3/10/17

The Danger Of Misusing The Term "Niche"


A Niche Scent.

On a recent basenotes thread, the following exchange occurred:

Dougczar writes:
"Of course niche houses use synthetics, but designers seem to [generally] use a much higher concentration of the worst offender aromachemicals. The sharp screetchy notes and ISO-E that I smell in a LOT of designers, I don't usually detect in niche - and if I do, it's much more subtle."

Bigsly writes:
"Well, what I've found is that the 'super cheapos' I buy tend to be more natural-smelling than quite a few niche scents I've tried lately."

To which L'Homme Blanc Individuel says:
"I assumed you're so anti-niche because it's expensive. As you said, you're not willing to pay more than $20... but now I'm wondering if it's also that you're picking the wrong niche scents to try."

Bigsly responds:
"With niche samples, it's whatever comes my way. I don't go out of my way to acquire them. Stash is certainly an attempt at niche. You can call it niche pastiche, niche light, or something along those lines (as others have, though most seem to think it should be considered niche, in terms of smell, how it's constructed, etc.) but it's the kind of scent I'm referencing."

L'Homme Blanc Individuel retorts with:
"If you're getting niche bottles for under $20, your understanding of what niche is will be wildly skewed. It's a lot like trying to judge steak when your examples are $10 steaks you'd get at a pub."

And Bigsly parries with:
"I've found that some CK scents of recent years seem to be really loaded with some nasty aroma chemicals . . . If my choice was between this type of scent and niche of recent years, I'd say, sure, niche is a lot better (generally-speaking, obviously), but then there are the 'super cheapos' I've purchased that don't have any kind of 'synthetic' or 'chemical' element (or it's very minor). Just some I can remember offhand: Unbreakable, Cuba Prestige, Magnet for Men, Legend by Michael Jordan, and the aforementioned. For more money, but lower than designer, are Ferrari's Oud and Leather Essence scents, which are among my favorites of the last few years among any scent categories."

L'Homme Blanc Individuel dispatches this nonsense with:
"You complain about how expensive niche is, but look at how much money you've wasted on scents you're trying to get rid of. My entire wardrobe costs less than that."

Spoiler: Although the list is nine years old, it was updated as recently as February of this year, and most of the frags mentioned cost around $10 an ounce, or less.

When you use the term "niche," you're using a word for a sector of an existing commercial market. Most markets can be divided into two sectors: "mainstream" and "niche." A mainstream car is a Chevy. A niche car is a Tesla. A much larger swath of buyers are interested in the cheaper, easier to maintain Chevys than the smaller subset of buyers who prefer the esoteric battery-powered world of Tesla.

In this case, the initial purchase of a Tesla is far more expensive, and the cars are trickier to maintain (hello hi-end extension cords) than the lowly Chevy, but in terms of savings on gasoline and saving the environment, one can see why a sizable fraction of the population buys them. These long-term cost-savvy folks are the ones this particular niche is targeted at.

But guess what? Another niche (call it "new niche") is a car that cost less than $6K back when it was new: the Plymouth Horizon. Yeah, remember those? Little tinny hatchbacks with Volkswagen Rabbit engines and surprisingly fun rack-and-pinion steering. There's a small community of car guys who are devoted to them. They're a far cry from any Tesla, and yet they're a type of niche vehicle, particularly because they're no longer made and a tiny group would donate their left testicles to own one in pristine condition.

Fragrances inhabit the same cost spectrum as cars, and in many cases the spectrum is more elastic, since you can vary the amount of the same given fragrance you want to purchase (but you could never buy half a Tesla). If you want Green Irish Tweed, and can't afford a full bottle, you can purchase a sample of just a few milliliters. But my point here is to make the distinction between calling fragrances "niche" because you're addressing that they sell to a small share of the overall market, and calling them "niche" because you think this is automatically what any elusive or expensive fragrance is.

