10/28/17

David Ruskin Leaves Basenotes



He answers to the handle "Mattmeleg." Recently, Mattmeleg posted a homespun perfume formula for an old-school chypre in a thread in the basenotes DIY forum, in what appears to be a hearty (and headstrong) creative spirit. His formula contains an accord called "Mousse de Saxe," and according to this article the term "Mousse de Saxe" has "lapsed into the public domain," which I suppose suggests its meaning could be taken a bit more liberally than it has been in years past.

Matt's contribution was stark, direct, without much bravado. The formula speaks for itself: this shit is bold. Compose it, wear it, and you might repel everyone within a three mile radius. Then again, you might not. You might smell fantastic. I have no idea because I'm not a perfumer. When it comes to how chemicals are diluted and mixed, I'd be more helpful landing a 737 in the middle of the Pacific during a hurricane.

When someone posts their ideas in a public forum, the decent thing to do is approach them in an inviting, open-minded, and just plain friendly manner, like member "Alysoun" did when she threw Matt a link to another thread on chypres. Member "gandhajala" quibbled a little over the applicability of the term "Mousse de Saxe," because Matt's accord lacks isobutyl quinoline, apparently a key component, which from my experience smells very stark and leathery, almost like an old chapped saddle covered in wood varnish, if you can imagine that!

Gandhajala's input was a little less enthusiastic than one might have expected, but he qualified his concerns rather constructively, saying:
"I'm not a perfumer, but looking at your materials I can't help [but] think it is a long way off the actual Mousse de Saxe specialty. For that reason, I'd suggest giving it a different name and, if you want Mousse de Saxe for your formula, order some of Christine's re-creation (assuming it is still available)."
Matt had responded to Gandhajala's concern about the missing material by saying:
"Yes, you are correct, isobutyl quinoline was traditionally used in Mousse de Saxe. And if you don`t have any isobutyl quinoline you can replace it with castoreum . . . Try mixing my formula, and smell and you`ll see that it still fits the odour profile of Mousse De Saxe."
Then along comes someone who goes by "David Ruskin" on the forum, and yeah, that's his real name. His input to Matt:
"No you can't, they smell nothing like each other."
That's all David says. No exposition on why, no alternatives are offered, no other information was proffered by this man. He simply tells Matt that he's wrong, and puts a period after it.

Maybe he thought this wouldn't piss the newbie off, but I know it would piss me off. His comment seemed antagonistic, and it wasn't the first time it seemed this way when addressing Matt. Ruskin had similar words for him in an earlier thread when the youngster wrote:
"Co2`s only dilute in water. not alcohol. I have the same agar wood. You can use it with 100% essential oils, just do not add ANY alcohol."
To which Ruskin replied:
"NO NO NO. Absolutely wrong. Many CO2 extracts are not very soluble in alcohol, a less polar solvent is required, but never water."
Ruskin is probably right about this, but whether or not he's right isn't the point. He seemed rude, and when people behave this way on the internet they set themselves up for unnecessary conflicts with others. Bigsly was rude to me six years ago and look how that turned out for him.

So who is David Ruskin, anyway? He was a perfumer for a company called CPL Aromas, which from the looks of its deliberately vague website is basically a functional fragrance development firm, although I'm not certain of that. Soaps, detergents, and reed diffusers are what I'm gleaning from their site. Prior to that he worked for Bush Boake Allen, which developed flavors, aroma chemicals, spice extracts, and essential oils. It was acquired several years ago by IFF.

One thing that has always concerned me a little about David is that he has established himself as a teacher, having coached aspiring noses at the London College of Fashion, and in 1998 he was the president of the British Society of Perfumers, yet to date I have no clue as to what he has created. What are his perfumes? Oddly enough, his interview on basenotes, which was conducted by Grant himself, yielded no information on that. This makes me wonder if his tenure at BBA was served as a chemist who simply created the materials used by perfumers, before graduating into CPL Aromas as a perfumer for soaps and reed diffusers.

