Time for brown paper bag perfume reviews?

Diamondflame

Frag Bomber 1st Squadron
Basenotes Plus
Jun 28, 2009
Thanks for the link. Interesting read.

While Pendock did raise some interesting points for us to consider, I think he missed the big picture and took Luca Turin's book way too seriously... :rolleyes: It's just one man's opinion in the form of a loosely coined 'guide', for God's sake, NOT a scientific paper. Perhaps that's why his review of Perfume: The Guide never see the light of the day.
 
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Natural_Juice

Well-known member
Aug 21, 2005
Thanks for the link. Interesting read.

While Pendock did raise some interesting points for us to consider, I think he missed the big picture and took Luca Turin's book way too seriously... :rolleyes: It's just one man's opinion in the form of a loosely coined 'guide', for God's sake, NOT a scientific paper. Perhaps that's why his review of Perfume: The Guide never see the light of the day.

Wine books, "guides" or whatever they may be called, aren't scientific papers, either. I think his point about objective criteria, i.e., the blind testing, is valid to bring to perfume reviews. Granted, though, it's the rare wine reviewer who goes through 1500 tests in a year as T&S did. Wearing something (which I doubt T&S do anyway, despite it being the best way to experience a perfume) is quite a bit more demanding than just sniffing a bouquet, sipping, slurping, aerating in the mouth and spitting out a wine.
 

Futami

Well-known member
Mar 1, 2008
Great read. Thanks for the link. I think blind reviews are a great idea but I doubt LT/TS will do it next time round.
 

Bigsly

Well-known member
Feb 20, 2008
So far, the best review format I've ever seen was:

http://www.perfumecritic.com/joomla2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=713

As to notions about reviewing, I find that reading through several is much more important to "blind buying" than one or two "expert" reviews. Of course, if the "expert" doesn't even describe the actual smell, it's totally useless to me. That said, I've lately found that just a tiny difference from one frag to another can make a huge difference in terms of wearability. If I got free samples, as the "expert" reviewers apparently do, it wouldn't make any difference, but when you "blind buy," you have to consider the possibility of getting stuck with a bunch of bottles you don't want.
 

Strollyourlobster

Well-known member
Oct 21, 2006
Cool read, Anya, thanks.
The blind sniffing idea is an interesting one but I don't buy it. It might be useful and interesting as one approach but what it would miss is the experience of changing your mind about a perfume over time, or coming to understand it over time. For me, and I think for others as well, love at first sniff does not necessarily lead to a long term relationship. Pendock shows that his blind sniffing idea is a philosophical--or maybe 'experiential' would be better-- thing with him and not just a neat idea when he scoffs, "Are beauty and the beast really such near neighbours?" To me, yes! they are. The challenging quality of Knize Ten or L'Air du Desert Marocain had a lot to do with my pained first reaction and with my abiding interest and affection. The same is true with music and often with writers.
 

flouris

Well-known member
Jan 12, 2009
Great link.

I was actually thinking about this last night as I was reading through my copy of Perfumes: The Guide. While it can be an entertaining read, it also carries no real weight when it comes to my perceptions of which perfumes are good. Some of the reviews seem more focused on showing off their vocabulary than describing the fragrance itself, and I agree - what's with all the direct attacks on perfumers and companies and celebrities? Overall it is an entertaining read, but is a book like this really a healthy thing especially when the back of the book reads in huge letters: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE WORLD OF PERFUME. Someone needs to tame their ego ;p
 

Bigsly

Well-known member
Feb 20, 2008
I agree with LT 100% that it's a shame how cheap the formulations of frags that could've been really good are these days. That is not an issue with wine, AFAIK. However, you can only review the actual product, not a "could've been" product, and so if I was the editor, I would tell him to just write about this point in the introduction but to keep it out of the reviews. Perhaps a symbol could have been used in the review section to denote the possibility that the materials are so cheap as to ruin the possibility of the frag being really good.
 

Kevin Guyer

Well-known member
Nov 16, 2006
Luca Turin inadvertently did a paper bag review in The Guide with his **** reviews of Never Be Too Busy Too Be Beautiful's Exhale and Inhale fragances, which he mistakenly attributed to Parfums d'Empire.
In the Inhale review Luca Turin pontificates on how with Inhale, Empire's Marc-Antoine Corticchiato has "at long last let his hair down" to "reveal a far more inventive talent." :eek:
So yes, it seems knowledge of a fragrance's creator can get in the way of one's objectivity - however, having the wrong creator's name in mind, will result in a rather embarrassing insult.
To their credit, Turin and Sanchez pointed out this error in one of their quarterly updates to The Guide - it seems the Exhale and Inhale samples were unlabeled and mixed up with those from PdE. Subsequently, Sanchez has taken over all the Never Be too Busy reviewing and gave their Breath of God a ***** rating.
Unfortunately, all the kind words couldn't save Never Be Too Busy from shuttering operations due to poor sales.
Thanks for the link Anya.
 
