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. A solid effort from Demachy.


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.


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 what connects them?

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.


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!


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

The new bottle design, with a curlicue under the name.

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.