|Emilio Pucci Vivara (2007)|
It has become redundant to the point of banality to observe how much the world has changed since the advent of the internet. The way we write (cut and paste), the way we socialize (Facebook, email, text messaging and Twitter), and even the way we think (in bullet-pointed lists) have all been changed irrevocably by the military-industrial complex's only bona fide gift to humanity: the personal computer. Sure, computers were designed in order be able to direct weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles to home in on their unsuspecting targets in lands far away, but that did not prevent them from being used for less nocent purposes as well, for which we have capitalism, too, to thank.
Old fogies lament the imminent disappearance of the book, while young people revel in the vast array of new outlets for their creative energies made possible by computer technology. But everyone, young and old alike, has been changed by the computer age. Remember those stalwart figures (with stock holdings in the ill-fated USPS?) who claimed that they would never use e-mail? Where are they now? Well, if they're still alive, you can be sure that they are receiving and paying bills online, in addition to clicking on greeting card links and either reading or deleting all of those lame forwarded jokes preceded by lengthy headers.
Similarly, people who were saddened by the disappearance of, first, LPs (long-playing record albums), then, cassette tapes, and now CDs (compact discs) have simply failed to grasp the abundant wonderfulness of being able to store thousands of different musical works on an ipod. The days of scratched and broken records are now forever gone.
Movies, too, have undergone a radical transformation. First, there were only movie reels screened at theaters. Then, long, long ago, the battle between Betamax and VHS tapes was won by the latter, only to be subsequently replaced by DVDs (digital video discs). Today, visual media are being transmitted more and more through wireless streaming onto screens the size of walls in our humble abodes.
This latest development completely erases any remaining vestige of allure which once upon a time motivated us to get dressed and leave the comfort of our couch to journey out into the night in order to sit in a multiplex cinema and listen to rude people talk and smokers cough while trying to watch a movie which usually, being first-run, was not worth watching anyway.
Whether one likes the feel of books or the gleam of an LP, one can scarcely deny that the capacity to carry one's entire library of media with oneself all over the world on a hand-held device constitutes an advance of sorts. So many of these materials—texts, music, and video images—are immediately accessible for free, that there is not even that much need to own such things anymore. Of course, we all need our hand-held devices of preference, whether netbook, i-pad, Kindle, Nook, i-pod, i-phone, or (most likely) some union of the above. But even all of them together would not exceed the volume capacity of a small drawer.
Certainly the people who inhabit tiny studio apartments in Manhattan have been aided by the near obsolescence of the physical book, the physical music track, and the physical movie. Yes, it has finally become possible to realize their sad quest to live a domestic life including family and pets within a space spanning 300 sq ft.
What could be wrong with any of this?
One aspect of this twenty-first-century world which seems to me to be undergoing a devolution rather than an improvement is the value of text. Everyone today is a writer: it is a part of being a person in society at this point. People today interact using written words with great frequency across many different platforms.
Perhaps we should be glad that literacy is becoming more and more a requirement of personhood as computers spread from First to Third World countries. Humanity, it might seem, on the whole, is being elevated by the computer age, which requires us to be able to exercise our written language capacity in situations which formerly called for spoken words. In fact, today even illiterate persons can capture their version of history for posterity by speaking into the microphone of a computer equipped with Dragon software. The question, however, remains: Will anyone ever read the text thus transcribed?
Yes, the downside of all of this prodigious production of text is a veritable bloating of the verbal universe. There are so many words being written by so many people that it has become exceedingly difficult to sift the wheat from the chaff. We have begun to resort to and indeed depend upon social media measures of popularity in determining which among this quasi-infinitude of texts merit our attention.
Part of this transformation has involved an unabashed egocentrism, involving people asking one another to “like” them on Facebook or to “follow” them on Twitter. Regrettably, persons whose calling it might have been in the twentieth century to be a writer, may now find themselves spending vastly more time on public relations and marketing activities than on writing itself. Would-be writers may thereby sabotage themselves by focusing too obsessively upon how to prove that they are not merely one among millions of bloggers but actual writers. By expending their energy and the best hours of their day on self-promotion, they may end by becoming precisely what they aimed to avoid.
One always hopes, of course, that the cream will rise naturally to the top, but what if no one can find the tiny dots of cream floating atop this vast ocean of verbiage? The problem for writers today is that they are no longer competing so much with writers as with companies who use the very same media for peddling their wares.
Yes, the “social media” originally intended to help people “connect” with one another, and soon thereafter touted by some as a boon for humanity, have been progressively capitalized, and are being used more and more by companies and organizations with profit-making agendas. If you click “like” for any product or store, your Facebook friends will shortly thereafter learn about this fact, for it will appear as an advertisement on their profile.