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moon_fish

Well-known member
Apr 26, 2003
Great link, I enjoyed the bitchy style of author and especially comments! :) Quite sarcastic text, it made me think - what`s the matter? Someone been hurted so much? Why one could not just relax and enjoy?

Blind tests are OK, and sometimes I made it. With some enjoyment and embarrassing too.

One day I was going through the most cruel perfumaniacs game - maybe someone would enjoy it too?
My friend sent me two vials of VINTAGE perfumes (so I`ve never smelled them), and asked me to describe the notes and name them!!!
well, it was really hard porn! :)
The first appeared to be a Chypre de Guerlain vial, rarest thing and after great time damage - and I happen to be able to name just a chypre family (bergamot-jasmine-indole-animalic-moss) and that`s all. I`ve never heard of Chypre de Guerlain...
The second was vintage Dioressence EDT by Dior. I found aldehydes, rose, powder-carnation, amber woods and give up. The reason was - modern Dioressence is not ambergris plus flower soap that every Basenoter could read about in Burr`s book. And I smelled a new reformulation in a week before the blind game - bright green chypre on patchouli it is now.

Also I recall a game "Best sandalwood" on Perfumecritic site - blind reviews of different sandalwood-based perfumes made by different reviewers, with eliminating iterations. Mild and funny game!

I believe that that`s a great games to be continued as fun and nose-training for BNoters.
Brown paper bag games are good addition to one`s arsenal, anyway. At least one will write only the notes he\she could smell, not the PR releases.
And it helps to train your nose too.
 

Diamondflame

Frag Bomber 1st Squadron
Basenotes Plus
Jun 28, 2009
Blind test has its uses of course but it is still short of real world experience. I mean, nobody buys wine without first knowing its name, year of production (origins for some) and then looking at the juice. Likewise, looking at the color of the juice, preconceived beliefs about the perfumer or design house, our individual tactile response to holding the bottle, etc, are all valid components of perfume experience as much as actually smelling it. The Guide in its current format isn't really a guide as much as it is an opinion piece, albeit an entertaining one. But it seems the 'tongue-in-cheek' style of writing is lost on some people, unfortunately.
 
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Natural_Juice

Well-known member
Aug 21, 2005
It just came to mind that IIRC, Turin *did* take part in a blind sniff and chose Ormond Jayne's (sp?) Frangipani, helping give her business a big boost.

To take the "brown bag" testing one step further, and several here have touched upon this - you really need to have the scent on your skin, perhaps for several tests, before you can know if it's right for you. That's the subjective side of it. Objectively, I suppose a spritz on a scent strip might do, but that's lacking in the sense you don't get the evolution of the perfume.

Here is the blindfolded test: http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.com/2008/09/interview-with-perfumer-linda.html I read it previously, but that came up on google. Turin may have said more about the process, can't find it. Still, he must have either just sniffed from the bottle, or used a scent strip, since he had 63 perfumes to slog through.
 
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LedByMyNose

Well-known member
Jul 17, 2008
Likewise, looking at the color of the juice, preconceived beliefs about the perfumer or design house, our individual tactile response to holding the bottle, etc, are all valid components of perfume experience as much as actually smelling it.

Well this is, I suppose, a personal call. What I mean is, I *don't* think that, for myself, the colour of the juice, the bottle etc. are valid when it comes to forming an opinion on a fragrance (or a wine). Now, I get great enjoyment out of having a pretty perfume bottle on my dresser, and I 100% admit that there's a little frisson when it's a status house rather than a drugstore special, but when it comes down to it, the only thing that matters is how it smells. I think the idea of brown-bag-reviewing is a valid one. Most people (maybe all) are definitely going to be influenced to some degree by brand names, historical perception of the brand, packaging, advertising etc. I would be *much* more interested in LT's reviews (and anyone's, really) if they were blind. And that's because as I said, I just don't believe many people can remain unaffected by the abovementioned factors.

Thanks for the link, OP. I found it rather heartening.
 

Kevin Guyer

Well-known member
Nov 16, 2006
Luca Turin is a Basenotes member and lurks around here a bit, perhaps we'll get lucky and he'll pipe-in with his views on paper-bagging.
 
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Bigsly

Well-known member
Feb 20, 2008
I think that comparing frags to wines demonstrates a lack of understanding of at least one. With wines, you determine if you like it and what occasions to use it, and then that's it. With frags, I'm not the only one who has gone back and forth with how I perceive it, sometimes from great to unwearable.
 

Redneck Perfumisto

League of Cycloöctadiene Isomer Aestheticists
Basenotes Plus
Feb 27, 2008
I find myself in both agreement and disagreement. Careful gridding of the olfactory properties of a fragrance is the Metamucil of criticism. Yes, it's all fine and good, and we need more of it. But after I gag it down, I'll relish my cup of Turin 'n' Sanchez with several teaspoons of neurotic bloggerette sugar and a big schpritz of whole-milk narcissism, if you please. ;)
 

nwatts88

Well-known member
May 16, 2009
Wow, what a painful guy that Pendock is. All I got from him was "we wine folks do it proper, perfume writers, get in line." He's so uneducated it hurts. And he calls Sanchez "cringe worthy." No wonder the review wasn't published.
 

