Monday, January 2, 2012

The Tower of Babel, Exhibit A: ELdO Sécrétions Magnifiques

I am often surprised by the strong emotions expressed by perfumistas in response to what they take to be unjust criticism. I have seen this in reviews of perfumes, remarks about houses, and—to my great surprise—even the criticism of books of perfume criticism! People are sometimes very touchy about negative criticism, and they seem to take it personally when someone comes along with a decidedly negative opinion about an object of their esteem.

I am struck by the tenor of offense taken above all in the arena of perfume, because I do not see such offense being taken in other, possibly analogous, realms. Take the case of food. I love anchovies, black licorice, eggplant, and okra, but lots of people hate all four, and some people I know hate some but love others of the items in that list. My favorite sparkling mineral water is Gerolsteiner, but a friend of mine hates it for what he regards as its metallic quality. Our difference in opinions in these cases is not a cause for any sort of strife or contention whatsoever, and I don't think that the people whom I happen to know are exceptional in this regard. People seem more often than not to have no difficulty whatsoever in disagreeing about such things.

No one gets all bent out of shape because someone else hates a food item which they love. Yes, there is a problem if someone attempts to force feed such a food to someone who hates it, but how often does that happen in reality? No, instead of inciting riots or waging wars over such matters of taste, people tend to treat the issue in the manner of adults, aware that personal preferences are determined by all sorts of contingent historical and probably biological factors which together make it seem absurd to say that one of the two people who disagree about, say, the value of anchovies, is somehow wrong, deficient, benighted, stupid, or worse: devoid of taste.

Now there are food items which self-styled epicureans or “foodies” (a.k.a. snobs) may shun, and we may secretly harbor negative attitudes toward those who consume Cool Whip, fried pork rinds, Velveeta, Little Debbies, and any number of other low-brow foods which strike us as inedible, if not revolting. But we generally keep these matters to ourselves. Who really cares, in the end, what other people eat?

Okay, it's true: I should perhaps confess that in line at the grocery store I myself do often marvel at the items in other people's carts. As they pile up on the conveyor belt box after box, after can after can, after bottle after bottle of “stuff” which I wouldn't consume if I were paid to do so, I realize, once again, how people really differ quite a lot when it comes to what they are willing and like to ingest. And it's not a matter of price, it seems, either. Some of the items which I see in other people's carts actually cost quite a lot of money, relative to the sorts of foods I typically buy. In the end, whatever the reason may be, we value different things. Our preferences diverge rather radically, but the tally of our grocery bill may end up being pretty much the same.

In the world of perfume, I see the same vast range of preferences, but, for some reason, people bristle at the condemnation of perfumes which they love, and they scoff when they learn of people who love perfumes which they hate. In an incredibly rich discussion of The Question of Niche, a number of savvy perfumista interlocutors weighed in on the nature of niche perfume and whether niche is really better than mass-market perfume, as some seem convinced is true.

While some enlightened perfumistas are able to transcend such categories and labels altogether to assess each perfume as an entity in and of itself, others remain attached the idea that niche is somehow better than non-niche perfume, even in the face of counterexamples of great perfumes available at discount emporia for a fraction of the price of many niche or luxury perfumes. What accounts for the fact that, in the area of food, people are much less easily frazzled about disagreements in evaluation than when it comes to perfume?

To offer another example, I fondly recall having met a fellow in Trinidad (he was driving a tour bus in which I was riding) who told me that his favorite food in the entire world was Spam. He was fully prepared to pay a great deal of money and make an extraordinary effort to buy Spam because he loved it so much. I found this pronouncement somewhat curious—and do not actually recall the context of the conversation in which this topic arose—but I found it rather endearing that this fellow should have a such passion for that foodstuff, despite the fact that I myself find it beneath contempt. To him, it was manna from heaven; to me, just pig parts in a blender. I believe that I even made a negative remark about the product, to which he chuckled in response. No offense taken: he knew that some people hate the stuff, but he had no problem with that. It wasn't that he thought that we Spam haters were somehow wrong. No, he simply did not care. As far as he was concerned, people like me made it the case that there was more Spam left in the universe for him to consume!

What I've observed in the case of perfume, in contrast, is that people tend to get very emotional about differences in opinion. Negative reviews are often scathing, and in some cases I'd say they verge on puerility, with the reviewer fuming in the manner of a toddler whose toy has been taken away. Some people act as though the very existence of a perfume which they abhor is some sort of crime against humanity. On the other hand, when someone condemns in the most excoriating of terms perfumes which they love, people may become equally worked up. They react as though they have been personally attacked when they read the insults bellowed out by those who hate their beloved perfumes.

Now, one reason for the distinction in the realm of perfume versus the realm of food could simply be that perfume is capable of occupying a public space and thus inflicting itself upon all those who happen to be situated in the environs of the wearer. Like second-hand smoke, unwanted perfume may well induce discomfort and anger in those who have been subjected to it against their will. Indeed, the entire story of the anti-perfume backlash of the 1990s can be explained as a reaction to this public aspect of perfume, with the self-appointed perfume police stepping in with interventionist measures designed to tutor wearers of Poison and other notorious—or legendary, as you like—perfumes to cease and desist from their anti-social behavior patterns.

I do not believe that this is only a perceived public health issue, however. My distinct impression is that people think that there is a truth about perfumes such that being wrong about them is a failure on the part of the perfumista who likes what “some say” no one should like, or who hates what “some say” is worthy of praise.

On reflection, I have often wondered whether in many of these cases we are not simply talking about different things altogether, and this is where the idea of the Tower of Babel arises in the world of perfume, it seems to me. I honestly suspect that in many cases we may simply be talking past each other when we discuss perfumes, because either the words we are using mean completely different things, or else the objects to which our words appear to refer are really quite different.

All of this sounds quite abstract, I realize, so let me offer as Exhibit A: État Libre d'Orange Sécrétions Magnifiques. My first and only experience of this perfume was during a mystery vial trial, where some evil perfumista had slipped Sécrétions Magnifiques in among the selections which I was to weigh in on without knowledge of any of the perfumes' identities, provenance, or cost. I am sorry to have to report that my sniffing of Sécrétions Magnifiques actually made me so sick that I developed a Pavlovian aversion to mystery vials and found myself unable to finish the rest of the trial.