When Bigsly or anyone else says something like, "Stash is certainly an attempt at niche. You can call it niche pastiche, niche light, or something along those lines," they're misusing the term. What is "niche pastiche?" What is "niche light?" What are these invented names meant to describe? They suggest that niche fragrances all share a common olfactory quality, and that some are a mishmash of this and other qualities, presumably drawn from other kinds of fragrances that are not necessarily "niche." And "niche light" suggests that predetermined qualities are being scaled back, or "lightened" in a given scent.

Clearly this makes no sense. Scent-wise, niche fragrances are not products that you can pigeonhole as being any one specific thing. Xerjoff Dhofar and Harley Davidson Legendary are both niche scents, simply because they are both targeted at vanishingly small sectors of the buying public: those who enjoy expensive Italian perfumes, and those who love all things Harley Davidson. Would anyone say that these two fragrances share anything else in common, other than their both having tiny audiences?

If you doubt their audience size, ask yourself how many people you know who wear either of these brands. Then consider yourself in the equation. For example, I've never driven anything but GM cars my entire life. I've never owned or ridden a motorcycle, and have only known one person who had a Harley (and he didn't even like it). If I wasn't predisposed to trying as many different fragrances as I can get my nose on, why would I want to buy a bottle of Legendary? If I'm not interested in Harley Davidson, what would make me buy their scent?

When the term "niche" is misused, it leads to the assumption that niche fragrances are a type of fragrance, instead of a variety of fragrances that are sold in the niche sector of the fragrance market. It ascribes technical meaning to something that should only be considered in economic terms. Some of the "myths of niche" that I frequently see:
- Niche fragrances are "simpler" than mainstream fragrances
- Niche fragrances are more natural
- Niche fragrances are universally rare
- Niche fragrances are expensive
- Niche fragrances are hard to find
- Niche fragrances should be characterized simply as "niche"
- Niche fragrances are more desirable than mainstream scents
- Niche fragrances are more exotic than mainstream scents
- Niche usually focuses on specific aroma chemicals

Let me briefly rebuff each of these points:

- Almost all of the niche scents I've encountered had the same complexity as the average designer or mainstream scent.
- Niche fragrances use similar amounts of naturals and synthetics compared to their mainstream counterparts, and in many cases niche fragrances rely on synthetics exclusively.
- If you want a rare niche fragrance in the age of the internet, surprise! You can find it on the internet! Even if you can't buy it directly online, there's always contact information to discuss a purchase.
- Some niche fragrances are very, very expensive, equal to the cost of a new car. Some are dirt cheap: if you're a wetshaver, you probably own and use daily one of at least ten niche fragrances that cost $5 an ounce (or less).
- If a fragrance, any fragrance, is hard to find, you need to join the 21st century and get broadband.
- Just calling a niche fragrance "niche" doesn't describe the fragrance. It describes the sector of the market it is sold in.
- Niche fragrances are equivalent in variety and range of quality to their mainstream counterparts. Therefore they are interchangeable with mainstream scents, and should only be judged on individual merits.
- All niche fragrances are at least somewhat "exotic" in the sense that they are made for a smaller group of potential buyers than mainstream fare is. If you call niche fragrances "exotic niche" you're being redundant. You're also describing the exoticism of their fanbase, not the scents themselves.
- Some niche fragrances focus on specific chemicals; some don't. Ditto for mainstream.

With niche, the question to ask is always, "Which niche?" The word describes a very broad spectrum of subsets. Are we talking about designer niche? Wetshaver niche? Brand-name niche? Natural perfumery? Soliflores? Orientals? Chypres? Fougeres? More information is needed to understand what is being discussed. Just saying "niche" is like saying "perfume." The possibilities are endless.




3/6/17

Jil Sander Man Pure (Jil Sander)

Pure Testosterone

Whenever I encounter a chypre, I expect to only half like it. With the exception of Grey Flannel, I've never met one that I outright loved, although Mitsouko does give me a tingle now and then. Jil Sander's Man Pure (also known as "Man 1. Pure") isn't an exception, but it is an incredibly cool fragrance, its professed purity evocative of '80s Wim Wenders films, silvery and inky, weathered faces and smoke. It's the fragrance equivalent of a '70s BMW 2002 with all original 2.0 L. engine, brake failure light, and roughly 80 of its original 100 hp left at god only knows how many RPMs and foot lbs of torque. Man Pure still moves, still has a Neo-noire attitude, and oh by the way, it was manufactured in West Germany, so if you're looking for something with Cold War street cred, it doesn't get better than this. Even the drab, blocky, colorless bottle looks like a brick in the Wall.

