7/9/18

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.


18 comments:

  1. I had mostly the same reaction, especially about not being interested in sampling the few fragrances they now say are special. I didn't understand the claim that the vintage masculines were simply to be dismissed when I wrote about the 2008 book, back then. It's sort of like trying to reinvent the wheel but in a square shape!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was actually surprised they wrote a new guide. Despite being an entertaining read and generally informative of two people's opinions, I considered the first guide a failure. Roughly a quarter of the scents reviewed have since been discontinued. Half of them were crap fragrances that nobody was interested in anyway (not that I haven't reviewed my share of crap). The ones that were worth reading about weren't really things that needed the copy - Guerlain, Chanels, Diors, etc.

      Delete
  2. I enjoyed reading this post a lot, because I often wonder why I am not more interested in new niche fragrances... I've spent some time feeling bad about this before finally recognizing that it wasn't the fragrances that didn't interest me (at least per se), but the conversations. If there isn't a sense of history to provide perspective, then the scale of the gamble is misunderstood and mystification ensues. I do find the stories of individual perfumers interesting, and have no doubt that some of their works will likely belong on a future list of classics (if I were composing one myself, for example, Chergui would already be on it. So might Vetiver Timbuktu, or certainly L'Air du Desert Marocain.) But would the story of any one of these successes be as interesting as the near-failure of Habit Rouge, or the paradigm shift that Fahrenheit represented? For me, no, because the engagement with mass taste, that enormous mainstream gamble, wasn't there. I'm terribly interested in what made folks at major houses decide that these ideas would fly, or more importantly, what made buyers make it so, en masse. This is even (or especially) true when accident or error was part of the equation. With masculines in particular, the story is interesting because we are left with the very narrow arena of what men allowed themselves to think of themselves, and how that changed in response to events that could not be anticipated (thinking, for example back to Habit Rouge, of how changing tropes of masculinity emerged in the early 70's as countercultural moments of the late 1960's matriculated into mainstream sensibility...) So many niche lines come thoroughly pre-curated, that the experience of reading about them feels like looking over an algorithm-generated list of Spotify recommendations; there is a touch of syncretic aspirationalism (and planned obsolescence) to the way they meet their perceived public's taste. To paraphrase art critic Dave Hickey, when you look at a Caravaggio in a museum, you are looking at the warhorse of a past ideological battle... it is filled with visual ideas that are still dangerously persuasive, even if the patronage it originally served has long since receded, and the work, for its original perspective ceased to be instrumentally relevant. By contrast, many newer (Postmodernist) works, born into institutional care (the academic tutelage and grant program), nursemaided by an agreed upon language of significance and installed in a setting vouchsafed by the same language, never acquire other, more problematic pluralities of experience and audience.... with the resulting conversations that much more more airless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What you speak of is the demarcation between fragrances that are built on tradition, vs. those that are built by committee. The former kind of perfume wasn't made to impress people with price point and product placement, but rather was an ode to masculinity, interpreted through methods of classicism and a healthy dash of convention. I've been wearing Acqua di Selva this summer, and every time I put it on, I realize that I'm wearing a humble but effective scent. This wasn't made to be rose colored in a rectangular vase in a Manhattan storefront. It was meant to be tucked next to a razor blade and a styptic pencil. Impressing buyers with an inflated price tag, despite its being made of quality materials and having a consistently natural and vibrant smell, wasn't part of the agenda.

      Turin and Sanchez go on and on about these niche fragrances, as if oud and smokiness are interesting. "Smoky" notes are the new fougere, says Turin. Really? We are now to believe that smokiness will guide masculine perfumery for the next one hundred and forty years? I wore Francesco Smalto Pour Homme the other day, and it has a big oily cloud of smoke dead center in its drydown. But it's an inexpensive fougere from 1987, and I'm pretty sure it's better made than most of the niche in the new guide. This annoys me and comforts me in equal measure.