I'm not denigrating Mr Ruskin here. He has clearly had a distinguished career in the field of perfumery, enough so that the BSP would elect him to be their president. However, without a clearer idea of the impact Mr. Ruskin has had on the field (his exact accomplishments are unknown to the public), it's a bit difficult to adopt an awestricken countenance in his presence. As far as I can tell, he's just another guy commenting on basenotes, and oh yeah, he's worked in a lab composing fragrances for thirty years, whatever that means.

Matt responds to David in kind, but goes a few steps further:
"isobutyl quinoline and castoreum smell nothing like each other David? Not even if the goodscent suggests they do? Perhaps the goodscentcompany is erroneous? Perhaps David is more well versed in perfumery then the collective minds behind thegoodscentcompany database, a database which thousands of perfumers turn to from around the world, on a nearly daily basis. From now forthwards, most of the worlds perfumers should turn to David for advice, and not the goodscentcompany."
What I find interesting here is that instead of stepping into the woods with David, Matt backs his position with a supported source, something I've also done repeatedly over the years. He's right, the database does suggest that castoreum fits the same odor profile as isobutyl quinoline. To an objective observer of this thread, we have Matt's word, with a citation, versus David's "just take my word for it" opinion, and unfortunately I can only classify it as an opinion because I have no clue if David Ruskin knows what he's talking about just by reading his comments.

Given that Matt has sourced his information, you would think David would just say something like, "Ok, maybe I'm off on this one," but no. Instead we get:
"I have not looked at the Good Scents' opinion, I do not have to. I have smelled and used both iso Butyl Quinoline, and various Castoreum bases, as well as genuine Castorium,and I know that IBQ , which is bitter green, and Castoreum, which is animalic and leathery, do not smell the same, or even similar. If you were to take a fragrance containing IBQ and replaced it with a similar amount of any Castoreum, you would notice the difference. Please do not be sarcastic with me when I express my opinion, an opinion that has formed over many years of Perfumery."
Basenotes groupthink kicks in, with a few members supporting what David says, and one member states:
"From a neutral standpoint, I will say that (from my personal experiences) TGSC is a immensely helpful resource. However, I wouldn't take everything there as gospel. Numerous times have I found information there to be 'off' or just not entirely accurate."
This is also interesting. I've noticed in the fragrance community that people tend to downplay or discredit established sources of information when they disagree with them, instead of wondering if they themselves are wrong. This happened when I interviewed Jeffrey Dame, and he supported my theory that fragrances spoil over time. Instead of just saying, "Ok, I was wrong," the blogger who disagreed with him attempted to discredit him as someone who didn't know what he was talking about. Unlike David Ruskin, Dame's credentials and career accomplishments are all over the internet for everyone to see, so this attempt to discredit him failed miserably (and was later supported by an interview with an "anonymous fragrance chemist," which was unintentionally funny).

My personal experience with these two materials is limited, but I can say that isobutyl quinoline and castoreum are in the same ballpark, even if they don't really smell all that similar. The dark leathery aspect of isobutyl quinoline seems more at home in L'Air du Desert Marocain and Parfums Retro Grand Cuir than anything I've smelled castoreum in, but I could see the two materials being used side by side in either of those perfumes, or in castoreum-heavy fragrances like Dali Pour Homme or Antaeus. Castoreum has a dry, woody, earthy tone, and that isn't very far from the similarly dry, leathery hue of isobutyl quinoline. These aren't apples and oranges, people.

The biggest difference is that castoreum is a bit funky and musky, with a little bit of a "spoiled fruit" vanillic quality, and isobutyl quinoline is much starker and earthier, rather like vetiver root or raw fermented tobacco, without a hint of anything edible or animalic.

