12/31/16

"People Are Reading Claire's Blog," And Why Andy Tauer Is Totally Full Of It



Friends, it looks like we have another diatribe against perfume bloggers, made by a successful perfumer who blithely throws shade at the practice of giving samples, while hypocritically extolling the the value of Facebook "advertising." Andy Tauer, one of the most successful indie-niche small-house perfumers of the last ten years, is evidently a bit nonplussed by something written by ClaireV at takeonethingoff.com (I not longer link to other blogs, simply because I don't want to make indirect endorsements).

To sum up, Claire simply observed the overnight success of relative newcomer Parfums Dusita, which recently smashed luxury market expectations, releasing new fragrances at $100 an ounce without feeling the familiar sting of shooting high and missing. Dusita's fragrances are selling quite well, apparently. There are many super wealthy people willing to plunk down four hundred dollars for yet another obscure oud perfume. Good for Dusita. What does this have to do with Andy Tauer?

Andy wrote a memo to fans on his own blog, addressing what he feels are the changing times in the business. According to him, free samples and "sample draws" on fragrance blogs bring no new customers - absolutely none. And Andy feels that fragrance blogs used to be useful sites, capable of drawing customers, but are no longer of any value. Bloggers don't understand, says Andy. They don't understand the market, they don't appreciate what it takes to succeed, they applaud $400 perfumes without knowing what they're doing, and nowadays they're no better than purveyors of "fake news."

Pardon my French, Andy, but I think you're full of shit. I distinctly recall a couple years ago your linking my reviews of your fragrances on your Facebook page, with plenty of "likes" to give your older fragrances an instant publicity bump - free of charge. My blog wasn't "useless" in those cases, was it? I was praising your fragrances, and rightfully so. Your fragrances are terrific. To my knowledge, most (if not all) fragrance blogs have done nothing but say good things about your fragrances, arguably the only reason you were able to clear the financial hurdles of the first few years of your business and eventually become an inspiration to us all. So what's with the sudden disdain for blogs? You didn't have it when you were reading and sharing mine.

Then we get the Basenotes echo chamber, with countless members weighing in on Andy's post, and Claire's by proxy. (If Andy hadn't mentioned the $400 thing, no one would have connected his rant to her post.) And we get a lot of the recycled bullshit we always get from basenotes members. Let's all agree with Andy! Let's all furrow our brows at Claire. Well not all of us. Let's some of us sympathize with Claire and Andy. Let's act like Andy has a point. Let's pretend that his perfumes are reasonably priced (they're really not).

You know what would be refreshing? If companies like Parfums Dusita and Tauer cut the bullshit and released well made, adventurous compositions using excellent materials for ten dollars an ounce. One basenotes member claimed that people don't understand the actual prices of high quality synthetics, and that some are $100 a ml. Yeah, maybe for you to buy them, but not for professionals. Besides, you're talking apples and oranges when you try to parse the prices for quality synthetics into the retail value of a perfume. Most formulas are using miniscule amounts of each, with the cheapest and most effective pre-made bases comprising the bulk of what you smell, much like the Schiff base did decades ago.

I'm getting really tired of hearing a few things from the perfume industry. First, I'm tired of hearing from perfumers that blogs are useless to their business. If they were, then guys like Andy Tauer wouldn't be reposting my reviews for their own benefit, and they wouldn't be getting annoyed with other bloggers and "responding" to them on their own sites. As one basenotes member noted, "People are reading Claire's blog." The thread on this topic extended into what ClaireV wrote, and if blogs were irrelevant, Andy wouldn't be reading them, and wouldn't have read Claire's post.

Second, I'm sick and tired of hearing all of this false equivalency in the community. Claire, stop prattling on about production and market pricing. Any perfumer creating high-end fragrances is going to pour a bit more money into their formulas then your average mass-market designer brand would, but that doesn't really justify the markup. If I go to KMart and spend twenty bucks on a four ounce bottle of Coty Aspen, I know I'm getting a good perfume at a fair price. It's using most of the same ingredients that Creed uses in Green Irish Tweed, which costs fifteen times as much for no reason other than more expensive packaging, and greedier noses.

