Cool Water Night Dive for Men (Davidoff)

For those free-wheelin', third-wheelin' nights.

The reason I don't like Cool Water Night Dive for Men is the same as why I think married Russian thirty-something females with six year-old sons should avoid open-marriage flirtations with single childless Americans: it's the clearest manifestation of a bad idea. For too long now guys have been at the mercy of the sugar-bomb club-frag phenomenon, a dire situation in which perfume brands erroneously think testosterone reaches its peak efficiency after a guilty pleasure jelly roll from Tim Hortons. Night Dive smells like someone smooshed a candied fruit pastry into a cheap wet-shaver fougère (none other than its namesake), and wham! Disgusting, asexual tawdriness with a vaguely edible edge. Exactly what nobody with even half a brain wants to smell like.

I know what they were trying to do. This whole sticky mess got started when Drakkar Noir and Green Irish Tweed started making waves, back in the early eighties, before the self-deprecating weirdness of Angel, but after the unapologetically stodgy conservatism of everything sixties and seventies. Why was Drakkar so attractive? It had crossover appeal, which is why a small but notable community of lesbians appropriated it in Europe while The Clash and Joan Jett blared from monolithic Advents and sent sonic ripples through their bong smoke. Something about the bittersweet tang of tangerine mated to soapy lavender and smoked woods screams penis envy.

Green Irish Tweed took things a step further by appealing to gents who, you know, don't want to get caught. That extra whiff of violet and iris, all balled up (pardon the pun) in a wad (pardon it again) of Ambroxan and sandalwood goes both ways on guys who do the same. Catch it after a light misting of rain, and it smells like the sultriest feminine perfume ever made. Let it sit under fluorescent lights for five and a half hours, and it's Paul Newman meets Robert Redford and a small army of pissed-off Bolivians. My point is that this idea of taking a traditional fougère and sweetening it up has its roots with the beautiful ambiguities of the Old School.

The last ten years have yielded few success stories on this front. Oddly, I can think of only one true example: Joop! Jump. Odder still is that Night Dive gets compared to Jump pretty frequently. I guess they share some traits, but Jump smells good, while Night Dive smells like ass. You could go back a bit further in time and consider the merits of things like Jil Sander's Feeling Man, Versace's The Dreamer, Gaultier's Le Mâle, and Bourdon's wonderful Individuel, but why go on tangents when Jump encapsulates the only way this idea can be done right? If you want sweet fruits, make sure to balance the fructose with a hefty slug of cold potato vodka. Looking for a floral coumarin accord on sugar roids? Throw some serene vetiver next to the bouquet. It's all about balance in Jump, but Night Dive is another story.

Davidoff foolishly thought that more of everything vulgar and none of anything clever would somehow work, long as a vague sketch of the original Cool Water remained recognizable beneath it all. What they forgot was how vulgar and borderline Cool Water is without embellishment. They heaped a pre-mixed "tropical fruit" blend on top of the green apple, infused the salinated amber with a spiced patchouli so flamboyant that it makes Colour by Numbers-era Boy George look demure in comparison, and barfed the nasty mess into a weird Freedom Tower version of the iconic Cool Water bottle. One spritz, and you're repelling every gender and gender-bender within a five block radius. Want to smell sexy? Wear Jump instead. Enough said.


Refrescante Tónico Fórmula K (Myrsol)

Truly refrescante.

I want to begin with a quick paragraph about my '66 Gillette travel tech razor, which I received on Wednesday and used for the first time yesterday for a complete shave. Put simply, this is the finest razor I've ever used. It is the cleanest, closest, easiest shave from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine. Or Portland, Oregon, for that matter. What amazes me is the condition it's in; when I opened the box, I found a shining, nickel-plated tool that looked as new as the day it left the factory. I have very sensitive skin, so the mildly aggressive style of this tech is perfect for me. I also enjoy the solid audio feedback I get when using it, which is probably attributable to its tiny, lightweight handle. I recommend using eBay to grab one of these for a few bucks. They don't disappoint.

Following the shave with Myrsol's Fórmula K aftershave tonic was icing on the cake. I bought it from Smallflower, an apothecary in Chicago that has quite the internet presence, including a storefront on Amazon. The only strike against them is they sent me the wrong thing. I ordered Fórmula C, and they sent me K by accident. Hey, they're both green. I guess it could happen to anyone. Given that I don't really know one Myrsol product from the next, I decided I'd just keep the K and order C from someone else in the future. No biggie. Besides, K is wonderful stuff. It's an alcohol-based aftershave, and yes, I know how lowly they sit on the totem pole of aftershaves, but Myrsol's product is a little different.

Imagine the most literal peppermint scent possible, a handful of herbal mint buds, but delicately misted with a melted candy cane, and you have the essence of Fórmula K. It's almost entirely natural, yet there's a vaguely sugared quality to the mint that places it firmly in a friendly (and borderline cheesy) wet-shaver tradition. I once read a comment by someone who mentioned that it smells identical to the original Mennen aftershave, and I wonder if that's true.

The menthol kick from this stuff is intense. For a rough shave that leaves your face feeling hot, there's probably nothing better than a splash of K. I've never tried Osage Rub, and I've heard it's the king of menthol aftershaves, but I suspect Fórmula K could give it a run for its money. However, while I'm on the topic of money, I want to point out that Myrsol's products are ridiculously expensive. Nearly forty dollars for 180 ml might seem reasonable to some, but I think it's serious coin for a five minute scent. My skin did feel surprisingly soft hours after using it, though.

