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.



13 comments:

  1. So what you're trying to say is that your sex appeal got more intense? Lol. Jokes aside I have noticed a similar thing happened with my Bijan. It used to smell cheap, thin, harsh, plasticky and unbalanced to me. I left it for a few years and now it smells insanely rich, smoother and seemingly better quality. Btw I know you hate Bijan but maybe you had a similar experience trying it fresh. Now I frikkin love it!

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    1. I disliked Bijan because it smelled incredibly loud and synthetic. However, if it does mellow out and become more natural with a few years, maybe there's a window of time there where I'd enjoy it!

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  2. I wonder how long it will take before companies will capitalise on this "aging feature". I can see the mass appeal already of fragrances aged in oak barrels for xx amounts of years not unlike a good bottle of whiskey.

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    1. There is no "aging feature," and companies have been oblivious to this situation - and always will be. The narrative has been wrong, that's all. For years prior to the Internet and basenotes, people would buy a fragrance that they've been familiar with for years, briefly wonder why their new bottle smells a bit different from their old bottle, and then move on with their lives. If they seldom use the fragrance, it sits on their bedroom bureau for a decade or more, and very gradually changes. By the time they've used it all up they've forgotten what it smelled like new, and become accustomed to what it smells like years after. Then the cycle repeats itself.

      Then the Internet came along, and brought with it one of the more obnoxious forums, loaded with wealthy and aspirational members who feverishly worship the busy, woody, overwrought compositions of the seventies, eighties, and early nineties. In the 2000s (when the Internet hit its stride), comments sprang up like wildfire about how "great" the old forgotten masculines were, and how they were "superior" to either than current formulas or whatever replaced them.

      So the narrative became, "vintage of X is much better than its reformulation / vintage of X is far better than the new Y."

      The problem with this narrative is that in most cases, the people who are taking the time to opine in forums in the 2000s onward aren't really old enough or experienced enough to be leveling their charges at reformulations. If they have the age and experience, they're still moving too fast with their assessments. And the result is that there is a false narrative.

      Are there isolated instances where they're 100% correct? Yes, and maybe not even that isolated. But this is a blanket scenario, hands down. For every reformulation defender there are a hundred naysayers. The naysayers don't take the time to notice that the current Grey Flannel starts out sharp and quite different from its older self, but after seven years softens, mellows, and even changes physical color, from clear as water to murky green, just like its vintage. They don't notice that when certain juices are left half used, the chemicals oxidize and strengthen. And this latest discovery, about the actual formation of a particularly prized accord only found in older, partially used vintages, is never made. People just assume it was always found in vintages, when I'm beginning to realize that the pattern has a clear nexus.

      So under my narrative, the "things change" narrative, companies have no advantage. It's in their interest to convince people that everything they put out is exactly the way you want it to smell, so buy it now. That's why they constantly deny reformulations and changes to the buying public and the basenoters who ask about them.

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    2. Well I agree of course that fragrances are ment to be smelled from a fresh batch as it will render the formula as intended by the perfumer. That's why the Osmothèque do archive the formulas and not the scents themselves and present freshly batched versions of bygone perfumes so people can actually smell what is intended to be smelled.

      So in terms of perfumery tradition it is indeed a no-no to the proposed idea of aging.

      However and if I understood your article correctly, it would seem that certain elements of a fragrance change by the passing of time. I read "smells more natural" ,"smoother woods" or "richer"... All these suggesting a form of enhancement somehow.

      Now, without going into that narrative but purely looking at the parallels with another form of distillery (whiskey) that do actively use the biochemical properties of the passing time on elements, it does not seem like to much of a stretch to imagine that the same could be done in perfumery.
      Especially since a lot of people seem to buy into it.

      I see the same kind of "smoother", "richer" taste properties when it comes to the reason of aging a whiskey for a long period of time.

      We may agree to disagree, but I would take a gamble and bet ya that it won't be to long before at least one House is gonna come with a "xx years aged version" of their fragrance asking a hefty price tag and causing a massive stir in the fragrance world. Which obviously will only benefit the marketing (most bespoke fragrance) and skyrocket sales like nothing before.

      If there's money to be made - companies WILL follow no matter what perfume purists say. It's after all business as usual.

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    3. We don't disagree, there may very well be a gimmicky niche brand that comes along and tries to make that approach work, and hell, they may even succeed at it! Who knows?

      I think it would be a long-shot. Imagine the aging of a fragrance not as a straight line, but as an "arc." Initially the fragrance does not smell its best. Its in the botte for a few months, someone buys it and keeps using it, until seven or eight months later it's gone.

      That person will probably not notice any changes, nor will he or she care if it changes or not.