The idea that Parfums Dusita wouldn't sell their perfumes at the same volume (or better) if they priced for the lower end designer market is absurd. Can you imagine how many basenoters and Fragranticans would be swarming Parfums Dusita for their frags if they were $40 a bottle? The quality to price ratio would be the biggest draw, and news about it would spread like wildfire in both communities, and across the blogosphere. For the first time in god knows how long, people would have affordable access to unique, well-crafted compositions with perfume strength and the commercial cache of Middle Eastern exoticism. You could sell one bottle to hundreds of American enthusiasts instead of eight bottles to one oil baron in Qatar.

The synthetics and naturals being used are sometimes pricy, but you can price well under $400 a bottle and still make a profit if you're being honest. The sheer volume of perfumes sold would make up for any perceived overhead gap. Niche is struggling in America right now, and it's not because there's a shortage of people who want to buy. It's because niche brands have priced the average American consumer out of the market, and they've done it under cover of apologists who act like it's smart business.

What do true fragrance lovers complain about the most? The shortage of "quality" in what is available.

We all hear the complaints about reformulations, about how natural materials, note clarity, accord fidelity, and longevity have been abandoned by designers. Just think about what could happen if one - just one - perfumer actually kept the faith and produced complex, crystalline perfumes at a fraction of current designer prices. That's a business strategy that takes real balls. That's what nobody is doing, because it's easier to bitch and moan about how difficult the market is for newcomers, how they must price fragrances at a dollar a ml to keep from going out of business. Meanwhile, many still go out of business. Anyone remember J&E Atkinsons? B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful? When was the last time you saw a Floris store in North America? Oh, I remember: ten years ago. How long do we have to watch L'Artisan gasp for breath before they go under?

Allow me to play the smallest violin for these poor suckers.

Go ahead, be a new niche brand, and enter the market charging $140 a bottle, like Kerosene did a few years ago. Tell me again about how you can't afford to charge anything less than that, when you can find online much of what comprises your formulas for pennies on the dollar. When people like Bigsly have supposed perfumers saying on his blog that naturals cost less than synthetics. Pour gallons of synthetics into a big jug, sprinkle them with a few native oils, call the whole stew "niche," and pray that a Saudi prince discovers you.

Then start a blog, complain about other people's blogs, and tell me that giving two or three free samples to readers doesn't generate any sales. Which brings me to my third and last complaint: perfumers bullshitting people about samples. No Andy, giving a handful of free samples to as many anonymous people online won't generate additional sales. What do you expect? You have to be generous with samples, and offer sizable coffrets for free, boxes with four or five samples. You have to send them out to anyone who asks for them. You have to give them away like candy. That's what designers did for years and years. Take a little loss on them. But take that loss knowing that if your perfumes are getting into people's hands for no money, just a few more may be willing to spend your asking price on a bottle of whatever they liked.

Your mentality is, "samples don't work." Yeah, they do. You just don't want to take the necessary risk on them anymore. So you're bullshitting us with the argument that they don't help sales. You tell readers that free sample draws, where one or two readers are privy to maybe three or four samples, do zero good for your bottom line. No shit. I'm stunned.

As long as the mentality shared by Andy and Parfums Dusita pervades the fragrance world, middle class buyers don't stand a chance.

The future is bleaker than these people realize. Making perfume unaffordable to all but a few only works when the few are allowed to prosper by all. With enough time, enough Trump, enough middle class anger and disgust, even the upper echelon of niche may realize they limited their growth potential and damaged their brands by only catering to the one tiny subset of people that isn't growing: the rich.



12/29/16

Socal for Men (Hollister)




After a year of reviewing cheap wetshaver ferns, it seems fitting that I close out 2016 with one more opinion on the same sort of thing, this time courtesy of The Hollister Company.

People talk about "iconic" masculines, the fragrances that shaped entire genres of scent, stuff like Acqua di Selva, Brut, Z14, Cool Water, Fahrenheit, A*Men, etc. And when the conversation steers into wetshaver waters, classics like Old Spice and Aqua Velva (and if you're European, Tabac) are always mentioned. But far less discussed is the eternally underrated great grandfather of semi-sweet, proto-gourmand fougeres: Skin Bracer.

