5/20/18

Recognizing Faces: How Youtube's Fragrance Culture Has Grown, Improved, Diversified, and Become Quite Crowded (Part One)


'TV Static Screenshot 1' by Justin March at www.justinmarch.com

Ten years ago, Youtube's fragrance community had room for improvement. Reviewer "Robes08" epitomized the drawbacks of amateur reviews, with blurry video, a long-winded delivery, and occasional lack of knowledge of what he was reviewing, sometimes fumbling info on release dates and notes. "BradW," or "bpwool," was arguably worse, offering short, low-res vids from his bedroom. "MyMickers" was so-so, worshipping Green Irish Tweed and hating Grey Flannel in the same breath. Remember "The Grey Flannel Challenge," which dozens of hair-gelled, inarticulate guys participated in? Yeah, that was all Dan. Thanks Dan.

I appreciate his enthusiasm, but watching a middle class guy with a family blow thousands of dollars on perfume is weird. Last but not least, "dracdoc" used to annoy me by frequently saying things like, "Really, the bottle is nothing impressive, or anything like that," and "It gets the job done." He fumbles for perfumers' names, talks with his hands, and has a very "low budget" approach.

These guys had something in common: they made me wonder why I should watch them. Why should I care? They're obviously just a few enthusiasts who enjoy fragrances, and they've taken the initiative to share their thoughts, but their chosen medium is video. Creating channels of blurry, unscripted videos is like attending a business meeting with bedhead and an untucked shirt. They're making a visual impression that is unpolished and uninteresting. Perhaps they could have been more helpful writing blogs, or just communicating their ideas in threads.

I think the limits to video technology that existed a decade ago are partially to blame for lackluster content from reviewers. Let's face it, even if you know what you're doing, it's hard to attract viewers with a channel in 360p. From 2013 onward, Youtube's digital video improved and became unerringly hi-def, giving more sophisticated content providers a means by which to showcase their wares.

It was around that time when the "Fragrancebros" caught my attention, and I enjoyed the silly banter between Daver and Jer (and now lament Jer's departure), and learned a few things from them. Unlike their predecessors, D&J knew they were being watched. They had scripted presentations with accurate corporate information about what they were reviewing, and could draw relevant comparisons between scents, brands, and fragrance categories. "Redolessence" has a well-enunciated delivery, and more importantly, screen charisma. His videos aren't perfect, and his collection is obviously a money pit, but unlike "MyMickers," I get the impression that he fully understands every fragrance in his collection. And Lex Ellis, a Scottish brawler with a comical tough guy attitude, injected some much needed sincerity with his unpretentious reviews and surprisingly well composed theme music.

The current crop of reviewers is, weirdly enough, more polarizing than anyone who came before them. They inhabit a spectrum of being truly entertaining, all the way down to being blatantly boring. The two that I feel are currently worthy of subscription are "MrSmelly1977" and "Brooklyn Fragrance Lover," for their humor and "refined casualness." What do I mean by that? They make it look like they're just a couple of guys with cameras pulling amateur hour, but it doesn't take long to realize that they're savvy about their productions. "Brooklyn Fragrance Lover" employs original piano themes and conveys accurate info, and "MrSmelly1977" has a succinct delivery that cuts right to the chase, and he peppers his reviews with sardonic jokes. His humor is clean, dry as a bone, and quintessentially British. More importantly, he appreciates vintage greats, things like Kouros and Paco Rabanne PH.

Other very good reviewers worthy of a look are "Simply Put Scents," "Gents Scents," and Tiff Benson. Emitsu of "Simply Put Scents" doesn't take himself too seriously, which makes me take him seriously. Production value of his videos is high, his knowledge of fragrance is quite good, and he isn't afraid to say when he dislikes something, nor does he shy away from criticizing the fragrance community. "Gents Scents" is just OK, but it's the high end of OK. Ash's channel is also called "The Binge," and it got a little confusing when he opted to diversify his subject matter with reviews of movies and video games. I understand his desire to cover other topics, but it detracts from his channel; I visit channels with a focus. If I want movie and game reviews, I go to "Cinemassacre" or Rob Ager, and I'm good. I don't need media content clouding what was solely a fragrance channel.

Tiff Benson has a great channel, and she definitely has a keen grasp of light and camera. Women tend to inject a more human tone into their reviews, and that extra layer of subjective thought is valuable when regarding perfume. Tiff's combination of sharp wisdom and technical know-how lends her channel that little extra quality I look for on Youtube.