Chypres like Man Pure make me daydream, though. Wearing it the other day, I found myself wondering what it would smell like if some contemporary shitkicker outfit tried to make it on a budget for the K-Mart crowd. It boisterous cistus labdanum, lemon, and castoreum opening accord would likely be reduced to some functional analog of "pine" and "grey citrus." Its sophisticated (but aggressively masculine) heart of kitchen herbs, frankincense, wormwood, and oakmoss would definitely be a fake cinnamon woody amber, with one of those annoying pencil-shaving cedar thingies buzzing off the tail end. The smoky musky-mossy finish would be a bland detergent musk mixed with a pinch of treemoss and treacle. It would probably impress me as a solid attempt at something genuinely old-school and unconventional that simply flounders on the basis of not having a skilled enough nose behind it, sort of like these films Hollywood keeps churning out that seem to be made by people who haven't seen any films. That is, it would be ironically weird, and a noble failure.

With this in mind, and remembering that there were no guiding light breakthroughs for chypres like there were for fougeres in this time period, there's nothing suprising about Man Pure. It doesn't try to have it both ways by tucking lavender in the mix; this fragrance has no fougere accord. The citrus note, which is not quite bergamot, but close enough, along with the potent punch of beaver juice and labdanum pretty much shouts "I AM MAN" from rooftops, traveling loudly alongside you everywhere you go. It feels similar to Halston Z14, Salvador Dali Pour Homme, and even a little like vintage Yatagan, with its burnt evergreen needles adding texture and rustic beauty to the proceedings. Released in 1981 to little fanfare, this incredible gem reveals just how ruthless and stark these bawdy Reagan era masculines could be.

If you're looking for a dry, dark, naturalistic chypre with a fresh, silvery incense note, good dynamism, excellent longevity, and an irredeemably macho bite, this is something you should spritz. Wear it to a late-night screening of Wings of Desire and blast Blondie tapes from your Beamer to get the full effect.





2/8/17

The Dilemma Of The "Work Fragrance"



Occasionally I get questions by email and in comments on this blog from readers wondering about my opinion of the "work fragrance," and what qualifies as a worthy scent for the workplace. My general rule of thumb in giving advice is to recommend counterintuitive action. That is, if you work in a formal setting, replete with business suits, corner offices, "power lunches," and never-ending deadlines, you should wear something casual and objectively fun. Likewise, if you work in a relaxed environment, where Casual Friday happens everyday, and where offices are the exception, not the rule, you'd be well served to button up in your fragrance choice.

My reasoning for this is one of balance. If you carry a briefcase to work and suffer the constant indignity of having your secretary micro-aggressively question your every move, a little levity, even in the low hum of something like a half spray of Joop! Homme, is a welcome reminder that you belong to the human race. Your coworkers will register that you're wearing something peppy and sweet, but their emotional well-being is circumstantially aligned with yours, and their subconscious reaction to your saccharine sillage will echo approval. In a crowded business meeting full of grey-faced politicians and soul-destroying accountants, who can argue with an invisible signal of one's inner mirth? You may not be allowed to tell a vintage Sam Kinison joke in front of the account execs, but your fragrance can signal in a non-threatening way (when applied judiciously) that your inner scream is primed and ready for action.

My reasoning for the inverse applies accordingly, but I want to address the reader who says in frustration, "But what if you work in a place that is not obviously formal or casual?" I work in just such a place. My line of work requires me to do tons of paperwork and manage a dozen different kinds of documents, tracking dates, data, line graphs, and the explicit directions of mental health professionals. It's an oddly anachronistic job, especially given the i-Times we are currently in, and I often think that I should wear a visor and smoke cigarettes while engaged in these clerical tasks. In this regard, my job is bizarrely formal.