In previous decades, fragrances were influenced largely by Old Spice and Tabac, with the "fresh" scents attributed to the long arm of Aqua Velva, but in the last ten years or so men have experienced an undeclared revival of Skin Bracer, and it's been quite a surprising journey for me. For instance, I never expected to smell Skin Bracer in Cool Water Night Dive. Nor did I reckon for it in Playboy VIP, or the somewhat older Cotton Club by Jeanne Arthes. Man.Aubusson Intense and Joop! Homme Wild were weird ones for the aftershave thing also, evoking memories of granddad after a shave, despite all their efforts to seem "cool" and "modern." Are perfume companies banking on something other than a great formula here?

I think they're counting on the fact that young guys have little to no interest in things from the past. This is a sad reality in America; "Millennials" are people who hold themselves and their generation's interests in the highest esteem, to the point where Katy Perry's songs are "oldies." I often wonder what would happen if I drove down to Yale, walked up to a random guy on campus, and handed him a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash's debut vinyl. He'd probably have a nervous breakdown right there on the sidewalk. Youngsters have no interest in understanding how prior generations lived.

They're not interested in knowing what music from the fifties, sixties, and seventies sounds like. You know, music from when people actually played instruments AND sang at the same time. And old movies aren't on their thumb drives, either. Humphrey who? Oh, Madonna copied Marilyn Monroe? None of these twits own a real suit; most own but one tie.

So it's not hard to understand why perfumers believe they can get away with this. Out of ideas? Fuck it, just dredge up some forgotten oldie. Sure, anyone over forty knows what it is, but the rest won't have a clue. Skin Bracer used to be in every bathroom, and now it's on the bottom shelf at Rite Aid, buried under mountains of Axe body spray. But tweak it, stretch its proportions here and there, and give it a new name by a new brand, and boom! New fragrance. Every asshole with a tattoo sleeve and gym membership must have a bottle.

Hollister's Socal for Men is basically a retread of Skin Bracer, although unlike many of the others mentioned in this post, it has whiskers of its own; it was released in 2007. Unfortunately it smells less complex than its drugstore progenitor, and most of the others. It's even inferior to Man.Aubusson Intense, which takes skill. It's bland in comparison, and a bit plasticky and "blobby" in its evolution, but it ticks all the right boxes: fresh, clean, lavender, powder, sweet, tonka, vanilla.

Needless to say, spending $50 for a bottle of this is insane. If you want a good variation of this theme, Cotton Club is still the best way to go, and it costs a third of what Hollister is asking. I still think the best bet is to just drop five bucks on seven ounces of Skin Bracer, but what do I know? I'm old. I'm in my mid thirties (gasp!). My younger brother just turned 30, and he likes Socal. He wouldn't be caught dead wearing Skin Bracer. Go figure.




12/27/16

Soap Review: Rad Soap Activated Charcoal Moon Rock Body Bar




This one breaks my heart. If you shop at Whole Foods, you may have spotted these soaps there, normally priced at around ten dollars a bar, which is about right for Whole-Paycheck Whole Foods. I'm not one to explore the "activated charcoal" fad in upscale soaps, mainly because charcoal is black and dirty and prone to staining white tubs, but occasionally a concept jumps out at me and makes me wonder. Such is the case with Rad Soap's Moon Rock bar.

The bar is hefty, pitch black, and pitted to look like a rock. The scent is charcoal and black currant, and I can verify that both notes are beautifully rendered, striking a harmonic balance usually reserved for high performance engines. The charcoal is sooty and dry, almost bready, and the currant is mild, not urinous or fetid, a soft sweetness suggestive of ripe berries. On skin this combination is even better, emitting a clear freshness very similar to Claiborne Sport's saturnine, wine-like essence.