All told, I'm happy with Fórmula K. It wasn't my first pick, and I can't say I'm a sucker for mint, but when it comes to old-school Spanish barbershop, this infinitely minty little tonic, housed in a beautiful fifties-styled glass bottle, is nice. Some might think it smells too much like toothpaste or mouthwash, and I can understand that, but there's an oddly old-school barbershop aspect to K that just works. It leaves skin with a soft, sheer feeling, not dried out in any way, and it smells very good. In today's diverse society, a man who uses Myrsol is probably just as sophisticated as a guy who uses Skin Bracer, but fun is fun, and Fórmula K is undeniably a cheerful way to start the day.


A New Horizon For Wet Shaving: I Bought a Vintage Gillette Safety Razor

The L1 Travel

In an interesting twist of fate, my Feather travel DE razor, one of the loveliest tools I've ever had the pleasure of using, suffered a sudden death this week. Measuring a mere 3.25 inches in length, the little wonder snapped at the head. The soldering of the screw to the head plate gave out, instantaneously rendering it useless.

Disappointing as it may be, my little tragedy follows eight years of heavy use, so at least I got my money's worth out of it. The silver lining is plentiful; I've always wanted a vintage Gillette DE, particularly one of the travel models, and the passing of my trusty Feather sent me on a little internet shopping adventure.

One potentially interesting little factoid about me is that I dislike regular safety razors. By "regular" I mean typical long-handled models. I'm accustomed to shaving with a snub handle. There's something about having my hand close to my face that enhances my sense of control with the blade, and I could never get used to the extra few inches of a normal handle. My friend has one, and it's an awkward shave. Sure, I can hold it wherever I like, but the surplus metal is distracting.

For a few minutes I deviated into the question of whether or not a Merkur Futur, which is an adjustable, was worth my coin. But after reading this review and watching the corresponding video review, I realized it's not for me. It looks like a quality machine, but it's unnecessarily complicated, and potentially dangerous. As a design grad, I value simplicity, elegance, and effectiveness over bells and whistles. The bulky Merkur seems to have its share of pros, but with its finicky settings and harmonica-sized head, it's a pass for now, though I may consider it again soon.

I hopped on eBay and reviewed the many travel-sized vintage Gillettes for sale there, most of which are going for under forty dollars with their original cases. You have to be careful when buying these old birds. Their plating can be excessively damaged (look out for rust), there can be pitting (too much of which can cause uneven surfaces on the heads), and screw threads can be partially stripped. This last point was my main concern. Fortunately I found what appears to be a mint condition 1966 L1 travel razor, a lovely object to behold. It was only $29 shipped.

Its dimensions and proportions closely match the Feather's, but I do see some differences. The L1's head seems narrower, and its handle has a bulb (perhaps a variation of the barber pole design) on the end, which may or may not hinder handling. My Feather's handle has a space before the end, but the lines are straight, so I never notice it when shaving. I'll have to use the L1 and report back on that. Also the L1's head shape cuts in at the corners, while the Feather's plated shape corners out, which keeps the whole blade flush to metal at all times. Given that this isn't really a lip feature, I doubt I'll be nicking myself with the corners of my blades, but you never know.

All told, I'm excited by the purchase. You can go on Badger & Blade or Shave Nook and read about the utility of Edwin Jagger DE89s and Muhle R89s, Parker 65Rs, and all the incredible, legendary Merkurs. Yet peppered consistently throughout the dialogue are wistful references to how none of these razors quite stack up to vintage Gillettes. Guys will literally just come out of left field with comments like, "It's nice and I really like it, but still reach for my old Gillette more."

You can find a wide range of vintages from this brand, some dating all the way back to when Gloria Swanson was still hot. Most are relatively inexpensive three piece units. I'm just hoping mine is a winner. It was put on shelves the same year the Dodge Charger was introduced, and iconic films like Alfie and Blow-Up were released, so I'm thinking it'll be alright. Unlike perfume, cold hard steel rarely wilts with age.


Eight Young Co-Workers Confirm What I've Always Suspected: The Real World Isn't Losing Sleep Over the Death of the Classic Chypre

Mitsouko, down and out.

If you think the title of this post is heralding the death of the classic chypre as a "good" development in our postmodern culture, think again. The fact that few wear these old classics, things like Coty's Chypre, Mitsouko, Antaeus, Grey Flannel (and many others), is very distressing. It signals our cultural decline. That beautiful fragrances based on the timeless beauty of bergamot, labdanum, and oakmoss are pushed aside for nonsense like Neroli Portofino Acqua and Miss Dior "Parfum pour Cheveux" is sad. But I've always believed there's a simple reason for the chypre's grim fate: people just don't like it anymore.

In all my years of discreetly wearing Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel, I've noticed I've never received a single compliment on it. For a while I figured it was because people didn't notice it (I try to go light on the Flannel for obvious reasons), but as the years march on, and I continue wearing it day in/day out, the silence from others begins to reflect more than indifference. I've begun to think that most simply don't care for it, at least not enough to say anything to me.

That doesn't mean I care enough to stop wearing it. I love Grey Flannel. I'll always wear it. It's in my current rotation, in several vintages. And it's one of the few vintages that smells gorgeous, even if it has gone a bit flat. I think of it as the only true template for Creed's Green Irish Tweed. With a lick of green apple and real sandalwood, it would probably smell more like GIT than Aspen and Cool Water do. To me, it's a masterpiece. I'll never tire of it.

But even my most prized Jacqueline Cochran vintage Grey Flannel, which smells the most Green Irish Tweedy, fails to elicit a single comment from casual bystanders. GIT recently garnered an impressive "Ooh, that cologne is really beautiful," from a woman not given to such outbursts. Two days later I wore JC Grey Flannel in her close proximity, and got nothing. Zero. Zippo. Zilch. I thought for certain she would at least ask me if it was the same stuff, and maybe even say something about how similar it is, but no. Does this suggest that I'm mistaken in my GF/GIT comparison? Maybe. But still. Come on.

