Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tom Ford Porn: What does it mean?

While looking for a suitable image to open the lexicon entry on hedonism, I happened upon all sorts of pretty unbelievable things. Did you know, for example, that there are vacation clubs called "Hedonism" and "Hedonism II", where people go to have sex with strangers? Well, it was news to me. 

I also discovered a series of advertisements for Tom Ford Perfumes which I had never seen before. I had seen the Neroli Portofino shot with a naked man and woman pouring, I presume, water on each other from large Neroli Portofino bottles. It must be water, else they would not be laughing, and might even have to undertake a detox program after the photo session, given how strong that fragrance is. The volume which they were splashing around so blissfully in the ad spot could easily have cleared the building. 

I posted the Neroli Portofino ad before in connection with another topic, but here it is again:

Pretty racy, I thought, when I first encountered the image, especially given that the woman is fairly clearly staring at her partner's private parts. Another ad for the same perfume ratchets the excitement up from ogling to direct contact, as though the naked couple were together in bed in the midst of (gasp!) fornication:

A third image for the same perfume features frontal nudity:

To my surprise, however, the Neroli Portofino ad campaign does not hold a candle to some of the others which popped up using Google image search, including this one:

Not sure exactly what this is supposed to mean. Can anyone help me out here? Paper strips used for testing perfumes have been nestled in the woman's behind while Tom Ford, a confirmed homosexual, poses as a creative director assessing the perfumes. The message is quite unclear.

What about this one:

Here we have a more standard advertising technique. The suggestion appears to be that if one wears Tom Ford Cologne, then one will gain access to the treasures hiding behind the bottle in the ad. A version of "panty dropper" logic, it seems. Here a variation on the same theme adds the extra allure of well-oiled skin:

With all of this naked flesh, and the heavy-handed, even panting, juxtaposition of sexual images to bottles, Tom Ford perfume ads start to look verily pornographic!

I use the word pornography with some trepidation, as my own knowledge of the porn world is nearly exhausted by the contents of the film Boogie Nights, which I found utterly fascinating, in part no doubt because it revealed to me a subculture of human society about which I was up until then entirely ignorant.

It's not that I have any principled moral objection to pornography, per se. If it leads men to mistreat women, then I think that is a bad thing, but whether it does or does not is an empirical matter. My real objection to pornography is simpler and less contingent than that. What little I've seen of this genre of self-expression (for lack of a better term) has just struck me as boring or distasteful or stupidand usually all three. 

Pornography seems to be about separating body parts from souls, and in that sense it does not connect with my own experience in any way whatsoever. I've never had a relationship with anyone which was about isolated body parts. Really. As unbelievable as that may sound, it's true. Perhaps that is because for me, people are a package deal: body and soul. Aristotle opined that human beings were "rational animals" or "embodied souls," and I could not agree more.

Pornography is about severing the soul from the body, and dividing even the body up into appendages to be used as sources of pleasure. Say what you will, but isolated body parts are just not very interesting to me. I am merely reporting on a matter of taste here, not taking to task anyone who happens to like porn.

I also dislike boxing. It's true that one of my classmates in high school was rendered an imbecile by sparring without head gear during a practice session, but I disliked the sport even before that happened. I actually cringe during boxing scenes in movies. Raging Bull is the Scorsese film which I've watched the fewest number of times, and I still have not gotten around to the Hilary Swank boxing movie (Million Dollar Baby). Perhaps there is a connection between my aversion to boxing and my dislike of porn? Do I suffer perhaps from anemia?

Probably what I dislike the most about the small amount of pornography I've seenand I confess to never having made it through an entire "work", if that term even appliesis that the acting itself was so egregious that I could not even bring myself to watch the thing. To be honest, I found what I've seen excruciatingly embarrassing for the actors. How could they degrade themselves so horriblynot by having sex on film but by pretending to be actors when they were nothing of the sort! Know thyself. 

Which reminds me: while searching for Tom Ford Pornwhich returns thousands upon thousands of imagessome pornographic shots of Scarlett Johansson popped up as well. I was needless to say taken aback, as she is a real actress, is she not? Coincidentally, Bryan Ross at From Pyrgos opened a recent feature with a photo of and several comments about Scarlett, one of which being that she is the world's least talented actress. I almost left a comment, because I can think of about a hundred worse actresses than her. I am not saying that she's great, but far from the worst. For the record, I disliked Lost in Translation, which I found to be distastefully xenophobic. Japanophobic, to be more precise, and I'll never understand the praise which it garnered (I presume from monolingual anglophone Americans).

Now I am really curious: did Scar Jo (which I learned from Bryan's post is her nickname) do porn before breaking into Hollywood? Or were the porn shots I found photoshopped? Either way, it got me thinking about how easy it would be to fabricate false images of famous people juxtaposed with any- and everything, as in the images of Scarlett with plenty of other people's, let us say, "ample" body parts. Yet another reason to use avatars while roaming about the world wide web...

