The Nature of Manipulated Markets, Badger & Blade Gets Touchy, and the Interesting Idea of "Category Over Content"

So many close shaves.

One of the best things about having a blog is that it almost doesn't matter what you write - you're bound to piss somebody off. As an amateur fragrance writer, I'm entrenched in the fragrance world, without actually having to fight on the front lines. I'm not being paid by Fragrantica or some larger publishing organization, so I'm free to shake off the philosophies and ideologies of others, and instead write exactly what I think and feel. The down-side to this is that not everybody who visits From Pyrgos actually reads what I've written, which leads to misinterpretations of my posts, which leads to other problems.

But before getting too deeply into that, I thought I'd mention a recent thread on basenotes entitled "Carven Homme price gouging on eBay?" (And by the way, I'm not linking to anything in this post: I'm writing it on an iPad.) I have a few thoughts on the content of this thread. The OP writes that he sought a backup bottle of Carven Homme, which he purchased for thirty dollars, but comments that most of the stock on eBay was fifty dollars or more, with some bottles priced over one hundred. He asks if this is normal, or if he searched incorrectly.

This leads to a response by a member named "Zealot Crusader," who writes:
"There are 2 kinds of perfume sellers on eBay:
-Folks looking to offload stock . . . they'll sell at a fair price . . .
-Folks who know the zeal and sometimes deep pockets of fanatical perfumistas/collectors (especially vintage). They'll price as high as possible and just sit . . . They even end and relist higher if everyone else marks up or cancel/refund/relist auctions or use shill bids to get what they want. The predatory side of capitalism for sure."
I have been writing about this to varying degrees over the years, and it sums up the picture pretty well to me. It's almost impossible to cogently argue against this framing of eBay fragrance sales. Anyone who has dealt with sellers knows the "two kinds" that populate the site. I've encountered fair sellers who will answer any question and even offer samples if your knowledge of the product contradicts their listing details. Then there are the jerks who think a bottle of Jules by Dior is worth $300. Yeah . . . no.

But as long as basenotes exists, there will be members who can't handle an accurate summation of this sort of thing. Enter member "richfisher6969," who retorts:
"That's a very one-sided and biased opinion of capitalism (what America is all about) and on some eBay sellers. First, the eBay sellers are not charity. Nobody is putting a gun to your head to purchase any of their items. Why wouldn't they raise the price an additional $20 if the market dictates? . . . Sellers have to deal with crazy eBay selling fees, shipping/handling costs, post office fees and losses, flakey buyers who only have to scream the word "fake" and they get their item for free, and the list goes on and on. Not to mention they have to sit on their stock and absorb all that cost upfront . . . If a seller wants to sell vintage/discontinued items for $1000 and someone out there wants to buy it, God bless them . . . "
Here we have someone who begins his argument by singing an anthem about the wonders of capitalism, yet he immediately follows it with a litany of complaints about capitalism, the thrust of his point being that people should just accept ridiculous prices and market manipulation, because selling stuff is hard, though apparently there's an ass for every seat. This was written without even the faintest twinge of irony. Amazing.

He then adds an anecdote about selling a wallet for $400, even though he bought it on clearance for $50, and pisssed off the buyer by stuffing the clearance tag in the product when he shipped it. Again . . . no. Just, no. That isn't how capitalism works. Markets aren't created by speculators who hope suckers will come along and validate extortionate prices. That isn't what happens in the real world, and it isn't even what happens on eBay, but nice try to "richfisher6969" for making his case, and then using himself as an example of who "Zealot Crusader" was referring to when he described the type of eBay seller everyone should beware of.

This brings me to Badger & Blade, and another recent thread. I won't detail the thread here, because B&B is a relatively small community, and its members know the thread I'm referring to (it's under the "Fragrances" category, and asks if you're guilty of wearing "cheap" wetshaver scents).