There is a caveat to this, though. Quite frequently a sizable portion of my day brings the mental and physiological tightrope act of intentionally lighthearted banter with coworkers between physical altercations with people who momentarily wish me bodily harm. I must summon at a moment's notice a cool-headed comment designed to deflate another person's potentially dangerous attitude problem, while giving an implicit and even-handed promise to overlook whatever harm might be done.

Where I work, emotions and tensions can run sky high, but I often have days where 90% of my interactions are easy and not at all demanding. I drive into work every day saying to myself, "Bryan, you'll either drive home at four o'clock, or an ambulance will drive you," and I'm fine with that. What the hell should I wear in a place like this? Should I even wear anything at all? Would going scentless be the "safe" way of handling these professional, social, and cultural ambiguities?

Over the last seven years, I've devised an answer to that, with a few tiers. First, as far as the question of "should I" goes, the answer is clear: Yes, fragrance is appropriate. My environment is subject to many unpleasant odors, many due to bodily fluids, unpleasant secretions, filthy clothing, and just plain bad hygiene. For me to bring a waft of something that smells at least relatively "good" is something more than merely prosaic - it is fundamentally useful. I realized pretty early on that my coworkers actually appreciate an occasional olfactory reprieve, even if only in the form of a good personal fragrance. In many instances my body is in close quarters with someone else's, and I have yet to receive a complaint. I often receive compliments.

However, I'm careful to use a unique tactic: I mix it up. There is no straight line in how one's temperament should adjust in my workplace, and thus no reason to be linear with my fragrance style. Some days it's formal; some days it's a casual fragrance that works best. I have some scheduling indicators that signal what sort of day I'm most likely to have at any given point of the work week, and I wear my frag accordingly. Usually my scents are a bit more formal, and while that is largely due to my personal taste (and not coordinated to effect my working environment), it is also a tertiary benefit of working with people who need to differentiate your impact on their day from the impact of the environment around them. Become too repetitive and too thematic, and they begin to expect you. Stay fresh and new, and expectations aren't formed on that subconscious level, beyond knowing I will smell at least relatively "good."

I tend to stay away from pure perfumes, very strong extraits and oils. There are certain frags that simply feel "wrong." They're too bombastic, too heavy, potentially offensive, even to me. Common sense prevails. Likewise, I see little point in habitually donning light, evanescent colognes like 4711. On a tough day, I'll sweat that out in the first hour, and then it'll be like I never sprayed anything at all. No fun. I like the happy medium of full-bodied EDTs, generally from the last thirty years, and usually trending toward the "woody" end of the masculine spectrum. Coworkers are taken aback at the seemingly endless variety of fragrances, but if someone hands you a steaming turd, you'll gladly take my love of the Caron line over the ecrement.

My suggestion is to go with your gut, but don't be afraid to go against the proverbial grain. Ditch the business scent if you're a businessman - it's redundant. Stay away from watermelon B&B Works crap if you're a lifeguard. Believe it or not, Kouros works better in sand and sun than Acqua di Gio. And yeah, going full Gordon Gecko and wearing Patou Pour Homme to the 116th floor on the day of the Taiwan deal is just asking to end up in a Robert Longo painting.

Be fresh in your heart, and your work will follow.



2/5/17

KL Homme: Overrated Oriental



It's funny how tastes evolve, especially for fragrance. A few years ago I wrote a glowing review for KL Homme, Lagerfeld's "80s oriental." KL was his indirect response to the continuing popularity of the '70s classics Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur and Jovan Sex Appeal. Lagerfeld Cologne was somewhat similar to Jovan Musk for Men, but the floral musks of the previous decade had limited appeal, and by 1986 it was all about powdery patchouli ambers, with Chanel's Antaeus, Giorgio for Men, and Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men leading the pack.

The 1980s were a continuation of the leading trends of the 1970s, which is why so many guys mistakenly refer to '70s scents like Grey Flannel and Azzaro Pour Homme as "80s colognes." Truly new and innovative concepts didn't emerge until the '90s, though things like Xeryus and Bogner Man were definitely "newish" for young men of the Reagan era. I confess that I'm not partial to oriental fragrances, but I do appreciate a good amber scent; Old Spice, Giorgio, Antaeus, Lagerfeld Classic, and KL Homme are all quite agreeable to me.