To this day, I think of the composition of Sécrétions Magnifiques as a facsimile of a serial killer's crime scene. Clearly there is at least some sort of correspondence between my experience of this perfume and the creators' intention, judging from the image which they chose to adorn the bottle. They obviously created it explicitly to have a semen-like aspect to it, which some among us find quite repulsive, to put it mildly.

Others, of course, have raved ad nauseam about how brilliant and masterful this creation is. Turin and Sanchez rank Sécrétions Magnifiques among the top 100 “classic” perfumes. They apparently acknowledge in their recently published slim compilation of their 96 five-star reviews from Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (of which twelve have apparently been “updated”) that their list does not really pick out the 100 best perfumes of all time, but only the best which they happened to have sniffed.

In any case, my question is simply this: if we read Turin's review of Sécrétions Magnifiques and the positive reviews of others who praise this perfume, are they describing what they smell as a “serial killer's crime scene”? The answer, as far as I have seen, is: No.

In other words, the Tower of Babel problem in this case is not that some people are reviewing perfumes as artworks and others are assessing their wearability (It seems to me that, in their first book, Turin and Sanchez cannot make up their mind which they are trying to do, but that's another story). It's not the case that the people who hate Sécrétions Magnifiques are concerned with the homely hoi polloi criterion of wearability, whereas those who hail it as a masterpiece are judging it in the hoity-toity terms of lofty art criticism.

No, the reality is that the people who praise Sécrétions Magnifiques appear to be the very same people who perceive it as a floral aquatic perfume, along with perhaps some metallic qualities. They do not “get” the blood, the semen, and the murder implement aspects of this composition at all. It seems quite likely, then, that those of us who hate Sécrétions Magnifiques actually smell something entirely different from those who do not. In other words, the radical difference in opinion stems from the fact that some people who sniff this perfume are anosmic or hyposmic to precisely those components of the composition which make others among us sick.

This case raises the question, then, whether those who laud Sécrétions Magnifiques or those who loathe it are right or wrong. In thinking about this question, it occurred to me that there are possible analogies in other realms. People who are incapable of perceiving color do not make good art critics, and people who are hard of hearing do not make good music critics. What about perfume critics? Should they smell everything or only an average amount of everything?

Olfactory acuteness for each and every component of perfume would seem, as is every other trait of human beings, to be distributed over a bell curve. Are those of us who smell what those who praise Sécrétions Magnifiques as a masterpiece do not smell situated at the extreme tail of the bell curve? Are we the ones, then, who should recuse ourselves from reviewing perfumes in which those components figure?

Are some of us simply too sensitive, and so are we wrong in thinking that the perfume is repulsive—similar to the manner in which people who think that they “hear voices” are wrong? Sure, such people may be more sensitive—hypersensitive, in fact—to environmental stimuli, but in reality they are not the people to whom we turn in deciding what exists and what does not. Are we who dislike Sécrétions Magnifiques intensely, then, somehow “sick” for smelling too much? Should we figure out a way to “dial down” our olfactory acuteness?

It seems to me that it doesn't make a lot of sense, in the end, to say that one or the other group is right and the other is wrong. The fact is that we are different. Just as the factors which conspire to give individual people their unique scent affect how perfume will smell on their skin (see The Myth of the Skin Chemistry Myth, for more on this...), so, too, do variable factors determine to some extent what we smell.

The best perfume critics may not be those who are hyperosmic, even if it is true that they detect more than the average person does. On the other hand, those who are hyposmic, too, will have their own unique take on a perfume such as Sécrétions Magnifiques. In the end, a reviewer's opinions reveal one and one thing alone: what that particular person perceives in smelling a given perfume. Nothing follows from that evaluation for any other person because they may or may not be relevantly similar to the reviewer.

I should perhaps opine here that, in the case of Sécrétions Magnifiques, I strongly suspect that the composition itself, sniffed alone in a blind testing, without knowledge of the bottle design, its provenance, and the fact that it was launched by a “daring” niche house, would nary garner the attention that this perfume has. Let's face it: the whole production has a vaguely adolescent facet to it. An ejaculating penis? Ooooh!!! Wow!! Cool!!! I can imagine teenagers flush with hormones exclaiming with glee. To be perfectly frank (quoi d'autre?), I would be very, very surprised, if the folks at ELdO were not snickering all the way to the bank at the success of this heist.

Am I merely picking on Turin and Sanchez (again?! groan the groupies, whose duct tape is magically dissolved by this site...)? No. I base this conjecture on the content of the non-negative reviews of Sécrétions Magnifiques. Read the reviews closely, and you will discover that the people who do not hate this composition describe it in innocuous terms. Since when was a masterpiece of perfumery so banal? I ask most sincerely. It seems equally obvious that some of the people who praise this perfume are simply parroting the self-appointed prophets of perfume. If “the experts” say that something is a masterpiece, then we should agree, should we not?

The Tower of Babel arises in comparing perfume reviews in the first instance because different people appear truly to be smelling different things. Despite the fact that a perfume may have been drawn from the very same vat, some sniffers will find different components of the perfume salient than will others. The upshot of all of this is that the most which we can learn from reading other reviewers' assessments is that there exist people who perceive it in that way. They are neither right nor wrong, and their opinions should be taken into consideration when it seems that a perfume which we are considering wearing actually makes other people physically ill. But within the privacy of our own homes, anything goes, so go right ahead, it's all the same to me: eat Twinkies, drink Koolaid, and wear Sécrétions Magnifiques!


  1. Great article sheraop. I happen to be on the side that finds SM extremely vile. I approach all sample wears in a simplistic manner as that works best for me.

    It doesn't matter whether or not I knew about the mystique of SM before I ever smelled it. Too many others have had their reputations that, once I wore them numerous times, were nothing but a shattered myth to my nose.

    For me, SM is gag reflex. I get that mainly from the blood simulation it delivers. I despise that metallic smell, but in SM, it has other undesirables attached to it that revolt me.