Add to my avoidance of bad films more generally the fact that I have no interest in watching other people have sexor any other animals for that matterand pornography just ends up being a no-go for me. It's not interesting, and I find it aesthetically repugnant and intellectually insulting. Why would I watch it? I refuse to watch bad movies, and the porn which I've been exposed to involved insipid plots and pathetically bad acting. Those are my queue to leave the theater. I never watch regular movies which are that bad, so why would I watch a porn movie which is even worse, given that I've no desire to watch animals copulatewhether dogs, horses, rabbits, or people?

I know that lots of people enjoy or even love porn, and Tom Ford appears to be one of them. In an interview for Harper's Bazaar in 2011, he indicated that he watches heterosexual porn "all the time". He went even so far as to say that his top bookmarked sites are porn sites:

"I watch straight porn all the time. If I go on my computer, there's a button that can connect me to all the sites I look at most often, and they're all porn—and Porn and antiques!"

Tom is not alone. Cyberporn addiction appears to be quite the internet age phenomenon, impossible in centuries past, but made possible today by the ease with which images can be transmitted from one place to another and accessed with an innocentor not-so-innocentclick of the mouse.

Cyberporn addiction must be real because sometimes when I am in the computer laboratory at the library, I see men in rows ahead of me watching porn, which seems pretty incredibleat a library?but there they are! They tend to be older men, and my guess is that they watch porn at the library so that their wife will not discover their naughty cookies on a shared computer. I gather that they find it less embarrassing for the people in the rows behind them at the library to know that they watch porn than that their family find out. 

When I've seen what I presume to be "porn addicts" watching women masturbating and the like, I wonder again what the appeal of these images is supposed to be. I guess that I don't understand, but I also don't want to, to be perfectly frank. My reason for posting these Tom Ford Porn advertisements is not so that we can all enjoy the images. Nor am I hoping to draw porn traffic to the salon de parfum, which is not even monetized. No, I have ulterior, philosophical motives.

What do the Tom Ford Porn ads really reveal?

On their face, the Tom Ford Porn perfume advertisements suggest that Tom Ford advocates hedonism. Would that be descriptive or normative hedonism? the savvy salon de parfum subscriber is now wondering. In the Harper's Bazaar interview, the provocateur gestured toward descriptive hedonism about himself. But he is a role model of "coolness" the world over, so saying such things could also be advocating that people emulate him and start bookmarking porn sites, too. "If it's good enough for Tom Ford, then it's good enough for me!" we can imagine some of his many adulators explaining to their employer when asked about the suspicious cookies on shared corporate computers.

One interesting facet of philosophical hedonism is that it does not distinguish pleasure by species. Any sentient creature is capable of pleasure and vulnerable to pain. In an ethical framework such as utilitarianism, if utility is defined as net pleasure, then all sentient creatures should be taken into account in the final equation. That means that cats, dogs, cows, horses, pigs and, yes, rabbits, should be considered in deciding how to act.

Why is this relevant to Tom Ford Porn? you may not without reason be wondering. And the answer is because it just so happens that the house of Tom Ford is on the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) list of companies which test their products on animals. This is not a result of the fact that Tom Ford is one of the Estée Lauder group companies. Aveda is too, yet they bear the benevolent "Beauty without Bunnies" badge.

If Tom Ford is a philosophical hedonist who advocates maximizing the pleasure of the greatest number, then he owes us an explanation of why his company is injecting chemicals into animals and causing them to suffer so that other animals can spray on the products and hopefully snag some of the hot coochie which his ads promise awaits the wearer of Tom Ford Cologne.

Perhaps I am giving Tom Ford too much credit here. Perhaps he is not a philosophical hedonist at all. Perhaps he is just a money-grubbing guy out to make big bucks. His ads then reveal not what he himself thinks but what heor his marketing teamthinks that his potential customers think. He obviously does not use soft porn images for no reason. He thinks that sex sells perfume. One surmises that his marketing data bears this out, which is why he has put out so many such ads. He probably knows that not everyone will be seduced by his not-so-subliminal suggestions, but the ads are undoubtedly carefully placed in magazines whose readers generally share Tom Ford's fondness of pornography.

I have never seen any of the above advertisements in any of the magazines familiar to me. So the Tom Ford company has done a good job of placing the ads where they will be seen by people who are likely to view them favorably. Those of us who are not titillated by the juxtaposition of naked bodies and perfume bottles are probably better off not seeing the adsor any ads whatsoever. 

I own two bottles of Tom Ford perfume: Black Orchid and Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, but they were purchased not because of but in ignorance of the advertising strategies of the house of Tom Ford. The exclusive private collection is this house's effort to appeal to the sophisticated niche consumer and seems to be yet another savvy business tack. 

What Tom Ford Porn reveals is not what Tom Ford thinks, but that his company's marketing data suggest that a fair number of perfume users are hedonists of the sort who use perfume functionally, to achieve other forms of pleasure, above all, sex.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Entry #15: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas

Hedonism, Hedonist, Hedonistic

Western civilization has not been kind to the word hedonist, which as a result of the influence of ascetic religions connotes sinner before all other meanings. In philosophical circles, however, the term is much more neutral and has two distinguishable forms: descriptive and normative or prescriptive hedonism.