Fast forward to what happened to me today. This morning I showered, dressed, and donned vintage Mitsouko EDP, the one with oakmoss in the base (and lots of it). I drove to work, and arrived early. I sat waiting for others to show up. There are eight co-workers in my department, and they all had the same reaction when they walked in: "What's that smell?"

The sentence "What's that smell" is never, ever to be construed as something positive. When people like how something smells, they say things like, "Oh, that's nice, what is it?" Or, "Mmm, something smells good." But "What's that smell?" Sorry, you have somehow inadvertently fucked up. Perhaps the dosage is wrong. Maybe your skin chemistry and SOTD are having a spat. Or maybe your SOTD just doesn't smell good to anyone but you. In the first two cases, the problem is fixable. Use less scent, or try bathing with a different soap prior to applying your fragrance.

But in the third scenario, you're dealing with a different issue altogether. Your dosage probably doesn't matter, or matters little. And you've bathed adequately. So that whittles it down to the simple fact that people just don't care for your fragrance. In my case today, I was a bit incredulous. It was the first time I'd exposed this group of people to vintage Mitsy. I figured, what the heck. They've tolerated pretty much everything else (mostly fougères and orientals), so why not give my lovely oakmossy decant of this classic Guerlain a spin?

The instant negative feedback was functioning off the fulcrum of two teetering questions: What the fuck smells so bad? and Where is it coming from? I strategically sat closer to my supervisor, who is given to slathering strange skin products on herself, and hoped that this would throw them off the trail. Also in my favor was the presence of a few "off" smells in the building today. But the reactions were pretty visceral.

One man, thirty years of age, said, "I have no idea where it's coming from, but it's pretty bad. It smells like old hotel soap, the shit you're not supposed to use."

Another young woman, twenty-four years old, said, "Yeah, it's almost like that, and the smell of stale urine. Eew."

These comments garnered chuckles from the others, who all agreed. Another woman, thirty-eight, said, "I thought it was my imagination, but yeah, it's kind of weird. Where's it coming from?"

My supervisor, a thirty year-old woman who literally has stress seeping out of her pores on a twenty-four hour basis (her mouth twitches nervously while she's doing something as mundane and snooze-worthy as filing old paperwork away), immediately assumed that the cause of "The Smell" was her recent use of a rather vulgar hand lotion, and began incessantly apologizing for it, even though it was clear that most of my peers did not believe she was the cause of their olfactory distress. I just chuckled along and realized that some of the building's "off" notes were actually a bit worse than I'd realized, which made it that much easier to hide my festering embarrassment.

But I could kind of see their point. If taken wrongly, Mitsouko could be compared to "old soap." Its bone dry "peach" note (I've always felt the fruit idea was overstated in reviews of Mitsouko) combined with the astringent bergamot could certainly make an inexperienced sniffer recoil in fright. Then there's the oakmoss - oh, the oakmoss - which in plain English always smells musty and bitter, even in the loveliest of scents. And the weird, musky, piney, resinous darkness of good labdanum, which in many chypres just translates to an "earthy green" sort of note, isn't representative of today's trends. Not by a long shot.

I'm constantly reading threads and articles that lament the "death of the chypre." These conversations almost always revolve around reformulations of vintage greats, and inevitably the matter of oakmoss gets discussed. Unfortunately, IFRA regulations have strongly recommended that oakmoss and treemoss be used in very small quantities, with the mandate existing for European companies in particular. But in truth, even if the IFRA had minded its business and left oakmoss alone, the note would have died a slow and certain death anyway.

Look at things like Bleu de Chanel and Sauvage. Neither scent relies on oakmoss, yet both are descendents of the classic chypre, especially Bleu. Chanel decided to let the fruity/minty idea play out in a modern interpretation of the "fresh" but "earthy" theme, and the result is something that smells like a fancy deodorant, or perhaps a cheap aftershave. Sauvage got the bergamot part down, and used "earthy" accords to segue into a semi-sweet leather scent. A little labdanum and oakmoss would have put the composition in another league entirely. Sauvage would have smelled incredible. But Dior didn't want that angle. They wanted the Calvin Klein "suede cologne" idea of the last sixteen years.

The kicker is that I've worn reformulated Mitsouko to work on more than one occasion, and though it never elicited compliments, it never generated outright negativity, either. The newer stuff has no oakmoss at all, and thus isn't really a chypre in the technical sense of the term. I wear the old stuff, and what happens? People blanche.

The implications are clear. While by no means a reason to shy away from wearing the classics, our culture has moved away from these dusky, autumnal fragrances. Everyone I work with is under the age of forty. That they all found vintage Mitsouko distressing says something about their taste, sure, but it also says something about the perfume. The reality is that people don't really want to smell these things anymore. They're not interested in catching whiffs of bergamot (actual bitter orange distillate, not the fake shit found in current designer citrus frags), or labdanum, dried fruits, and bitter, acrid, Bavarian Forest oakmoss.

Earthy, woody, citrusy scents are compelling when put through the filter of "Fake." Today's nose wants to smell the idea of bergamot, the vague suggestion of something as oddball as labdanum, and maybe a soapy, semi-sweet analog of moss. Calvin Klein Man is an example of what happens when focus groups do a chypre. Sure, it smells good, and I wear it now and then, but I don't expect it to come close to the quality and uniqueness of an actual chypre.

Instead of "oohs" and "aaahs," vintage Mitsouko generated "Ughs" and "Eews." I know, I know. I live in America. We're a bunch of rubes. We don't know any better. We're one click away from making an orange, wig-wearing narcissist our president. How smart can we be? Maybe we're dumber than dirt, but that really doesn't matter. We still have to coexist. We must still go forth. We can do it the easy way, or the hard way. And unfortunately, wearing vintage Mitsouko means that today's under-forties wrinkle their noses around you. Guess that's not the easiest way forward. Guess it's why things like vintage Mitsouko are going extinct.