  2. Hello, Aromi, and Welcome to the salon!

    It's very nice to read you here on this bright sunny morning! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It's amazing, isn't it, how we are so polarized about this perfume?

    I wonder whether there are people out there prepared to defend the claim that SM is a masterpiece by appeal *only* to its composition.

    When I read Turin's review, it seems that the grounds for his praise lie primarily in his excitement that ELdO managed to incorporate an accord which he thought might be too challenging to do. That's perhaps a neat technical accomplishment, but is it perfumic art?

  3. Dear Sherapop,

    I did read it all and I can only come to a simple (sorry ;) ) conclusion:
    one can only 'like' stuff that fits in their experiences before, their references and there sense of aesthetics.
    All leans heavily on peer-group exposure and one's life history.

    To look outside of the box is hard, maybe even impossible in the first reflexes of smelling a perfume.

    I did try Secretions and as I told you: if you leave its legacy out of your mind and just smell the notes the opening is not bad at all. Then it turns harsh and "wrong" to my nose.
    But I have that same problem with harsh notes like lavender... it is just in my brain that I can not connect with it in a loving way as all the connotations in my brain with metallic / harsh notes / smells are negative.

    To me 'taste' in general is very linked to a lot of social variables. And as those "groups" want define them self with excluding and denouncing what ever you can think of (cloths, cars, words and many other things) you will find that emotions can run high. (Ever tried to sell a new Mercedes to a vintage fiat 500 lover? LOL )

    Same with perfume: in a way people connect with their choice of perfume to a lifestyle(hence all the marketing ;) ) ... so when you dislike the perfume that person feels disliked in different corners of their life.

    It is a natural reflex as people are group animals.

    Nothing you can do but observe and smile :)


  4. they, there, their... you get what I mean gheghe

  5. Greetings, Guusje, and welcome back! It's always a pleasure to read your ideas.

    Your observation about the natural reflex of group animals is very interesting (to use one of your favorite words (-;). What I do not understand is why, in the case of food, people "deal with" difference much better than in the case of perfume.

    Both food appreciation and perfume appreciation are culturally and psychologically determined, as you say, by all sorts of random factors. But why, then, do people get so much more exercised about perfume than about food? That is the mystery to me!

  6. I am vegetarian... you can guess what I have to deal with on an average diner with guests: either eating in... or out ;)
    Emotions run sooo high it even gets funny at one point sometimes (whoops LOL)

  7. Food: also the peer-group is bigger when you look at local habits. There is more leverage possible.
    And people are much more used to deal with food taste differences. Perfume is like an unspoken ghost, you wear it, you have it, but it is seldom discussed (on a deep-er) level.

    My husband just walked by and his comment is "you reek" is much worse to hear then "what you eat is yuck" as it feels less personal.

  8. Hello Sherapop!

    Your post is yet again full of so many great discussion-starters that I will just go for it!
    Like Guus, I am a vegetarian (newly pescetarian, actually). I cook in a dining hall for a living, and get to handle all kinds of food I have no interest in and little imagination of on a daily basis. When I sit with my coworkers for lunch, most days guaranteed I get some kind of comment along the lines of "What the heck are you eating?!". Luckily I get along well with my coworkers, and they just say to each other "oh yeah, she's vegetarian and she eats that weird stuff..."

    Once in awhile I offer them some of my food--occasionally (though rarely) somebody tries it. We feel mutual understanding though--they know this is the way I have always been eating, and will continue to eat, and I know that "I love my meat" means he/she love his/her meat, and that is the way it will be!

    It would be a different story if they were criticizing my perfume, I must say. The only sort of effect we get from other people's food choices besides it affecting their health and mood, is smell. I may find bacon disgusting, but I have almost never come across someone with bacon body odor. The moment I do I will try to be polite, and find the nearest toilet-or garbage can, to relieve my violent illness :)
    Secretions Magnifiques is certainly not the only extreme polarizing perfume on the market, and it's so hard to say what really makes it so repulsive to me. I don't know for a fact that others are anosmic or hyposmic to some part of the overall experience I get from it, but that is a very compelling theory! I don't like Floral Aquatics, and SM has a sort of chlorine-plastic-ammonium aura, but after that the metallic/milky/fake fruity heart doesn't smell like anything floral, nor does it smell like blood or semen. It just smells hateful. I recently tried the Blood Concept perfumes, and I can say that they smell great, even with metallic notes declared by the creators. There are perfumes with metallic notes everywhere, but...perhaps not so rusted and loud?
    It's a great point that perhaps the most sensitive noses aren't necessarily the best reviewers, just as those who are utterly hyposmic aren't reliable. It would be so great to be able to smell what others smell just for a moment, just like it would e grand to walk a mile (or maybe just 5 blocks) in someone else's shoes. Since we would have to smell through another person's psychological filters I doubt this idea will ever be possible...but maybe I don't particularly want to smell SM through the nose of one who praises it so much anyway! Make it some other perfume please!

  9. Hello, Guusje, and thanks so much for your follow-up remarks. Your points are well taken.

    It seems to me that we derive a form of support of sorts by "hanging out" with people in groups whose eating habits overlap. I've noticed, in fact, that people tend to associate with people who have similar body types. I am not joking about this. I often see couples or small groups of people who have very similar body types—whether large or small.

    Now, this could be because they are simply narcissistic and seek out the companionship of people who look like themselves. But it could also be that they have similar habits, of both eating and exercise (or lack thereof). Furthermore, they are affirmed in whatever they look like by being around people who are similar in shape. Again, it doesn't matter whether the people are big or small. I'm not making any grand conjectures about regional health issues or anything like that. (My father lives in the "fattest" state in the U.S., Mississippi; my mother lives in "thinnest", Colorado. You guessed it: they are divorced. (-:) What seems normal to one small group of people (who are used to eating certain sorts and amounts of food) may not seem so normal to another small group. Yet everyone consorts in these groups and, more importantly, they overlap, as you say. The peer group is very large when it comes to food, because all of us eat.