Descriptive hedonism is a theory according to which the ultimate reason why we human beings do anything, at the end of the day, is for the pleasure which we will derive or expect to derive from doing it. This form of hedonism is incapable of empirical refutation, for it essentially defines us as pleasure seekers and explains away all possible counter examples by reinterpreting the apparently non-hedonistic behavior in terms of pleasure. People who regard human beings as essentially animals, no more and no less, may find descriptive hedonism quite plausible. Others may find it demeaning. Given that it's a metaphysical theory, no one can demonstrate it to be true or prove it to be false by empirical means.

Consider the mother who toils away for her children, sacrificing all that she might have been and done for their sake. Or how about the soldier who courageously fights for his country and dies in the process? Are these not examples of virtuous self-sacrifice, of forgoing one's own pleasure in order to help other people? 

Not according to the philosophical hedonist, who is determined to interpret everything in terms of pleasure. The mother acts as she does because she derives pleasure from seeing her children thrive as a result of her apparent sacrifice. The soldier agrees to fight because he enjoys the idea of being thought of as a hero. Construed in this way, descriptive hedonism is closely related to psychological egoism: ultimately we do what we do for ourselves. Apparent acts of altruism are really only apparent. 

Normative or prescriptive hedonism denies that everyone acts according to the pleasure principle. However, the normative version of hedonism exhorts people to do so and deems them irrational when they fail to do so. Carpe diem could be interpreted as a version of normative hedonism, and it may seem to follow logically from a recognition of our mortality. Of course, carpe diem can also be interpreted in other ways (see existentialism...).

The term hedonism has come up in a few different discussions at the salon de parfum, especially in considering why we perfume ourselves. Why, after all, do we perfume ourselves? It may seem initially as though there are different reasons, but they all may come back, one way or the other, to pleasure, in the end. Either we ourselves enjoy wearing perfume, or we enjoy the reactions we get from other people when we wear perfume. Those reactions can range from compliments to varieties of, as they say in some fragrance community website forums, "panty-dropper" behavior.

Some people may also appreciate the feeling of prestige which they derive from being niche snobs or from developing a discriminating nose. Those would be further possible sources of pleasure, would they not? What about perfume as art appreciation? Do we like and wear perfume because it is art? Or do we wish to describe our olfactory pleasure as akin to art appreciation because it makes us feel sophisticated? 

I do not subscribe to the general theories of hedonism explained above, but it seems pretty clear to me that the vast majority of perfume consumers are hedonistic, at least when it comes to their perfume. Either they wear it because of the direct sensory pleasure which they derive from the olfactory experience itself, or else they do so in anticipation of other pleasures which they will derive from the reactions they get or hope to get when they wear perfume. In this sense, perfume use appears to be essentially hedonisticcertainly our early encounters with perfume areand attempts to elevate perfume to something "loftier" than a source of pleasure may be attempts to elevate the wearer to nobler plane.

Whatever we may say in our evaluations of a perfumeabout its notes, its development, its longevity, and sillageour final judgment of its value always seems to come down to whether we enjoy wearing the perfume. Sometimes in criticizing a new perfume a reviewer will write something to the effect that 

Perfume should smell good.

This precept is prescriptive, and it appears to advocate hedonism, at least as regards perfume use. 

What do you think about perfume use, my fragrant friends? Is it intrinsically hedonistic? Or should it be? Would you say that your own perfume use is hedonistic or not?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Entry #14: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas

Solipsism, Solipsist, Solipsistic

Have you ever awoken from an incredibly complex dream filled with characters some of whom you have never met in reality? Perhaps the phone rang, and suddenly the narrative came to an end before you were forced to contend with a seemingly insurmountable challenge. You may have been relieved to discover that it was only a dream.

Now imagine if you did not wake up, but the dream continued on and on, all produced by your own mind, but unbeknownst to you. Your world would be that of a solipsist. You'd be all alone! In some ways, solipsism represents the farthest reach of skepticism: doubt about the existence of other minds such as your own or, if you like: subjects of consciousness.

I've never heard anyone but philosophers use the term solipsism, most likely because it's a fairly crazy idea. Can you conceive of being the only real mind in existence? It's difficult to do, but philosophers love to discuss the so-called "problem of other minds," which puts the burden of proof squarely on the conscious subject who believes in the existence of other minds, not vice versa

How do you know that I, sherapop, really exist? How do you know that I am not a figment of your imagination? Perhaps you are an evil genius creating in some corner of your mind the entire salon de parfumtexts and comments alike! You might object that since you did not know the word solipsism until today, you could not have produced the text in which it appeared. However, the same thing happens in your dream, as its plot unfolds, you have no idea what is going to happen next, despite the fact that the dream is clearly created by your very own brain! Is it not?

It might not seem that solipsism has much bearing on perfume or perfumery, but I used the word here at the salon a while back in diagnosing the problem which I found with the idea of appropriating the jargon of visual art theory for talking about perfume. Since art theorists don't seem to know much about perfume, and perfumistas don't usually know all that much about art theory and history, how can they have a conversation using that language? If someone decides to theorize about perfume in this way, then it seems that he will end up talking to himself. No one can participate in a meaningful dialogue, because no one else will have any idea what he is talking about. It would be like being all alone. Hence, my use of the term solipsism

Another possible application of this term might be in cases where people simply emote short and strong praise or denunciation of a perfume in their review. We were discussing this problem in the comments a couple of days ago: how does emitting solely the words "I hate it" communicate any meaningful information or knowledge to anyone but the speaker himself? It gives no context or reasons or explanation or even a clue as to why the reviewer hates the perfume. Perhaps the perfume contains patchouli, which the reviewer happens to hate. Or perhaps the perfume does not contain patchouli, which the reviewer happens to love and feels should be there. 