In the case of KL Homme, I realized last month that my feelings are changing. I still like it, and enjoy wearing it, but I'm not nearly as impressed with it as I was when I first purchased it. It's important to note that my bottle (and any bottle) is vintage, at least 25 years old, and probably older. It's also good to remember Jeffrey Dame's words about vintage orientals - they last longer than other fragrance types, probably because their complexity masks any subtle spoilage. With KL Homme, I sense no spoilage, other than perhaps a slightly unbalanced musk note, and some bland citrus.

My problem with KL is that it's dreadfully boring. It smells like the vaguest idea of an oriental, with all the most basic elements present, and nothing else. It has a crisp citrus with aldehydes and woody terpenes in the opening accord, followed by a polite cloud of patchouli, amber, benzoin, a hint of soapy rosewood, and talcum powder. The base holds a subdued non-animalic musk, and if you sniff very carefully you can feel the presence of cinnamon-sprinkled sandalwood under the dust. Sounds delightful, right? Well, it would be, if it weren't so carefully fitted and tucked and pruned into such insufferably inoffensive blah-ness. Fragrantica cites civet in KL's pyramid, but there is none, and I've no clue what Fragraticans are smelling in its place.

An oriental should have some magic, some characteristic "oomph!" that sets it apart. KL has no magic, and no memorable moments in its eight hour lifespan. It simply smells like a reference oriental. It's the skeleton of something fleshed-out and alive. It's just bare bones boring. I can't put it any other way. People rave about this fragrance online, but I don't share the love. Quality-wise, it's mediocre, its accords rather indistinct and functional, their execution surprisingly over-blended and soapy. In contrast, Lagerfeld Classic's musk, cigarette tobacco, and myrrh notes are quite realistic, and stand out.

If you're in the market for a "reference oriental," i.e. something that conveys the most basic, no-frills oriental imaginable, KL Homme is for you. But is it deserving of high praise? Nah, not really. I recommend Pierre Cardin's scent over it, and even prefer Sex Appeal, which isn't as pretentious, smells more focused, and contains clearer headshop patchouli and bolder wood notes at an ironically lower price point. If you must have a vintage from KL's era, I suggest you find a splash bottle of Obsession for Men, which has in some cases survived the decades intact, and may still smell reasonably fresh and complex (I had a bottle for 30 years).


1/21/17

How Not To Debate A Chemist



It was with great pleasure that I read the recent exchange on Bigsly's blog between Bibi Maizoon, who holds a B.S. in Organic Chemistry from Stanford University, and the blog's author, who simply peddles a lot of B.S.

As I read Bibi's comment to his recent "Fake Facts" post, I realized that one of my faithful readers really "gets it," and understands what I've been writing for years. Fragrance enjoyment is entirely subjective; there are no rights or wrongs in how you perceive perfume. There is no such thing as a "chemical" fragrance, for all perfumes are chemical compositions. And there is no shame in finding pleasure in popular mass-market designer fragrances like Dior's Sauvage. What you like is entirely yours to enjoy. If the only fragrance you've ever smelled is Chanel No 5, and you absolutely love the stuff, more power to you. It's one of the biggest sellers of all time, and you have settled on something that will always be available to you.

Likewise, if you enjoy oddball cheapies like Jovan's Intense Oud, that's great too, but as Bibi pointed out, understanding that it's not a high quality oud allows you to enjoy it with a deeper knowledge of what you're wearing, and hopefully within a meaningful context. She simply pointed out that if you're a Westerner wearing JIO in the Middle East, you shouldn't be too surprised if your fragrance isn't well received, given the preponderance of more sophisticated oud perfumes in that part of the world. In America you'll be regarded as someone with unique (and probably quite interesting) tastes, but that's because we're not well versed in oud.