Bigsly

Well-known member
Feb 20, 2008
Another thing I've found is that it takes time to "zero in" on the frag you really want, out of several that are at least somewhat similar. With wine, judgments are made much quicker (than months). The key seems to be that frags are going to be around for hours, whereas wine is just part of one meal, and is meant to match the food. Most frags were not designed to be "layered," and often go through "development" stages. I don't really understand the interest in "blind smelling," because even if you greatly prefer one frag over another today, you might totally change your mind in a month. How often does that happen with wines?
 

Emlynevermore

Well-known member
Dec 31, 2008
Objectivity is overrated. Declaring that Perfumes: The Guide will do for fragrance what Robert Parker's books have done for wine was both grandiose and ill-advised, and Avery Gilbert rightly criticizes the publishers for that, but paper-bagging as the norm for perfume criticism is just silly.

PTG is useful to the same basic reason that BN is: I want to know what scents in the morass of modern fragrance are worth pursuing--and why--and I am much obliged to anything or anyone with thoughtful suggestions. (BN has the added benefit of being interactive and boundless, while PTG makes a great sample-strip-holder. Call it a draw.)

I do not wish to purchase the "best" perfumes in existence, even if they could be definitively determined; I am a hedonist, not a curator. Fragrances are meant to be hung on one's person rather than on one's study wall. There are no twelve-hour arias. I want to wear fragrances that make me howl "starving hysterical naked" and some guy who has only got adjectives and big city dreams in his locker isn't going help me find them.

However, someone who believes in backstory and coherence and weirdness just might, because her biases, stated and unstated, allow me to avoid reinventing the wheel each time I come across a fragrance I wish to know more about. "To sniff or not " and " to love or not" demand my personal, physical engagement but finding trusty reviewers allows one to avoid the desolation of uncertainty when approaching a new mark--"You'll Never Walk Alone", as my fellow Liverpool supporters might say.

Blind-sniffing trains the nose and makes a great parlor game but I want more than Cliffs Notes, more than reviews that only "play the ball", as Gilbert might put it. House, history, nose, packaging, and advertising are all factors in the creative process of perfumery. Evaluating the bottled nexus of these components demands an equally nuanced approach. No reviewer can replace the personal experience, the "what", of smelling a fragrance for the first time; he can only attempt elucidate it and contextualize it, through "who", "where", "when", "why", and "how". The "best" reviewers also manage to do so with brevity and wit.

But mostly, I will take trenchant criticism whenever, wherever, however I can get it. Why insist reviewers write with their hands tied behind their backs? This hobby is fun, and writers who marshal skepticism and knowledge to delight and inform just make it even more so.
 
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perfaddict

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Oct 3, 2008
Well this is, I suppose, a personal call. What I mean is, I *don't* think that, for myself, the colour of the juice, the bottle etc. are valid when it comes to forming an opinion on a fragrance (or a wine). Now, I get great enjoyment out of having a pretty perfume bottle on my dresser, and I 100% admit that there's a little frisson when it's a status house rather than a drugstore special, but when it comes down to it, the only thing that matters is how it smells. I think the idea of brown-bag-reviewing is a valid one. Most people (maybe all) are definitely going to be influenced to some degree by brand names, historical perception of the brand, packaging, advertising etc....

My thoughts exactly.

Fragrance (and wine, for that matter), as packaged, presented and marketed, is generally a subjective issue, with as many opinions as there are reviewers. The number of threads on reviews and the diverse opinions in each thread indicate how different persons are influenced differently (price, value, designer/niche, etc).

To be very honest with myself, as a fragrance addict i enjoy my Amouages , Tom Fords and other niche frags the same way i enjoy my Tabac Original, Old Spice and other cheapies. But as a collector i value the high-end, well presented frags slightly more.
 

Redneck Perfumisto

League of Cycloöctadiene Isomer Aestheticists
Basenotes Plus
Feb 27, 2008
This hobby is fun, and writers who marshal skepticism and knowledge to delight and inform just make it even more so.

Agreed with everything you said, and even more with this final point. If the criticism in the perfume world ever gets to where it's no longer fun, I'll move on to barbeque forums, which can presumably resist the sickness forever.

I think there are some fundamental scale differences between wine and fragrances in general - things which seem to be the product of chemistry, biology, and constraints on the possible in both. They seem to have a real bearing on the differences in the cultures and the styles of criticism.

Returning to the first point, I don't think we have to worry about fragrance itself going bad. I was going to say that if objectionably objective criticism came to perfume, we should kill it, but frankly, I don't think we would ever have to. I don't think it could survive in the ecosystem. The Vulcan Guide To Perfumes can only sell as a joke.
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