It seems to me that simply emoting love or hatred is a somewhat solipsistic form of reviewing, since it does not reach out to readers to communicate the basis of the love or the hatred. I don't really believe that "solipsistic reviewers" are solipsists, but they might be like small children who believe that the world is exhausted by the limits of what they know and can see. Of course, there is no need to communicate with other people, if they do not even exist, but then why do such reviewers bother to write at all? Perhaps it is a way of expressing their emotions, no more and no less.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Entry #13: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas


Many people lead their lives for other people or in accordance with what they believe to be the dictates of their religion. Existentialism challenges us to face up to our own responsibility in making of ourselves what we become and in living in accordance with our own selected or created values. I was reminded of existentialism by a couple of comments on a recent post relating to why we write perfume reviews. 

The thinkers most associated with existentialism have been Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, in the nineteenth century; and Jean-Paul Sartre in the twentieth century. All three had very different takes on the idea, which makes sense, given their views about our subjective role in determining what to do and why.

Kierkegaard was a Christian, but he was not fond of religion in its politicized form. One of his famous mottos is "Truth is subjectivity," an idea which fits right in with our recent discussion of whether there are objective truths in perfume reviewing. In one of his insightful comments, Andrew Buck likened perfume reviewing to a "subjective science," and in that sense it is similar to Kierkegaard's own understanding of man's relationship with God. Perfume experience appears to be equally subjective and must, of necessity, vary from one person to the next.

Nietzsche famously announced "the death of God," by which he appears to have meant that God had ceased to provide man with a value structure anymore. Sure, plenty of people call themselves religious, but the reality of the lives which they lead need not necessarily reflect their alleged beliefs. Consider the case of Catholic mafia members who go to confession after whacking some poor soul. Nietzsche may have meant something like this, that there is a schism between what people say when they mouth words such as "I am a Christian," and then what they do. Another example might be self-proclaimed "Christians" in the twenty-first century who visit YouTube to watch what has regrettably come to be known as "war porn." Are you a Christian? Really? 

Nietzsche also famously denied that morality is absolute. He offered a complex genealogy of the origin of moral concepts, and he appears to have felt that people are driven ultimately by a "will to power". We can convince people to do what we want by imposing our values on them, by getting them to agree with us. Nietzsche wrote thousands upon thousands of fascinating pages of texts, all of which are multiply interpretable, so it's misleading to suggest that he had some sort of "theory". What tends to happen when scholars read Nietzsche is that they find their own ideas in his texts, and then of course they praise him as brilliant! 

People occasionally blame the abysmal behavior of some people at certain points in history on Nietzsche. This seems to me to be a mistake, according to the very basis of existentialism itself. No one forces anyone to interpret the words of Nietzsche in one way or another. We bring our values to bear on the text and decide or choose (whether consciously or not) to find certain meanings in his words.

Sartre added his own distinctive embellishments to the concern with subjectivity expressed by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche before him. One of his most famous ideas is that we are responsible for what we are, and what we do, and who we become. There are no excuses for Sartre. We are free to act or not to act, and to choose not to choose is already to choose. Freedom is the condition of humanity, and this freedom imposes burdens. We must decide what to do with our life. We make of ourselves what we become, for better or for worse. Only we can decide for ourselves. Even if we think that we are following a religion or the guidance of another person, we are choosing to do so, and therefore bear full responsibility for our actions. People who attempt to shirk responsibility suffer from mauvaise foi or bad faith, in Sartre's view.

Which brings us back to the question of why we do what we do, and why in particular some of us write perfume reviews. The existentialists would deny that we must write reviews to please other people or to promote certain perfumes and demote others. No, the answer to the question why we write reviews is just as subjective as is the content of the reviews. Perfume reviews serve the purposes of readers when they interpet them in certain ways. But those purposes are determined by the readers no less than the act of penning a review reflects the writer's values and beliefs.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Entry #12: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas

Phenomenology, Phenomenological

After epistemology, phenomenology may be one of the most reviled philosophical terms. My distinct impression is that people dislike the word phenomenological as well. Why? Because nearly every time I use it, I am advised by someone or other not to. 

Most people know that the plural of phenomenon is phenomena. but when one uses the word phenomenological, eyes are likely to glaze over. It seems to be rather like saying (**^&^#^%#$@%$@%$@%$@%$@%! As in the case of utilitarianism, a fairly ordinary term, phenomenon, has been appropriated and modified by philosophers (especially Husserl, but Hegel, too, used phenomenology in an idiosyncratic way) to refer to a specific approach to knowledge. I used this word in a comment on the previous entry, so I figured that I'd better define it. 

Phenomenon in the vernacular means more or less the same as thing, with a connotation of being special in one way or another. Maybe that's how the word phenomenal came to mean something like extraordinary.

