Christopher Stocks

Perfume

Perfume

Smell may be the most atavistic of all our senses, but that doesn’t put perfume beyond the reach of plain English, any more than art or music is. Perfumes can be delicious, erotic, addictive, melancholy, outrageous, revolting, even silly, but there’s no need for them to be confusing.

If you’re as passionate about perfume as I am, here’s hoping you enjoy my blog over at The Sniff Box: Perfume in Plain English.

 

Screen shot 2013-10-15 at 17.31.58

Sauvage cut

What have Dior done to Eau Sauvage Extrême? I started buying it when it was pretty much what it said on the bottle – a slightly more intense and much longer-lasting version of the original Eau Sauvage, with the original’s knockout sherbert lemon and jasmine combination cranked up several extra degrees. Not something you’d want to splash around too liberally, but fun on a dreary day.

Eau Sauvage is a scent I love, not just for its superb intrinsic quality but also for its history as the first modern men’s fragrance to have a strongly floral character, cleverly disguised by the herbal and citrus elements of a classic cologne. It was also one of the first perfumes I ever wore, so there’s an element of nostalgia to my affection too.

So when the last bottle ran out it seemed only natural to buy another – except that when I next sprayed some on it was blatantly obvious that there was something missing: namely a huge hole where the lemony part of the formula should have been. Yes, Dior (or rather Firmenich or whichever fragrance company makes the scent for them) has taken the original and reformulated it, in one of those secretive, below-the-belt moves that give the industry such a bad name.

These kinds of underhand tricks go on all the time, but it’s particularly annoying when it happens to an iconic fragrance – and particularly stupid when what’s been taken out is the citrus element that makes Eau Sauvage such a distinctive perfume in the first place; without it it’s a muted, muffled thing, with about as much appeal as a piece of damp felt.

I’ve learned my lesson, but Dior obviously haven’t learned theirs.

Picture goes here?

Writing about perfume is all very well, but who wants to read a blog that has no pictures? Maybe I’m just a lazy git – correction: I am a lazy git – but it’s so hard to find good images to illustrate my perfume postings that it puts me off (or at least gives me an easy excuse to avoid) writing them, when I should really be adding new posts every time I smell a new scent.

Or perhaps I’m just not being imaginative enough? That’s perfectly possible, but it also raises an interesting point, which is what an iron grip the perfume licensees have over the way their products are pictured and advertised.

Like wine or music, perfume doesn’t, in itself, have much (if any) innate visual appeal, and perfume bottles, though far more varied in design than bottles of wine, are often so hideous to contemplate that it’s kinder not to illustrate them at all. Take the unutterably hideous Womanity from Thierry Mugler, for example… (NB I mean ‘take’ in a physical rather than a metaphorical sense – as in please, please take it a very long way away and never bring it back.)

What a stink

There’s nothing unusual about hating airports, but it only dawned on me last week at Gatwick how much I hate airport duty free shops too. I always feel I should have a look at the hundreds of perfumes on offer in case I stumble across something wonderful and new, but while it’s useful, I guess, to keep an eye on the latest big launches (though who can keep up with them all?), I always stumble out afterwards feeling slightly depressed and very headachy.

My problem? It’s that in all those hundreds of perfumes there are maybe three or four I’d want to buy another time, and they’re nearly always the ones I know and like already. Of all the hundreds of new launches every year, in other words, barely one or two are worth a second sniff, and most of them are (not to mince words) utterly vile.

There are occasional exceptions, but they’re pretty rare, and often unexpected: Paco Rabanne Black XS for Men, for example, which is ridiculously sweet but enjoyably silly and smells of strawberries (though it’s based on a variation on orange); or Marc Jacobs Bang – hideous advertising, hideous bottle, but actually not such a bad scent inside. But mostly it’s sniff and recoil in horror: why does anyone buy this stuff? Just because they’re told to? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

There again, maybe it was always this way: apart from sad exceptions it’s the good, on the whole, that tends to survive, while the rubbish and the dreadful is quietly dropped and disappears. And perhaps it was just the same in the 1920s or the 1950s. The difference, today, is that there are far too many launches, the industry having backed itself into an unprofitable corner where only the latest thing sells, but only because it’s the latest thing – and it’s all too quickly superceded.

Booked

It’s turned out to be hard to keep much other work going while working on the next book (the forests book, that is), and as for earning a living – well, they say that writing books is no way to make money and boy were they right. It’s a good way to stop making money, for sure: my income’s gone steadily down ever since I started writing Forgotten Fruits, and it’s now pretty much reached zero.

But in the meantime the (very) occasional thing comes along, and one of these, thanks to Nathalie Grainger and the inimitable Roja Dove, was being invited to write a chapter for Quintessentially Perfume, a new book on perfume and the perfume industry. Next up: how about a weekly perfume column? I’m waiting for your call…

Fun / terrifying

I have on my desk a paper scent-strip that I sprayed with two short bursts of Gucci Rush around a fortnight ago. Most perfumes – even such legendarily tenacious fragrances as Guerlain’s L’heure bleue – would have disappeared without trace by now, but Rush’s deliriously sweet, exhilharatingly artificial .

But while the dry-down in classical perfumes is often subtly (and sometimes radically) different from the fragrance you first smell, a lot of recent scents stay pretty much exactly the same from start to finish