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.


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.


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.


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.


The Real Problem With Creed's New Fragrance

I read a recent Wordpress post about Viking by Creed, and realized that in my absence one of the fragrance community's turgid crazies had taken to the internets to publish his pointless yowlings unchecked. Early in his article he posed a question that answered itself:
"Here's the key question for me, 'why would someone criticize someone else's perception, especially when a site devoted to these olfactory concoctions is by its very nature mostly going to focus on individual perceptions?'"
If a site is "by its very nature" focusing on individual perceptions, it's not hard to see why this would be the nexus of all contention therein. Isn't that obvious? If the focus were on objective general populace perceptions, with vague census numbers clouding the landscape of debate, then injecting subjective, individualized interpretions would be trickier. But given that personal opinions are all you have to go by prior to experiencing a fragrance for yourself, your thoughts and criticisms are likely to be directed into that lane of traffic.

The real craziness appears later in the article, in which the following is said:
"I do think there is one more element that may be involved in some of these kinds of situations, which might be best called the 'expensive-smelling molecule effect.' A great example is how large amounts of calone or dihydromyrcenol in a scent probably leads to a lot of people thinking it's 'cheap.' On the other hand, load up a scent with iso e super or cashmeran while slapping a niche label on it, and you've got something that 'smells expensive' to a certain demographic."
It makes my eyes hurt to read ideas as poorly conceived as this one is. Large amounts of calone and dihydromyrcenol were never, ever perceived as cheap by anyone. If they were, the industry would never have increased the amounts of these chemicals in what remain bestselling fragrances. Acqua di Gio, Cool Water, Green Irish Tweed, Drakkar Noir, Azzaro Chrome, and many other similar fragrances continue to sell to millions every year. They all contain considerable amounts of calone and dihydromyrcenol, and to my knowledge their presence in these scents is (a) unknown to the wearers, or (b) in no way a hindrance to the wearers' enjoyment.

Cheapness is usually perceived by people when a fragrance is too sweet and simplistic. A better argument could be made from a chemist's standpoint that the overuse of ethyl-maltol and coumarin account for negative value perceptions among consumers, given the number of downmarket products that exploit these materials. The entire Playboy line is a great example of how large amounts of sweet sugared cocktail "froot" notes and exaggerated fougere accords cheapen a brand.

In contrast, something like Aspen for Men is cheap to purchase at about three dollars per ounce, yet it is endlessly compared to one of the priciest fragrances on the market, Creed's Green Irish Tweed. The abundance of synthetic muguet, calone-driven green apple, and dihydromyrcenol have not in any way dampened enthusiasm for Aspen.

Iso e super and cashmeran are found in abundance in things like Abercrombie's Fierce, Encre Noire, Burberry Weekend for Women EDP, Paco Rabanne Sport, Sexy Graffiti by Escada, Womanity, Dazzling Darling by Kylie Minogue, and Burbuerry Body. Can you also find these materials in things like Terre d'Hermes and Dans Tes Bras by Malle? Sure. But you can find calone in New West for Men and dihydromyrcenol in Green Irish Tweed, two top shelf scents, so what is the Wordpress author's point? The economic usage of all materials in the industry varies, and quality is on par with the competition at all prices. If the "expensive-smelling molecule effect" is supposed to be the use of a specific material, then I would ask which chemical is used exclusively in expensive fragrances and develop my theory from there.

The Wordpress author asked these questions tangentially in his discussion of Creed's newest release, in what appears to be a verbose effort to address the worthiness of the scent itself. Is Viking even worth the time and effort? Should I or anyone else bother to try this fragrance? Is there a new masterpiece sailing to our shores with horned helmets on an orange flask? There are potentially dozens of questions one could ask about Viking. But Viking, and more specifically the Creed brand itself has a very real problem on its hands: they've priced guys like me out of their market.

It's nice to know that the rich are making so much money off of themselves nowadays that they no longer need to court the middle class buyer. While the majority of the working class and middle class flounder in debt and dire financial straits, a teeny-tiny top percentile of the population enjoys ever increasing gains. Creed wants their business. Ten years ago, when a 4 ounce (yes, 4 ounce, not 3 ounce) bottle of Creed cost $250, I thought Creed was pushing it, but at least somewhat accessible. Back then I paid that amount for a fresh bottle.

But today's prices are insane. Even if I were making $100K a year and had another $80K in investments, I wouldn't drop $500 on a bottle of Creed. You have to be a millionaire to think that's a decent value. You'd have to be a stupid millionaire. Why should I punish myself for having more money by spending more on something that everyone else in a lower tax bracket gets for a tenth of the amount?