The term phenomenology refers to the examination of direct experience, the data as they present themselves to one's senses, without any knowledge of the objects which generate the data. Imagine looking at a book, without knowing that it's a book. It's just an object with a parallelopiped structure from various angles. How do you process this image? What can you learn from the direct experience of the image before your eyes?

In an upcoming post, I intend to give a better idea of what phenomenology is, but for the purposes of this entry, I'd simply like to observe that perfume would seem to offer a splendid opportunityin fact, idealfor phenomenological analysis, particularly when one samples blind, without knowledge of the house, the nose, the notes, or anything "external", which a phenomenologist would say should be "bracketed". 

If we can experience a perfume as a thing in itself, the manner in which we describe it will still, invariably, relate back to our idiosyncratic history (what we have experienced before), including our knowledge of other perfumes. If perfume is one of the best candidates for phenomenological analysis, yet even it poses problemscan you really smell aldehydes without thinking of Chanel  no 5?this may signal that the project of phenomenology is doomed. Or perhaps it is just a bit too ambitious. Perhaps we can still learn from attempting phenomenological analysis of experience, even if it may not be possible to fully "bracket" all of our background knowledge.

Can you describe a perfume in terms of pure experience? Or must it always be mediated by a bunch of other theories, including knowledge of other perfumes? 

What say you, my fragrant friends?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Entry #11: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas

Utility, Utilitarian, Utilitarianism

These words all relate in the vernacular to use. In everyday conversation, utility just means usefulness. Somewhat confusingly, these simple terms were appropriated by two nineteenth-century philosophers, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, for a specific normative ethical theory, which they called Utilitarianism.

According to utilitarianism, the right action is the one which maximizes the utility of the greatest number of people, where utility is understood to mean either happiness or pleasure, and those terms are generally not taken to coincide. Some utilitarians advocate pure hedonism, with pleasure being the ultimate measure of any- and everything. J.S. Mill felt that there were "higher" and "lower" pleasures, and that higher pleasures (intellectual endeavors) were more valuable than what might be termed the "animal" pleasures. However one decides to understand utility, the idea is simple enough and is expressed by the principle of utility:

Always act so as to maximize the net outcome for all relevant persons taken together as a group.  

I've been thinking about utilitarianism today as I sit at home in "lock-down" with my fellow Bostonians while law enforcement officers conduct a manhunt for the missing suspect in the case of the bombing perpetrated during the marathon on Monday. The people interviewed today (friends, family, and former teachers of the suspects) make it sound as though these two brothers would never do anything so heinous, but someone obviously did, so we'll have to see how the evidence stacks up. I've no doubt that the suspects sought in this case can be demonstrated to be guilty, if indeed they are guilty. Now that one of them is dead, I certainly hope that they were the culprits, and not someone else. 

Here is a famous thought experiment discussed whenever the philosophical theory of utilitarianism is introduced. It illustrates the distinctive properties of this particular approach to morality and goes basically like this:

Imagine that a vicious killer is at large, and the people of a city have been crying out in outrage for days. The mayor wishes to quell the riots erupting all over the place, and with them the deaths which may be caused by the angry crowd. He therefore selects some poor schmuck to serve as a patsy. Evidence is marshaled, and the suspect is put on display. The public expels a collective sigh of relief. 
Those calling for the murderer's head have now been appeased, and the riotous crowds have dispersed. The city returns to its normal business, though the real killer has not been apprehended, but the mayor has acted in this way so as to maximize the happiness of the greatest number of people. 
During the period when they believed that the killer roamed at large, the citizens were unable to sleep at night or get anything done, filled with anxiety as they were that they might be the next in line to become his victim. Once someone was fingered for the crimes, everyone settled down, and the only person who suffered as a result of the mayor's decision was the innocent person framed.

The test for your own assessment of utilitarianism is how you react to this sort of scenario. Another similar example involves torturing one person to save many more. These sorts of awful dilemmas have unfortunately arisen in history, particularly under repressive regimes when, out of fear for their own lives, people have agreed to do what they would not otherwise have done. 

The thought experiments are not personalized and so are intended to allow people to reflect upon whether they find utilitarianism to be intuitively sound. Obviously, human rights are not intrinsic to this moral outlook. Human rights are valuable to a utilitarian only insofar as they may maximize the happiness of the greatest number. 

Perfume Applications

How does this approach to morality apply specifically to the case of perfume? I think that there are several ethical dilemmas which may raise the question of the validity of utilitarianism.

  • Some people maintain that animal testing of cosmetics (including perfume) is justified, because it maximizes the happiness of the greatest number at the expense of a few (the animals experimented on).

  • The people who produce fake perfumes and fob them off to unsuspecting consumers may believe that they are doing the right thing because most people cannot tell the difference anyway, and they are able to purchase the fakes at a significant discount. (I'm not saying that they actually reason this way, but it is a possible rationalization for what they do, and it may well allow some of them to sleep better at night...)

  • Similarly, perfume companies may lie about whether they have reformulated their perfumes (or the extent to which they have) under the assumption that most people will never know anyway, so the net outcome is better, all things considered.