What saddens me is that the bar itself is a disaster. Texturally it feels like a solid, somewhat oily compound that becomes quite greasy as you lather, and actually melts off itself in water. Cue the black streaks, with sizable fragments of soap dropping from the bar and clogging my tub drain. The thing just won't hold together. After two washings I gave up and had to toss the bar. Adding to the misery, I noticed black streaks had formed under the soap holder built into my shower wall; the Moon Rock continued dissolving long after the showers were over.

These soaps aren't especially hard to find, and I think there are ten more in the line, give or take. Maybe the others fare better, but the Moon Rock just doesn't pass muster. I wish it did, because its cleansing properties and fragrance are both quite good. Note to the Rad Soap company: you're almost there - just tweak the density of your product. Meanwhile, back to Irish Spring for me.



12/26/16

"You Smell Like Powder"


"And so do you."

I work with a young woman who greets me, on many mornings, with a backhanded compliment, saying with a laugh, "You smell like powder." Now, it should be noted that many masculine fragrances do in fact smell like powder, and that I own and occasionally wear a few of them. If I were to wear Royal Copenhagen, and she were to tell me that I smelled like powder, I would say she has an astute sniffer. Ditto for Tabac, Old Spice, Caron's Third Man, Brut, Canoe, KL Homme, Lagerfeld Classic, and Rive Gauche Pour Homme.

But she rarely mentions the powder thing when I wear those scents. (Granted, some I rarely wear.) No, she mentions the powder thing every single time I wear Grey Flannel. That's right, Grey Flannel. Green, mossy, flowery, earthy, woody, dark, somber Grey Flannel. The greenest old school masculine I've ever encountered. And it doesn't matter if I'm wearing vintage or new; her reaction is always the same. It actually makes her laugh: "Bryan, you're wearing baby powder again."

That this girl should associate Grey Flannel, even Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel, in all its Green Irish Tweedy glory, with baby powder, is simply a testament to how differently our minds interpret things. And is she wrong? I've always felt that GIT has a bit of a talc-like powder element in its far drydown, and I've also noted a mild powder element in Grey Flannel's heart, so her comments aren't obviously "wrong."

However, I rarely think of Grey Flannel as being a "powdery" scent. If I want powder, I don't reach for anything Beene. I reach for any of the others mentioned here. I reach for Grey Flannel when I want dry, green, floral, mossy. I wear it thinking "soapy" and "woody" and "bitter" and "fresh." Galbanum has a powdery aspect to it, and this burst of hazy greenness greets me every time, but it is soon followed by rich citrus esters, and the brisk snap of violet leaf. So what's up with this powder thing?

There's a simple lesson here. No matter how well you think you know a fragrance, or how well you understand its effect on you, your interpretation of what you perceive upon smelling something will not be the same as someone else's. The other person will likely have a slightly different interpretation of what you're wearing, or an entirely different take altogether. If it's the latter, then this turns your perception upside down completely. Until I began working with Ms. Powder Nose, I always thought of Grey Flannel as "green."

Now I can't help but think of powder, specifically baby powder.

But it gets better. One day I wore Mitsouko to work, and again, the powder comment. "You always smell like powder!"

Does anyone think Mitsouko smells powdery? I don't. Of course, as with all scents, there may be an element of powder in the fragrance, and this is usually where the florals are. But to completely identify Mitsouko with "powder" is very strange.

Perceptions vary, and in the case of this person, I can only say that she apparently perceives many synthetic compositions as being powdery, or of having prominent powdery qualities, regardless of whether the fragrance is generally thought of that way. Grey Flannel and Mitsouko are two frags that I generally consider "mossy." But who am I to argue with her?



12/10/16

What NES Classic & Hatchimals Teaches Us About Buying Vintage Perfume On EBay


A little while ago, a friend and coworker came to the office excited about something. Just the day before, Nintendo did the unthinkable and rereleased their original 8-bit system with 30 pre-loaded games, including all the major megahits of the late eighties and nineties. It retails for about sixty dollars from most of the big box stores (Walmart, Target, Toys-R-Us, etc.), and in their usual fashion, Nintendo has strategically issued a very limited quantity, letting stores stock an average of ten systems at a time.