I get a little worried about the state of Youtube when I consider other channels in the fragcom, however. There are a few contributors who have me wondering if we're seeing a bit of a Youtube cultural hiccup. Among them are "Jeremy Fragrance," "The Fragrance Apprentice," and "CubaKnow." Now, bear in mind that all of the channels I criticize in this post warrant viewing, but I don't think their contributions to the culture have been as successful as the other channels mentioned.

One example is "Jeremy Fragrance." Jeremy is an odd case. He started out as just another guy talking about fragrances, with a competent grasp of light and camera. Over the years he has changed into a true showman, often dressing in a tailored suit and featuring gorgeous women on both arms, and he has essentially made the viewing experience something of a farce. You're not visiting Jeremy's channel to learn about fragrances. You're visiting to ogle his girlfriends. Another demerit is his misuse of Patreon funds. Instead of putting the money entirely into his channel, he used some of it to lease a Ferrari, and then made a vid thanking his viewers for making the Ferrari possible. This is a head-scratcher.

"CubaKnow" is perhaps a personal gripe more than a true gauge of our culture, but I take issue with the language on that channel. Everything he likes is "sexy," and (insert expletive), and everything he dislikes is a series of disgusted faces with multiples of "no," and (insert expletive). I feel that "Cubaknow" likes the idea of being a fragrance reviewer, and enjoys being on camera, but doesn't have much to say about fragrances. I'm not even sure he knows anything, even basic things, about the fragrances he discusses. And maybe I'm old fashioned, but being called a "ballsack" by a nobody on Youtube makes me want to exit. That said, I'm fairly certain he wouldn't care if I tuned out, so I suppose it doesn't make any difference what I think of "Cubaknow." His channel isn't to my taste.

The channel that makes me wonder if the culture is truly on stilts is "The Fragrance Apprentice." I don't think this channel, or its creator, are bad. I think it has very good (and recently upgraded) production value, with some notable camera and editing skill. I think George is a good guy, and quite talented. I applaud that he goes on camera and braves the world of Youtube, and its endless torrent of weird and sometimes abusive comments. But his philosophy about the fragrance world, his views on "fragrance politics," and his understanding of fragrances makes his channel one of the hardest for me to watch.

I didn't appreciate his video on the reformulation of Halston Z14. He mischaracterized the fragrance, inaccurately described the reformulation, and suggested Z14 has been destroyed, when in truth it's doing just fine. I wonder if he knows that Z14 is a pioneer of Iso E Super, and always has been? This isn't some super-natural vintage that was transformed into synthetic dreck. It has always relied heavily on synthetics. He doesn't contextualize the fragrance in his critique, and acts like it's a gorgeous brunette who died tragically in a plane crash. Newsflash: this beauty is still alive.

There are some things about George's defense of "Jeremy Fragrance" that also give me pause. He has it all wrong. Aside from making a slew of excuses for someone of questionable character, he suggests that content providers should offer something new in their reviews, and that they should review new stuff, because, and I'm heavily paraphrasing here, "We all know about the IFRA, we all know about reformulations, and we don't need another review of Original Santal, we know it smells like Mont Blanc Individuel." I'm not attuned to the finer points of cultivating an internet video audience, but I think George misinterprets his relationship with his viewers, and misunderstands its potential.

George describes fragrance reviewing as though it were cable TV. The problem is, Youtube is the opposite of cable TV. I make this claim as a dedicated member of the audience. Instead of having to make do with whatever cable decides to broadcast, I can tell Youtube what I want to watch, and have it instantly. If, on a whim, I want to see what people think of Brut, I just type it in, and I have videos for days. Youtube is fueled by whims. There is no competition in the traditional sense, because there is no need to fight for airtime. You can be the most technically inept person on earth, and your videos will still be aired. It certainly doesn't take millions of dollars to create content. As long as you have a camera and a decent computer, you have a channel. Maintaining a channel will cost some money, true, but we're not talking anything close to "big budget" here.

When I visit channels, I'm visiting to see straightforward reviews that are competently shot, and well informed. Humor, extra production value, graphics, music, all of that is nice, but not necessary if the reviewer knows his frags. And you can't assume that there are too many videos about older fragrances, or that viewers "already know." There is an endless, cyclical, generational supply of viewers from hugely diverse backgrounds and experience levels who have never heard of a chypre or fougere, and they appreciate new video about those scents. To assume the world is full of potential viewers who already know about IFRA regs is rather silly. Believe me, outside of the very small world of obsessed fragheads, and a handful of more than casual observers, nobody knows the IFRA exists.

