|Quite the Facelift.|
Basenotes Has a New Look, a New Address, and Nothing New to Say. Mr. Smelly Gives One of His Honored Guests the Boot. Is It Harder To Blog About Perfume, or Vlog About It?
"Today, reading a post I have realised that we do lack a consensus when it comes to the characterization of a perfume as vintage. Which 'regulations' should be fulfilled in order to offer a perfume a vintage status? There are a lot of opinions when it comes to that, preformulation, before IFRA restrictions, and so on. I personally think and propose to call vintage all the following perfumes: 1. First formulation (and I mean just the first and not the rest that appeared before the first 'reformulation') and 2. At least 20 years old (in Germany as an example cars are 'oldies' when they reach a life of 30 years). Of course there are perfumes that are pretty old, like lets say 50 years old, and reformulations or new bottles and boxes appeared 20 or 30 years ago. In such cases I would opt to call them also vintages even if they are not the very first formulations.
This post suggests that people who are uncertain about the characteristics of "vintage" somehow feel qualified to retroactively establish these standards. Will the inanities ever cease? I wonder if outsiders who venture unwittingly into this community read what's above, along with articles by Luca Turin ("My spirits always sink when someone picks me up at an airport or a railway station and the car turns out not to be a 1934 Voisin Aérodyne"), and by soft-boiled blowhards like me, and then decide that it's the most conceited, pretentious, arrogant, and facile group of buggers on the internet.
When I say "facile," I direct the term, not so loosely, at this issue in particular. There are many parallels between perfume and cars, as I recently pointed out in a review for an Ungaro scent, but in this instance the OP's understanding of these parallels seems tenuous. That he mentions German makes becoming "oldies" at 30 is humorous - I can see the grizzled used car salesman slapping a "dies ist alt" sticker on the windshield - but it misses the point. You can't do that to perfume. There is no set time span that must be traversed before you can call a perfume "vintage." Twenty, twenty-five, thirty years, it doesn't matter. You can drop any number you wish, but it doesn't mean anything. Maybe it could have, once upon a time, if countless basenoters and bloggers hadn't insisted on emphasizing the mythically detrimental effects of reformulations, but the logic behind hating reformulations and loving vintages is fueled by the same brand of stupid.
Some responses in the thread are interesting, because they challenge the conventional wisdom of "old" vs "vintage." Take Jack Hunter's thoughts, for instance:
"I don't think a vintage fragrance has to be something say from twenty or so years ago. I mean some of us consider the first formulation of Dior Homme Intense to be vintage. Maybe its not strictly how the word was meant to define something but its easier for us to separate in our minds the old from the new."
Pretty eloquently put, and kinda tough to disagree with. However, identifying a "second formulation" is required to confirm a "first formulation." In this sense, the game is rigged, because the majority of us don't really know what we're talking about here. It's almost always speculation when someone accuses a company of reformulating something. First, there are few who can truly identity what it is about a classic fragrance that makes it "better" than subsequent versions (see Old Spice).
Second, I don't really see how anything short of a GC analysis can verify more than the most incremental change in something. And how many of us have this tool at our disposal? Consider what "Perfumedlady" says here:
"For me, vintage is strictly any bottle that is at least 25 years old. Anything newer than that is not vintage in my mind. Discontinued or not doesn't matter to me, I am referring only to age. I like the terms 'original' and 'reformulated' for newer scents that have had changes."
This person has excused herself from having to defend the implicit charge of "reformulation" behind labeling something "vintage." If it's "vintage," it's strictly a matter of age. This is highly problematic. As others pointed out, fragrances far younger than 25 years are now called "vintage," because of reformulations. By her logic, there is only one demarcation between formulas, because there are only ever two formulas to deal with: "original" and "reformulated," which oversimplifies the matter!
A few years ago I had a conversation with Shamu1 over at Pour Monsieur about how ridiculous the whole "vintage" obsession is in this community. He's the sort of guy who doesn't mind buying and wearing vintage if it happens by accident, but he's not going to bend over backwards to seek it out when newer formulations are available, often at a fraction of the cost. His review of Puig's Quorum reads:
"If you're going to nitpick about only wearing the vintage version of Quorum, you're not ready for Quorum."