The catch is that these systems are being throttled out to the public just two weeks before Christmas, making them the most sought-after gift of the season, second only to Hatchimals. Yes, that's right, Hatchimals, a weird, gimmicky, oddball toy that children and parents across the country must, absolutely must, must, must have. Last week a Hatchimal was retailing for $50. Earlier this week their prices went up, and now you'll pay anywhere from seventy to eighty dollars for one, if you're lucky enough to find it in a store. Most buyers aren't that lucky, and are forced to buy their Hatchimal from eBay.

Which brings us back to eBay, a wonderful place where every predatory seller and gullible buyer can convene and engage in the 21st century's idea of open commerce. If you search for an NES Classic Edition system on eBay, you will find a few, most priced at $250, and some for $300. Think about that for a second. An 8 bit video game system - an 8 bit system - with only 30 available games, is being sold for $300. This system lost currency twenty-five years ago, when Nintendo 64 finally invaded every thirteen year-old's living room and unseated the little grey king.

If you search for a Hatchimal, the $70 store prices disappear, and you can say hello to $95, $115, and even one $5,000 item, none of which are any different from what Toys-R-Us had in stock mere days ago. The craze for these weird little stuffed animals is intense, and competition for them is fierce. What is less clear is whether the craze will even last until Christmas, or if this is a rare case of a holiday hot ticket item that supernovas into a black hole of disgusted parents who gave up and got little Sammy or Susie a Cabbage Patch Kid instead.

My sense is that the lofty prices for these two items on eBay signify a desperation on the part of the buyer, and a veritable goldmine for the seller. My buddy at work has stood frozen and exhausted in eight lines in front of as many stores, huddled next to his girlfriend in a tent for six to eight hours straight, amidst ten or fifteen other wackos, waiting for the moment the store opens its doors and hands the first few people their ticket to buy a Nintendo. So far he has made $850 selling eight systems, basically doubling his money.

In recent years I've gone on and on about the ridiculous prices for discontinued and vintage perfumes on eBay, pointing out that many of these fragrances are being billed as somehow "desirable," despite being taken off the commercial market or simply being reformulated and kept in the game. You could spend eighty dollars on a new bottle of Polo from CVS, or you could hop on eBay and consider buying a vintage bottle of Polo priced at $300 by seller bad_doggy! The choice is yours.

Despite how absurd the choice is, I have been told repeatedly that the reasons for the $300 bottle of Polo, and for any similarly priced vintage fragrance that saw perhaps a little popularity in prior decades, are abundant and self-evident: they have "fan bases," they are examples of supply and demand, they are products that never deteriorate in chemical quality, and thus appreciate in worth, etc. Of course none of these reasons actually address why someone like bad_doggy! might think their price is reasonable.

They touch on subjective interpretations of the state of Polo cologne, and how the public interprets its worth, but fail to find a causal connection for why anyone would attempt to sell a bottle for four times the current asking price of the very same fragrance, or for why anyone would be crazy enough to buy it. To date, I have still not read a cogent argument for why I should consider a vintage bottle of any fragrance to be worth anything more than its original price, adjusted for inflation.

A 4 oz bottle of Polo cologne in 1978 was probably priced at about $35. Adjusted for inflation, that makes bad_doggy!'s bottle worth $129. Where does he get the other $171 from? Not only is his bottle of cologne probably a bit skunked from age, but it is in no measurable way superior, in packaging or practicality, to the $80 bottle at CVS down the street. You can't even argue that his vintage is rare; I have seen at least a dozen other such bottles on eBay over the last five years. (All of them were priced at over $200.)

What I see with the Nintendo and Hatchimal phenomenon is how inflated prices on eBay are actually formulated. The Nintendo is currently in very high demand, but there are almost none of them available, making supply egregiously low. The physics of commerce suggests this is the reason their prices are astronomical at the moment. But there' a little wrinkle, a crucial wrinkle, to that theory. NES classic will be available in wider distribution in January, after Christmas. Prices will remain fairly static for them in stores. If you're desperate for an NES Classic, why not wait until January?