Following the Herd, Part Two: "Currency Vintages," and The Difference Between "Paranoid" and Batshit Crazy

In the current political cycle, nasty things are coming to light. Beliefs and values that betray our basic human decency are all on the dinner table, and a nation of hypocrites is squirming. Racism, nativism, xenophobia, nihilism, bigotry, chauvinism, and capitalistic greed are no longer the trimmings, but the entrée.

When people harbor insane beliefs, they tend to fabricate a facade of sanity as a buffer. Donald Trump's is the image of an all-American businessman/entrepreneur, the classic Yankee success story, retold. We also see this in fiction; Jack Nicholson portrayed Jack Torrance as an insane spirit thinly disguised as a responsible, contractually-obligated hotel keep, a phib soon made obvious to his wife and young boy when a fire axe made its sudden appearance.

This phenomenon exists in the fragrance world, also. Consider, for instance, the insane belief that random, wildly-inflated prices for discontinued perfumes on eBay reflect the existence of a legitimate "market" for such things. This idea is predicated on the supposition that "buyers set the price."

Yes, in a practical sense, buyers frame the price range for all products, simply because practical commerce is sustained by price discrimination from both the selling institutions and their customers. Blenders cannot be sold in mass quantities if they're priced the same as cars, so even the most expensive blender is much cheaper than the cheapest car. Some buyers may be willing to pay much more than base price for their kitchen tools, and they make the higher prices feasible, while most buyers just want a blender that works and lasts a few years, making more competitive prices the norm.

But what about this "buyers set the price" nonsense? I think it's based on the Subjective Theory of Value (STV), the cornerstone of "marginalist" economics, which states that the price of something is set by its marginal utility to the buyer and manufacturer. Marginal utility is defined as the point at which a person's desire for something is satisfied.

According to the STV, price is set by the buyer, and his subjective valuations in the marketplace. Makes sense, right? After all, people do value things to varying degrees, and ascribe these values to products, often before buying them. For example, I need some chewing gum. When I go down to the corner store to buy some, I expect to pay no more than two dollars for a pack of gum. That's the maximum price I believe I should ever have to pay for gum. If I see gum for less (which is overwhelmingly likely), I'll buy it without a second thought. But if I see it for more (not very likely), I'll feel a small sense of outrage, because in my estimation the gum is overpriced.

Suppose I'm a fragrance connoisseur who happens to want a bottle of vintage Patou Pour Homme. I want a large splash bottle, in perfect condition with its box, and I want it to be "like new," as eBay ads are wont to advertise. I go on there, and I see someone is asking five hundred dollars for three ounces. Another person wants six hundred dollars. And a third person wants seven hundred dollars. All three bottles are in good shape with boxes intact, and all sellers have sparkling records.

Putting aside that I'm already batshit crazy for even considering this kind of coin for a bottle of something older than me, let's say I buy the five hundred dollar bottle. Because I bought it, that gets recorded by eBay as a sale, which is referred to by future buyers, who then use the statistic as a consolation that it is people like them who set these prices, simply by being eager and willing to pay them.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, this example, which supposedly is a reality for some vintage enthusiasts, demonstrates classical "Circular Logic." The buyer sees a ridiculous price. The buyer considers the price to be acceptable, based on what he thinks has transpired in past exchanges. He then pays the price. In doing so, he believes he has demonstrated the "marginal utility" of a vintage Patou PH. He is convincing himself that his threshold of satisfaction is worth at least five hundred dollars, maybe more, for vintage Patou PH.

Fine, except in order to feel the marginal utility of something, a buyer has to know the price before encountering the product in the marketplace. Therefore, the STV "obviously rest[s] on circular reasoning. Although it tries to explain prices, prices [are] necessary to explain marginal utility." [Paul Mattick, Economics, Politics and the Age of Inflation, p.58]

The notion that "buyers set the price" falls apart further in this example when we consider that some buyers actually do know the price before buying the vintage bottle, because they recall what Patou PH cost when it was new! It was certainly expensive, but nowhere near five hundred dollars a bottle. It's no coincidence then that these buyers would balk at the price faster than the nimrods who drop several Bens for something they know little about.

An objective measure is needed before subjective marketplace evaluations can be made, because personal evaluations are always based on the objective measure.

If you purchase a bottle of Patou PH for seven hundred dollars a bottle, for instance, you are not basing the purchase off the objective measure of its value: its original retail price, adjusted for inflation. If Patou PH was $100 in 1980, it should only be $287 today. This is the objective value, and the only price a smart buyer would pay. Herd followers will blindly drop three or four times as much.

However, "profit is the only aim of the capitalist." [Peter Kropotkin, Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 55] Therefore the seller, if truly capitalistic, will want as much as humanly possible for something as ostensibly esoteric as Patou PH. But even the esoteric has guidelines in capitalism. So what really determines the price of vintage Patou PH? First, consider it in the context of the Labour Theory of Value (LTV). Here, you must weigh it against its objective measure, which states that its price will be dictated by its production price, which is its production cost, plus an average profit rate, which is decided by its ease of entry into the marketplace.

When supply is greater than demand, supply is cut until an "average rate of profit" is achieved. When demand is greater than supply, prices increase, which signals to other manufacturers that it's time to enter the market, thus increasing supply and reducing prices again. With a second-hand sale of a used vintage perfume like Patou PH, the issue is that there is no real shortage of supply (the product was mass produced, and there's always vintage available online), yet prices continuously suggest the opposite - that this was a tiny niche brand, and bottles are rarely seen.

Given that Patou PH made an appearance on the TV show Miami Vice, it can hardly be considered a classy bespoke brand, and bottles are always seen in all the same places. Every week there are at least six or seven vintages on eBay for sale. So why do prices continue to be absurd?

