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.


15 comments:

  1. Bravo Mr Ross!
    I enjoy fragrances in my collection from cheap thrills to the exorbitantly expensive.
    The cheapie Pink Sugar is my fave Fall fragrance because it reminds me of the Harvest fairs & Halloween with cotton candy, fresh figs, and all sorts of candy coated goodness.
    When I'm feeling sublimely elegant, somewhat regal, & in the mood for an Oriental excursion I break out my one of my Amouage attars. (Serious $$$$'s!!!)

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    1. Yes those attars are super pricy. Autumn for me is Halston Z14, Grey Flannel, and Mitsouko.

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    2. They still make Z14?
      I'm stuck in the late 80's 90's for Fall-
      In addition to PS - Laura Biagiatti's Roma, Lolita Lempicka, Ragheeb

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    3. Incredibly, they do still make it. To my nose it has changed little in the last 15 years at least.

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  2. Your common-sense views have been a great help to me in managing my fragrance collection, and for that I thank you. The following concepts, gleaned from yourself and others, have helped me greatly.

    1. Fragrance is not an investment. it is a transitory pleasure, not a store of value.

    2. The yearning never dies. It is easy to tempt oneself into overspending with the thought "But once I have X I'll be satisfied!" This is false. Avoid this fallacy and enjoy your addiction safely.

    3. A person whose taste in scents seems similar to yours (similar reactions to notes, combinations, and general genres) may have more useful information for you than a much-vaunted expert whose taste is the opposite of yours. Which is not to say you should fall into lockstep with groupthink, or that experience and knowledge are not wonderful tools, but rather a reminder that personal taste plays a major part in the pleasure of fragrance. In short don't ask someone who hates florals what new floral you should try.

    Sam in Portland

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    1. Sam, glad to be of help. Thanks for your thoughts and for reading.

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  3. I appreciate (though too late) the warnings about addictive behaviours. Perhaps this is why I enjoy it so much when fragrance writers list their favourite fragrances and why; addiction may be part of this, but hearing the rationale of a passion is always a humanizing education. Has your personal roster changed much since the (much earlier) post citing Caron, Kouros, Paco Rabanne, et al? Is it time for an update?

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    1. My favs list remains the same and intact - ever more so with so many other relatively superfluous niche frags under my belt.

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  4. Well, that is something I find very buoying, actually... Maybe because all of the back and forth about reformulations, vintages and niches - kind of an unholy trinity of worry + white noise for this newcomer- tends to erode the notion that this search (preferring to think of oneself as a seeker rather than an addict) is in the end, about divining sensibility. Thanks.

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    1. That's a great way to put it: "unholy trinity of worry + white noise" - the most absurd amid the din is this infernal idea that people can be 100% accurate in their detection of "inferior" formulas, presumably based on infallible memory of whatever came before. Halston Z14 is a perfect example. Released in 1976 by Halston himself, the original formula is now 40 yrs old. In any surviving bottles, the juice has been subjected to 480 months of varying temperature and humidity, has passed through countless forms of natural and man-made light, and been exposed to air and anything contaminating that air. Good luck finding a vintage that hasn't significantly changed in that timeframe. The only way to truly recognize how the current formula compares is guesstimation and flawless recollection. Yet many would have newcomers believe that there's no point in trying the new stuff. Ditto for a myriad of scents as old or older than Z14. Once you get past 20 years it takes considerable skill and luck to fully recognize a vintage, and even then there is very little certainty.

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  5. Yes, and I know full well what memory (and the memory of being a younger person -- a different kind of memory entirely) do for sensory impressions.
    Quickly - on the topic of the favourites list, I recall that neither Eau Sauvage nor Rochas' Moustache made your list because you could not pick a favourite for this citrus chypre category. Did you ever decide? Or does Versace l'Homme (something I haven't tried) deserve a place in that pantheon of almost?

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    1. Grey Flannel and Mitsouko are probably the winners in that regard. Versace L'Homme is right now another favorite but I'm beginning to wonder if it was the template for Creed's Tabarome Millesime, due to the crisp ginger and green notes on top and the touch of tobacco down below. Will need to revisit the Creed to be sure.

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  6. Hey,

    Thank you for this post, as a newbie for the past 6 months got a lot of flak in my choices..felt like a fish out of water!

    Recently has this idea which would allow people to discover their scent in a non-pressured envoriment so they can develop confidence in their choices.

    Curious what you think?

    http://sniffory.pagedemo.co

    If you don't allow links,I apologize in advance

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  7. 'Chiming' in to say how much I enjoyed the comment about a stopped clock being right twice a day. ;)

    And I was that newbie, saddled with unloved albatrosses which I have since only partially managed to offload. Chastened, and no longer in that frenetic, impulsive squirrelling mood, thank goodness.

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    1. The two big regret fragrances for me were Red for Men and the feminine original Halston. Both are very good but just not for me. I like to think the Bryan of today would have abstained from the beginning, but I know better!

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