In any case, the thread rapidly devolved to the point where David wrote this:
"'mattmeleg' you have, on several occasions now, accused me of deliberately trying to confuse you, of patronising you and of trying to put you down. Despite my sincere denial of this, and my asking you to apologise for your gross libelling of me, you have not but continue in your wild and unpleasant attack on me. Again I repeat, how dare you. Well done 'mattmeleg' you have succeeded in doing what many others before you have failed to do. You have made this site so toxic to me that I no longer wish to continue contributing to it."
Surprisingly, a basenotes moderator did not jump onto the bandwagon of browbeating Matt, and instead wrote:
"New members have no obligation to genuflect to senior Basenoters no matter how skilled they are. We will not tolerate that senior members throw a fit and threaten libel just because they are being challenged. If you cannot treat each other with kindness and respect what are you doing here?"
This was quickly followed by a new thread by David, in which he said:
"Recent events here on Basenotes have stopped me enjoying myself. I always said that if that ever happened I would leave. I shall no longer be contributing to Basenotes. I wish all of those that I have shared my love of Perfumery with all the very best; goodbye."
The fact that David Ruskin threatened Matt with libel was the final nail in his basenotes coffin. First of all, you must have a reputation for yourself to have your name dragged through the mud, and beyond being a basenotes member, David has very little public reputation. To my knowledge nobody has heard of him; I certainly had never heard of Mr. Ruskin prior to my membership ten years ago. As I said earlier in this post, Mr. Ruskin clearly has a reputation within the profession, but he has never clarified that, and oddly enough nobody has ever asked him to. The fact that he was challenged by another member is hardly grounds to threaten that person with libel, and it's disturbing that this happened.

Secondly, what's with senior basenotes members acting like their word is the last? When David says, "Please do not be sarcastic with me when I express my opinion, an opinion that has formed over many years of Perfumery," we must wonder why he's capitalizing the "P" there. What are his "many years of Perfumery" supposed to bestow upon him? What are his actual years of perfumery, anyway? Why should his opinion be valued when it is directly contradicted by a database created and used by professionals in the field? Had Matt not cited the TGSC, his argument would have been much weaker, but without another citation from David to nullify Matt's sentiments, the "newbie" wins.

The moral of the story here is a simple one: you may have decades of experience, and a razor-sharp, encyclopedic knowledge of a certain subject matter, with all the winning points under your belt. However, if you can't be kind to people, if you're unnecessarily rude, mean spirited, and prone to temper tantrums when people don't automatically lick your boots, then being "right" won't help your argument in the least. You'll wind up looking unhinged, and in the absence of reinforcement for your bad behavior you'll have few options left but to sulk out and disappear. I'm not sure how the thread could have gone differently, but I'm willing to wager that if Mr. Ruskin had been nicer to Matt, he'd still be enjoying basenotes today.



10/22/17

Is The Market For Perfumes Containing Significant Quantities of Iso E Super "Fabricated"?




Over at Wordpress our friend published an article about an artisanal perfumer who is apparently defying IFRA regulations via Etsy. An interesting exchange took place in the comments section, where a blogger who goes by "Bibi Maizoon" wrote:
"Why so many niche companies want to market 'iso e super overload' or 'cashmeran overload' scents is an interesting question. Ya’think maybe it’s because people like those sorts of scents? And then because people like those sorts of scents they’ll buy them. And niche companies are companies like any other company & want to sell product & make $$$? So if they make products that people like then people will buy them and lo & behold the cash will come rolling in!"

The article's author responded:
"No, I think that was a largely fabricated market, for those who want to feel 'special.' There is no way to demonstrate that cashmeran or iso e super (in 'overloaded' formulations) is better, superior, special, etc. compared to calone or dihydromyrcenol heavy scents, but you can say that this or that scent smells like or doesn’t smell like laundry detergent, scented deodorant, etc."

Is this true? Where is the evidence that perfumers and design houses have fabricated the market for specific aroma chemicals? To my knowledge, iso e super is a material that has been used to great commercial success, perhaps most notably in the original Fahrenheit, which contains 25% iso e super in its compound. One can read more about its practical applications here.

It's interesting to note that iso e super is used as an additive in cigarette tobacco, where few market fabrications are necessary due to the addictive nature of the product. Again, is the market for cigarettes that contain iso e super fabricated? And what about the incredible success of Terre d'Hermes, Encre Noire (which has 45% in its compound), and Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch? Are these not enormous sellers? Or was the market fabricated? Have we been "faked out" by the use of iso e super?

Creed Aventus has 18% iso e super in its formula, CK Eternity for Men from 1988 had almost 12%, and Lancome's Trésor also made good use of the stuff. One can wonder if those odd earlier batches of Aventus that were criticized for smelling too "ashy", like a burnt cigarette, utilized iso e super in a way too similar to how cigarette makers use it in their formulas.