George also suggests that pedigree comes with being a good fragrance reviewer on Youtube, as if it's earned. But the reality is that it isn't earned at all. George's opinion is one of tens of millions available, and nobody earned it. That's the point of YouTube. It's about you, and you upload content because you want to. You didn't have to fight for it. It wasn't a struggle. I mentioned guys who barely tried, and guess what? I still watched their videos. They're not on TV; they didn't have "bad press" to stop me from "tuning in."

Is it a struggle to get one million subscribers? Sure, that's an accomplishment, and that can make you real money. But let's not pretend that having a million subscribers on Youtube makes you the Roger Ebert of the fragrance world. You didn't toil for decades in the syndicated newspaper business to make a name for yourself. You bought a camera and voluntarily offered content after coming home from your day job. This is what makes Youtube great, and exciting to watch, but it also makes it very different from watching a movie or regular TV. It's not a competitive landscape. It's an endless landscape. Every 24 hours, Youtube has 68 years worth of viewable content uploaded to its servers. Good luck competing in that arena.

Videos will always be available. They're not competing for time slots. And it's no biggie if nobody watches your video this year. Decades from now, you'll have at least a thousand views. That sounds like nothing, but you're part of something so large that it eludes human understanding, which makes you pretty amazing.



19 comments:

  1. This post is great, and needed for a long time. Jeremy Fragrance is a joke, though a very successful one. Lex Ellis proves to me that you don't need any strong note identifying skills to provide strong reviews. I personally like Sebastian at Smelling Great, and Jess AndWesH and wonder what your thoughts are. To me Jes and Wes are exactly what we need ...obviously intelligent and willing to share their unque point of view.

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    1. Not a fan of Sebastian, but "JessAndWesh" are the ones who got me into Al Wisam Day, their low tech approach is weirdly effective.

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    2. J&W have yet to turn me onto a perfume, but I just enjoy their videos because of the casual intelligence/non-bro vibes they exude. Sebastian is guilty of bemoaning reforms and obsessing over vintages, which are cardinal sins in my book, but he did turn me on to Jovan Secret Amber which is my fave cheapie, and one. of my fave perfumes of all time. So he gets massive points for that. Joy Amin is also a fave of mine (straightforward, unpretentious...with good taste) as is Lanier Smith (good taste, minimally concerned with reforms).

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    3. Yeah I was telling Sacredsystem about Joy Amin, I like him. He can be a little long-winded, but he has good taste and seems pretty honest about what he's smelling. He also explores frags in every price bracket, which is how it should be when you're reviewing on YT. I'm tired of these guys who only review niche frags that cost more than $100.

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  2. Youtube is my guilty pleasure.
    I cue up the playlist on my iMAC on my desk every morning. I start with my 30 minute yoga stretch video with Lila in Austin and let it run through a plethora of random subjects til about 2pm when I do my 30 minute Body Project cardio: fragrance reviews, makeup reviews, restoring 16th century buildings in the UK, food photography, portrait photography,tours of abandoned homes, skincare reviews, cheesy life coaches, personality disorders, vintage fashion, Brazilian jazz, preventing rising damp in concrete foundations, condos for sale in Las Vegas, - I let it run while I get dressed, do my makeup, fix lunch, or whatever I'm doing at home 8AM to 2PM. Yesterday, I even suffered through a 20 minute video of some ridiculous 40 yr old woman whining about how she felt uncomfortable when visiting a Louis Vuitton boutique in Dallas. I was absolutely fascinated by the complete lack of self-awareness yet inflated self-importance she had. WTH?

    Anywho, MrSmelly is the only one I watch from your list. I find him knowledgeable, clear, & concise.

    I don't really get the "Dude-Bro" segment of the FragComm which is becoming ever larger. Like every online group from Fragrantica to FaceBook is being overwhelmed with these idiots that simply chant: "Aventus, Aventus, Aventus!" And why do they drool over guys like Jeremy flaunting Ferraris, Brioni suits, and women who wouldn't even sneeze in their direction? Jeremy just got too boring for me, I thought he'd eventually branch out and review some more unusual niche fragrances - but no, always the same tired 20 dept store frags over & over.

    I wonder if YouTube will be the end of blogs?

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    1. Youtube won't be the end of blogs, but it will weaken the blogging segment of the community a little. It's easier to watch than read. However, the strange need to make every little idea "viral" is annoying on YT, and may eventually hurt it. Every time somebody thinks of something like "what are your ten desert island frags?" the whole community has to make a vid about it. Kind of like "The Grey Flannel Challenge" with Dan Mickers sending everyone samples of a masterpiece so they could all screw their noses up on camera and act like it's the worst thing they ever smelled. The "groupthink" and "herd mentality" is strong over there.