I will simply sum up the gist of the thread. It started out as a fairly neutral topic, with the OP addressing "A Note To Newbies," which I wrote in August of 2016. In that post, I basically stated that newcomers to the fragrance world should keep an open mind, and not limit themselves to what they know. I used members of B&B as a very broadly stated example of what not to do if you're new to fragrance, and wrote:
"Another danger is what I call 'collection confirmation bias.' You have a fully formed opinion of a certain type of fragrance, and only partially formed opinions of others, and your collection is limited to your bias, and you automatically assume you smell terrific. Chances are only 50/50 that you're right. I see this all the time on Badger & Blade. That community is full of guys who collect cheaper 'wetshaver' fragrances . . . Many of these fellows wear this stuff exclusively, and they think they smell terrific. But do others agree? With such a limited range in their collections, it's likely they appeal to other people half of the time, and the other half they're actually annoying everyone around them. They've stopped on the one kind of fragrance they enjoy, and failed to diversify. A stopped clock is only right twice a day."
Now, had this been read ten years ago, my point would have been well taken on B&B. Back then the forum was almost exclusively older gentlemen in their fifties and sixties, and they had an unvarnished sense of collective self deprecation. But today, it was a bit of a flameout. Some members took my point in stride, having completely read it. Others just scanned a couple lines of interest, took offense, and contended that I was myopic, a "bell end," and completely off the mark.

To clarify for the slightly touchy members of B&B, my point was not that wearing wetshaver cheapies is a bad idea. My point was that wearing one kind of thing all the time is pretty evenly good and bad. By just wearing Pens Blenheim Bouquet, Florida Water, and Floid, you're appealing to an older set, and probably annoying anyone under thirty. That's more a reflection on the character (or lack thereof) of the millions of twenty-somethings out there, but it doesn't change the fact that you've limited your appeal. By wearing one category of fragrance on Monday, another on Tuesday, and so on, you increase your odds of having a positive impact on a broader range of people. The person who dislikes your Monday scent may love your Tuesday scent, and their love for your Tuesday scent may make them rethink your Monday scent. In short, treat your fragrance collection like a financial portfolio, and diversify.

If I'm going to start categorizing scents by the days of the week, I may as well wrap things up by mentioning some blowback I've received from my criticism of the new 2018 Guide. One guy on basenotes asked (rather rhetorically, and I'm paraphrasing), "Can you imagine how pissed people would be in 2018 if they released a book about scents from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s?" The general idea is that, as an enthusiast, I've subjectively prioritized the category of vintage classics over the content of the Guide. In other words, peppering in a few classics is ok, but publishing a guide about contemporary niche is more useful.

This is a legitimate argument. I would respond by asking, if niche is what really matters in 2018, why are only rich people wearing it? Why are 85% of the general public in North America and Europe wearing designer and classic designer frags? Why are only a small percentage of the general population interested in mainstream niche, like Creed, while an even smaller number possess the wealth to invest in large collections of obscure niche and indie bottles, each averaging $60 - $100 an ounce?

Turin recently commented that he thinks the original Guide has been discontinued. This is dismaying, and challenges the notion that any official "guide" for fragrance is useful. Still, an illustrated guide of at least one hundred masculine fragrances from the twentieth century might have a large, cross-generational audience.


Pino Silvestre Original (2018, Parfums Mavive)

Whenever a fragrance is reformulated, I ask myself, what changed? Presumably a reformulation is indicative of a scent being altered somehow. With Pino Silvestre, I was interested in whether its pine and honey notes had retained their calibration, and whether its drydown had been edited, or expanded. My experience with early 2000s vintage was mixed. It yielded wonderfully lucid Christmas tree pine notes, followed rapidly by a salubrious honeyed amber, but longevity clocked in at a meager ninety minutes, even with excessive application.