Is the market for Aventus among Creed fanatics and niche-heads fabricated? And what about the idea that people buy fragrances with iso e super to feel "special"? In what way does the aroma chemical confer "special" qualities to the wearer? By all educated accounts, this is a material with very little aroma on its own, and it is used as a sort of "texturizer" for perfumes, creating a very blended woody quality. This is why it features so prominently in woody classics like Fahrenheit, Eternity, and Terre d'Hermes.

As for cashmeran, it's also one of those atmospheric chemicals that simply creates a deeper warmth to fragrances, and to my knowledge nobody is exclusively seeking cashmeran for the purpose of "standing out" in the crowd. Fragrances that use cashmeran use it because it works in their compositions, and obviously it smells good enough to move merchandise!

I wish the blogger who dismissed Bibi's comment would elaborate on what he meant in his response to her. As things stand now, his remarks are unfounded. How can a market be "fabricated" based on aroma chemicals? Are people distorting the popularity of things that prominently use iso e super and cashmeran? If so, how?

At this point I doubt that anyone can view popular fragrances containing significant quantities of iso e super as products of a commercial lie, and I'm willing to bet that anyone familiar with how these materials smell in isolation would prefer them blended in what are otherwise successful compositions.


10/15/17

Nautica Classic (Coty)


Fragrantica attributes twenty-one notes to the pyramid of this fragrance, yet when I smell it I get roughly three: synthetic citrus, synthetic woods, and white musk. One would argue that this makes the fragrance simple to the point of smelling "cheap," but I would counter with an impression of something stereotypically nineties in the post Drakkar and Cool Water style that led the industry from 1983 to 2003. Nautica Classic doesn't smell complex or original, but it smells good in a bland handsoap sort of way.

There are fragrances for "connoisseurs" of fragrance, and then there are EDTs that people just wear because they want to wear something. Think of job interviews, informal Friday night dinners with the in-laws, taking your children to weekend birthday parties (that require you to stay), and even just doing chores around the house in your blue jeans. In these cases you could reach for any fragrance, but if you reach for Clive Christian, Acqua di Parma, or Creed, you have more money than brains.

I am reminded of Drakkar Noir and Cool Water in the same way that Passion for Men reminds me of Old Spice. All the same basic elements of this fragrance type are there, but they're tweaked a bit differently, and the result is inferior to its template. I get a blast of hand-soapy lavender, window-cleaner citrus, and a touch of that dry, smoky pine and patchouli accord found in Drakkar, but this basic woody dihydromyrcenol effect is enveloped in an opaque (and sweet) Cool Watery cloud of fruity white musk.

On a side note, people are claiming that Coty reformulated this into utter swill. It's hard to imagine that any concern could take such an abject failure to be original and make it even less original. My super vague recollection of nineties Nautica matches what I smell today, and if sharp chemical citrus top notes and scratchy chemical sandalwood basenotes were rich Grey Flannelesque citrus and Creed-like sandalwood in the nineties, I stand corrected. I suspect though that this was just as boring then as it is now.


10/8/17

A Few Thoughts On "Fragrance Derangement Syndrome", Super NES vs. Vintage Fragrances On Ebay, and The "Panty Dropper Scent"




I remember a few years back, when Dior released Sauvage, there was the usual trepidation from bloggers about the scent being too commercial and generic, along with a healthy smattering of optimistic writers who looked forward to trying a new release from an esteemed brand with a long history of successes. As more time passed, polarities of opinion were easier to distinguish than any majority concensus, and thus Sauvage became a "love or hate scent," with haters holding an edge.

By the end of 2016, one thing was crystal clear to me: the haters had won. Sauvage was to be critically lambasted at any opportunity, its pedigree as a Dior scent was to be dissected and demeaned, and any suggestion that it was a "good" release was fair game. Personally I found the fragrance a bit dull, although I thought it was a pleasantly coherent citrus leather masculine done in the current postmodern style, every bit worthy of faint praise, if not outright damnation.