The answer to this rests with the LTV. According to Proudhon, "Utility is the necessary condition for exchange." Consider for a moment that the vintage crowd is familiar with vintages on eBay. Vintage fragheads know that vintage Kouros is roughly $130 for 100 ml, give or take. They recognize that vintage Molto Smalto is, roughly, a hundred bucks. Ditto for vintage Azzaro Pour Homme. These perfumes, priced for inflation, have relatively low "resale value."

Thus the act of buying these frags with the intent to resell at a profit isn't something that herds of vintage buyers consider doing. They buy them to wear them, because at that price, there is only utility in wearing, not reselling.

But the utility of Patou Pour Homme is quite different. There isn't a sizeable bottle on the entire internet priced at less than five hundred dollars. If people are buying Patou PH in this price range, then they're either (a) blind buying and intentionally burning their cash, or (b) buying to resell at a profit. Since the perceived price margin is high, it's more likely that reason "b" is the culprit for the continuously increasing prices of Patou PH. There is utility in reselling this perfume, and this is the necessary, and only condition for its exchange on eBay.

Because this condition exists, the exchanges for Patou PH continue, just as bottles keep appearing in twos and threes with constant regularity on eBay. Price determines demand, based on the use value of the product to the consumer and his/her financial situation. Labor is needed for production, and you need production before you can exchange. The LTV notes that a product's value does not exist independently of demand. To be exchanged, a product must be desired by someone other than its manufacturer, and must have commensurate use-value for the buyer.

Since certain "currency vintages" are clearly not in short supply, their high prices must reflect high demand. Given that a sensible buyer (including very wealthy buyers) would never pay five hundred dollars or more for a regular three or four ounce bottle of discontinued designer perfume, and these perfumes sell constantly (and reappear just as fast), one can only conclude that their exchange is based not on the use-value of being worn, but on being re-sold.

Also, because these perfumes have been abused by sellers as "currency vintages," and are only being passed between sellers, their status as being relatively (and only relatively) rare among wearers persists. Those who would buy to wear either can't afford the bottles and wisely avoid paying insane prices for them, or stick to small samples, which are still expensive, but at least attainable. Because the supply rapidly passes between sellers, potential wearers don't stand a chance.

Note that Patou Pour Homme was being used here as one example. Another is Fendi "Donna," which I have never seen reasonably priced, yet always see on eBay. If Patou and Fendi were "rare," I'd rarely see them. Yet I always do.

If you are a member of the "must have vintage" herd, always reading about how great this sort of stuff is, to the point where you MUST have it, then you're following the herd. You clearly haven't read about what's really happening in the false marketplace for these perfumes, which are frequently bought but almost never worn, and you're clearly not thinking for yourself.

Lastly, I'd like to address something I read on Bigsly's blog, and on basenotes this week. Our friend is announcing that there is "paranoia" behind the claims of vintage perfumes that smell "spoiled." He frames his argument on his blog with the suggestion that anyone claiming to smell spoilage is either full of shit, or just looking for any little sign of spoilage as an excuse to "go off the deep end" when a few notes smell "off."

Yes, we're all paranoid, Bigsly. We're finding spoilage where there isn't any, because somehow this benefits . . . well, nobody. But that seems to be beside the point to you. You ask:

"I’ve had around 300 vintage bottles (around 20 years old or older), if not more, pass through my hands since 2008, and I have only encountered a few with what I would say are 'off' top notes – no spoiled drydowns! How is that possible if spoilage is common? Are we all walking around in public smelling like skunks?"

To which I say: No, only you are. You fucking stink. For the love of god, wash that stale shit off already.

But seriously, how bad is the logic of your position? Because you alone detect zero spoilage from three hundred bottles (not even remotely believable, but I'll pretend to believe it for your sake), that must mean nobody experiences spoilage, ever. Organic perfume ingredients mixed with volatile synthetic chemicals in what are often poorly-designed bottles could never conceivably turn to swill. That's incredibly far fetched. Totally unbelievable. But your three hundred bottles of very old perfume (twenty years or older) all smell great. No spoilage. Every basenote in its place, vibrant as the day it was mixed. That's believable. Right.

I'd roll with that as far as it goes, except the argument then turns to the supposition that anyone with a view contrary to yours is "paranoid."

Cue the basenotes thread from March 2nd, in which the OP says (in short):

"Currently interesting me is vintage Polo. I have had a look at older threads but I have managed to do nothing but confuse myself with the following: Vintage Polo Green, Polo Modern Reserve, Cosmair Polo, Current Polo . . .

"I am having real trouble in working out the history of the scent and what I should be looking for and where everything fits in . . . I would really appreciate it if someone could give me a very brief history lesson on this and suggest what I should be looking for?"

To which Bigsly replied:

"The original post is quite strange, and sounds like there is a desire to 'vent' some negative emotions due to disappointing experiences - why not mention what those are? The thing is, pursuing a vintage scent after feeling burned (or whatever) by previous experiences (derived from notions about vintage that are not disclosed and which originated from others) seems rather self-contradictory! The person says he know the difference between the terms but then doesn't seem to know the difference between 'vintage Polo' and 'vintage Polo Green' (there isn't any). My advice: get some vintage samples from someone who can sell you the bottle if you like the sample, so that you know exactly what you are getting (Crystal Flacon may be the best place for this possibility), and don't buy into any 'hype.' Judge for yourself.

"And as to the history of Polo, if the company itself isn't providing this information, why would you think that some anonymous internet person is going to be able to tell you? When you ask such a question, why not consider whether or not you are basically prompting 'know-it-alls' to provide what is perhaps no more than opinion (and possibly ill-informed). I think there has been enough written about Polo formulations over the years just here on BN alone for you to get a sense about what us anonymous internet people know and don't know, but you'll still have to decide for yourself what to believe, even if it is tentative, contingent upon new information being revealed (perhaps by your own investigations). Good luck !