Bibi also pointed out that there's nothing "wrong" with Sauvage, a fragrance Bigsly habitually denigrates. It is well received by her wealthier acquaintances, and it continues to be a strong seller for Dior. I would hazard to guess that Sauvage is to Dior what Bleu de Chanel has been - a cash cow! I live in a metropolitan part of the USA, and still haven't encountered anyone wearing Bleu or Sauvage, so I can't say they're overwhelmingly popular. But sales stats would probably prove me wrong. Whenever I wear Bleu, I receive compliments on it. Sauvage probably rates the same for those who wear it.

One of the key points Bibi made is that the term "chemical" means nothing when applied in a general way to how a perfume smells. Her understanding of perfumery seems well aligned with mine: perfumery is the art of creating entirely new (inherently enjoyable) smells that are not found in nature. A truly great perfume is its own one of a kind smell, using mostly synthetic chemicals. One example that I happen to frequently wear and enjoy is Versace's The Dreamer. I wear The Dreamer knowing that it doesn't smell like real lavender, or real tobacco, or real vanilla. It contains lavender, tobacco, and vanilla notes, and I can clearly discern them, but they work together to form an entirely unique accord. I'm not concerned with whether this accord is "natural" or "synthetic." That is not the point of The Dreamer. The point is that nothing else smells like The Dreamer, and it's a very good smell.

Bigsly clearly doesn't understand this. In his retort to Bibi, he wrote:

"The 'trick' of modern perfumery is to use such large amounts of synthetics and yet make most people think it smells 'natural.'"

The problem with his statement is that if this were the "trick," then chemists would never have bothered with synthetics in the first place. Oakmoss and birch tar are great natural fixatives, and chemists would just build on them with other natural essences of floral extracts and musks to compose perfumes, making the entire concept of perfume one of naturalism (and very high retail prices).

But perfumers don't do this. They use synthetics precisely because they enable us to experience smells not found in nature. Bigsly's definition of perfumery suggests that perfumers must "reinvent the wheel" when they enter the lab by laboriously tinkering with vats of chemicals to replicate scents found in nature.

But where in nature can one find the apple note in Cool Water? The violet note in Green Irish Tweed? The citrus melange in Acqua di Gio? These scents are megahits because they smell fake, in a good way.

Bibi's comment implies a criticism of Bigsly's "fragrance chemist," one which is well formed, given the dubious nature of his interview with this anonymous person. What surprises me a little is that he opened himself up to this obvious criticism. He spent years criticizing my blog for lacking "citations," "sources," and "evidence." Eventually I was able to interview an identified veteran of the fragrance industry who supported my positions and refuted his, and Bigsly considered my source "invalid" for reasons that were never specified.

All of that is fine of course - if you dislike me and Jeffrey Dame, then that is your right - but if you argue that Mr. Dame's opinions are invalid, the burden of proof is on you to support your argument, and that is something Bigsly never did. He simply used his personal opinions to counter Mr. Dame's 35 years of professional knowledge. Because Mr. Dame has decades of experience in things Bigsly has no professional understanding of, one can see the obvious problem with Bigsly's attitude toward him. Bigsly is just an anonymous amateur enthusiast. His complaints are akin to a child whining about rules dealt to him by an adult.

Then in 2016 he claimed to interview a fragrance chemist, without disclosing the chemist's identity. I pointed out the obvious problem with this, and Bibi brought it directly to Bigsly. He responded to her by saying:

"If you think I should not have published my interview with this person, despite the background check I did and having an 'expert' review it first to see if there appeared to be any 'red flags,' then you can just state that, but making up 'false facts' (or lies, as I prefer to say) is unacceptable . . . "

This is a smoke and mirrors comment, and the only thing unacceptable here is an unidentified amateur calling a highly educated chemist a liar.

Bigsly is attempting to discredit Bibi's honesty by calling what she says "lies." However, he reveals (perhaps unintentionally) that even he did not know who he was talking to when he interviewed his "chemist." He mentions that he had to background check the person's claims, and have them "reviewed" by a third party. He's basically telling his readers, "I want you to trust this person, even though I do not." If the interview was with a real fragrance chemist with a real place of employment, wouldn't a simple call to his employer suffice? Or was that also anonymous? If so, I would think this level of unnecessary anonymity would be its own "red flag."