This is a guy who gets it. Seeking out vintage explicitly for the sake of avoiding the most recent formula is a form of nitpicking. There's no reason to do it, unless you can qualify it with accurate comparisons to how current stuff smells. Well, maybe I should say there's no good reason. I suspect people hunt down rare vintages for the sake of writing about them, discussing them, usually to appear luckier and more knowledgeable than others. If you can get your nose on a bottle of Balafre by Lancôme, you have license to brag. If you're referring to your bottle of Francesco Smalto with a ridged instead of smooth brass-banded cap, you have nothing to brag about.
That's no problem, until it infringes on facts. I don't care when people say things like, "Vintage Balafre is incredible!" Talk up Balafre, by all means! I start to get cranky when the dialogue becomes careless: "They don't make fragrances like Balafre anymore." That's the pedestal being rolled out. The implication is that perfumers aren't making testosterone-laden woody chypres anymore, which is nonsense, because all you have to do is say "Slumberhouse," and a chorus of voices responds with, "Norne!"
There's no reason to call something "vintage" if a formula is still in production, is there? Why buy a 30 year old bottle of something if the new stuff is the exact same fragrance (only fresher)? Does that sound like a perfume unicorn to you? You've probably not compared vintage Quintessence Aspen with current Coty Aspen. To put it mildly, after 27 years, there is absolutely no difference between these two fragrances. My best friend wore Aspen in the nineties, and it was just as synthetically green and powdery (and loud) then as it is now. Would I ever buy "vintage" Aspen? No, because why should I? The original formula is, to my nose, still in production after all these years. And why wouldn't it be? Aspen has always been a dirt cheap formula with even cheaper packaging. There's no gain in cheapening it further.
The term "vintage" attains meaning when it refers to something no longer in production that is clearly identifiable by changes in whatever replaced it. The "second formula" must stand out. But we can't really call it a "second formula," because we don't factually know if it is the "second," or the "third," "fourth," etc. It's better to consider it the first formula that smells different than what came before. Prior reformulations may have been so successful that we never even noticed them.
But all of this leads to the greater question: why does this matter? I suspect it has to do with the commercial mindset so deeply acculturated into Western (and many Eastern) customers. The old saying, "A bad product well-apologized for is better than a great product people actually want," seems to apply. Vintage perfumes are generally bad products. Reformulations of classics are, just as generally, pretty good, and in some cases great. Yet brands are appreciated more for their stale, expired, slightly spoiled products than they are for their new ideas. Vintage perfumes are widely considered superior; reformulated perfumes are for newbies and know-nothing noses.
My experiences with vintage consistently diverge from those cited by others. I have several vintages, not necessarily because I want them, but because being an effective fragrance blogger requires an experience-based knowledge of what I'm writing about. This doesn't make me an "expert" on perfume, vintage or otherwise. But it insulates me to a degree from accusations of knocking something I know little about. You can say whatever you wish about me, but you can't say that I've never explored this world.
Many, many people, some of them quite smart, claim to experience no spoilage at all in any of their dozens (or hundreds) of vintages. I flat out do not believe any of them. I own several vintages, purchased from different sources, and find issues with all of them, many hard to ignore. It's impossible for me to find fault with virtually every vintage I encounter, and then believe the person who says that none of their vintages have problems. Either I'm extremely unlucky and he's remarkably better at this game, or one of us is full of shit. I'll let you make that call for yourself. Meanwhile, I'll comment on some of my vintages and their problems here:
Furyo (Jacques Bogart) - Smells excellent, and quite wearable. However, top notes are gone, middle and base notes have fused together. Fragrance is now entirely linear, with its base appearing a mere five minutes after application, and remaining fairly static for the day. Furyo was far more dynamic and even more wonderful when new, I'm sure.
