10/12/21

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?


Quite the Facelift.

So Basenotes has had a makeover. It is no longer found at "basenotes.net." It is now "basenotes.com." I like what they've done to the place. I'm not technologically savvy, so I've no idea what Grant's options were when he decided to make these changes, but by the look of it, I'd say he's using a company similar to what Badger and Blade uses, as both sites now share similar features and functionality. This was smart. B&B has been the prettier of the two for a while now, and it's good to see Basenotes catch up. Having a "dot-com" address is probably a little bit better for browser searches and random discovery, as many people still consider it their most used address profile. The "dot-net" thing is probably second place in popularity, and who wants a silver medal, really? 

With that said, I've noticed a bit of uncharacteristic stagnation on the forum lately. Many of the "current" threads are actually resurrected from years past, some with barely any new input after the bump. Generally conversations have been pretty tame, and I wonder if the exodus of some senior members a couple years back has anything to do with that, although it's not like they all left for the same reasons. There's a thread from 2018 about oakmoss that was bumped by "slpfrsly" that hasn't regained any traction, as well as one from 2013 about Lorenzo Villoresi's Wild Lavender that garnered one of Hednic's usual pointless posts. I swear he comments just to rack up stars. Well, guess what, Hednic? Basenotes has ditched the stars. Now nobody knows you're a fake eight-star general. Anyway, with the exception of a thread about Dior Homme batches and some finky and poorly-worded "question threads" ("How long before you leave the house do you spray your fragrance?" "[What is] The repeat bottle purchase or house purchase you find most fulfilling?"), nobody seems to have anything much to say.

I find myself less and less interested in these threads. Conversations have grown stale. In this thread about Houbigant's Fougere Royale, members quibble over the length of the parfum concentration's legs. It's a fairly weak extrait from an ancient house that has only Fougere Royale as its claim to fame, and the real stuff was discontinued forever ago. At this point, who cares? If you're spending $600 for it, you shouldn't be asking strangers on the internet. Ditto this thread, by which a member asks the universe to name the "serious fragrances" offered on the open market today. Snore. The fact that the first response is Bois du Portugal only makes me want to leave the forum and read about gummy worm flavors or abortion laws in Texas instead. 

When one views this unfortunate conversational flatline with the marked decrescendo of voices in the beleaguered fragrance blogosphere, where even that very html term has become a dinosaur, it's easy to wonder if fragrance writing is in decline. Lately I've been quite depressed by the strange thought that Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are frauds. Consider how Turin misquoted and misinterpreted Charles Talleyrand's verse, "Mistrust first impulses; they are nearly always noble," with "Beware of first impressions: they are correct," how he lauded Beyond Paradise when it was obvious to first graders that the fragrance was destined for discontinuation, and how he paired a perennial criticism of all species of aldehydic fragrances with a 5-star review of Chanel No. 5, high queen of boring aldehydes, and it isn't a stretch to question his expertise. Tania Sanchez's review of Montblanc's Individuel only cements the sense of uneasiness I get whenever I peer into their failed experiment of a tome, which inexplicably got a sequel.  

It raises a serious question: how hard is it to write well on this subject? Are writers losing steam because they aren't passionate enough or energetic enough to intellectualize perfume? Fragrantica considers itself a perfume magazine of sorts, and while its pieces are engaging, they strike me as being little more than popcorn for the casual speed-reader. They're entertaining as weekend clicks, but not deep-divers. Perhaps perfume itself is to blame? In the last ten years I've seen a veritable supernova of niche releases, with every new year introducing increasingly esoteric and expensive offerings from fly-by-night brands that offer the average customer precious little to go on before making a wallet-busting purchase. When I look at luckyscent.com, my eyes glaze over. What the hell are these brands? What is 4160 Tuesdays? And why in god's name would I pay $150 for an ounce of some finger pointing amber-colored thing called Maxed Out? What possible incentive is there to pay $145 for an ounce of Corpse Reviver by the idiotically-named Fzotic? When does anyone wake up and say, I'm so glad I spent $225 on a Rosendo Mateu perfume, today is a No. 3 day! Who is blowing money on this garbage? (Yes, I know, I know, spoiler alert, it's the richie-rich people.)