  • In our wearing of perfume, we may think about the people likely to be around us when we select our scent of the day. Going to the library, for example, I am unlikely to choose a perfume with huge sillage because I do not want to offend other people, and I especially do not want to bother people with allergies. Sure I might prefer to wear something louder that day, but I will be in a public place, so I reason that the net consequences will be better if I sacrifice my own pleasure in order to accommodate those who may not agree with my perfume choice.

What about you, my fragrant friends, can you think of other utilitarian examples applicable to the case of perfume?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is this Creed a Fake? An essay in applied epistemology

A while back, I purchased a couple of Creed perfumes from an online discount emporium. I knew that they had a liberal return policy, so in the event that I received fakes, I'd be able to return them for a full refund. I had bought Creeds from discounters in the past with extraordinarily good luck. I base this claim on the fact that I tested nearly the entire set of Creed perfumes about three years ago using house-prepared vials provided by an officially authorized Creed dealer. I wrote reviews at that time, and so when my experience matched my reviews, and the perfumes also proved to have excellent longevity and smell natural, I was confident that they were authentic. Needless to say, I was delighted in those cases to have saved a wad of cash by taking a chance on acquiring those bottles from unauthorized dealers.

 Note the peridot green color!

This more recent time, however, I may not have been so lucky. I spoke with a woman at Creed headquarters at length regarding the purchase, as I had also in the past about various issues regarding their distribution and the problem of fakes. Creed is extremely helpful and understanding about this problem and they go out of their way to take the time to talk to consumers of their perfumeswhether or not they are customers of the boutique itself. 

The people at Creed know very well that many of us who wish to own Creed perfumes would also love to be able to save $100 or even $200 a bottle, if possible. But is it possible in a world rife with Creed fakes? that is the question, my fragrant friends. Of course, many consumers believe that genuine Creeds can be had for significantly less than MSRP, as evidenced by the amazing fact that, despite countless "Creed fake" threads at Dnotes, all of which relay basically the same story over and over again, people continue to acquire Creed bottles from e-bay. 

As a matter of fact, even the Creed staff avers that it is possible to obtain genuine Creed perfumes from unauthorized dealers. The problem, they are swift to warn, is that there is no guarantee, as there is when one purchases from an officially authorized Creed dealer. One way for real Creed perfumes to show up at discounters is when an authorized dealer closes up shop for one reason or another (usually going out of business), and they sell off their entire stock in one big lot. 

The structure of the cap and spray mechanism appear to be genuine

The problem, of course, is that discounters obtain bottles by any and all other means as well, and this means that it's always a gamble. Discounters, too, hope to peddle only genuine wares, but because there is not a direct and documentable path from the provider back to the producer of the perfumes, there is no way to prevent fakes being slipped into the system now and then. For most perfumes, this is not a problem, since no one would bother to invest the time and energy needed to produce a plausible fake because it would not be profitable enough. Only for expensive perfumes such as Creed does this make the enterprise worth the criminal's effort and guile. 

The lot numbers engraved on the bottle and printed on the box match

The good news is that, unlike ebay peddlers, discounters tend not to be fly-by-night ventures but reputable businesses working hard to build and maintain a loyal clientele. This is why when customers are dissatisfied, the store permits them to return the merchandise, and the store even pays the postage for the return, provided that there is a legitimate reason for the disgruntled consumers' concern.

I believe that I may have received a fake bottle of Tabarome, which for that reason I returned (once a good friend of mine had taken these photos for me). What is the evidence? skeptical minds are already asking. What are the key signs of a fake Creed? Having looked into this matter a few times before, I am familiar with the tell-tale signs of egregious fakes, and many of them are missing in this case. Here is what is as it should be:

1. There are no misspellings of the text on either the box or the folio. 

2. The cardboard of the box has the raised impressions with the Creed logo. 

3. The lot number etched in the bottom edge of the glass matches the lot number on the label affixed to the bottom of the box. 

4. The inner sprayer is made of white plastic and is a separate piece from the outer sprayer. 

5. The cap has a separate inner plastic insert, and the crown insignia is on a separate piece from the rest of the outer cap.

6. The white calling card included in the box appears to be genuine, as it is empirically indistinguishable from the ones included with bottles which I am confident contain authentic Creed perfume.

Folio and Calling Card included in the box

So far, so good. Unfortunately, there are a few outstanding problems. If this bottle is a fake, it is not an egregious one, but is it a fake after all?

Let us list the evidence, and then consider the various explanations for the evidence. Are there other ways to explain what I identified as disparities? I found problems with each of these:

1. The scent 

2. The color of the liquid

3. The box top

4. The folio

5. The front of the box

6. The marbled quality of the plastic inner layer of the cap.

The Scent

The moment I sprayed on the liquid from this bottle, the first word which came out of my mouth was: aromachemicals. The scent smacked decidedly of the current craze among both designer and niche perfumers for the use of some combination of iso-E-super and ambroxan and what-not, and I do not like it at all. Would I want to wear this perfume? In a word: No.