Grey Flannel (Geoffrey Beene) - Also smells good, also very wearable. Top notes are gone. Other notes have fused. A powdery aspect intrinsic to the original fragrance has been replaced by an overwhelmingly soapy and unbalanced interplay between oakmoss and alpha isomethyl ionone. The result smells like a 1950s version of Green Irish Tweed. It's fun to imagine.
Joint Pour Homme (Roccobarocco) - Front-loaded formula is now painfully unbalanced. Dries down too quickly, then vanishes. Given how synthetic Joint is, this is surprising and unfortunate.
Ungaro Pour L'Homme II (Ungaro) - Top notes are unbalanced and attenuated, longevity severely compromised. Smells pretty great for two hours, then becomes a frustrating whisper.
Green Irish Tweed (Creed) - Composition as a whole is unbalanced. Musk note has become a top note. Drydown is too rapid.
Lapidus Pour Homme (Lapidus) - Composition is unbalanced, honey heart note overwhelms everything else.
Aubusson Pour Homme (Aubusson) - One of the better vintages. Very wearable, still fairly well balanced. Suffers from longevity issues and the heart and base stages are premature and a bit linear.
Zino (Davidoff) - Composition has "loosened" and disassembled, becoming a bit stale, simplistic, and diffuse. Lacks the punch of the newer bottles.
Cigarillo (Remy Latour) - Hard one to describe. I suspect that's because many of the top and heart notes have gelled together into obscure accords that were once legible. Otherwise, this fragrance was illegible out of the factory, which is possible, but not probable.
KL Homme (Karl Lagerfeld) - Judging from comments, the musks and citrus notes were tighter in this back in its day. Today it all reads as a very opaque, "fuzzy" fragrance that has deteriorated only as much as most well made orientals are allowed to after three decades. Not bad, but leaves me with an ennui that I can't blame entirely on Lagerfeld.
Touch for Men (Fred Hayman) - Noticeably more stale in the drydown than either of its two comparative congeners, Brut and Rainbath.
Bleu Marine (Pierre Cardin) - Significantly unbalanced, with top notes gone, wormwood remarkalby weak, and lavender gummed into a blaring, chemical note that overtakes the mossy base. A case study in what can happen when inexpensive fragrances are buried for thirty years and then suddenly unearthed. Smells wearably nice, and I never wear it.
Caron Pour un Homme (Caron) - Lavender is still very good in this, a black cap formula from the late eighties/early nineties. The vanilla and musk base accord is regrettably compromised, however. The musk is the main issue. I refuse to believe that this incredibly urinous, animalic skank was present when the bottle was new. It's also absent from the reformulated version on shelves today, which I feel is fortunate.
The Dreamer (Versace) - Vintage formula lost its tobacco a bit to the heady lavender, marking an unbalanced development. The current boasts far better interplay between these two notes, which I doubt can be attributable to any reformulation perfumer's skill. Vintage does have a more satisfying lavender note, however.
Granted, some of these fragrances are no longer in production, so it's a little unfair to discuss them in the context of how they might compare to newer scents, but it's still a legitimate complaint to say that many of them don't smell "right." Comparison vacuum accounted for, I still think things like Furyo and Joint were better new than they are now. So if you were to ask me whether I think vintages are superior to current formulas, I'd say no, although there were some deeper, stronger aromatics used years ago that are no longer widely utilized, stuff like birch tar, octyn esters, and natural lavender absolutes. When I think of the "quality" of "vintage," I tend to think of another, more nuanced kind of "synthetic" experience, far less subtle than my current experiences.
Today, a "synthetic" scent tends to smell "chemical," in that its lab-assisted analogs of natural raw materials aren't convincing. But in the eighties and nineties oakmoss was the only thing standing between a wearer and his religion. You could take most of the same synthetic aromachemicals found in things like Lapidus and Grey Flannel and make them smell relatively more "dimensional," and perhaps more natural, with the added depth of some oakmoss.