If millions of people are happy to get a good fragrance like Acqua di Gio for $50, why should I spend ten times as much for something only a few people (my wealthy friends) think is a better value? Millesime Imperial should be the opposite of what I want to own, not the primary "fresh" frag on my radar! Ditto for Viking, although right now it isn't the entirely clear what part of the designer market Creed is aping with Viking. Some are saying it is the Sauvage demographic that might like it, but this isn't certain yet.

Creed is competing with other niche brands by courting sycophantic reviewers, many of whom aren't in their buying class (like Daver on Fragrance Bros), and banking on word of mouth through YouTube and basenotes. But they used to want people to buy their fragrances as soon as possible. Now they just want most of the buying public to aspire for their fragrances, while those who can actually afford them make them their profits. By raising their prices far beyond the rate of inflation, Creed has basically taken their products away from the majority of potential buyers and now sees fit to dangle their wares in our faces.

They sent Daver a free bottle of Viking. That alone is proof that they want the hoi polloi to drool.

This is the problem with Creed's new fragrance, and I personally feel it is the reason why I no longer need to review any Creed fragrances. If they were using Guerlainesque techniques in creating traditional old world perfume extraits, I might consider that a worthy enough reason to pursue the brand. But just continuing the Creed-water Millesime trend at an exaggerated price point in no way induces me to seek out their products.

It would behoove others to quit acting like Creed is still an interesting brand. It has sold itself off to the donor class, and I no longer think it has the integrity to act as a star player in the niche realm. There has never been a better time than now to keep a Viking from our shores.


Shower Fresh (Clean For Men)

This is one of those scents that I was pleasantly surprised by. The Clean line doesn't generally get good press, and I've been bored by a few myself, but this one was above average. It doesn't open with shampoo "blue" notes and descend into heavy synthetic ozone and salt accords. It's simply a brisk citrus cologne that dries down to a fairly lucid and "fresh" lime. And everyone knows I like lime colognes.

Limes are a standard scent for a wet shaver. You have your candied limes, sour limes, barrel aged limes, spiced limes, West Indian limes, and in this case your "bright" limes, made translucent and durable via deftly blended synthetics. Unlike most lime aftershaves, which usually last about ten minutes, Shower Fresh gives you four hours of solid limyness before becoming a persistent skin scent. The lime note is pretty much the star of the show. There's no pretense, no attempt at anything fancy or "modern," and much like Royall Lyme, Shower Fresh smells like a throwback to the sixties.

If you're the sort of guy who enjoys lathering up and applying a single Gillette blade to your whiskers, you'd probably benefit from having a bottle of Shower Fresh in the rotation. It's a good aftershave scent that adds a little green freshness to your morning. Good on Clean for at least tossing this fairly simple and effective formula into their otherwise lackluster lineup.


Body Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent)

The press for Body Kouros confuses me. I get it: Annick Menardo was doing Annick Menardo à la Bulgari Black, which hit shelves two years prior in 1998. It has been called an "oriental spicy fragrance," an incense fragrance, a eucalyptus bomb, etc. My problem stems not from these descriptions, but from what I actually smell. Granted, I'm talking about the version of BK pictured here, which is the "lame reformulation," all chrome shoulderless and neutered. But given my distaste for eucalyptus in perfumery, my general apathy towards orientals, and the need to smell something without a candied chemical apple note, BK came as a surprise.

This stuff smells pretty good, and surprisingly mature for what I always considered a club scent (from reading the "panty dropper" comments on basenotes years ago). It starts off with a burst of eucalyptus and anise, followed by a warmer benzoin and incense accord that manages to smell comfortable without losing its gentle sense of humor. Yet nowhere do I smell a masterpiece of the late twentieth century. The "fresh" component on top is attenuated, definitely from reformulation, and now is little more than a thin hiss. If BK was once a blushing spicy oriental, those days are gone; the composition relies heavily on two scant notes of ambery benzoin and silvery incense, neither of which lend the scent significant body or complexity. And I don't even get much of a youthful feel. If anything, BK is staid and gentlemanly, the mark of a mature scent.

Perhaps the only way to understand this version of BK is to compare it to the original Kouros. That scent used to be a carnival of testosterone, brimming with all the charisma and romance of an eighties powerhouse fougeriental. Today it still paws the dirt and lowers its horns, but the rush is diminished, and we're forced to make do with an overdose of eugenol where once we enjoyed civet and raw honey. I guess a similar fate met Body Kouros, which I imagine delivered considerable swagger in the semisweet powder puff style of its era. It's still a very good scent, and still worth checking out if you're into modern orientals, but if I want something with powerful aromatics and strong incense, I'll stick with Jacques Bogart's Furyo or Roccobarocco's Joint Pour Homme.