      Now imagine the typical "vintage" and "niche" enthusiast. If you have a few years of experience with these things and you're of the same mind as me, you recognize that there's actually a window through which the birdie flies. Yes, initially the fragrance is fine, but use it a little, and wait a few months, up to a year. Maybe even push it to two years. Then return to it. NOW it smells its best. The high point of the arc. The air has gotten in there, you've used an inch or two of the frag, and the remaining juice has mellowed out and "matured."

      So you decide to let it sit another two years. Now you get to sort of where my Sex Appeal is. Not only has the frag gotten smoother and richer, but suddenly the materials have taken on lives of their own. The wood notes smell creamy and burnished. The musks have either gotten more or less intense. The top notes have begun to fuse into the heart, and the heart smells fantastic, if not a little too prominent. You are intrigued, you enjoy how it smells, you prefer it to how it smelled four years ago, but you're beginning to realize that the process of change has continued, and you're beginning to wonder where it might end up.

      You let it sit another five or six years. You have a big collection and the rotation keeps it from being used. Now it's ten years old. You come back to it, and if you're sensitive to these things, you realize that something bad is happening. The top notes are now entirely gone, which doesn't seem like a big deal on paper, but in actuality they're still in the fragrance, and still detectable. It's just that now instead of performing in the opening phase of the scent and then diffusing, they are mated to what is immediately and unremittingly a fusion of top and heart, one smudged accord that is louder and blobbier and more linear than prior performances.

      This is the downward trend of the arc. Aging works, but only up to a point. Beyond a few years, when you start tallying decades instead of months, the problems occur.

      These problems aren't always so bad that they render fragrances unwearable, nor do they always make certain parts of the scent's development smell "bad" per say. It's just that if you know what you're smelling, you know that what you're smelling isn't the fragrance the company wanted you to smell, and if you're not really experiencing the scent the way it was intended to be experienced, what's the point? It's like getting an old Corvette C4 and driving it no faster than 50 mph because it looks good and not everything works, but the fact that it says "Corvette" on the fiberglass is enough for you. I want my Corvette to go 100 mph on back roads and 125 without issues on the straightaway. I don't want to be the fifth owner of a C4.

      If you let your Versace Dreamer sit for twelve or thirteen years and then wear it thinking you smell like the Dreamer, you might very well be dreaming. Let it sit for five or six years, and yes, that's the Dreamer, and yes, you've hit the sweet spot, time-wise.

      For a niche brand to try the "aged batch" trick and make it work, they'd have to float the idea that their frags don't have an expiration date. This sounds easy in theory, but I think in practice, at least after a few years of business, they may find it's actually a bust. The "older" batches might be the ones that smell the shittiest.

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    4. Having only a few good years under my collectors belt I had no idea about the arc. Then it indeed becomes too hazardous of a business model to be applicable. They could perhaps age a singular basenote like woods or musk and add that to a otherwise fresh composition but I figured that it's probably too cumbersome or downright undo-able, the perfume world already being heavily regulated it would not surprise me that purposely aging is forbidden to begin with.
      I also realize and agree that it would be more of a gimmick anyway than a truly innovating feature.

      Nonetheless and purely from a fragrance collectors viewpoint it's actually quite an interesting tidbit.
      Versace The Dreamer is another favorite of mine and a regular in my rotation so there's no way I'll just leave it sitting on my shelf. However, I have at least one perfume that I suspect will greatly benefit from a few years of maturing; Caractére by Daniel Hechter. This is a fragrance that is somewhat let down by harsh top and middle notes but with a very enjoyable and surprisingly long lasting drydown. It will be interesting to follow up if this does indeed mellow out into something more enjoyable. I'll keep you posted!

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    5. So shortly after I wrote the above, I decided to have a little experiment in the name of science and discovery.

      I took my bottle of Caractére by Daniel Hechter and carefully dismantled the atomiser to remove it (warning! don't try this at home unless you know what you are doing! - glass bottles will easily break and shatter when pried with screwdrivers and/or knives).
      Then I just left it open for about a week or two, so air could mingle with the content. Bought a fresh empty bottle with sprayer and decanted the perfume into its new body.
      I had a small spritz to check if any change had already occurred, you can probably guess that at this point the fragrance had considerably lost it's dispersing power since the alcohol must have entirely and quite literally dissipated into the air.
      Somewhat disappointed I put my freshly decanted bottle back into the box and left it at that.

      Yesterday and about half a year later, I decided to give it another try.

      I sprayed both wrist pulse points... Wow! I couldn't belief what I was smelling!
      Gone where the aggressive and overly sharp top notes (actually still there but only for like 5 seconds), instead I got greeted with a much more balanced, natural smelling warm golden aura, the aldehydes and other elements are still present but now somehow the whole composition has become so much smoother and enjoyable.