I can only say, thank you for accusing people of being "paranoid," and then exhibiting that paranoia for everyone to see, lest they be confused by what you meant! This is clearly an example of the "facade of sanity" beginning to erode. When someone innocently asks about a vintage (openly admitting they aren't sure what they're talking about), and you explode into a rambling diatribe about "ulterior motives," you're a model citizen of that "shining city upon a hill."

To the rest of my readers, I urge you to reconsider positions holding vintage in a place of infallibility. Don't be swayed by arguments that "top notes will go, but basenotes will remain," or claims that perfumes just need darkness and cool temps to stay fresh forever. Think for yourself, and avoid blind-buying vintages whenever possible. The chances of getting a skunked (or severely unbalanced) composition are fairly good. I'm rather forgiving, in that I've learned to live with some of these qualities in my own vintages, but there are some cases where they were unbearable (Green Valley by Creed) and unwearable (Cool Water, early 2000's vintage).

If you think you can amass several hundred vintages and only experience some briefly "off" top notes, you're either stupid, batshit crazy, or both. My mental universe isn't shaped by "academic standards." It's shaped by reality, i.e., the testimony of dozens of basenoters, my readers, other bloggers, and the occasional industry insider, who discuss their experiences with spoiled perfume, often in detail. You can choose to believe them, or not. But, as always, I leave the choice to you.


Following the Herd, Part One

"“It is optimal for an individual, having observed the actions of others ahead of him, to follow the behavior of the preceding individual without regard to his own information.” - Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer, and Ivo Welch (UCLA)

Sometimes it's better to ignore popular opinion, to eschew the running narrative in favor of one that walks instead. Consider the recent uproar over the Monsieur Guerlain blog's temporary suspension; dozens cried foul over circumstances known only through hearsay, while logic about the nature of corporate practices and publicized conflicts of interest were sidelined. Was the crowd willing to acknowledge that an author headlining Guerlain's name would be wise to omit unsubstantiated corporate rumors about the re-bottling of old fragrances under new titles? No, it was far more romantic to defend Monsieur's honor by declaring LVMH to be violators of free speech and free press, despite the obvious: his content was problematic enough to edit, not completely erase.

When he reappeared a few days later, almost nobody acknowledged it. The romance was not only over, but one-sided; for Monsieur G to actually return relatively unscathed would expose the truth (Monsieur G was never in danger of being destroyed) and contradict the narrative (corporations assassinate blogs), making many wrong in their reactionary assertions about corporate power, and ironically unresponsive to the very thing they claimed to want. Such revelations leave certain people clutching their balls with delusional "updates" to the false narrative, not the real one. When it came to light that a temporary suspension occurred, one blameable on hosting services working on behalf of LVMH, the romantics had nothing left to say.

The whole thing reminded me of something that happened to me a year ago. I received an email from Blogger informing me that:

"In the coming weeks, we'll no longer allow blogs that contain sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video. We'll still allow nudity presented in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts, or where there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking action on the content . . . Our records indicate that your account may be affected by this policy change. Please refrain from creating new content that would violate this policy. Also, we ask that you make any necessary changes to your existing blog to comply as soon as possible, so that you won't experience any interruptions in service."

You didn't see me hurling myself off a cliff in protest, mainly because Blogger clearly reserves the right to edit any content it hosts, regardless of authors' wishes. I simply hopped on my dashboard and deleted nudity from my blog. Shortly afterward, Blogger updated the notice, informing everyone that because of a sensitivity to people who use nudity to "express their identities," they had reversed their position. So I am free to post nudity again. Reason to get in a huff? Clearly, no.

Any hosting service reserves this right, even to the extent that content on URLS purchased by their authors may be subject to termination by their hosting platform for any serious business-related reason. This is reality. Obviously a secure platform like Blogger isn't in danger of going out of business, but how do we know Monsieur Guerlain's hosting service wasn't compelled to act in its own best interest and heed LVMH? I would guess it did heed them, and I'd say they were smart to do so.

In my opinion, this event was the perfect illustration of why it's intellectually dangerous to assume a "herd mentality" in the blogosphere. Think for yourself. Don't cowtail to the confused reactions of others. It'll wind up making you frustrated with empty arguments, and can often be expensive emotionally and financially. Just look at the oud trend, which has been going on for the last twelve years, and shows little sign of letting up. Years ago oud was new, and its novelty understandably reigned. Years later, it makes less sense to subscribe to the the "all things oud" mentality. First, oud was never intended to be "mainstream." No designer brands were headlining oud in 2004. The only perfume to have done that was YSL's M7 from 2002, which was a commercial flop and quickly discontinued. Yet somehow the Middle Eastern market extended into European sensibilities, and the niche market took to oud.

The result was one oud scent after another. Nothing wrong with that of course, as long as you don't mind oud. I don't, but I also have little desire to wear it in any form. It doesn't smell bad, per say, but I never thought it smelled good, either. At their best, oud isolates resemble patchouli, adding a spicy/herbal earthiness with licks of burnt sweetness to whatever composition they are in. Great, but why bother with oud when patchouli has been doing it to more wearable effect for decades? If I want something earthy and pungent and a little ambery, I'll reach for a patchouli scent like Giorgio for Men, Sex Appeal, or Rive Gauche, none of which cost more than most niche ouds. Why should I spend significantly more for a similar effect elsewhere?

I would argue that this is a foolish stance if I didn't already know what oud smelled like, or hadn't tried and compared expensive and inexpensive oud scents. But I have tried, and I have compared. Dirty English is a good inexpensive oud scent. Dark Rose by Czech & Speake has a prominent oud note paired with a velvety, rather feminine rose. Very nice, but Tea Rose is better and cheaper, and oud adds nothing to the rose in Dark Rose, so why bother with it? Some Amouage perfumes contain prominent oud notes. Jubilation XXV is a good, modern, fougeriental composition with a prominent oud note, but I'm not drawn to XXV for its oud. I'm drawn to it for its use of more pedestrian aromatics. Without oud, I'd still like like XXV. But since I like it for its commonplace notes, I might as well enjoy those same notes in more inexpensive fragrances like Feeling Man and XS Pour Homme, which lack that pesky oud.