Perhaps it's easier to vlog about perfume instead. After all, it's more about putting on a good show than delving into an intellectual space, although the better vloggers, like Dan Naughton, can make a man think. I've found myself wondering if Youtube reviewers are winning the cold review war that has been waged over the years between bloggers and vloggers. In past years bloggers would scoff at Youtubers, and while I've tried to be as insightful and balanced on the subject as possible, I'm sure I'm just as guilty of being as overly-dismissive as the average Basenotes member. Lately the Youtube community seems to have the energy. Dan's channel, humorously titled MrSmelly1977, has been a safe haven for me when I'm feeling bored. He reviews and discusses various fragrances from every time period, and has many different guest Youtubers and perfumers on for chats, and it's all been very enjoyable for me. Dan also blogs, and while I consider his blog to be quality stuff, there's no doubt that Youtube is his main hub. 

A recent incident on his channel lit a lightbulb for me. Dan was hosting his weekly Friday night livestream, and had on one of his favorite Youtubers, an ugly little bugger named Paul Pluta, who hosts a rather odd (but funny) channel called Archie Luxury, as a guest alongside several other Youtubers in the fragcomm. Well, Archie awkwardly insulted the other guests, and attempted to fob it all off as a joke by being even more offensive and insulting, which led to Dan bumping him from the stream and apologizing to his guests. This was very entertaining stuff. I mean really, really, really entertaining stuff. And it was all unintentional, unplanned, and probably, from Dan's point of view, unfortunate as well. But it was good television. And it highlighted a power inherent to vloggers that bloggers and writers lack: the ability to veto something in real time. 

When something bothers me, I have to put it into words, which is done long after the storm has passed and the damage has been done. The luxury of expressing myself in the moment is unavailable to me, and even if I do somehow manage it, the chances that my readers will see it right after I've written it are fairly slim. But Dan streams and has realtime conversations about whatever pops into his head in the moment. His channel is cordial and geared for mature sensibilities, so there are almost no occasions where he's forced to take punitive measures against another person. But on that particular Friday, he demonstrated that when someone isn't getting the job done, he can simply give him the boot. In this case, Archie wasn't behaving himself, and Dan did the right thing and canned him. That's power. That's expression, and freedom of expression, at play. Dan set the standard for his channel in that moment, and from now on everyone knows what that standard is. I'd wager everyone, including Archie, will abide by it. 

Dan does get his fair share of hecklers. They usually appear in the comments under his videos, with some garnering little more than a heart emoji from him. However, there are at least one or two that I've noticed get under his skin a bit, enough for him to engage them and challenge them to appear on his channel. While this is certainly a show of force, I imagine Dan sees it as a bit of a frustrating aspect of vlogging on Youtube. You can post your thoughts in video format and host any guest you please, but then the snipers come out of hiding and take pot shots at your content in the comments. I'm not sure Dan has fully realized this yet, but the best way for him to deal with them isn't to challenge them to appear in his vids. The strategy he should employ is simply bringing his guests on, broaching whatever the subject of contention in the comments happens to be, and have them pick apart those comments one by one. His media format allows for his guests to be his strongest defenders, arguably even stronger than he is. The heckler might take satisfaction in seeing Dan frustrated by negative comments, but the fun would wane pretty quickly if every video had a segment devoted to picking on those comments. If it's attention-maintained behavior, which it likely is, the comments would continue, but Dan will have shifted the paradigm into a true show of force on his part by involving the commenter in his videos, despite his refusal to appear in them. 

The biggest advantage to vlogging is that it gives the vlogger an audience even when the subject matter is completely anonymous. Dan has had plenty of videos where he unboxes fragrances, but he often doesn't tell the viewer which fragrance he's unboxing. You have to watch to find out. One can argue that a blogger has this tool at his disposal also, because blog posts and videos both have titles that can be as obscure as the author wants. But you have to read a blog to get the message. All you have to do on Youtube is watch. Given the choice, people will always opt for the easier path. And watching a video will almost always trump reading a long blog post these days. Dan does this particularly well by incorporating nuanced and historically sensitive reviews of vintage masculine fragrances in his unboxing videos. I'm never left wanting after seeing one of those. They're the perfect mix of entertaining and informative. 

Do I regret being a blogger instead of a vlogger? Not at all. I've always preferred to write what I think, rather than appear on screen and speak about it. I intend to strive onward by pressing my deepest thoughts and ideas into the collective conversation being had by those in the fragrance community. With that said, in this age of Zoom business meetings and pandemic restrictions, seeing people on screen has been a lifesaver, and I'm glad that Youtube's fragcomm is alive and well, and populated with articulate and intelligent people. Vlogging about perfume is just as difficult as writing about it, but with the writing and Youtube communities united in their love of fragrance, there is no limit to where our imaginations can go. 

10/1/21

Basenoters Do Not Decide What Is "Vintage"





Usually the vintage forum on basenotes is duller than dishwater, but a 2016 thread there piqued my interest. In it, the OP states:

"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.