    In the case of vegetarianism, the practice, you must admit, is becoming more and more normalized as broader segments of society overlap with vegetarians. Lots of people eat organic food now, and some eat no red meat (I eat no mammals, but of course that's for a philosophical not a health reason...). Kastehelmi now eats veggies and fish. Because vegetarianism and people with “special diets” are more common today, it's not all that weird to refuse to eat meat anymore. I read somewhere that it has become a sort of fad in the United States to refuse to eat wheat gluten, even though for the vast majority of people it poses no health problem whatsoever. People have just decided to be “gluten free” for some reason, and they are making demands upon restaurant owners across the land!

    So, given all of these overlapping groups, it's not that extraordinary to bump into people who eat differently, and it's not generally considered an appropriate object of censure or criticism. People just eat different things, and most people don't really care. Now, you said that you encounter troubles because of your vegetarianism, but I doubt that anyone tries to force feed you lamb, though they may tease you about your tofu.

    In the case of perfume, in contrast, as you correctly point out, we don't tend to have such groups. Consider the nature of these online perfume communities. We rarely meet or see (much less sniff) the people we encounter virtually. We are bound together by our perfume obsession, but back home, wherever we may live, we may the weird-o of the neighborhood who has (gasp!) hundreds of perfumes. I recall last summer when my dentist (a woman) complimented my perfume and asked me what it was and whether I could recommend some similar ones to her. We chatted a bit and then she asked me how many perfumes I had. I was actually embarrassed to answer! I realize that my perfume hobby is just so beyond the realm of the normal that I feared the social consequences of telling her the truth. (-:

    Online, of course, everyone who is a member of these communities can easily find out since most of us post our collections, and my excessive collection is actually TINY compare to, say, Action's (darling are you with us?).

  10. (Reply to Guusje, cont'd)

    Okay, so what's the point? The point is that we might be more touchy about perfume because we don't have the groups in close vicinity who can validate whatever it is that we happen to wear. So when your husband says that you reek, it is more hurtful than when he makes fun of your refusal to eat meat.

    But I think that there is a second issue here, as well. Smelling “stinky” conveys a kind of viciousness, an uncleanliness, perhaps a form of sloth,. This means that if you wear a perfume which someone hates, it translates into you being stinky, which subconsciously may translate into: you are a slob who doesn't bathe or concern yourself with personal hygiene and are therefore vicious. So, yes, I agree with you that our bodily smell seems much more personal than our choice of what to ingest, which could help to explain the difference in the two cases.

    Thank you for these insightful observations!

  11. Dear Kastehelmi,

    Welcome back, and many thanks for sharing your ideas!

    I'm very intrigued by your remark that although you and your co-workers "cope" with each others' diverse eating habits, it would be a different story if they complained about your perfume. It seems to me that you have described exactly the converse of how the anti-perfume people think.

    I remember when I was in grad school, there was a group, "Society of Women in Philosophy," or SWIP, which forbade the wearing of perfume to its meetings. Needless to say, I was not a member. (-: As someone who values perfume, I find it an unacceptable restriction of my liberty to categorically deny my right to wear whatever I happen to like. The very idea of such a proscription turned me off altogether from the group, which apparently regarded itself as somehow more feminist for denying the pleasures of perfume.

    On the other hand, when I think about the situation you describe from the potentially offended party's perspective, I do see their point. They regard loud or unpleasant perfume as completely analogous to second-hand smoke. Some people are seriously physically troubled by certain components of perfume.

    They're not like the people who pretend to be allergic to wheat gluten so that they can have special meals prepared gluten free. No, they are more like the poor soul who suffers from allergies. Take one of my sisters, for example. If she even so much as sits next to someone in a restaurant eating seafood, she blows up like a balloon, turns bright red and has great difficulty breathing.

    If perfume does that to some people, then I do understand why they feel violated in its presence. I guess the question is: how many anti-perfume people are like that, and how many are more like the obnoxious pseudo-wheat-gluten-allergy divas who want to be waited on hand and foot?

    My first question for you is: would you be bothered if your co-workers complained about your perfume because it was ruining their meal? And are there people who insist on a perfume-free environment for reasons other than their genuine physical discomfort?

    My second question for you is whether you think that my little theory about “stinky” = vicious (in our culture) has any merit. Do you think that that could be part of the explanation for your offense at being told that your perfume stinks? Is it tantamount to hurling an insult at your moral being?

  12. Sherapop:

    I guess I could say that not all of my coworkers have been exposed to as much variety in diet (as well as other cultures and lifestyles) as I have. I know vegetarianism is absolutely nothing new, and pescetarianism is even less novel, but I doubt it will stop being difficult to relate to and just "weird" to many people all around the world....

    The psuedo gluten allergy can be very obnoxious, but you never know who is faking it for attention, just like you never know who is wildly allergic to perfume. I'm sorry about your sister's seafood allergy, I do hope people listen to her! How awful to have to worry about that every time she goes out to eat...

    About the "allergic to perfume" people I have my doubts--I think I would have set off the allergies of a person who is so very allergic to perfume by now if everyone who claims the severe allergies was actually allergic. I wear perfume pretty much every day, all day, and have yet to see somebody move away from me, begin sneezing, or suffer respiratory breakdown because of me. In fact, I've only received compliments(except from my nearest and dearest ones, who give good preliminary feedback on my perfume choices--"what's that strong flowery perfume you're wearing kastehelmi?")

    I know that sometimes people don't speak up when they dislike your perfume, and I know I have worn perfumes that have surely been dislikeable, but I rarely overapply, and I usually smell good! I do believe my pride and disdain for the idea of someone I work with telling me they dislike my perfume fits into your theory that "stinky"=vicious. The kitchen is huge, and the only "rule" related to smell at work is that everyone showers daily. Many of my coworkers wear some fragrance, and a few (specifically the men) wear some overbearing and dislikable fragrances, so if anyone is displeased with some circulating fragrance I very well might not be the culprit, I think!