Why in the world did she buy it? inquiring minds are now pondering. The answer is found in the review which I penned at Fragrantica on May 7, 2010:

I am beginning to wonder whether I might have been a chain smoker in a past life, as I find myself delighted by every fragrance in which tobacco plays a central role, and especially in savory presentations. Part of my excitement may be due to the relative dearth of the tobacco note in women's perfume, and especially outside gourmand territory. 
Creed TABAROME is a delectable tobacco composition with no sweetness, no ashiness, and no dirtiness. This is not the smell of cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. TABAROME is clean, wet, green, freshly harvested piles of tobacco leaves, beautifully framed by a few gentle aromatics. Fresh tea leaves are present as well, along with sandalwood, vetiver and musk, serving to anchor the composition and impart good longevity and medium sillage. 
I do not believe that TABAROME is suited only for men, nor that this is an "old school", "landed gentry" frag. I find this sumptuous in the way in which so many patchouli perfumes are--the clean ones, not the dark, dirty ones.  
Perhaps tobacco land owners should abandon their doomed projects to create new smokers and instead divert their energies, resources and time to the perfume industry. I honestly believe that now that patchouli has achieved market saturation, tobacco could be the new patchouli...
Highly recommended. On my wish list, too!

So there you have it. Why I boughtor tried to buya bottle of Tabarome. My experience of the liquid in the bottle in question unfortunately bore no relation to the experience relayed in the above review. 

Now, there are several possible explanations for the disparity. Perhaps in my first encounter with Creed Tabarome I was succumbing to the power of suggestion. Perhaps I imagined the scent of tobacco in my original testing of a house-sourced vial. But why, then, would I not similarly conjure up the scent of tobacco in this instance as well? I suppose that it is possible that I was already skeptical, having purchased the bottle from a discounter. 

What if this creation has been reformulated? Perhaps I smelled another scent because the name Tabarome is now being attached to a different perfume. Or perhaps the disparity can be explained by the natural variations in natural ingredients, often cited in explaining inconsistencies especially in different batches of perfumes built from natural materials. 

The problem with that explanation is that the substance in this bottle of Tabarome did not smell natural to me at all. I smelled none of the wonderful notes of what I believed earlier to have been Tabarome. I smelled aromachemicals. Is it possible that in the interim I developed a hypersensitivity to aromachemicals having encountered them in some many perfumes of late? Perhaps I did not smell the ginger and the tobacco and the other notes in this batch of Tabarome because my nose was distracted by the aromachemicals which perhaps were being used now in place of some of the former materials.

Could the disparity be explained by a change in taste? I do not believe so, because I detected none of the notes present in the earlier testing. Before, I was able easily to identify the tobacco note. It's not that I detected tobacco in this batch and did not like it. No, I did not detect it at all!

The Color

Am I imagining this, or is this the only bottle of Tabarome pictured on the entire World Wide Web which is peridot green? I've googled and googled, and looked at everyone's images, and the liquid in only this bottle is a wacky hue of green! What can this mean? Could this radical difference in color be explained by a particularly verdant crop of tobacco? Needless to say, I'm skeptical, given that I smelled no tobacco but only aromachemicals here.

The Box top

Every single box of Creed which I own and have ever seen uses all caps for the text on the box top. This one uses lower case. Was this due to a deviant designer who happened to be working at the time of the production of the box housing this particular bottle of "Tabarome"? Are there other boxes around with lower-case text, and I simply have never encountered them? If I owned more Creed perfumes, would I encounter this variant again? Can anyone out there speak to this question? Have you a box with lower-case writing on the top? If so, are you sure that yours is authentic Creed? How is it that you know?

Only one of these boxes (in the lower left-hand quadrant)
uses lower case for the list of historical figures who wore Creed perfume.
The other boxes all use all caps 

The Folio

The informational folio included with all of my other Creed perfumes has four pages, in multiple languages. This one? A single page in English, with no text on the backside and no other languages. 

Page 1 of two different folios: the one on the left is only in English;
the one on the right offers the text in English, French, Italian, and German 
on the subsequent pages (missing from the dubious Tabarome folio)

Page 2 of the dubious Tabarome folio; Page 2-3 of an authentic Creed folio

There is no text on the backside (page 2) of the dubious Tabarome folio;
there is text on the backside (page 4) of the authentic Creed folio

I do not believe that the severely abridged folio alone proves that the Tabarome is fake. But it requires some imagination to explain why the text is only the first page of the four-page authentic folio. Could it be a printer error? Books are sometimes printed with pages in the wrong order or missing pages, or even with the pages of a completely different book interpolated. Could something bizarre like that have happened here? Is it plausible that a fake-Creed producer would make this sort of mistake, when it seems one of the easiest parts of the production to mimic?

The Front of the Box

The issues which I found on the front of the box are subtle, but perhaps important. First, the word père appears to be split in two, as though the person setting the text did not know French and so thought that there were two words: and re.

père  or  and re ???

The second issue is the missing next to 120ml. This is present on all of my other boxes. However, there is a possible problem. This Tabarome was the only 120ml bottle box ever in my possession. Could it be that the 120ml bottle box does not have that symbol for a reason? I am skeptical, especially because my 250ml bottle of Jasmin Impératrice Eugénie (which is undeniably authentic) does display that symbol next to the volume. 

a suspiciously missing e

Again, the possibilities proliferate. Could this, too, have been a printer's error on a specific lot of boxes? The raised insignia looks perfectly in order. The cardboard is clearly the same. Even the silver ink matches. Could these variations be the work of an incompetent typesetter, perhaps?