Once you know this, it kind of takes the air out of the "vintages are more natural" bubble. Oakmoss is more natural, and vintages used it. Not that big a deal, in my opinion. Fragrances that really need oakmoss, like Mitsouko, still smell great with lab-created synthetic mosses, and cheaper formulas capitalize on treemoss, which smells a little different but still quite good, so the damage is limited.
I don't begrudge the vintage connoisseurs. Not in the least. I also appreciate and wear vintages. However, I humbly suggest that people develop a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of vintages and their limitations before setting out to define what truly makes something a "vintage" perfume. Hackneyed definitions prioritizing years over production histories (and chemical analyses) aren't advantageous to anyone. Perhaps we could have let advanced age be the standard, but years of internet whining about reformulations have made this issue more complex than we ever needed it to be.
"No other industry - not wine, not chocolate, not beer, not tea, not coffee - nobody else uses this term. [Oriental is] basically a fake marketing word . . . that just means anyone who's melanated. Then you realize, 'Oh my gosh, this is white supremacy . . . we realize the industry has been stacked against us. It's been primarily Eurocentric.'"
"Under the layers of incense and roses, however, the term 'oriental' hides much more unsavory associations with exploitation and colonialism. For the colonized lands, the European quest for spices, gold, and raw materials had tragic consequences, many of which are still with us today."
The gist: "oriental" is a baddy-bad word in perfumery terms because of evil Europeans conquering, colonizing, fetishizing, sexualizing, exoticizing, "othering," and otherwise wantonly degrading people of color throughout history. While none of these magazines or blogs are able to give specific examples of how using the oriental category of perfumery is/was degrading to anyone, and are quite prolific at offering only the vaguest correlations to these unnameable race crimes in their historically-bemoaned contexts, I'll give you my hot take. I think at this point it's safe to say that people are full of it.
To be perfectly clear, I'm not supporting the use of the term "oriental" in any context. Frankly I find the semantic argument boring and pointless. We don't need to call things "oriental." We can call the rugs by whatever country they're from, simply saying Turkish rugs, Japanese rugs, etc. Ditto for perfumes, although there is some utility in eschewing nationalities altogether by deferring to terms like "ambery" or "spicy." I'm of the opinion that if people are offended by the use of a word, and that word is applied to pursuits that all people should enjoy without an unreasonable sense of ennui attached, we should jettison the term and find linguistic replacements. The English language is wide and far-reaching, with tens of thousands of viable options. We can request substitutions. That's not a problem. Why not ditch an old-fashioned term? It's not a big deal to do so.
Where I get annoyed is when people resort to bullshit reasons for making the change. They needlessly complicate the issue and obfuscate the rationale for a solution. If the word offends you, just say it offends you because you feel it's politically incorrect and could lead to hurt feelings. Just say you'd rather use another more neutral word instead. I respect that. I can get behind that one hundred percent. But don't start lecturing me on the language's link to European colonizers. You have a smartphone in your pocket as I'm typing this, and you're going to lecture me on how Europe "othered" their way into Asian cultures? Do you have any idea how awful smartphone companies are to Asian countries? Yet none of the well-covered evils of these technological giants, evils that are happening today, concern you enough to swear off owning and using smartphones.
Selective outrage is de rigueur among those who magically profit from the very things they're offended by. For all of their Asian pride, I can't find any info on Madelyn Chung's website about which part of Asia she's proud of, nor will anyone say "Yosh Han" and "Thai American" in the same sentence. These women claim to be concerned about perception of and respect for East Asian peoples and cultures, yet keep their own ethnic lineages out of the dialogue. This is passive aggressive. It's like Chung wants me to dig into her biography, so if I have occasion to ask her about wherever her family is from, she can ask me why I thought it was important enough to research it. I've dubbed this behavior "Proactive Indignation." Instead of doing the decent thing and exonerating everyone for their confusion, people like Chung would rather foster the conditions for committing future faux pas to perpetuate their emotionally cathartic cycle of outrage.