Worse, when you go to a site which has been “liked” by your friends, their names will be used as an advertisement at that site to you and all of their other friends (who are only one friend removed and therefore likely to be similar to you), whether they had any idea that this was going to happen or not.
People are probably beginning to catch on to how their seemingly innocent clicking of “like” to enter a contest for a free give-away leads directly to their open-ended—indeed, infinite (barring future legislation...)—endorsement of the company and its products. Still, many seem not to be very bothered by any of this at all. It's all a big, fun, “FB Friend”-ly, “like”-able (and not dis-”like”able) connected world! Pass the Prozac (or one of its SSRI [selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor] successors and/or add-ons), log on, and tune out from physical reality while you track the number of “likes” you received on your Facebook comments on other virtual people's comments since the last time you logged on.
Better yet, carry your wireless mobile device with you wherever you go and Twitter to your fawning followers throughout the day so that they will feel connected with you as you peruse the aisles at the grocery store, stop for a bite to eat, or wait fuming in a traffic jam. Boredom and loneliness are clearly things of the past, thanks to Facebook and Twitter, which keep us connected potentially 24/7 to anyone who regards us as worthy of their followership. (I, of course, would never have as a follower anyone willing to follow me.)
Do I detect a slight look of consternation in the reader's eyes? What in the world does any of this have to do with perfume? you may well be wondering. Quite a lot, it will emerge very soon.
Facebook and Twitter may seem on their surface to be harmless and free, but they have hidden costs, as we shall shortly see. Some of these costs are already fairly well known. The misfortunes which have befallen some persons imprudent enough to publish on the internet information of a personal or confidential nature (thought to be shared only among select Facebook Friends, perhaps in a closed group turned open by a careless administrator) have been used as cautionary tales to those who would trash their boss or their former roommates on the very public world wide web.
I am interested in a different sort of effect, one which heretofore appears not to have been recognized by anyone else. I openly aver that the question which I would like to present for your consideration today, my fellow fragrant travelers, may seem initially preposterous. Nonetheless, I am confident that, on reflection, you will come ultimately to agree that, like Prozac and the other SSRIs, social media, too, may have unforeseen and untoward consequences, specifically, in the case of Twitter, for the world of perfumery.
I am aware that this question has probably not flittered through any of your minds before. What in the world does Twitter have to do with flankers? inquiring minds may well want to know. And I do not deny the manifest reasonableness of the question, because few, if any, people have to date taken note of the Twitter-Flanker connection which I propose here to illuminate.
Many perfumistas have lamented the massive explosion of perfume flankers launched in the twenty-first century. Is it a mere coincidence that Twitter, too, has grown exponentially over the course of the very same few years? I think not.
Flankers and limited-edition releases (often of the same perfume or a tweaked version in a newly decorated bottle) are creatures of the twenty-first century. Michael Edwards, author of Fragrances of the World—which, by the way, is actually a genuine guide to perfume—reports these dramatic changes over the past two decades: there were “1200 new launches in 2011, compared with 372 launches in 2001 and just 76 in 1991.”
|The 28th edition of Fragrances of the World, to appear in 2012|
According to Edwards, “In 1991, no one had really heard of limited-edition scents or ‘flankers’, while in 2001 there were 32 limited editions and 52 flankers. Those numbers have now sky-rocketed to 236 limited-edition scents and 197 flankers in 2011.”
Part of the disparity in the numbers can be explained by the increased tendency toward simultaneous multiple launches, which have become more and more common over the course of the past decade. Consider the Dolce & Gabbana Anthology simultaneous release of five new perfumes in 2009:
|D&G Anthology (2009)|
The original five perfumes launched in 2009 were: Le Bateleur 1, L'Impératrice 3, L'Amoureux 6, La Roue de la Fortune 10, and La Lune 19. These were then followed up upon by new members to the series, La Force 11 (also in 2009), La Tempérance 14 (2011), Le Fou 21 (2011), and L'Empéreur 4 (2012). Are any of these perfumes flankers? Not in the strict sense, but they are created in the same spirit: quick and easy releases in readily identifiable bottles which capitalize on the success of earlier releases and all of those which look the same. The cryptic digit labeling system of these perfumes suggests that new series members bearing the numbers 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 20 may be imminent!
In any case, the data seems beyond dispute: flankers and serial releases are a twenty-first-century phenomenon. Twitter, having been created only in 2006, is undeniably a full-fledged twenty-first-century phenomenon. Correlation or causality? I ask most sincerely. And I am persuaded that the reader will come over to my side having once ruminated upon the essential nature of a Tweet.