    If someone were to tell me in private, politely that he/she doesn't like my fragrance, I am nice, and would consider not wearing it to work, and furthermore, if somebody is actually allergic I would move that perfume to the back of my perfume chest without a doubt. It remains true that a person's body odor is not one of those issues that our culture has a polite way to address--we can compliment each other, but even in the workplace and in the general public many wouldn't for fear of sexual connotations, I think...

    Wouldn't it be interesting to live in a culture where people could comment on each other's smells just like appearances, and people who smell bad (either naturally or by perfume choice) didn't feel attacked when others let them know? Many unpleasant body smells can be fixed with a change of hygiene or diet, and as for obnoxious perfumes, we know what the wearers can do!

  13. Welcome back, Kastehelmi, and thanks very much for your follow-up remarks.

    I was thinking about the case of my sister and other people who are really outliers in the sense that their peculiar intolerances are so extreme that they need special accommodations made for them. The question becomes: who should adapt? If you have a co-worker who is violently allergic to many different things, then there's a good chance that the person will be allergic to at least some perfumes. Would that warrant having a perfume-free space?

    I come back again and again to second-hand smoke, because that's a case where *I'm* the offended party, and it seems to me that the baseline situation is to have clean air. Air is clean, right, until we pollute it? Of course, anyone who is robust enough to live in a city, has to be fairly tolerant to smells.

    Take New York City, my favorite example to pick on. (-; The place is literally fuming with odors, especially in hot weather. So anyone who can stand to live or work in that city has pretty much got to be fairly olfactorily tolerant. Does that mean that non-smokers were being divas when they complained about smoke in bars and restaurants? (I am assuming that it is now illegal, though I'm not actually sure...)

    No, I don't think so. One could argue that the fact that NYC is already stinky doesn't give smokers the right to blow their carcinogenic second-hand smoke into our faces or even in the general volume of space where we happen to be—and breathe. I've heard that Christian Dior Poison was prohibited from some restaurants, I believe in NYC, at some point. So maybe these things have to be decided on a case by case basis...

    Obviously, you are a considerate person who probably goes out of her way to avoid overapplying perfume when you know that you'll be in close proximity with others. But some people do seem to build up a tolerance and so don't really seem to be aware of how loud their fragrance is—such as your co-worker with his cologne.

    I agree with you that it's somewhat taboo to talk about how people smell, in contrast to how they look, although there are limits on that as well. Perfume seems, to a point, to be a matter of self-expression. Sure, maybe it will offend some people's noses, but don't some fashions also offend our eyes, and doesn't some music offend our ears?

    Actually, noise might be a better analogy, since if it is so loud that it prevents us from doing what we want to do, then it is considered unacceptable. There are usually laws against making loud noises at “unacceptable” hours of the day, although the construction workers in my neighborhood seem to flout them with impunity, using jackhammers and circular saws at 7am. That is unacceptable, isn't it? (-;

    The difference, however, would be that construction workers cannot do what they need to do without making noise. Perfume haters think, in contrast, that perfume is not necessary. It is only an annoyance. To them, it's an unacceptable annoyance, just like big billowy clouds of second-hand smoke.

    Thank you for your apt observations, Kastehelmi!

  14. I have to say that anything weird makes me curious. I sniffed it. even filmed myself doing it. It doesn´t smell nice. I got rotten cucumber left in the fridge. metallic. and somehow after sniffing secretions I can detect that cold metalic note in other fumes. It is like secretions is etched in my nostrils. I also have to say the it gets louder when trying to scrub. It is like it has a built in defence mechanism that won´t let you scrub it:)

  15. Good Morning, triplex, and Welcome to the salon!

    Let us not forget that curiosity killed the cat! But fortunately he had eight extra lives before that. (-;

  16. Hellooo ALL! I am so happy to be here again and find it always grand to be at Shera Pop's "Salon de Parfum"! *sighs lovingly* Sher: I love the whole above piece (each and every part of it) and would touch on many points...

    First of all, I do not think it is simply a matter of perfume tastes that people react to, at all! You and I, Mon Sher (while our tastes tend to agree on many things including scents, overlap on a few like foods, and disagree on many...including SM) are still and hopefully always will be the best of friends. I think that they (the masses and most "haters") are simply projecting what they are taught. If they are brought up by parents (or similar caring, considerate individuals) who teach them to respect differences in other (no matter how disparate) they will do so, in any arena. Those who are taught to "stand up for themselves" NO MATTER WHAT often react violently (verbally and/or physically) when someone either disagrees with what they have been taught (or brainwashed) to believe! I find that many (if not most) parfumistas tend to be very understanding, extremely kind and often simply agree to disagree...and just love the fact they have someone to talk or chat with who "understands" their passion. This touches briefly on what Guusjes said about "group animal nature of humans", methinks!)

    As far as Secretions Magnifiques goes...*cracks knuckles* I have to confess that love it! I think the packaging is just what its creators wanted it to be: PROVOCATIVE! It provokes you to either (think you) hate it, because you find the art (or the actual scent) revolting, or love it (perhaps from the controversy and/or concept) before you even sniff it; or just want to own it to own it. While in the case of some (myself included), the idea of the notes and accompanying (albeit puerile) packaging was awesome!! As many of you may know (or not), I am bisexual but prefer to date (and sleep with) men. I find semen to have a creamy slightly salty aroma that (for me) resembles a fully blooming chestnut tree in the height of summer here in PA. I love the whole idea of what is actually exchanged when two people (regardless of gender) are intimate to be infinitely intriguing...and that someone DARED to make a perfume that attempts to capture that a feat of not only artistic vision but courage and a healthy sense of humor! I believe the PR for the scent (which I have read several times) comes very close to the actual smell. I might note here that I have never smelled anything like this while "in flagrante delecto" but "get" the idea, for sure.