That's the problem with the pseudo-intellectual conversations being had on the topic. Oriental perfumes, or those categorized as "orientals" in perfumery, are named so to clarify that these perfumes are of Eastern origin. Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, or just generically Eastern, the "oriental" moniker covers everything. And there are issues with nationalizing these fragrance classes. If we rely on saying things like Chinese perfumes, Thai perfumes, Japanese perfumes, we're still not saying anything specific. Every scent category exists in these countries. So which category are we referring to? Saying "Ambery" is a little better, although it gets us into a different kind of trouble.
Old Spice has historically been recognized as an oriental because it relies on orange citrus, powdery spices, musk, and vanilla - things found by merchants in what were considered, at one time, lands of the Orient. Yet it isn't really an amber. Can we call it an amber anyway? What if we call it a "Spicy Vanilla" instead? Isn't that an oxymoron? I guess the soapy powder effect is still an amber of sorts. I suppose we can settle for a less concise labelling of Old Spice. But we've only labeled one frag. By nixing a term, we've removed a simple and effective way of knowing which family it belongs to. Still, I can settle for vaguer language, if it's just a word game we're after. My motto: The fewer feelings needlessly hurt, the better. We should all live in a world where all people and cultures are loved and celebrated. The oriental perfume category isn't that important.
But what I won't settle for is being perpetually called a racist. I don't own a smartphone. I get made fun of all the time for that, but I don't want one. Unlike the majority of the people who tell me how awful it is to ignorantly ride the racist coattails of my colonizing predecessors, I'm cognizant of how easy it is to limit my complicity in today's most racist industry. There's nothing easier than not owning a smart phone. Virtually all of them are made in exploitative sweat factory slave-labor conditions, and it's tough to own one for less than $500 (the most competent phones on the market today are upwards of $1000). I'm not going out of my way to pony up for a product that drove somebody in another country, someone considerably less advantaged than I am, to consider suicide.
These Foxconn nightmares should be today's outrage machine, and instead we're whining about Enlightenment values and getting twisted in knots over what we call our perfumes. Enough already. If you care that much about being "sensitive" to the plight of foreigners, ditch your smart phone, delete your Twitter account, and live a relatively frugal lifestyle. Let's see how long you last. I've been gifted two iPhones that I never activated. Those are my values. What are yours, and how are you living them? Do you still want to re-label Enlightenment values as "white supremacist" values? Cuz I see 500 GB of white supremacy sticking out of your butt pocket.
British Colonial Soldiers, early 1900s
"You have to ask why someone would buy something. With 'designer' fragrances, people are buying because they want a connection to the designer brand, and the product is sold to them via the perceived pedigree of that brand. With 'niche' there's no prevailing brand awareness to form the cultural tailwinds because the brand is entirely conceptual. Unlike a Chanel, where I can associate the perfume with the clothing and accessories (and commercial image), a Xerjoff stands alone with only the Xerjoff name and perfumes to speak for it.
If I don't understand something specific about Xerjoff perfumes, like what kind of fragrances they make, and how those fragrances compare to everything else, I won't be inclined to bother buying anything. Thus I'm basing a purchase solely off of what I know, rather than what I perceive. This makes the act of buying one of self-stratification with niche, while buying designer is me adhering to commercial stratification; when I buy Xerjoff, I am distinguishing myself as someone who appreciates Xerjoff perfumes, whereas a Chanel purchase is Chanel successfully tagging me a Chanel customer.
The problem with your term 'boutique' is that it's a distinction without a difference. Chanel boutiques are literally what they're called. So does that make Chanel's frags 'boutique' frags, when they're clearly just 'mainstream,' as you say? Creed Boutique is another example. Creed's logo is a clothing tailor's scissors. They're not hiding the ball there, they're telling the world they're designers . . . These terms 'boutique' and 'mainstream' don't really address what customers are buying, because they negate why they're buying them. So basically let's just keep 'niche' and 'designer.'"