A Tweet is a tiny, 140-character-maximum-length message. What does it convey? It conveys news. Something new has happened in the world to someone (the Tweeter or Twit) somewhere, who decides to report this event in a Tweet to his or her followers.
Perhaps he bought a new car, or she a pair of shoes. Perhaps a happy couple is meeting to dine at a new restaurant or to attend an art exposition and one or both of them wish to share this news with their friends. The keyword common to every single Tweet ever Twittered by any Twitterer (or Twit) is: NEW.
Now, we have considered above how companies have elbowed their way into the social media landscape to become our “friends” and fearless leaders (when we “follow” them) through a variety of machinations usually involving special offers and/or discounts, also known as “bribes”.
But these companies do not buy new cars and shoes or eat at new restaurants or attend art exhibitions. No, companies, no matter how well they may masquerade themselves as our friends, in reality, have only one thing to tweet: they have something new which they would like you to buy.
It may be difficult to face the music, but the truth is that perfume companies are no exception to this general rule. The launch of a new product, and in the case of perfume houses, a new perfume, is the content of a meaningful Tweet, from the perspective of the company itself, a profit-seeking organization.
I see in my mind's eye the readers in my midst in the grip of an “ah-ha” moment. Yes, my fellow fragrant travelers, I contend that Twitter is indeed, against all appearances and expectations, the ultimate cause of what may be best described as Flanker Madness. Make no mistake: Twitter has single-handedly generated such a rapid proliferation of perfume launches that the vast majority of perfumes being produced at this point in history are either flankers or quasi-flankers, most of which are hastily composed and poured into the bottles of their predecessors in order to able to announce, in a Tweet, to the followers of the house, that there is news.
Does the Success of Twitter Spell Disaster for Perfumery?
The Flanker folie has ramified beyond the realm of mainstream houses to infect niche houses as well. Hence the ever-more frequent specter of launches by niche houses of entire series of new perfumes. No, they are not flankers in the strict sense of the word, but they do appear to be produced under a new principle guiding perfumers today which has eclipsed the former telos of beauty and art. This new guiding principle is, stated succinctly: “Safety in numbers”.
The examples of these multi-launches are too numerous to enumerate, and I should clarify that I am quite fond of a few select creations of many different houses, but the vast majority of niche launches have about as much value as one should expect something to have which was created in one-tenth of the time that perfumers used to take in creating a single new perfume.
Some of the most prolific houses established in the twenty-first century, Montale, Bond no. 9, Keiko Mecheri, Boadicea the Victorious, to name a few from an ever-expanding group of multi-launchers, now boast perfume lists whose numbers approach the triple-digit mark.
Fine, you may say: what's wrong with that? In order to illustrate the problem here, let us pause to reflect for a moment on what has happened to text in the twenty-first century. In the case of the text explosion occasioned by the advent of the internet, the value of each individual text is diminished by its relative obscurity vis-à-vis all of the rest, and all the more because writers themselves are spending less time on their craft and more on public relations.
I contend that, in the case of perfumery, too, the bloating of the perfume universe with meaningless flankers and the use of social media to increase sales and thereby dictate taste (because most consumers tend to wear what they buy, and once they buy a perfume, they don't need another) has a similar effect.
The veritable explosion of new launches, both mainstream and niche, virtually guarantees that quality will suffer, for perfumers themselves, like writers, are fighting to survive in a world which rewards quick and frequent releases. This means that perfumers, too, are being changed by the need to alter their behavior in response to the demands placed upon them by the capitalized social media.
As perfumes become more and more subjected to the selection processes shaping the market through social media measures, perfumers, too, may find themselves preoccupied more and more with public relations and self-promotion than with the art of perfume. What is worse, it is very difficult to see how this vicious spiral, now well underway, might ever be called to a halt. Perfume houses large and small, mainstream and niche, have heeded the cry “Tweet or die” in their endeavor to survive in the ever-more competitive company-colonized social-media market today.
What appears to have emerged out of all of this chaos is, regrettably, a now fairly well-established Lego perfumery movement, as I have come to label the phenomenon. Lego perfumery involves the piecing together of new perfumes using pre-constructed units or modules, what are, in effect, accord building blocks. Will Lego perfumery prevail in the age of Twitter, and finally render obsolete the painstaking process of composing a classic perfume from scratch over a period of years by an olfactory artist? This is my concern.
So there you have it, my identification and indictment of the primary culprit behind the current crisis in perfumery, which appears to be careering ever more recklessly toward triviality, having yet even to establish itself in the eyes of the masses as a legitimate art in the first place. I rest my case, and call upon you, my fellow fragrant travelers, to illuminate the errors in my argument, if any, as I am unable to discern them myself.
Pray tell: where have I gone astray?