      Delete
  3. I agree that there is a nod to older scents among the niche and high end designer fragrance realm. While I obviously won't complain about the smell itself, it is kind of redundant for me. For example, Tom Ford's Noir Anthracite - yes, it's a designer, and even from his "cheaper" line, but it's at the Montale and Mancera price bracket - is a beautiful, beautiful scent. But it smells a lot like Aramis. It doesn't have the same opening, which is actually a minus for Noir Anthracite since Aramis has one of the most gorgeous openings I've ever smelled. The drydowns of both are really similar - not the same, but similar - and I don't think the current formulation of Aramis is thinner or less opulent than Ford's. Yet the former retails for around 70 per 3.7oz and testers can be easily found for less than 20 (mine was 16 shipped); while the latter retails for 170 and testers are 80-90. So as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Ford put out a gorgeous product, which is still inferior to Aramis at 2.5-5 times the price.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One little bit of wisdom Sanchez injected into the first guide (paraphrasing): "The only allure inexpensive fragrances have for the buyer is their smell." It's so true. A relative cheapie like Aramis (many of the Aramis line) is a much better fragrance than these super expensive quasi-niche frags by Ford and Dior.

      Delete
  4. I found it interesting how often he praises Antaeus in the new guide. He calls it sublime, and one of the best ever masculines....considering it got 4 not 5 stars in the first guide. One wonders if his take on it has changed. (He also claims its not a Polge composition.) I also perversly love he gave Guerlain LHI Cologne 4 stars. A citrus freshie, a style so far outside the tastes of elitist perfume bloggers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah I think Jacques Polge authored Antaeus, and his son Olivier was who he was referencing. To my knowledge, Antaeus is the only "cigar box" maculine Turin considers truly worthy, with Krizia Uomo a close second. He's not unkind to YSL Jazz, and considers Kouros a masterpiece, a "sporadic case in perfumery," so it would be gravely unfair of me to paint Turin as being disinterested in classic masculines. I think Turin has a place for them in his heart, but I don't think that place is quite big enough. There are probably in the neighborhood of a hundred masculines he could have reviewed that he didn't, and why is beyond me. I know he and Tania did not want to review discontinued fragrances, and many of the oldies have long been canned, so that factored in. But I think the problem resides in that rule. Why discount dc'd frags when there are so many things that haven't been said about them? They were under-appreciated in their time, and sadly also after their time.

      Delete
  5. "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"

    soft, balsamic-salicylate accords = Nivea cream scent
    O please let the next era in fragrance NOT be about spicy, smoky, Nivea cream scents.

    I was kind of hoping that new extraction techniques, headspace technology, and plant breeds would result in more innovative fragrances. Seems like they'd produce all sorts of new things for perfumers to play with. Hit me with technology! Maybe the new tech didn't pan out fragrance-wise or it is still too costly?

    Marketing, development, & design of fragrance & makeup seems to be following the Montale method: Come out with something "new" every month in the hopes that customers will stop by & potentially buy something. (Never mind that "new" is just the same notes, accords, colors, whatever in slightly different proportions & intensities that's simply been trendily repackaged.)

    I guess my taste is vintage as I prefer lush white florals to the floral-fruity things & ethyl maltol/ethyl vanillin bombs popular today. (But then my favorite movie is "Some Like It Hot.") Dear husband prefers something that will keep him smelling fresh in the misery of the Monsoon heat & humidity - understandable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Turin's taste is very weird. Although he has an appreciation for classic masculines and feminines, which is cool, his taste in contemporary stuff is hard to pin down. Sometimes it seems like he wants a return to the old forms. Other times he expresses a love for relatively unpopular experiments - see Beyond Paradise. Still others, he pines for odd juxtapositions that, as you said, contrast smoke and woods with borderline gourmand makeup and creams scents. Wearability becomes a serious question with him. Oddly, Tania Sanchez is more legible in her standards, and her tastes. I also think it's true that she "gets" cheap fragrances far better than her husband. Turin would have given Coty Aspen one star. Sanchez gave it three, plus a decent review. In a way, it's smart that they collaborate.

      Delete
  6. Hey Bryan (note correct spelling of name this time...!)Although, like yourself I am someone who gravitates heavily towards the classic masculines and vintage scents of a sadly bygone age there are certainly a few more recent scents which have kept my nose happy in recent years. To this end I'm hoping you can temporarily overcome your disinterest in Mugler's most recent offering, Alien Man, and help me out by giving it a sniff and reporting back. The main reason being that it really reminds me of something very familiar and given our similar tastes I figure you might work out what it is. There have been discussions on B***notes suggesting it smells like a men's deodorant from the 80s/90s - maybe Insignia or one of the Lynx (Axe) range - anyway, whatever it is it invokes a kind of fuzzy, comforting familiarity with me and is driving me crazy trying to work out what the hell it is it reminds me of...!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll have to remember to stop by the Mugler counter at Macy's next time I'm there. Not very enthusiastic about Alien Man, but its worth a sniff, hopefully I can help you remember where you've smelled it before. Mugler generally interests me in theory, but not practice. I like thinking about their offerings, and enjoy reading about them, but when presented with them, I tend to shy away and my eyes glaze over. Too many flankers, too many formula tweaks, too many fanboys. I often wonder if Youtube's fragcom would be different if Mugler never existed. But as I said, thanks for the suggestion, I'll look into it for you in the future.