That Bigsly doesn't seem to pick up on this makes him seem a little dim, to be honest. I think I can speak for Bibi when I say that neither of us believe he interviewed a real fragrance chemist (she has said as much in comments here anyway). I will concede that it's possible his interview is legitimate, but with no way to verify it, I choose to remain unconvinced, and will withhold further judgement for the day (if it ever comes) when he is allowed to tell the world who he spoke to.

However, Bibi has an advanced degree in organic chemistry, and it seems she sees little factual content in Bigsly's post. And as for his "background check" and his "expert" (who is supposedly the most "well known" fragrance writer in the English language, which implies Luca Turin), these are meaningless assertions without specifics. Bigsly can't even tell us who reviewed the anonymous chemist's claims! That's three degrees of anonymity, including Bigsly himself.

One can only infer that he is unable to verify any of what he wrote, and since the interview suspiciously supports many of his long-held contentions about fragrance, the logical conclusion for any intelligent reader to reach is that the entire thing is fictitious. Add to that a dissenting opinion from an Organic Chemist (who I'm sure would be more than happy to prove herself to anyone who challenges her), and well, Bigsly has a problem.

He published that stuff. It's on him to prove that it's legitimate. To the general public, he has no credibility. Unlike me, he's an anonymous blogger. He could be anybody. For all anyone knows, he could be a professor with a PhD in astrophysics, or he could be a compulsive liar who is just smart enough to not give specific details about himself, or anything he lies about. Without his help, there's no way to know the truth. However, given the glaring holes in his arguments, I feel confident in choosing to believe he isn't a PhD in anything.

When you choose to be completely anonymous on the Internet, you have to convey your message with factual specifics if you wish to be taken seriously. Not wanting to disclose the name of a fragrance chemist you claim to interview is bad enough, but not even wanting to disclose the identity of a supposed "expert" you claim reviewed the interview is even worse.

Add to this the bad pattern of arguing with industry insiders (and people with access to them), and we see how not to debate. I think Bigsly should give up on his ill-advised sparring with experienced insiders, and resume picking on little old me. I don't have a degree in chemistry, nor do I have three decades of industry work under my belt. Call me a "deceiver" all you want, but at least you know my real name, what kind of house I live in, and even what kind of car I drive. Sorry to be so deceptive, I guess I'll have to work on that!




1/16/17

In My Opinion, This Is "Fake News"


A synthetic diamond. Even its flaws are fake.


In a recent post, our friend at Wordpress has penned another screed about Dior's Sauvage, this time slanting it against what he perceives to be "fake facts" about such frags. He writes with great condescension:

"And to be clear, yet again, I don’t hold anything against a person who enjoys Sauvage (or who has a social use for it), but it’s time to stop talking about it being great or special or unique or a breakthrough or a masterpiece."

So apparently we are no longer allowed to bestow high praise upon Sauvage, as for the thousandth time, the author has made clear that these "fake" tributes are intellectually and stylistically inappropriate. On what authority he rests his claims is not clear, but what is particularly interesting is that these admonishments were preceded by the following thought, without any hint of irony:

"The fragrance chemist I spoke to didn’t believe much thought went into Sauvage, and you don’t need to be a fragrance chemist to notice how 'chemical' it is (as the reviewer himself does)."

This brings us to what I think are "fake facts." This interview is entirely fact free, simply because it comes from an unidentified source. Because it lacks even the most basic citations, nothing there can be confirmed as factual. Yet it is packaged as an "interview" with a "fragrance chemist," a claim my own readers have easily debunked. There isn't a single sentence in the entire article that relates truth and technical accuracy to readers, and the supposed chemist's identity is not even given.

So it's fine for the author to convey his own ideas through this mysterious third party (who may not even exist), but when people give their honest subjective opinions about a fragrance like Sauvage, they're peddling fake facts?

Another sad case was the Monsieur Guerlain debacle from last year. Without any substantive information to support their opinion, people in the fragrance community were up in arms over the unsubstantiated narrative that evil corporate LVMH had destroyed Monsieur Guerlain's blog for containing some minor legal slip-up.