The 2018 formula of Pino Silvestre reveals a few significant changes. First, the top notes are slightly different. Parfums Mavive did something I rarely encounter in this business - they added notes. Vintage was mainly an intense blast of lemon, lavender, basil, geranium, and mint. These notes dazzled my nose with their brightness, and almost instantaneously coalesced into a clear analog of natural Scots Pine. New Pino adds dihydromyrcenol and cedar, which achieves a contrasting effect, illuminating the green notes, and dilating a generous swath of cool shade. Unlike earlier iterations, the fragrance now embarks on a distinctly woodier path. Pino Silvestre is my favorite postwar Italian barbershop fern because its accords are harmonious in ways that evoke nature, and not men's cologne. Parfums Mavive upheld that tradition here.

The other change I noticed is the removal of honey. They took a risk and switched the honeyed amber of vintage with a hay-like woody amber of mostly coumarin and cedar. The overall result is a fragrance with immensely improved longevity and presence. Instead of ninety minutes, I now get seven hours out of Pino Silvestre. Its pine aspect never really disappears, and its base is now a distinct woody amber with aromatic nuances. I can't express how much I love this fragrance. It's on par with Grey Flannel and Original Vetiver as one of the best "green" fragrances I've ever smelled.


Recognizing Faces (Part Two): How Youtube and Fragrance Guides Compete For Relevance While Leaving Classic Masculines In The Dust

'TV Static Screenshot 2' by Justin March at www.justinmarch.com

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez have authored a new 2018 perfume guide, and having read the preview, I can say that it's as good as their first book. Meanwhile on Youtube, "MrSmelly1977" has offered a list of his "Top 5 Discontinued Fragrances." I won't ruin his video for you by revealing which frags he's listed, but hint, hint: a few are masculines by largely forgotten brands, frags that were on shelves over twenty years ago.

I have a few complaints, though. Let me preface them by telling you a little about myself. Look, I'm not a sensible guy. I have a very unusual habit. I tend to pick favorites in life, and then return to them in lieu of trying new things. This extends to many interests, especially fragrances and movies. With film, it's quite maddening to people. They'll ask me what I want to watch. They'll have extensive libraries of movies from the last five or ten years, they'll ask if I've seen any of them, and I'll say, "No, but why don't we watch Lovers Like Us?" Which is something I've seen about fifty times.

Turin and Sanchez's new guide is a little like my friends' movie collections. It's chock full of new. Which means it's chock full of fragrances I have no desire to try. If I did try a few dozen of them, I'd probably wind up buying a bottle of Lapidus Pour Homme afterward. These frags boast all the latest special effects in olfactory technology. Many are "smoky," or "oud," or esoteric picks from established lines like Acqua di Parma or Guerlain. Yet Sanchez writes of department stores, "the luxury floor has been having a hard time." Really? Doesn't look that way to me. Reference the ever-growing catalogue of Acqua di Parma and Guerlain. As usual, there's a logical disconnect between what I see and what they write in their book. Sure, the grey market has stumped Creed, Caron, and Guerlain (you can get Mitsouko far cheaper on Fragrancenet), but that hasn't really hurt them, unless the "La Petite Robe Noir" line is indicative of "a hard time."

An interesting thing that T&S do is discuss the historical arc of perfumery as a type of evolution, as if perfumes are biological species that have either gone extinct, or evolved into something new. The implication is that many (or most) twentieth century fragrances have failed to evolve, have been overtaken by newer and bolder predators, and have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Is this analogy fair? Have Lacoste's and Bogart's eponymous masculines been killed off and fossilized by brands like Maison Violet and Aedes de Venustas? If so, why? More to the point, why in all these years has nobody published an incisive historical analysis of the most interesting kind of perfume, the postwar masculine?

According to Sanchez, new frags don't have complex, enduring drydowns, and don't possess the complexity of bygone classics, yet many attempt to replicate the same smoky, spicy, woody, and musky scent profiles of their predecessors. Doesn't that make them inferior? Doesn't that make the superlative craftsmanship of a $10 fragrance like Halston Z14 more interesting than a $165 fragrance by Le Galion? I'm not sure why I should bother with any of these new niche scents. By omitting any expression of love for classic masculines, yet showing a lukewarm interest in frags that attempt to replicate them, I wonder if Turin and Sanchez wrote the wrong kind of guide.

