but dries down to a balanced bittersweet, floral, herby scent."

"I didn't get any tobacco from this at all. Has this really been reformulated or is the bottle design making us think tobacco is a note? . . . What I do get is a lighter version of Salvador Dali Pour Homme with just a little more sweetness in the opening. The middle floral notes and the patchouli, sandalwood dry down are almost identical . . . but Vermeil Pour Homme isn't as heavy and the berry notes in the opening burn off quickly. Not a bad scent but you have to love patchouli to appreciate this one."

"There is a bunch of notes going on here. Tobacco is not one of them. I don't know which version I have but it's more floral than anything. Also some earthiness due to the [patchouli] and vetiver."

With these sentiments in mind, I turn your attention to these reviews by "Omar.melmo," "Rerik," and "NobleRoman," respectively:
"For the price, the natural rendition of tobacco and the [brilliance] of the composition are really stunning! . . . what I get is soft tobacco and flowers."

"Vermeil is a soft, sweet tobacco scent."

"[Vermeil for Men] is a semi-sweet tobacco scent with 7 hr longevity and medium projection. Linear, but I like it. I've read it has been discontinued, so if you enjoy tobacco scents, get it while you can."

In the "Vermeil Has No Tobacco" camp, three guys say they don't smell tobacco, and attempt to elaborate on what they smell instead. Ray Achnioach's description is pretty vague, but says he smells something "bittersweet, floral, herby." "Spankrabbit" says he smells a lighter Dali PH in Vermeil. I guess this means he isn't identifying similarities to the original Davidoff, or perhaps he hasn't smelled the Davidoff, since Dali PH is rarely compared to Davidoff, if at all. He also detects patchouli and sandalwood, which is interesting. "Chicago Tony T" mentions that he smells vetiver, but says nothing about sandalwood. Only one person out of the three uses the unusual (and inaccurate) descriptor of "herby," a word I would sooner associate with ferns like Aramis Tuscany and Francesco Smalto PH, or certain types of "fresh" scents, like L'Eau Bleue d'Issey and Agua Brava, but not with something as dry and musky as Vermeil.

These guys all agree that they smell no tobacco in Vermeil. What they'd have a harder time agreeing on are the notes they do smell.

"Spankrabbit" thinks patchouli is what "you have to love" to wear Vermeil. But "Chicago Tony T" thinks it's "more floral than anything." Also strange is how "Spankrabbit" likens Vermeil to Dali. So is this just a case of "Spankrabbit" not knowing what he's talking about? If I read through, do I believe the Davidoff comparisons (having never smelled the Davidoff myself), or put stock into the Dali comparison (a scent I own)? Is it possible that Dali PH and Davidoff are similar in some way?

To me, these confusing descriptions are indicative of amateur noses. There's no shame in being an amateur nose. I'm an amateur nose. As far as perfumery goes, Luca Turin and Chandler Burr are amateur noses. Few of us who write about perfume actually make a living as perfumers, so the default setting here is decidedly that of "amateur." However, there are degrees of amateurism.

There are floral facets to Vermeil, although they're "compressed," and don't jump out at me as smelling green. I can't smell this scent and say, "Yes, there's the rose, there's the jasmine." These notes aren't separable in the blend. However, I detect clear floral accents in the woody-aromatic thrust of the overall composition. There are certainly deft suggestions of floral materials in Vermeil's drydown.

I'd also agree that there are strong musky elements, which I think are over-blended and nondescript. Dali is also quite musky. I'd say there's a very loose, threadbare similarity between them in this regard, but wouldn't suggest Vermeil is a "lighter" Dali PH. I don't think they're close at all. Vintage Dali PH is intensely musky and woody, a very dark, austere composition. It's difficult to wear, and feels dated.

Vermeil is also musky and woody, but it's much smoother, more inviting, a bit fruity, somewhat floral, and yeah, there's a definite tobacco vibe. Stylistically, it's a fragrance from the early nineties, but the subtle interplay of semi sweet fruits and bitter tobacco give it a timeless feel. Dali PH isn't fruity, and its wood notes are so burly and saturnine in nature that tobacco, if there, would be superfluous. To my knowledge, few if any reviewers mention tobacco in Dali PH. Not many mention any fruit at all in Dali, not even citrus, so that's also a non-starter.

I don't smell vetiver in Vermeil, and don't know why anyone would mention it. Perhaps there's a touch of Iso E in the mix, but I'd connect that to the cedar note in Vermeil's heart. It's a robust note, and maybe it smells darker and "rootier" on "Chicago Tony T," but I can't verify that. Then again, maybe there is vetiver, and I just don't smell it. Only one person makes note of it. It doesn't seem to jump out at anyone else. I think it got one vote in the Fragrantica pyramid. It's ranked pretty low on there, so I suppose this isn't a big deal, but it rounds out these disconcerting perceptions.