If you frequented basenotes, you were to believe that because some stranger on the internet (who only a handful on basenotes ever met in person) lost his blog, basenoters were tossing out their Guerlains. One moron even went so far as to post a picture of his top-tier Guerlain parfum extrait boxes sitting out in the snow, like discarded trash, to send the company a "message." Aside from conveying that he was intent on getting rid of empty boxes, this person's "message" was tied to a false narrative, a verifiable "fake news" story: that MG had been "closed down." Meanwhile, his blog lives on.

These are, in my opinion, examples of "fake news" in the fragrance world. Falsehoods, dubious facts, and unsubstantiated claims are not what plague the myriad of subjective amateur reviews on basenotes and fragrantica. We go into those sites knowing the majority of their reviewers are amateurs and enthusiasts who have little professional knowledge of that which they write about.

We automatically assume that someone who says Sauvage contains "high quality materials" is speaking subjectively, and no thinking person, no sentient reader, would ever ascribe more to such an opinion than whatever comparable opinion of his own would warrant.

The real "fake news" stories in our community take the form of half-baked interviews, contrived outrage at stories that aren't even partially fleshed out with any substance, and narratives that overarch the general public's perception coming into the community. Stuff like, "Vintages are more natural," and "Perfumes never spoil." These are falsehoods that have been proven false on this site by professionals in the industry, both through interviews and reader commentary.

If we're going to opine on "Fake Facts" and "Fake News," then we ought to be truthful about those terms, and how they apply. Subjective opinions with hosting site disclaimers, such as reviews on fragrantica, are not the problem. Those who "criticize the critics" are far more responsible for what comes out of their blog posts.



1/7/17

Pacino For Men (Cindy Chahed)


Good luck finding a 100 ml bottle.

Linear fragrances are perhaps the most difficult kind for perfumers to pull off. Done wrong, and they smell functional, like furniture polish, or Febreeze. With skill and a little luck, a limited palette can actually work beautifully, like fire engine red, or Yves Klein blue. When I first encountered Pacino for Men, my initial thought was that it would be another rich tapestry of old-school masculine hues, from the deep umber of smoked tobacco, to the burled browns of rosewood, with wisps of artemisia and pine to round off the edges. Boy, was I wrong! The house of Cindy Chahed surprised me.

The only information I can glean about it comes from this site, which I think is an impartial but unusually informative retail outlet. According to the (somewhat contradictory) information found there, the brand was founded in October of 1996, and closed soon after, almost three years exactly, in August of 1999. I guess they weren't moving units fast enough. Apparently Cindy never made anything more than minis, which may have contributed to her demise, although I think a brand exclusively dedicated to minis is an interesting idea, retailing solely from airports to frequent flyers. Pacino was apparently released in 1996, but I have no corroboration on that.

Pacino smells like an apple orgasm. Come to Connecticut in October and visit Lyman Orchards. Tread its rows upon rows of trees in bloom, and inhale the dry, sweet, woody kiss of the autumn air. Stop to grab one of thousands of wine-like dessert fruits, steal a bite, and savor the fresh flavor in your cheeks as it mingles with the crisp air in your lungs. That's the opening of Pacino. It's basically a medley of apples with a touch of pink grapefruit, and a drop of French lavender for extra dimensionality. I fully expected it to darken and get all pre-A*Men oriental on me, but instead it simply mellowed out, becoming warmer and a little sweeter. The apples have been picked and barreled, and their fruitiness radiates from pillows of cedarwood and hay.

It remains this way for the life of the scent, a full five hours, before fading to a skin essence more suggestive of dusty wood than pomaceous fruits. All told, this is a very good fragrance. Its sweetness never smells like candy; its freshness retains definition and clarity without becoming cold and grey. It's like someone took an X-Acto knife to Creed's Spice and Wood, excised its apple top note, threw in a few other cultivars, a little extra woodiness, and named it after a famous American actor. It's crisp, nearly edible, fairly natural (although not extraordinarily so), quite simple, and pleasant to wear. If you're an apple lover, a fan of scents like Boss Bottled, Cool Water, Nicole Miller for Men, and you happen across this stuff, I highly recommend it.