It was with great pleasure that I read the recent exchange on Bigsly's blog between Bibi Maizoon, who holds a B.S. in Organic Chemistry from Stanford University, and the blog's author, who simply peddles a lot of B.S.
As I read Bibi's comment to his recent "Fake Facts" post, I realized that one of my faithful readers really "gets it," and understands what I've been writing for years. Fragrance enjoyment is entirely subjective; there are no rights or wrongs in how you perceive perfume. There is no such thing as a "chemical" fragrance, for all perfumes are chemical compositions. And there is no shame in finding pleasure in popular mass-market designer fragrances like Dior's Sauvage. What you like is entirely yours to enjoy. If the only fragrance you've ever smelled is Chanel No 5, and you absolutely love the stuff, more power to you. It's one of the biggest sellers of all time, and you have settled on something that will always be available to you.
Likewise, if you enjoy oddball cheapies like Jovan's Intense Oud, that's great too, but as Bibi pointed out, understanding that it's not a high quality oud allows you to enjoy it with a deeper knowledge of what you're wearing, and hopefully within a meaningful context. She simply pointed out that if you're a Westerner wearing JIO in the Middle East, you shouldn't be too surprised if your fragrance isn't well received, given the preponderance of more sophisticated oud perfumes in that part of the world. In America you'll be regarded as someone with unique (and probably quite interesting) tastes, but that's because we're not well versed in oud.
Bibi also pointed out that there's nothing "wrong" with Sauvage, a fragrance Bigsly habitually denigrates. It is well received by her wealthier acquaintances, and it continues to be a strong seller for Dior. I would hazard to guess that Sauvage is to Dior what Bleu de Chanel has been - a cash cow! I live in a metropolitan part of the USA, and still haven't encountered anyone wearing Bleu or Sauvage, so I can't say they're overwhelmingly popular. But sales stats would probably prove me wrong. Whenever I wear Bleu, I receive compliments on it. Sauvage probably rates the same for those who wear it.
One of the key points Bibi made is that the term "chemical" means nothing when applied in a general way to how a perfume smells. Her understanding of perfumery seems well aligned with mine: perfumery is the art of creating entirely new (inherently enjoyable) smells that are not found in nature. A truly great perfume is its own one of a kind smell, using mostly synthetic chemicals. One example that I happen to frequently wear and enjoy is Versace's The Dreamer. I wear The Dreamer knowing that it doesn't smell like real lavender, or real tobacco, or real vanilla. It contains lavender, tobacco, and vanilla notes, and I can clearly discern them, but they work together to form an entirely unique accord. I'm not concerned with whether this accord is "natural" or "synthetic." That is not the point of The Dreamer. The point is that nothing else smells like The Dreamer, and it's a very good smell.
Bigsly clearly doesn't understand this. In his retort to Bibi, he wrote:
"The 'trick' of modern perfumery is to use such large amounts of synthetics and yet make most people think it smells 'natural.'"
The problem with his statement is that if this were the "trick," then chemists would never have bothered with synthetics in the first place. Oakmoss and birch tar are great natural fixatives, and chemists would just build on them with other natural essences of floral extracts and musks to compose perfumes, making the entire concept of perfume one of naturalism (and very high retail prices).
But perfumers don't do this. They use synthetics precisely because they enable us to experience smells not found in nature. Bigsly's definition of perfumery suggests that perfumers must "reinvent the wheel" when they enter the lab by laboriously tinkering with vats of chemicals to replicate scents found in nature.
But where in nature can one find the apple note in Cool Water? The violet note in Green Irish Tweed? The citrus melange in Acqua di Gio? These scents are megahits because they smell fake, in a good way.
Bibi's comment implies a criticism of Bigsly's "fragrance chemist," one which is well formed, given the dubious nature of his interview with this anonymous person. What surprises me a little is that he opened himself up to this obvious criticism. He spent years criticizing my blog for lacking "citations," "sources," and "evidence." Eventually I was able to interview an identified veteran of the fragrance industry who supported my positions and refuted his, and Bigsly considered my source "invalid" for reasons that were never specified.