The Hatchimal situation is a bit less contentious than the Nintendo deal, because supply is slightly better, and resale prices are a bit more reasonable, especially at $90. But again, this is just a crappy toy. A carbon egg with stress lines that is gently crushed by a weak robotic beak from within. Kids may love it, but it's not high tech, it's not particularly rewarding (it only hatches once), and why would anyone think $5,000 is a reasonable price?

Well, maybe because the item is being sold by a self-described war veteran with a tall tale about how catastrophe has struck, and he must raise the money to save his house. In other words, we are supposed to believe a total stranger on the Internet, and spend a gazillion times more than the retail asking price, out of the goodness of our discerning hearts. After all, the vet's story must be true. Nobody lies on the Internet, and certainly not on eBay!

In the case of Nintendo and Hatchimals, we see that supply is limited, and demand is high. In both cases, especially with the Nintendo system, there are people like my friend who see a golden opportunity to cash in by braving the elements, buying the product at the store, and reselling it on eBay for four or five times its retail price. This constitutes a trend where buyers are only buying to sell. In this regard, I see how the Nintendo phenomenon mirrors the vintage perfume situation.

Many vintages are "chronic" list items on eBay. Despite how rare they supposedly are, we always see bottles being listed, with prices that usually do not reflect their actual supply. There are currently 18 bottles of vintage Patou Pour Homme EDT listed, with prices ranging from $80 (for a mini) to $1,998 (for 3 ounces). Patou is supposedly "rare." This supposedly justifies its prices.

Contrast this to Davidoff Cool Water, a fragrance far more sought after, particularly in vintage form. A current search reveals there are no bottles of vintage Cool Water available, yet the Macy's in my city has a bottle accidentally in stock for $75. I have a bottle of late vintage on my bookshelf. I probably couldn't get any more than fifty dollars for it.

So why is a fragrance as dated and heavy and downright anachronistic as Patou Pour Homme enjoying $800 - $2,000 prices, while the far more historically significant Cool Water remains in the commercial doldrums? Why is it that I have to peruse eighteen listings, all of them with contradictory prices, when I search for Patou, yet the truly rare Cool Water gets zero buzz?

It's the Nintendo situation. People aren't really buying Patou PH to wear it. I don't care how rich you are, if you see there are 18 bottles of vintage Patou on eBay, and all are priced over $400, you're going to wait a little longer still to buy one if you intend to actually wear and enjoy it. Some day, you think to yourself, someone will wave the white flag and take a loss. They will take a loss, because almost all the sellers bought Patou for the same reason people are braving wild overnight lines in front of big box stores to buy NES Classic: to resell it.

The difference is that buying Patou PH to resell means you have to raise its already astronomical price to an even higher plateau of absurdity, and then say a prayer that you aren't out $800 in vain, that there really is someone greedy enough to spend $1,900 on your bottle. There is currently an $820 bottle from Germany that I have seen a few times before. I saw it last year for $650, and the year before for around $500. Clearly this bottle will never be worn by anyone. It simply trades hands between sellers, and will continue to do so until someone realizes they fucked up and spent too much on a fragrance mislabeled as "rare."

The difference is also that those buying the NES system on eBay for $299 aren't going to resell it. This price is its ceiling. The prices are contingent on the holidays, buyers know that the window of opportunity is limited, and thus far more competitive than the market for Patou is. Yet Nintendo is around the same age as Patou, far more dynamic in its cultural value, and still far cheaper than the fragrance.

The situation with eBay Hatchimals is simply demonstrative of how "dirty" the Internet is for gullible buyers. For every reasonably priced Hatchimal, there is one with a few dollars too many tacked onto the tag. There are sob stories from fake war vets, unsubstantiated "rare edition" listings, and any other iteration of "scam" that exists. When you stop to consider just how unremarkable the toy is, you realize that spending anything beyond retail for it is a poor investment.

So what is the lesson here? It's not complicated, and easy to remember: eBay is for bullshit artists and people who lack patience and wisdom. If you buy that $300 bottle of Polo, I don't know what else to tell you, other than that there's a Hatchimal with your name on it, and an NES Classic that I'd love to sell you.