      It has literally shifted from “could have been great but spoiled by overly sharp top and middle notes” into “an overall fantastic fall and winter fragrance”.
      Unfortunately I can't detail all the subtle notes that makes up this composition, but I can testify that the amber has become golden, rich and resinous, there's this background of honey like sweetness that is simply gorgeous! This 10 dollar discount bin fragrance can now effortlessly compete with much more expensive fragrances!

      I was expecting that the performance would have suffered, it hasn't! Twelve hours in and I can still smell it on my wrists. To what I can remember the performance has remained consistent to what it was.

      Conclusion? Just like Bryan noticed with his 5 years of minimal air exposed Sex Appeal (that didn't come out right), what many people believe to be pre-reformulated / vintage qualities are quite probably attributable to nothing more but prolonged exposure to air. Evidently, there are always exceptions but we can indeed conclude that fragrances change over time (the maceration as Bibi pointed out) and not at all for the worse. In fact, they can even become more enjoyable given that they had some basic qualities to begin with.

      My next experiment into forced air exposure will be another fragrance I felt had potential but ultimately just didn't convince me: Giorgio Beverly Hills Red for men! Oh and some people claim the vintage version (1991 lol) was so much better, at some point before it was reintroduced prices went literally trough the roof on ebay. Some even suggest the “vintage” Red comes close to that other extinct with legendary status (claimed to be the top of the crops when it comes to men's perfumery) and by now totally overpriced fragrance: Patou pour homme.

      Let's find out if a little air and patience can resurrect this mighty powerhouse to its supposed former glory!

      Rendezvous in about six months.

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    6. So I have been wearing my modified Caractère for the last 5 days since I enjoy it so much more than before I did my experiment. This gave me time to reflect on what actually happened to the composition and I noticed something else. While de distribution of notes clearly changed, one thing however did not. I already mentioned that the performance did not diminish, well I can now confidently say that the dynamics didn't change either. The best way to illustrate what I understand under dynamics would be the musical notion of ADSR which stands for Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release.

      The “pre air exposed” Caractère started with a fairly strong Attack lasting between half an hour to an hour, then it would rapidly Decay into skin scent territory which would be Sustained for 10+ hours until it would slowly Decay for another 10+hours. Leaving a faint but still noticeable olfactory trace memory the next day.

      And that's precisely how my air exposed version still behaves!

      Which in my books is absolutely fascinating considering that the alcohol isn't there any more to diffuse the scent as it was intended.
      This also clearly illustrates that the chemistry and physics involved to make a perfume act the way it does goes far beyond the mere creation and blending of notes.

      Surely our 21st century perfumes may still behave like those from yesteryear, but the quantum leaps in biochemistry, physics and mathematics involved in making those modern day marvels is quite frankly mind boggling.

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    7. Very interesting, thanks for sharing! I wonder how much alcohol is really left in the formula now that it's been "aired out."

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    8. I wonder the same thing! But there's too many variables at play to even make a educated guess. What I can say is that the liquid content in the bottle diminished by something from 5 to 10%.

      There's this interesting quote on maceration on the web page of Frederic Malle: https://www.fredericmalle.com/eu/about-us/questions-answers

      DO YOU MACERATE YOUR FRAGRANCES BEFORE BOTTLING THEM?
      Of course we do, as one should! Like wines, perfumes have to age in large containers to give their full measure. This is even truer if one uses lots of natural ingredients or lots of rich base notes. (An Eau de Cologne needs less maceration than heavy chypres, for instance) Every “Classic” used to be macerated for a period varying between 4 and 8 weeks. Some mass-market companies eliminated this practice in the 80’s, to avoid immobilizing money for weeks. Once we are done developing a fragrance, we always decide of an aging protocol for this new perfume with his author. Some perfumers favor long maturation (aging the fragrance concentrate before mixing it with alcohol), others prefer long maceration (aging the finished solution). Portrait of a Lady, for instance is matured for 2 weeks then macerated 4 weeks, a 6 weeks aging process. One can note when working with fresh lab samples that they are much less powerful, less beautiful, and often less stable, than properly aged products. Time and mass are critical. As a rule of thump, we find that one must manufacture a minimum of 5 Kg of concentrate at a time to get this extra body in a fragrance.

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  3. It's all about maceration mannnnn......
    Great article on how perfumes REALLY age-
    Perfume Mythbusters: Vintage Perfume
    http://colognoisseur.com/perfume-mythbusters-vintage-perfume/

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  4. Yes that is a great little article!

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