I'm not saying that Feeling Man and XS smell like XXV. But they share notes that get prominent billing in their compositions, and if I want to experience these notes, I enjoy them in the former compositions more than the latter. You can generalize this thinking to whole perfumes, but this only works when there are obvious comparatives to them. Accurate comparisons are usually repeated in forums, enough to make the route of travel clear, but sometimes this doesn't happen, as with Dior's Sauvage, where people cite dozens of different perfumes as comparatives, with no unanimous consensus on what the thing actually resembles. In these cases the only sensible thing to do is to try the perfume for yourself. Only then can you discern whether it's something you will enjoy, or find worthwhile to purchase.

But I'm ahead of myself - what is the downside of subscribing to the oud craze? Well, let's look at the upside first. It's probably not a bad thing to wear good oud perfumes. If you have vintage M7 and it still smells good, why not rock it? Very few people will smell like you, and whoever encounters this scent will likely not encounter it again. You have a uniqueness in both style and taste. You certainly don't need to defend your pick. Anything that puts oud to good use is worth wearing, simply because it's another material that deserves exploitation. If you live in Europe or the Middle East, you're just average, but if you're in a Western country, you're sophisticated. Good for you.

But this comes at a price. First, there's the recognizability factor. Perhaps vintage M7 from an early batch (vintage vintage) is the best example of how to use the material. But who will actually recognize it as oud? If you're only vaguely accustomed to old-school woody aromatic fragrances, you'll probably mistake oud for patchouli, or perhaps even an accord of notes like patchouli, artemisia, sage, and coumarin. Most bystanders will not smell you and think, "Oh, he's wearing that lovely oud scent again."

They'll smell the oud in trace amounts and wonder if you're a closet hippie. No harm there, but the reality is that you're living in a fantasy if you think your oud scent is impressing anyone for being what it is. The truth is probably more mundane. You're impressing people for smelling good and a little strange, maybe memorable, but at your expense alone. That oud scent probably cost more than the dirt cheap patchouli composition that achieves the same effect.

Then there's the collectibility factor. How many oud scents does a man need? If you're a Montale fan, and not constrained by financial considerations, you may own several dozen oud perfumes of considerable strength. After a while, it's sort of like hearing the same note played on different keyboards. Does repetition make sense? Or is your affinity really insanity, the repetition of something, expecting different results?

The worst aspect of the oud craze is the attempt to "mainstream" oud. Ralph Lauren comes out with an oud frag - story at eleven. At this point, you're spending niche prices on designer imitations of already recycled themes from several years ago. These fragrances are guaranteed to be discontinued, not because they're awful, but because they're overpriced and not good enough to make up for it. Thus, their sales quickly flag, it's clear buyers aren't impressed, and the result are hoards of leftovers on eBay at ridiculous mark-ups. Thanks, oud lovers! Your allegiance to one material has spawned a GIT-to-Cool Water equivalent niche implosion.

By the way, the whole eBay mark-up phenomenon will be addressed in depth in part two of this post. Try talking about insane prices on eBay, and you hear about capitalism and more "buyers set the price" garbage. Apparently the Labour Theory of Value eludes people who make that argument. They choose to believe the myths of the Subjective Theory instead. Good for them. They ought not believe they understand what they're talking about if they have to Google "LTV vs. STV" right after reading this.

Anyway, I see this as a major issue with "note trends" of the past few years. Oud is one trend. Vetiver is another. Amber is yet another. Two or three ambers in a collection are sensible. Fifteen or twenty ambers are excessive. After a few iterations of the theme, it becomes pointless to pursue it further. Either you like what you're wearing, or you don't. If you like it, why seek an improvement where there isn't one? MPG's Ambre Precieux is likely one of the best ambers money can buy. Jovan Sex Appeal is likely one of the best cheap ambers money can buy. And take your pick of any soft oriental from the eighties, perhaps two or three will do.

If you like these, or any other ambers, what else could possibly make a different, worthwhile impression? Sure, you can explore other things once you've used what you've already invested in, but if you think you have to "keep up" with others by continually expanding your collection faster than you can enjoy what you already have, you're following the herd.

Now, I own almost a hundred perfumes, and I'll freely admit that this is excessive, but I own many of them for the sake of writing about them here - call it "blogger's privilege." Many out there who own a hundred or more perfumes do not write about any of them, and just own them because they want to. This may be fine for some, but when you get caught up in this "more is better" collector's addiction, you may wind up missing the forest for the trees. You also can't discern the endangered redwoods from the overabundant oaks. Have you noticed the recent excitement over Pure Tonka by Thierry Mugler? People are so excited to try it. They must, must try it. It's going to be great. It's going to be Mugler's magnificent A*Men spin on tonka. The redwood of redwoods, majestic, a new height in perfumery, and it must be had.

Or it could just be another modern pedestrian fougère disguised as something "cool." Strong lavender, followed by a burst of tonka (which is just coumarin) . . . well now. I guess the fact that the word "fougère" is excluded from the Mugler press releases means this is something "new," and not downright ancient. Like the fougère. If Pure Tonka is anything other than a fougère with exaggerated proportions, it'll be the first lavender and coumarin pairing to elude this classification. I'm very interested in trying Pure Tonka, but that's because I love A*Men, AND I love fougères. To just be interested in Pure Tonka because it's part of the Pure line is to be a zombie collector who doesn't even give a shit about what he's buying, as long as he can have it.