All of that is fine of course - if you dislike me and Jeffrey Dame, then that is your right - but if you argue that Mr. Dame's opinions are invalid, the burden of proof is on you to support your argument, and that is something Bigsly never did. He simply used his personal opinions to counter Mr. Dame's 35 years of professional knowledge. Because Mr. Dame has decades of experience in things Bigsly has no professional understanding of, one can see the obvious problem with Bigsly's attitude toward him. Bigsly is just an anonymous amateur enthusiast. His complaints are akin to a child whining about rules dealt to him by an adult.
Then in 2016 he claimed to interview a fragrance chemist, without disclosing the chemist's identity. I pointed out the obvious problem with this, and Bibi brought it directly to Bigsly. He responded to her by saying:
"If you think I should not have published my interview with this person, despite the background check I did and having an 'expert' review it first to see if there appeared to be any 'red flags,' then you can just state that, but making up 'false facts' (or lies, as I prefer to say) is unacceptable . . . "
This is a smoke and mirrors comment, and the only thing unacceptable here is an unidentified amateur calling a highly educated chemist a liar.
Bigsly is attempting to discredit Bibi's honesty by calling what she says "lies." However, he reveals (perhaps unintentionally) that even he did not know who he was talking to when he interviewed his "chemist." He mentions that he had to background check the person's claims, and have them "reviewed" by a third party. He's basically telling his readers, "I want you to trust this person, even though I do not." If the interview was with a real fragrance chemist with a real place of employment, wouldn't a simple call to his employer suffice? Or was that also anonymous? If so, I would think this level of unnecessary anonymity would be its own "red flag."
That Bigsly doesn't seem to pick up on this makes him seem a little dim, to be honest. I think I can speak for Bibi when I say that neither of us believe he interviewed a real fragrance chemist (she has said as much in comments here anyway). I will concede that it's possible his interview is legitimate, but with no way to verify it, I choose to remain unconvinced, and will withhold further judgement for the day (if it ever comes) when he is allowed to tell the world who he spoke to.
However, Bibi has an advanced degree in organic chemistry, and it seems she sees little factual content in Bigsly's post. And as for his "background check" and his "expert" (who is supposedly the most "well known" fragrance writer in the English language, which implies Luca Turin), these are meaningless assertions without specifics. Bigsly can't even tell us who reviewed the anonymous chemist's claims! That's three degrees of anonymity, including Bigsly himself.
One can only infer that he is unable to verify any of what he wrote, and since the interview suspiciously supports many of his long-held contentions about fragrance, the logical conclusion for any intelligent reader to reach is that the entire thing is fictitious. Add to that a dissenting opinion from an Organic Chemist (who I'm sure would be more than happy to prove herself to anyone who challenges her), and well, Bigsly has a problem.
He published that stuff. It's on him to prove that it's legitimate. To the general public, he has no credibility. Unlike me, he's an anonymous blogger. He could be anybody. For all anyone knows, he could be a professor with a PhD in astrophysics, or he could be a compulsive liar who is just smart enough to not give specific details about himself, or anything he lies about. Without his help, there's no way to know the truth. However, given the glaring holes in his arguments, I feel confident in choosing to believe he isn't a PhD in anything.
When you choose to be completely anonymous on the Internet, you have to convey your message with factual specifics if you wish to be taken seriously. Not wanting to disclose the name of a fragrance chemist you claim to interview is bad enough, but not even wanting to disclose the identity of a supposed "expert" you claim reviewed the interview is even worse.
Add to this the bad pattern of arguing with industry insiders (and people with access to them), and we see how not to debate. I think Bigsly should give up on his ill-advised sparring with experienced insiders, and resume picking on little old me. I don't have a degree in chemistry, nor do I have three decades of industry work under my belt. Call me a "deceiver" all you want, but at least you know my real name, what kind of house I live in, and even what kind of car I drive. Sorry to be so deceptive, I guess I'll have to work on that!