If we turn to the "Vermeil Is A Tobacco Frag" camp, there's a big difference in how the opinions are stated. They're clearly the impressions of amateurs, but these amateurs are not as ambitious as their counterparts. They're not trying as hard to impress the reader. They've kept it simple. There's continuity. There's a shared language. These three guys smell Vermeil as being "soft," and "sweet," and all detect tobacco. There's very little in the way of divergent remarks. You could draw a fairly straight line to connect these reviews, while the other camp is all over the map.

I wish I could sit down with the "tobacco doubters." I would have each of them sample Cigarillo by Rémy Latour. It's similar to Vermeil. Cigarillo is what they're describing when they cite a supposed tobacco frag with no tobacco. I suspect there's a very faint tobacco note beneath Cigarillo's musky fruits and dessicated woods, and I smell this element clearly for a few minutes, but if you put a gun to my head, I'd say Cigarillo is true to its packaging copy, and really just a woody cedar frag, with no emphasis on tobacco at any stage of its development.

I would then pass along my bottle of Vermeil - my bottle, as this is what I've been going on - and see if they can smell the biggest difference between it and Latour's scent. Both are conceptual fragrances. I've grown to think of them as being niche fragrances, actually. They appeal to a small subset of men who enjoy inexpensive tobacco scents, and are the kind of frags that highlight sweet, "treated" tobaccos, which are found in certain types of cigars. Both have highly suggestive packaging, and this aspect of the perfume "experience" is done beautifully with these two. Cigarillo is a masterpiece, and Vermeil is good fun to look at.

If these guys were to tell me that they still don't smell tobacco in Vermeil, even after smelling a similar frag that really doesn't have much (if any) tobacco, I'd focus on how they're smelling it. Are they burying their noses in their arms? Are they doing quick, close passes with their noses, where they're inhaling audibly, and then jerking their heads back? Or are they relaxing and "wafting" the scent up to their noses? Are they not doing anything, and simply letting the air carry the scent?

If they're burying their noses where they sprayed, that would explain why they're not smelling a tobacco note in Vermeil. You can't really "dig in" with this kind of scent. It's conceptual. The overall vibe has to come through, and one must allow that to happen on its own time. You could argue that there's no actual separable tobacco note, but Vermeil's fruits are a bit too dry, its "florals" too wilted and sour, and its wood notes smell somewhat burnt. To me, these three qualities create a tobacco reconstruction. Because the drydown arc is tight, almost linear, and each effect is experienced as one, they meld into a tobacco essence, and I smell it consistently with each wearing.

Just as I can't pinpoint a singular floral note, I can't find where, exactly, the tobacco resides. Still, I smell smoke. It pervades the experience of wearing Vermeil, filtering through its formulaic masculine elements, and imbuing them with a uniqueness and quality that you would never expect in something that costs five dollars per ounce.

Cigarillo, in contrast, simply smells like a bunch of non-tobacco notes that may have a very, very light (and singular) tobacco note accenting them for a few minutes, before disappearing. Latour's scent is accurately advertised as a "woody" experience.

In closing, I think the pattern in these reviews revolves around there being a common note that reviewers say they "can't smell," followed by a laundry list of other things they smell instead. It's problematic, as these "other things" rarely align across the different reviews. Meanwhile, those who buy into the concept generally agree on what they smell (tobacco), and how they smell it (softy). Sure, the packaging might plant the impression in our brains beforehand, and the power of suggestion might be overwhelming here. But what if Vermeil for Men really does have at least a detectable essence of smoky tobacco in it? If some reliably smell it, do they cancel out the impressions of those who don't? Or is every opinion equally valid here?

If you're interested in Vermeil for Men, and base your blind buys on internet reviews, these questions are food for thought.




4 comments:

  1. I recently read a cross cultural study where subjects were blindfolded and asked to identify herbs & spices by scent alone from their own kitchen. Less than 95% could even identify half of the herbs & spices from their own kitchen. If most folks can't even identify the different flavors in food from their own kitchen I'm certain they can't figure out what's going on in a perfume.
    So I suppose there are noses and then there are NOSES. I'm sure some olfactory bulbs are wired differently but a lot of folks simply can't pick fragrance notes out of complex combinations. I have a cousin who is a Julliard grad & concert violinist, she has such a fine "ear" she can listen to a piece of music & immediately play it back to you perfectly or write the notes precisely in modern staff notation. My ears & limited auditory processing certainly can't do that.
    However, I've never labeled the multitudinous spices in my kitchen because I have no problem identifying them by scent.

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    1. A good test of someone's sniffing abilities would be to have them blindly identify different teas by region. At least, if someone could actually do that, I'd be impressed.

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  2. As a newbie I don't think I smelled the tobacco, as the citrus, musk, and animalic qualities were overwhelming, so I agree that when reading reviews, one should take into account how the initial presentation might be problematic for a lot of people.

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    1. Unless it's lit, most people don't know what tobacco leaf smells like. You weren't alone in that regard.

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