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  3. Great post. MrSmelly is the only one from your list that has any appeal to me. The fragrance review market has become very saturated and honestly not with reviewers that impress or interest me. I don’t have the time or desire to watch them like I have in the past. If I listened to most of the reviewers on YouTube today, I would have wasted a lot of money and collected bottles of fragrances that I would never use. My preferences in fragrances do not coincide with most reviewers on YouTube.

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    1. Have you seen Joy Amin's channel? He has a pretty diverse set of reviews and a fairly clear method. He's what I consider a non-reviewer's reviewer. Good taste and the ability to identify mediocrity are definitely necessary!

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  4. I don't think Ive ever managed to watch an entire Mymickers video. The guy just has an annoying personality. A really, really, really annoying personality. His Grey Flannel Challenge was also one of the most idiotic things about the Youtube fragrance community. I get why people don't like the scent, but I seriously question the taste of anyone who hates it *that* much.

    Some of the old-school reviewers are just too long winded and self-indulgent. Robes08 vids are like an hour long (and "Fragrance Guru" is kind of an audacious title to give oneself). I remember The Fragrance Apprentice (at least I think that was him) doing a vid on Bogart's Silver Scent, and he went on and on and on for like 5 minutes about how potent it is. Wouldn't watch any of his other vids because of it. I also dislike Cubaknow. He just comes across as crude and obnoxious, and his descriptions are awful. I remember he described Armaf's Shades Wood as smelling like an old woman in the Upper East Side, as if the slightest hint of rose smells like an aged old-money woman?

    The hour long videos about "fragcom" controversies is irksome too. Does anyone actually watch that nonsense? It's like high school drama among 20-30 something year olds. The only time I enjoy it is when the Fragrancebros guy goes after Jeremy Fragrance with a vengeance, since I like seeing him whining and seeming legitimately upset.

    Of the reviewers, I watch Redolessence, BFL (and their bromance), Mr. Smelly, Scent Land (scent land, the land of scent), Lanier Smith, Sebastian, Notes Punch, Maximilion Must Know and a few others. I wish Joy Amin would be more concise, but I like him. Lex Ellis is entertaining, but he doesn't actually describe notes; just performance and what a frag makes him feel like.

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  5. Joy Amin and Lanier Smith are pretty good. Joy Amin’s delivery is a little choppy, but I do enjoy most of his videos. Lanier Smith evokes a calming and inviting aura that I find pleasant and comforting.

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    1. I like Lanier Smith also, and his blog is good as well.

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  6. So many I find run of the mill. For actual content including rare fragrances that interest me. I find Matt C(vintage legend) and Matt from My Fragrance Obsession the best. While not the most knowledgeable or having the most fancy presentations or production values at least it’s something that aligns with my taste and piques my interest and has a lack of any pretence. Of course Lanier, Chris from Scentland, Bespoke Unit, Lex and Dan(Mr Smelly) are great too. All the others bore me.

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    1. Matt is good, I enjoy him, although sometimes his photography is so poor that it's painful to watch. But he is very sincere and tends to compare vintages, which is helpful to anyone into that sort of analysis.

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  7. I personally prefer Fragrance Matt from the UK for two reasons: at least he tries to relay the history of the fragrance a little bit and he is passionate about his love for fragrances. I also appreciate that he disregards when the fragrance was created (see the Lapidus, Aramis and Giorgio Red reviews.) I also like Lanier, Mr Smelly, long-winded Joy and Lex Ellis (just because he cracks me up.) The rest of them come across as a bunch of posers who want to pick up chicks with the fragrances. And someone needs to drop a safe on who know who that created the Grey Flannel challenge.

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    1. MyMickers should've just listened to his wife and stopped at Eau de Grey Flannel, which she told him is irresistible. It would have saved us all a lot of aspirin.

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  8. One of the members of my group turned me on to this! Thanks for the mention! Always enjoyed your blog! along with Pour Monsieur's blog!

    Very interesting read! and very flattering to be mentioned on such a long-running blog such as this! :O

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    1. This is a moment where the blogging world and YouTube world meet, and Lex keep up the good work, thank you for your readership!

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  9. Interesting and well written article. I subscribe to all of the above and am even considering starting a channel of my own. Two guys I enjoy a lot are Kristo Maves and Eugen Nazic (U Smells Good). They do a very freewheeling style, often just live streams and I enjoy their banter, knowledge and taste. They are especially refreshing if used to the likes of Redo, Bros, Mickers. Drac. Etc.

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    1. I'll have to listen and watch them more Josh, thanks for the tips and for your readership, one of the great things about this community is that despite its international scope, the digital age truly makes it cozy, I've met a ton of interesting people in the years that I've been blogging and have discovered quite a few excellent blogs and channels.

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