While I think his argument is interesting, my counter-argument is that there's really no point in trying to separate the two categories with different language when the current language is clarifying from a consumer's point of view. Terms like "boutique" and "mainstream" are probably useful guidance for the suits wanting to know which market they should penetrate, but they fail to acknowledge the psychological motivation of the customer. Daver actually mentions this, stating that "niche" used to target a specific audience, which elaborates on the exact definition of the term, yet he deviates into the notion that the targets have broadened enough to warrant calling the whole mess "boutique." Certainly you could do this, but it would confuse many people as a colloquial term, especially when discussing designer boutiques. There's just too much definitional overlap there, a certain Comedy of Semantics.
He argues that there's too much audience overlap between the two market segments, but by taking an introspective approach to that argument, I hoped to parse out the utility of maintaining the Old Guard terms. In some ways I see his point more in regards to saying "mainstream fragrance," simply because this doesn't confuse. Stuff like Bleu de Chanel and Dior Homme are "mainstream" and mass-market. But there's still a linguistic weakness inherent to applying this label; we live in a world where familiarity isn't always the act of knowing. While Chanel and Dior are familiar "mainstream" brands, there are entire swaths of their catalog that exist under the radar. Everybody knows Chanel No. 5, but a tiny subset of everybody knows of Chanel Boy. Yet the same "mainstream" brand makes both. If you're releasing perfumes that very few people are aware of, are you in the "mainstream," or simply successful at penetrating mainstream markets? How would a customer ever discover Boy? Oh, yes, because they're interested in something to go with a Chanel tweed sweater, and the knowledgeable salesman happens to mention lavender. Suddenly the clothing matters again, even if it has nothing to do with how anything smells. Clark's Glasses vs. Superman's Cape.
If you ask me, "What kind of boutique fragrances do you like," my answer will be, "Huh?" Ask me "What niche brands are in your collection," and I'll immediately know what you're talking about, because I'm the niche audience that wanted specific items in my collection. Boutique fragrances are pretty much all fragrances, and it's hard to know what you're after if you use that word.
We need to be clearer in the language we use. In a time where everyone has their own pronouns and "truths," where definitions are being adjusted and expanded upon on a minute-by-minute basis, it would behoove us to rope in meaning when we see it, and I'm fairly certain the demarcation of perfumery markets is a worthy subject for that. Then again, Super-ego Superman would probably reduce me to a blubbering mess for suggesting it, so let's keep this between us.
Salvatore Ferragamo Pour Homme and Yet Another Irrefutably Clear-Cut Account of In-Bottle Maceration
"I must say, my bottle has matured spectacularly well over the past 5+ years. When I first got it I enjoyed it but had a distinct impression it was a bit watered down and I could spray the entire bottle on without sending people running. In the mean time it would seem to have concentrated but the bottle doesn't appear to have seen the juice contract that much. It's become stronger obviously, but also a bit sweeter and I can definitely detect many more notes than when I first got it."
When this person states that the bottle "doesn't appear to have seen the juice contract," he's referring to the chance of some liquid volume reduction due to alcohol evaporation, which would lead to oil concentration and a stronger perfume. I've had this happen with several retail-purchased Creed GITs and Orange Spice. Initial perceptions of GIT is it's weak and transparent in nature for the first few wears, at which point I'll put it away for a while. When I return, it's a completely different story. I recall one bottle starting out like water, and a few months later it had grown so potent it was almost unwearable (and had reached a Joop! Homme strength). Orange Spice also changed, going from a few thin hours to double shifts of pounding Valencias within five years. I've since then witnessed dozens of people commenting on the same thing happening to them.
It's intriguing that Ferragamo's scent is cited as one that undergoes in-bottle maceration after first use. My take on my new bottle is that it's pretty potent for two hours, and then dies down to roughly less than half its original strength. This behavior is aligned with the behavior of other fragrances that kept macerating while in my possession. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it developed into a different performer over the next year or two, and I will keep you updated on that.
|Beautiful Ad, Beautiful Frag|
|My Chinese knock-off of a brass Victorian mantle clock, cherub intact|
|Eat your heart out, Laurice.|
The sticker on the bottom of my 1976 Liberty Bell-shaped bottle