    Notes of blood (I have seen and smelled 2,400 gallons of blood in a slaughterhose holding tank) and their ferric metallic aroma combined with semen (and its salty creamy protein rich viscosity) combined with an "energizing" adrenaline ione and then sprayed with breast milk is SUPPOSED to smell disgusting...don'tcha think?!! *winks*

  17. However, the true beauty (in my not so humble opinion) and artistic vision is that these (so called) "notes" are combined with sandalwood, iris, coconut and what not and actually smell rather nice on me (or at least I think so)! I do get the watery floral accord and find it fascinating. Then I get the sharp cold metal as well (my one dear *gay* friend said "Eeew, it smells like the morgue...and I should know. I used to work there!"), but not in anything that is out of proportion with anything else! As I said in WHAT IS NICHE? Art is almost undefinable. You must take the perceiver (and their sensory and psychological filters, into consideration. Would David (Michelangelo) or The Kiss (by Rodan) be any less beautiful if it were cast in stainless steel or painted by an "impressionist" to have random splashes of paint and various liquids or even festooned with tissue paper in rainbow colors? To some perhaps; but the underlying beauty and grandeur would still be there and shine through. Is their any underlying beauty to SM, I ask you? For me, there is. I can, with complete honesty, say that had I tried this in a "blind" or "mystery" sample game/swap, I would have said "WOW! How very unique and extremely modern. I have never smelled anything like this (still haven't and probably never will); and its very nature is something that, by sheer virtue of its originality, excites me!" (No pun inferred or intended!).

    The thing about this perfume that made me think it was "artful" was that it took things no one ever dreamed of using in perfumery and united them with some interesting twists to come up with what some may be inclined to call the worst perfume in the world! My mom tried it, and she can't stand it! On me, however, she said: "THAT smells okay, on you...I guess."!! What we are really saying here (in all of our particularly poignant and personal ways) is that everyone experiences everything in their own way and reacts accordingly. Reviews (of ANY kind,as it were) are perhaps the single most subjective thing in the world, as they are only one person's opinion and/or observations. Turin & Sanchez *rolls eyes* have a book they do and reviews the whole parfumista community the world over reads. Bully for them I say! Do I agree with them? More often than not...Hell NO! I find their adoration of certain houses a bit slanted and rather nepotistic and their one word reviews (??) of others to be an insult to their readers' intelligence. When I read a review (anywhere) that sounds interesting to me, I say "YEAH I wanna try that!". Other times a BAD review makes me (morbidly curious by nature) WANT to smell something someone called "God awful" and for the record: I was told my a dear friend that GUERLAIN'S Aqua Allegoria Angelique-Lilas smelled like an cheap disgusting air freshener in a dirty bus station bathroom...BUT(contrarian that I am) I bought it anyway. I absolutely love it, even more than Malle's Angeliques Sous La Pluie (trust me...I never saw that coming!) as it has lilacs gently woven into angelica and blends what is normally a rather simple soliflore (or combination of simple scents) into something I find indescribably heavenly. To each their own...

  18. I adore anchovies, eggplant, okra and licorice (not black Twizzlers; but real licorice root and leaves and extract) as well, Shera Pop! I have eaten everything from a total junk food diet to one of a culinary ultra (to the point of being a "foodie snob") elitist consisting of: no added color, no preservatives, only organic high fiber and low fat diet, as I worked my way down to being a non-ovo lacto semivegitarian who would not dream of eating anything with a face. What did I discover (other than those markets charge a hell of a lot more for their stuff)?? The secret to true happiness is moderation in all things, including moderation folks! Sometimes you just have to put the pedal to the metal and "blow out the cobwebs" and be as intense as you need to be! THAT is what ELdO did with their creation "Magnificent Secretions" (I think).

    Simultaneously they got people horrified of something (before they knew what it really was) but secretly had them dying to try it; and then they drew others in with their sheer audacity and "slap in the face" approach. I like to think some of those "haters" tried it (while no one was looking) and actually thought it was pretty cool. While others who really wanted to like it, tried it and were aghast and nauseated. (I remember that video, Bella! "NO! Just NO! Eeew!!!) The point is the PR did what it was meant to....make people want to try it, to seek it out. Loving it is another matter all together! What makes us all, every one of us, unique is the fact we all like (and conversely dislike) different things; and I find that beautiful! Live and let live I say...or perhaps more apropos would be: Sniff and let sniff, really! *snickers* It would do us all good to remember what the Tower of Babel was or at least symbolized: When one gets too proud or arrogant or thinks too highly of one's self...they are heading for a fall, confusion and/or a world of hurt. I sit on my nice sylvan plateau and write flowery (often evocative) pieces of perfume prose. That does not (I repeat NOT) make me any better than anyone else. My strengths are in the written word and brain capacity (or so they tell me) and not in lifting heavy objects or doing whatever needs done (say building a bridge or resurfacing a road); but I do appreciate those people and their strengths because, let's face it, how would that perfume truck get unloaded or even to me without other people? Other people and their opinions (whether we agree or not) do serve one purpose: they unite us in our ability to have free speech and thought. To get together in little e-clusters all around the world and exchange ideas and ignite passionate debates, inspire each other and diatribe til the cows come home! For this, I am truly grateful...

    *bows low and deep*

  19. I am reminded, in closing, what a very wise woman once told me: "We can learn from everyone, John. Some we learn from by seeing what to do and some by seeing what NOT to do!". Truer words were never spoken. Oh, and just so you guys know, the woman who said that to me was my sponsor in NA (when I still did that whole thing) and remains to this day one of the wisest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I am a recovering heroin addict who has been off all drugs for the better part of a decade (unless you count Perfume, of course). I have seen a woman let her son (12 years) old go in a back room with a 40 something male drug dealer while she loaded and hit her crack pipe as he gave her a fifty piece for time with the boy. I have seen friends with blue lips and needles sticking out of their arms. Needless to say, I did not like these things but was powerless to stop them, and had to swallow my disgust (something far more distasteful than SM). I say these things not to shock or sicken you (though they may) but to show that life (or at least parts of the journey) and some of its events and circumstances are not always pleasant walks through sunny flower strewn meadows for everyone. SM is a "whiff" of that which we all know (whether we care to admit it or not) and come into contact with by simply living life and being human. All ELdO did was distill this off-the-wall "ideal" and bottle it. We can either sniff and pass or spritz and laugh, but one thing will always be true: people like what they like and who knows why...but God Bless those Little Debbie eating, Pepsi swigging, National Enquirer reading fatties, skinheads and haters....because there for the grace of (whatever) God go I; or any one of us!