My main complaint is that very few of the fragrances in the new guide are things I've ever heard of before. Turin is turgid about his love for "smoky" fragrances, "spicy" fragrances, things rich in "drydowns" and "soft, balsamic-salicylate" accords, which is all fine and well. But there's an irony here. Despite his proclivity for rich, woody, floral, and smoky frags, Turin appears to have little interest in reviewing classic twentieth century masculines from the golden era of the 1950s to the 1980s, frags that actually smelled rich, woody, etc. Rather than discuss classic gems like Acqua di Selva, Pino Silvestre, the first Davidoff scent, Oscar de la Renta Pour Lui, Jaguar for Men, Sung Homme, and hundreds of others, he would rather ponder fragrances that often cost far more money for the same effect, and which hold little interest for me.

I'm not alone; many guys share my taste. We populate the fragrance boards and tirelessly explore vintage beauties, things like the Ungaro series, tobacco frags like Vermeil and Havana, fougeres like Tsar, the Aramis line, Boss, No. 1, and any Bogart scent released before 1995. We know many of these fragrances by heart, and we continue to wear them, yet we hunger for a respected author like Turin to acknowledge their mark in the annals of history, and "guide" us through his opinions of them. Many are still available, inexpensive, and well made. Many embody the same qualities as the scores of brand new niche frags reviewed in the new guide. Yet there is no love for any of them. They are considered "cigar box" by Turin, as he wrote of them ten years ago.

So instead of reading the guide, I turn to Youtube. Oh Christ, Youtube. As I mentioned earlier, guys like Chris at "Scent Land," Dan, and Lex Ellis are still talking about classic masculines. But they're not the majority. I mean, that's ok, I totally get it. Times have changed. It's not 1989 anymore. We're living in the post designer, post niche, postmodern era. Obscure Italian companies are buying up niche lines, and in a manner not unlike the mega designer conglomerates of yesteryear, they're distributing them under umbrella licenses across Europe and select parts of North America. These fragrances often cost around $180 a bottle, sometimes over $200, and in fewer cases over $300. Many are true niche, smelling of very specific notes with intensity and attention to detail, but many others are just smelling like rehashes of vintage greats, without oakmoss and coumarin to fix the drydowns into "beastmode" territory.

These fragrances are expensive, have little to no legacy beyond a one or two year existence, and they're often discontinued before any real loyalty for them can form. This doesn't stop Youtubers from going on and on about them. Problem is, none of these frags interest me. And the new designer stuff they're talking about? Really don't care either. I don't care about Alien Man. I don't care about Parfums de Marly. I don't care about Xerjoff. I've been spending the summer meditating on midcentury fresh fougeres like Acqua di Selva and Pino Silvestre, which I just bought a new bottle of (updated review pending). I've been spending the last three weeks obsessing over Italian barbershop fragrances like Silvestre by Victor. I'd love for Youtubers to devote hours to these kinds of frags on their channels, but almost no one bothers with them.

If you asked me who has more cache online, Turin and Sanchez or Youtubers, I'd have to give it to T&S. Despite floating in a lake of olfactory obscurity, they are talking about fragrances that resemble the classics I've written about here. The fact that these new fragrances are judged against a hulking skein of multicolored and endlessly layered historical threads is what draws readers by the millions to their guide.

Youtube comes in a distant second place. I'm not interested in dupes of new Creed frags. I'm not deeply invested in "Top Five" lists. Someone needs to stop and breathe, and pull out a bottle of something by Parfums Mavive, or Antonio Puig, and wax poetic about it for fifteen minutes, while exhaustively discussing the fragrance's history, and offering new information, things never before disseminated to the public. Someone needs to have a channel with researched content, worthy of NPR programming, a kind of documentary series. Someone needs to stop leaving classic masculines in the dust.