And then I began to see the "fringe element" of the critique circles take shape. From the long lines at the complaint department emerged a very particular yowl, that of people suffering what I call "Sauvage Derangement Syndrome." Such voices were not content to simply criticize Dior for their unabashedly boring release, nor were they satisfied to do as I had and damn it with similar faint praise. These critics had to dwell on their negative criticism, and even dwell on any positive reviews people had for Sauvage. One blogger wrote thirteen articles about the scent, with many posted before he even smelled it!

Creed has recently released Viking, and although I have said my piece on that one, others are perseverating on Viking the way they perseverated on Sauvage. Apparently one or two critiques aren't enough; the point isn't adequately made unless a complete volume of sarcasm and negativity has been penned. I wonder if in 2020 we'll still be reading blog posts about how niche lovers and "Creed fanboys" delude themselves into loving Viking when there are hundreds of "super cheapos" that smell the same or better.

Perhaps I can dispatch at least one blogger's derangement by simply saying this: if you can't afford to purchase a bottle of Viking, just admit it and move on. Stop pretending your criticisms of the fragrance (and of how people review it) are predicated on an actual distaste for the fragrance. You were writing negatively about Sauvage before you ever smelled it, and apparently the same is happening with the Creed. You constantly compare expensive scents to drugstore fare, and are obsessed with singling out specific aroma chemicals, as if you could discern their identities in isolation (identifying them in complete fragrances is apparently too easy for you), so just admit that you wish people would heap the same praise on your cheap Playboy collection as they do on Sauvage and Viking and be done with it already.

Now on to the Super Nintendo Classic Edition, which is currently being sold through brick and mortar outlets like Walmart and Target. Why is this video game system (and the 8 bit NES Classic from last season) so interesting to a fragrance connoisseur like me? What I find fascinating about the NES Classic Editions is not that they're selling out within hours of each shipment's arrival, nor that they're getting all kinds of hype on blogs and news articles.

What interests me about them is why they're being purchased. I happened to watch a recent review of the Super NES on the YouTube Channel Cinnemassacre, and in that video one of the reviewers remarked on an experience he had while waiting in line to buy a Super NES. He said he overheard many of the conversations going on around him in the store as he waited, and he noticed something incredible: none of the people in line were talking about wanting to own the Super NES. They were talking about how excited they were to sell it on eBay for at least twice as much money as they were about to spend in the store.

This dismayed the reviewer, who went on to say that he felt like he was the only one in line who actually wanted to buy the Super NES to play it and enjoy it. Why weren't there more people like him in line? Where were all the other video game enthusiasts, eager to acquire a digitized HD repackaging of their favorite childhood games? Why was everyone around him focused solely on buying the product to resell it at a profit?

This Cinnemassacre video reminded me of my position on vintage fragrance sales on eBay. This person's experience in a line at wherever he purchased the Super NES reflected the exact reason why I put so little stock in claims that vintage fragrances are actually selling to their "fan base" for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Despite its advanced age and good reputation, the Super NES isn't selling to its "fan base" anymore, and neither are super-expensive vintage fragrances on eBay. The same economics that apply to the NES apply to vintage frags.

People are mostly disinterested in playing their Super NES because it's 2017, and 16 bit video games are essentially perishable goods that spoiled two decades ago. Video games have moved on. But that doesn't change the fact that people see the Nintendo brand as a "vintage" product. There is no question that the name "Nintendo" evokes nostalgic memories of the eighties and nineties, of playing games in your pajamas on a rainy Saturday with friends.

This nostalgia creates an internet presence of its own. Video game bloggers and news articles unite in making excited prognostications about the fate of these game systems. A renewed interest is kindled, and before you know it, people are poking around stores, looking to buy them.

Nintendo stokes the fire by issuing an egregiously limited quantity of systems to stores, knowing they'll be sold out within hours, or even (in the case of the 8 bit Classic) mere minutes. The perception among people who aren't interested in video games is that there is still a huge fan base for vintage Nintendo, because hey, look at that, the units are sold out!

But then something really interesting happens. Ebay postings for Nintendo Classics shoot through the roof, as do their prices. Before you know it, units are selling on eBay for $100, $120, $180, $200, $250, and so on. The number of eBay listings for Nintendos far outstrips the supply in stores, but the prices have more than doubled. Even now, the units are posted for outrageous prices.