    Hope this was not too much for you guys to digest. I find when it comes to relating to people (these days anyway) the truth is always the best way to go. The truth will always set you free...most times though it really pisses you off first!

    Smell swell (whatever that is to you) and be well,
    Gypsy Parfumista

  20. Greetings, my dear Gypsy Parfumista, and thank you so much weighing in on the Tower of Babel Exhibit A discussion.

    You have done a fantastic job of defending the idea that EldO Sécrétions Magnifiques is a successful work of conceptual art, à la Marcel Duchamp's Fontaine. Yes, everyone scoffed when Duchamp hung a urinal up in a museum, but doing that was revolutionary.

    You are suggesting that the folks at ELdO, far from being obnoxious teenagers ((-;) are actually conceptual artists! They have caused a big uproar by releasing SM, and even starting this very conversation in the first place!

    The question of the place of ELdO in the world of perfumery leads necessarily and immediately to the question of Art vs. Function. I have been mulling over this distinction for a while, and it seems to me that we need to pull your ideas out of the nineteenth comment on the first entry of the Tower of Babel series, to make it the focus of the second entry.

    Thank you so much for pointing us in such a fruitful direction, Gypsy! My intention in offering this Exhibit A was to initiate a debate on why people become so exercised about disagreements in opinions about the quality of perfumes, but not in other seemingly analogous areas, such as food.

    Your profound remarks have inspired me to think that it's time to turn to this bigger philosophical question: Art or Function? This is of course another example of people talking past each other, since the vast majority of consumers purchase perfume for its functional qualities, not its artistic ones.

    But rather than continue our discussion of this entirely new topic here, I'm going to post the next entry in the Tower of Babel series, hopefully by tomorrow...

    Thank you sooooooo much for getting the ball rolling on the next salon topic!

    I also really appreciate your sharing so much of your personal history with us. It's wonderful to be reminded of how incredibly complex and sometimes disturbing the world in which we live is. Your broad capacity for empathy and adopting the perspective of others is to be applauded!

    Finally, I'd just like to observe that you and I are in complete solidarity on The Question of Black Licorice: "No" to Twizzlers; "Yes" to Panda!!!! (-;

    Please stop by as soon as possible to comment on the next salon, since you will have been its ultimate inspiration!

  21. First, I want to say I love this article, and every deliberation echoes my own thinking. This is "Tovah" from Fragrantica and Makeupalley. I can't figure out how to publish a comment that's not labeled as Anonymous (yet), but I came here via Fragrantica, so I want to identify myself.

    Senses can be limited by narcissism, but they can also be, in actuality, limited. In scent-limited speak, there is "bad", and "good". Relativity isn't assumed, or welcomed. For example, the idea of "smelling like Grandma" is assumed to be a universal negative, whether one's grandmother wears Amazing Grace or Jasmin et Cigarettes. In general, we are severly under-educated and ignorant about sense of smell; not only about how smell works, but how it can work for us.

    However, perception, at its core, is not necessarily about training and practice. A hell of a lot of people have crappy senses of smell. Maybe they are under-developed, maybe they are un-evolved (is that a word?) They live their lives in some dimension different from the one where those of us exist who think bloodhounds are limited in olfactory scope.

    Sense of smell isn't about personal shortcomings -and pointing-out a weak sense of smell isn't the same as saying, "Wow are you an idiot? You can't smell that?" Yet many "perfumistas" react as though expressing too much appreciation for the "wrong" fragrance, or lack thereof, is a "put-down". I think many "perfumistas", coming from an incredibly broad range of both experience and ability, haven't yet come to terms with the multitudes of ways "perfume" can be loved. For some people, it's like lipstick, or a handbag. For others, it's a cadaver to dissect. Those of use who would rather weigh organs than enter a clothes changing room, can come across as critical and judgmental, but we're really just misunderstood. Seriously, when I smell 18 different things in an accord described as "smells like dryer sheet", I'm not trying to be condescending when explaining what I smell. (Not to mention that I could go on, and on, and on, and on, about the odors/aromas of hundreds of different dryer sheets).

    There are zealots of "lay" appreciation who keep their beloved fragrances much too close to their conceptions of their own self worth. A few years ago, in response to a neutral review I wrote on the Clinique fragance "Simply", some obsessive fan followed me all over the internet, claiming to be the "perfumer of Simply" and attempting some sort of "rep management" by writing about my olfactory critical delusions. This person was a nervous breakdown waiting to happen, and couldn't comprehend that sales speak louder than Makeupalley reviews. (And I smell melon in Simply, dammit. Even if this "perfumer" doesn't smell it, I do.)

    Regarding ELdO, honestly, I've always seen their fragrances, and Maisondieu as Duchamps in a world of Thomas Kincade prints, and imitations of Thomas Kincade prints. ELdO took the imaginative strides of Comme des Garcons, and ran like hell. Several of their creations are dissapointing, to me, because, in my possibly sick and twisted way, I want them to own up to their promises. (However, relativity and perception come into play here as well. It could be merely that Delicious Closet Queens and Fat Electricians smell completely different to me than the fragrances named as such).

  22. Terrific to read you here, Tovah! Welcome to the salon!

    And what a great story about your Clinique stalker! That's actually one of the problems I have with the balloon-popping capacity at one of the major fragrance websites: it encourages shills to adopt multiple pseudonyms and wipe out all of the negative feedback about the perfumes which it is their job to promote. At the same time, using the same pseudonyms, they have the capacity to post negative feedback on competing perfumes. I can honestly say that if my primary professional duty were to see to it that the sales of a particular perfume not wane, then I'd feel almost obliged to conduct myself in that way. It seems to me that such a system basically invites that sort of behavior, by making it possible to permanently erase negative reviews.

    The question, as you rightly observe, is why non-shills should care so much about negative reviews of their favorite perfumes. In my perversity, I actually love negative reviews of my favorite perfumes! It's an ongoing reminder of how unique each of us is and how our interactions with the world (not only perfume) are dependent on zillions of variable and uncontrollable factors, including our acuteness to scent.