And what about the niche craze? This isn't an interest in certain olfactory niches. It usually isn't the search for which niche you fit into. "Niche" by definition is something that caters to an exclusively small group of people who desire a very specific smell from very few materials. Yet few niche hounds actually cling to one niche. They collect anywhere from tens to hundreds of niche fragrances. And many of them do this, enough to keep these niche companies in business year after year.

So the niche craze isn't really about hundreds of little cliques of people who are exclusively interested in a few hundred specific scents. It's about climbing another rung in the commercial ladder of perfume connoisseurship. Niche tends to be much more expensive than designer. Therefore, the love of niche reflects an interest in price point, not in perfume. What niche perfume can outmatch an excellent classic designer scent? I've worn all the recent "new classic" niches - French Lover, Invasion Barbare, L'Air du Desert Marocain, etc. All were nice, but none were better than things like Z-14, Yatagan, Kouros. I'll always try expensive fragrances whenever I have the chance, but in these cases I found no reason to trade "up." With money being a mere number in this game, I'll never let it stop me from trying things, but I'll also never be seduced by a big price tag if the fragrance it's attached to is underwhelming.

Then there's another insidious factor: "brand hype." Recently basenotes hosted a thread about L'Artisan Parfumeur, which asked whether L'Artisan is now passé. Apparently these once pricey perfumes have fallen out of favor in the face of newer trends, and can be had on Amazon for the price of inexpensive designer (some bottles are going for less than sixty dollars). If you're someone who bought into the L'Artisan hype of eight years ago, and purchased twenty or thirty of their frags, you might be a little pissed right now. Your collection cost hundreds of dollars. I could get a similar number of L'Artisans today for at least half of whatever you paid.

But conversely, there's little wisdom is ascribing value to anything without experiencing it first. I would never tell anyone who is sincerely fascinated by L'Artisan to not try L'Artisan perfumes. If that brand interests you, and you're serious about giving it a chance, then you should try as many L'Artisans as you want. Rendering your own judgments on the perfumes is all that matters. The narrative in that basenotes thread is that their scents are nice, but often too weak. That may be true for some people, but it might not apply to you. Never write off what you haven't tried. That's a self-limiting exercise, which shrinks your world and your experiences down to a feeble size.

I've mentioned some ways in which following the herd mentality can be a fool's errand, but I think it's important to note one way by which attempting to be "individualistic" in the face of certain issues is equally foolish, and actually just as herd-like. There are many ways to stand apart and be your own man, but there are also rare instances in which joining the crowd in the simple act of smelling a questionable perfume is wise, and possibly beneficial to your understanding of our times.

There's a lazy philosophy that one of my contemporaries has ascribed to himself (not necessarily to others): that it's pointless in the face of negative reviews to try recent designer phenomenons (emphasis on phenomenons, not common scents) like Sauvage and Bleu de Chanel EDP. These fragrances defy useful comparison by everyone, despite spawning imitations, "clones," and even disparaging comparisons to cheaper things that use similar (and sometimes the same) aroma chemicals.

Fragrances like Sauvage, BdC EDP, and even Eau Sauvage Parfum from a few years ago aren't just using common aroma chemicals. They're using them differently. They're finding that "Goldilocks Zone" where materials we've all smelled a few hundred times are blended in ways that create entirely new smells that are very difficult to compare. That's what makes them controversial. We all smell the same ingredients, but people don't know what to make of how they're composed.

I often wonder if this "newness" is what makes these scents so polarizing. Since it hasn't been established that these "types" of smells are accepted as "good," people attempt to make that call for the rest of us by either praising (and perhaps hyping) them, or downright slamming them.

Therefore it is false to say that something completely unrelated at a cheaper price point, like any Playboy or celebuscent, could really substitute for something like Sauvage. You could switch a Playboy scent with any piecemeal composition without raising many eyebrows, and by that I mean frags like Invictus, or Luna Rossa, or Gucci Guilty, as those aren't controversial, or even interesting. They're commonplace, much like the Playboy scents.

And it's also highly questionable to imply that price is a barrier to appreciating or even owning department store fragrances, as it costs little to just sample them, and but a few dollars to buy decants and minis from sites like The Perfumed Court, which is sometimes the best way to go if you think you'll only want a fragrance for reference, rather than regular wear.

While it may seem that I'm contradicting the very philosophy espoused earlier in this post, please note the difference: in many circumstances, broadening your horizons before following in step with certain opinions is the way to go. I have clearly said that in any case of popular comparison, one should think for themselves in order to draw their own conclusions, and act in a way that enables them to do so with accuracy. For example, when consensus comparisons are made between vaguely similar scents (like Kouros, Orange Spice, and Lapidus Pour Homme, for example), one should try at least two of them to judge the truth. It's the only way to place yourself inside or outside of the consensus (you may agree with nobody, only a few, or with everybody).

I've also clearly stated that if certain notes, like oud, are in question, then one should familiarize himself with a few scents using this note at different price points, and explore comparable notes in other scents before rendering a verdict. Don't just blindly subscribe to a note "trend" because others are crazy about that note.

But if there are no clear comparatives for certain perfumes, this makes trying (and only trying) such articles alone necessary to render any judgment. Without trying perfumes with no firm comparatives, you can't judge them against anything, because there are no reliable parallels outside of your own experience to go by.

To be disinterested in smelling isolated scents because of a perceived pointlessness in such efforts is simply laziness. If this feeling is predicated on negative opinions formed by others, you're not thinking for yourself. You're still following the herd. Arguing that price is a deciding factor makes it intellectual laziness, given that it costs little or nothing to sample. You won't know if qualms about price are justified until you try. To overemphasize feelings of satisfaction with cheaper but totally unrelated fragrances is your prerogative, but it's a bad choice if you want to stay informed about the ever-changing fragrance world.

Stay tuned for part two.