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.



6 comments:

  1. Was talking to the famous nose that created one of the JAR perfumes last month. (I've been working on a fragranced line of body care for a local 5 star hotel chain.) Real sandalwood has not been used in mainstream perfumes for quite a while. Not because of the 'sustainability' issues of Mysore sandalwood trees but because the actual oil isn't that long lasting on the skin. The synthetics have far better sillage & longevity. Blends containing synthetic and real sandalwood are used though.
    Samsara has a natural & synthetic sandalwood blend. Various perfumes with sandalwood in their name, such as Santal Blanc or Santal de Mysore by Serge Lutens, Santal Imperial by Creed, Tam Dao by Diptyque, L'Artisan Parfumeur's Santal, Bond no.9's Chinatown, Cannabis Santal by Fresh, Floris's Cefiro or 1725 Casanova by Histoires de Parfums, Bois des Iles by Chanel, all use synthetic sandalwood.
    Most natural oils (including rose) do not have sillage or llongevity on the skin or in the bottle that synthetics have,

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    1. I have two perfumes that contain significant amounts of Mysore sandalwood, one called Nature Boy, the other Pandit. I agree with you that real sandalwood is fleeting relative to synthetics. Nature Boy is an incredible composition, however. The number of natural and synthetic materials in it are minimal, yet it lasts 48 hours. I think a sizable amount of oakmoss was used as a fixative. Pandit uses floral oils and tons of sandalwood, that one is almost entirely sandalwood. It seems to have a touch of chypre in its heart, with hints of labdanum and moss. Also lasts ages, though not as long as Nature Boy. I think that when they're expertly used, synthetics are the ultimate "extenders" of sillage and longevity. Pandit isn't tremendously different from Bond's Chinatown, while Nature Boy is like the masculine version of Jacamo's Silences, done on a premium budget.

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    2. I can second Bryan on Nature Boy's aspect of longevity. And its just amazing..

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  2. A very enlightening proposition! My anecdotal experience with some testers had led me to wonder if testers were indeed stronger, but I assumed it was either the juice aging in old testers, earlier formulations in even older testers (something I did experience, much to my chagrin, with Azzaro PH, as the older formulation was stronger, mossier & more leathery), or the effects of smelling something novel to my nose. I haven't seen this talked about much in threads, which makes me wonder if anyone's ever done a side-by-side testing with a retail bottle and a mail order tester...

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  3. OK, I have now visited too many forums on tester strength vs. regular strength, dating back for years and filled with people who seem certain either way. It looks like the points you've mentioned are taken into account by some, as are my observations (aging of tester bottles through oxidization or maceration or evaporating alcohol, OR older formulations in tester bottles)... Also on the list are the psychological impact of the store environment, which I personally cannot identify with, as I find malls or fragrance/cosmetic suppliers uniquely awful environments to smell things in owing to the amount of scents in the air. So, yeah, a big question mark, but nothing to refute the points you've made above decisively. One more prospect to further muddy the waters: it appears that some retailers use 'testers' while others simply unbox a bottle of regular scent and put it on the counter... So not every tester is a 'tester.'

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    1. Generally the testers are marked "tester" on the bottle, although sometimes it appears to be a sticker the store applies instead of the fragrance manufacturer. My experience with testers is limited, but the few that I've used did not match the purchased product exactly. I'm not really very invested in this topic, but my points in this article and comment are simply to illustrate that it's not absurd to suggest companies are manipulative in this aspect of marketing and sales. Whether the manipulation extends to the product itself, or just its placement, availability, etc., these are questions I have no answers to. But apparently an anonymous chemist does, so that's all that matters.

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