For a while it seems that people really do enjoy these vintage games. But then a sliver of truth slips out, like the one in the Cinnemassacre video, and it all becomes clear: people aren't interested in playing these vintage games at all. This isn't a vintage to be enjoyed in your pajamas on a Saturday morning. This is a vintage to be resold at a steep profit. This is what I call a "currency vintage," i.e., an older item prized solely for its resale market value.

I've been saying for years now that this is what happens in the fragrance market. We see vintages like Molto Smalto, Fendi Donna, and Patou PH being posted on eBay at luxury price points, and it's tempting to think that these fragrances have significant fan bases that wish to purchase, wear, and enjoy, but in reality things bear out in much the same way as they do with vintage Nintendo. It isn't the fan base that keeps these vintages in circulation. If it were, they wouldn't stay in circulation, because within a few years all remaining bottles would be used up.

What keeps these bottles circulating is a subset of buyers who are simply looking to make a profit. They buy a bottle of Patou PH for $300, hold it for a few months, then post it on eBay for $500. These are currency vintages that are really more like olfactory Bitcoins or shares of stock than bottles of perfume.

On this note, I thought I'd end today by mentioning that my girlfriend loves Chrome Legend. She comments favorably every time I wear it, to the point where I must get another bottle (she has excellent taste). However, I've worn a number of far more sophisticated fragrances around her - she happens to really like Versace L'Homme, and even gifted me a bottle - which I find remarkable given how old that one is. Yet she also lights up around Chrome Legend, and tends to gush when I wear it. Versace's scent is the epitome of old-school citrus, while Azzaro's is a very good example of postmodern "fresh." They couldn't be more different, yet they garner the same response.

One of the more misogynistic terms used in the community is "panty dropper scent," which is the implication that a fragrance can make a woman want to have sex with you. I tend to think that when it comes to "dropping" things, this term needs to be dropped from our broader lexicon.

Let's not diminish the ways in which women show their partners affection by reducing their desires and emotional responses to olfactory reactions. The difference between Chrome Legend and Versace L'Homme is pretty stark, and a simple acknowledgement that a woman in my life appreciates both is a quick example of how fragrance appreciation is an intellectual pursuit for both genders, and not an expression of female sexual desires.




10/1/17

Horizon (Davidoff)


Sometimes a guy just wants to smell good, and on those occasions guys with good taste reach for something like Horizon by Davidoff. What surprises me about this fragrance is that despite being a very recent release, it smells organic. There aren't "fantasy accords" or super modern, overly-blended soapy notes. Horizon, though relatively innocuous and smooth, conveys clear tonalities of ginger, vetiver, cinnamon, nutmeg, cedar, and mandarin orange. It isn't particularly natural, and ingredient quality is pretty middle of the road, but I have to give it its due and praise it for at least smelling well balanced, mature, and thoroughly pleasant. Wearing it is a nice experience.

What does sadden me a little is seeing Horizon as evidence that a part of the Davidoff fragrance division wants to return to the glories of their eighties and nineties frags. Clearly the desire to bring back the herbal woody powerhouses of the Reagan era is there, but they aren't sure of how to bring it all back. If they were more confident about it, Horizon would have "extreme" intensity to begin with, nullifying the need for an "extreme" flanker. Ingredient quality would also be better, as would the pyramid. Instead of watery "fresh" violet leaf, which feels a little out of place in a spicy woody scent like this, they could have added more patchouli and moss.

The semisweet kitchen spices lend decent warmth to the proceedings, but why not get a little Wall Street and add a hit of skanky musk? A little pinch would do - no need to go full Kouros here. I can't help but think of Bogart's Witness as being a better option, along with Z-14, Aubusson, and Balenciaga Pour Homme.

If you're looking for a light, fresh, spicy, woody, gentlemanly EDT, and you're a professional father of two with a wife in real estate and a weekend time share on Cape Cod, Horizon is a very good, inoffensive choice, the sort of scent that emits patriarchal authority without going too far. If you're looking for an alpha male powerhouse reminiscent of popped collars and Members Only jackets, look elsewhere.