    I wonder whether exposure to the smells of cities is causing people to have less sensitive noses? Just as we have to tune out the vast majority of visual and aural data which presents itself to us in order to function properly in the world, perhaps we also have to "tune out" most smells, and that is why we are so olfactorily obtuse, as a species? What do you think?

  23. Yesterday I was writing about a smell that reminded me of moss in a forest...and I wondered if it sounded romanticized, even though I was being literal. I'm an avid gardener and I've spent countless hours covered in dirt and leaves and blossoms and insects. It's a privileged place, as far as my nose goes (sorry for the lame rhyme). Cities are bombarded by human-manufactured smells, that can often be physically and emotionally unsettling. Perhaps our species is literally evolving away from olfactory sensitivity, as a survival factor. Certainly our hearing has been deeply affected by continual white noise. Graphic violence in movies, etc. is often cited as a cause of "desensitization" when it comes to emotional responses to horrific stimuli. Perhaps the onslaught of auto exhaust, air conditioning systems, garbage, etc. is causing our sense of smell to alert neurological responses to "poisons" (so to speak), and our ability to use smell to find food, fertile mates, sense dangerous predators, etc. is being diminished. Sadly, the ability to differentiate beautiful smells is a victim of this desensitization?

    However, I believe we are severly undereducated when it comes to using our own brain stems. How many people do you know that think of their noses as their brain stems? Or think about what this means for their health?

    Regarding reviews - I like negative reviews, too. Balance is necessary in all things. If I see something with no negative reviews, I'm suspicious. As far as the Clinique stalker, I actually felt guilt about this for awhile. This person was saying they created the fragrance for a new baby and it was so special, and I felt like I really hurt feelings. I removed the reviews wherever they were posted, because it wasn't worth it to me to upset someone (whoever it was) so much. Funny, this person insisted that I didn't "understand how to smell". If he/she thought I was bad, (s)he most likely avoids the industry completely at this time! The thing is, my review wasn't negative. It was more positive than neutral, but I thought the fragrance has a distinct melon note, and I hate melon. Perhaps some undiagnosed brain damage caused me to smell melon...I don't know ;) - T.

  24. Hello, Tovah!

    I have often wondered about the difference in olfactory sensitivity between humans and cats. My cat, HRH Emperor Oliver, can smell a snack from across the house, when it has only been out of the packet for 5 seconds. I don't even know how molecules could travel that fast, but he immediately perceives the smell and meows, knowing that a snack is on the horizon!

    As far as the person accusing you of "not knowing how to smell"--that sounds like a serious confusion on his/her part. My understanding is that most notes in perfumes are constructed. This means that the perfumer may intend to create, say, a "gardenia" effect, when in fact it remains open to variable interpretation by different noses. What becomes relevant, then, is the wearer's own history and experience.

    Consider how many reviewers compare completely different perfumes to one another. Calling every perfume which one sniffs "similar to Chanel no 5" is the biggest red flag that the reviewer has very limited experience. This does not mean that the person is lying--no, not at all. It means, from her/his experience the closest thing it calls to mind is another perfume in his/her experience. So every single perfume in existence may well smell closer to Chanel no 5 than to water. (-;

    It sounds to me as though the stalker was confused not only about the nature of perception but also the importance of personal experience in our interpretations of perfumes. Ironically, if the perfumer did not intend a melon note, but it is possible to detect one in the perfume, then the fault would seem obviously to lie with perfumer, would it not?

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  26. 'm a big fan of it (I own a full bottle) and fully smell the semen and blood facets. I enjoy it because of this in the way I enjoy civet and overt animalics. Occasionally they are too much in the way that any strong perfume can be too much. After several hours it cools into a gorgeous sandalwood/musk/coconut scent. It is much better in hot weather, when the difficult top notes burn off more quickly.

    It amounts to what type of person is smelling it, not that they are physically incapable of smelling the repulsive aspects; most (all?) people that like it are vulgar by nature and like talking about sex and offending people. Those who do not seek out books and movies filled with grotesque sexual and violent content like me will not likely spend time convincing themselves to appreciate the controversial semen concept perfume. It is a completely wearable perfume--I have gotten unironic compliments on it pretty much every time I've worn it before people were aware of the concept, from people that openly tell me I smell like piss when I wear something like Aromatics Elixir--they tell me I smell like "clean laundry" in SM, if you can believe that. Fans of the perfume describe it in mundane terms, as you say, to differentiate their reviews from all of the hysterical ones that describe murder scenes. I mean, think of how many reviews of Womanity say it smells like fish because of the ad copy? I think we can objectively say that no one would describe Womanity as smelling like fish if they had not read that it was supposed to.

    Divorced from its concept and marketing I don't think that I would choose it to wear, but I don't view this as a problem since I take the full spectrum of a perfume's identity, marketing included, into my judgment of it. Of course the juice is most important, but it gets awful boring sniffing things objectively out of unlabeled testers. I love marketing! I love a good ad!

    1. Fantastic to find you here, Fruitdiet! Welcome to the salon!

      I think that you make an excellent point here in reminding us that "I take the full spectrum of a perfume's identity, marketing included, into my judgment of it."

      Yes, you are right. We do not sniff in a vacuum, and your question is: why should we? We only make sense of perfume--as of everything else in our experience--in a context. There's always a massive amount of background information--theory, if you like--behind even our seemingly most direct reactions to anything we sniff.

      Regarding your claim that people who like SM do in fact smell the repulsive aspects, I have to say that it seems to vary a lot from case to case. If you read some of the reviews by people who praise SM, they make no mention whatsoever of bodily fluids and so seem not to perceive them at all.

      Some people, such as aromierotici, report having experienced a "gag reflex" upon sniffing SM. And those of us who sniffed it in a blind trial, cannot really be said to have been influenced by the packaging or marketing. I don't think that anyone is lying about their experience, whether positive or negative, so probably generalizations either way are a bit falsificatory.

      Thank you so much for your visit and for sharing your ideas! Hope to read you here again soon!


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