      Delete
  7. A well researched documentary style channel or book would indeed be a welcome addition!
    However I think the problem with the new perfume guide, is that it's written from the standpoint of people who can afford to try new things because they're in the business and as such they also have a budget they can spend for the sake of discovery (or perhaps they get free samples from companies because hey, these are the guys who write the perfume guide).
    In any case, it has little if anything to do with common enthusiasts like myself who have an interest in classic fragrances.
    Unfortunately, it all boils down to sales figures - niche and overly expensive fragrances are hot and to stay relevant in the industry the last thing these authors want is to write a book about classic fragrances that came out several decades ago. Not withstanding that these may have better qualities.

    All that being said, I rather read your honest reviews than that of a connoisseur, whomever impressive his curriculum vitae may be.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh and by the way, I'm really really waiting for specialists like Turin/Sanchez to tackle the myths that seem to float around about the perceived qualities of vintage fragrances and the actual chemical effects of expiration. Each and every time I have seen a person tackling the subject they have been overhauled by the legions of vintage believers calling them all kinds of names and even alluding that whatever they wrote was just another industry inside job to promote strict regulations and banning of ingredients.

    I mean sure, perfumes just like rotten eggs may well smell much stronger indeed due to some chemical compost heap effect, but that still doesn't mean we should consume them, let alone actively searching for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree about the documentary, yesterday I was thinking of a little cocktail book I used to have. It was beautifully published, with artistic studio photographs of each drink, and a short historical blurb explaining their origin. The same format would work beautifully for classical masculine fragrances.

      Regarding vintages, they actually address it early on, in the "Q&A" section. They basically say everything that has already said, along with a few things I've been saying for years, namely that perfumes age in the bottle. This has been a point of contention for as long as I've been stating it (and longer), yet up until now, no "expert" has dared comment on it in any depth. They hardly went deeply into it, but they spoke of what they call the "contemporary collector-fraud phenomenon," which is exactly what I have described in earlier posts: people on ebay save a very old empty bottle of something, and fill it with a similar but cheap imposter fragrance. The bottle is right, so that creates an olfactory placebo, and the rest is money down the drain.

      Delete
    2. Indeed, something like that little cocktail book would be great as a illustrated compendium for classical masculine fragrances.
      I'm even surprised that nobody has made one yet.

      About vintage fragrances, I guess I'm just glad I didn't go ahead and buy that vintage Patou Pour Homme when I started out my fragrance journey. As a newbie the first thing I entered on google was "what's the best ever masculine fragrance" and sure enough PPH was just touted as that... thankfully my lack of perfume budget at the time made me decide to buy Antonio Puig's Quorum instead.

      Delete
  9. As to smoky/edgy niche scents, another criticism I think should be leveled at TS and LT is that they don't seem to search out the more interesting but less expensive fragrances of this type (as I do), or other unique ones, such as The Game Intense by Davidoff. Yes, if I had nearly unlimited funds I might order a sample of every new niche release, or to be more precise, I'd have my assistant do it. Then if I liked one I'd order the bottle, but that's not what I'm going to do being an "average" person financially, and there are few fragrances I've ever encountered that led me to think I had to have a bottle at any cost. One that I wouldn't want to be without is Pino Silvestre EdP, which couldn't have sold for that much, but even so, I'm not going to pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Honestly the whole niche thing is annoying. I'm not entirely sold on the idea that this is the future of fragrance. Sure, it's the "present" situation of fragrance, and modern perfumery is definitely trending in the upscale/niche market, but the problem is I don't see long-term sustainability here. $425 for 3.3 oz Aventus? What will it be in three years? $500? At some point grey market prices will exceed $350 a bottle, and that's when the usual grey market buyer will realize even the discount is insanely expensive. And eventually doing splits won't be worth it anymore, and the entire line will just drift into the reach of the top 1%. At which point, Creed's client base will suddenly begin a contraction the likes of which hasn't been seen before. That's just one example. I wonder how many others will follow that business model?

      Delete

Thank you for your comment. It will be visible after approval by the moderator.