The Inner Cap

The inner cap is a separate piece from the outer cap, which seems genuine because the crown insignia is also separate. However, there is a problem:  the inner cap exhibits a marbled quality absent from every other Creed cap I've seen. 

Is this marbled quality common in Creed caps?
Have I just happened on homogeneous plastic in my experience with genuine Creeds in the past? 

This, too, could be some sort of fluke. Or perhaps I simply have not looked at a wide enough range of Creed caps. Or perhaps, again, there are significant differences in the case of 120ml bottles. But wait: aren't the caps the very same size???? Needless to say, I am confused.

Is this a fake? Who knows? Does it even matter? I only knew in this case what I needed to know: that I did not like this perfume and would not use 120 mls of it in even 120 years.


Perhaps all of the deviations can be explained somehow. Perhaps the dubious Tabarome was a real Creed perfume. But it is also quite possible that the perfume in the bottle was not  genuine Creed perfume. I've read many, many dismissive reviews of Tabarome. Does this mean that the perfume itself is bad? Or that fakes such as mine are rife? I suspect that the latter is the best explanation of the poor (sometimes scathing) reviews, given that there is a handful of glowing reviews brim with praise. My suspicion is that the bottle I returned is now in the hands of some other perfumista who purchased it in the hope of receiving a genuine Creed for a fraction of MSRP. It is even possible that a decanter acquired this or another bottle like it, and by divvying it up into tiny (grossly overpriced) samples, has sown falsehood and deception far and wide.

Now I'd like to open up the floor. Come forth Creed fans and foes! Share your Creed fake stories. If you are a Creed detractor, ask yourself whether you can trace the source of your juice back to the Creed boutique or headquarters. If not, I need to know whether you believe that there is some reason why you, too, might not have been testing a bogus dupe when you took Creed to task for producing a "boring, synthetic, derivative, and overpriced excuse for a niche perfume." 

It's time to come clean, my friends. Please share your epistemological trials and tribulations. Or explain why you should be free from the above sorts of concerns.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Entry #10: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas


Empirical testing cannot adjudicate disputes when it comes to values. Let's take a case involving morality. You cannot argue a sociopath into believing that what he does is wrong, and you cannot show him anything in the world which proves that he should not do what he does. He feels no compunction whatsoever and will be deterred from acting however he wishes only by the law, specifically, the threat of punishment. He will carefully conceal his activities so as not to get caught, but the reason why he wants not to get caught is emphatically not because he cares what other people think. No, he simply wishes to retain his liberty to continue to do whatever he wants to do while "passing" as a normal person, as though he were moved by moral sentiment, within civil society.

One solution to the problem of disputes in matters of value more generallyboth moral and aestheticis simply to deny that claims about value are anything more than the expression of the speaker's emotions. This is the gist of the theory of value known as emotivism, which offers a straightforward and simple way of understanding what people are doing when they argue about values or morality or aestheticsor anything insusceptible of empirical testing.

Yes, we can observe a painting, and we can smell the scent of a perfume. But can we perceive that either of these are great works of art? No, the emotivist will insist. That sort of talk is a bunch of balderdash. Disputes in morality and in aesthetics are really much more about the disputants' reception of the objects than about the objects ostensibly under discussion. The speaker's attitude can be positive or negative. In this view, ranting about a perfume is akin to throwing a temper tantrum, no more and no less than a way of venting emotions. 

This perspective can make some sense of the otherwise difficult to comprehend tirades by people who seem to harbor a visceral hatred of the house of Creed. I've seen similar behavior toward Bond no 9 as well, and the question becomes: why should anyone care so much about these houses? No one is forcing them to buy, and if anyone finds the price incommensurate with the value of the perfume, then they are perfectly free to walk right on by. 

Instead, people often become highly emotional in denouncing especially Creed, blinded to the likelihood, given the large number of fakes circulating about, that the "swill" which they have sniffed wasn't Creed at all. The emotivist will reply that such strong emotional reactions betray the speaker's own peculiar issues. Maybe they'd be happier with a higher salary? Or less debt?

My distinct impression is that many perfumistas accept something like emotivism when it comes to perfume appreciation in venues such as the fragrance community websites. The tried and true adage one perfumista's treasure is another perfumista's trash leaps to mind once again. The entire enterprise of swapping relies on the fact that people disagree about the value of perfumes. Are some of them right and others wrong? The emotivist will say "No." There is no "truth" of the matter, in the way in which there is truth in matters of science.

Either the earth is flat, or it is not. It's not a matter of anyone's personal feelings about the question. Either a perfume has or has not been reformulated. If so, then it contains different ingredients or different proportions than it did at the time of its launch. That sort of question about a perfume can be answered through a procedure. Take a sample of the earlier perfume and a sample from a bottle produced later and have them analyzed using gas chromatography. You will find that either the graphs match, or they do not. If they do not match, then the perfume's composition has changed, regardless of the fact that it has kept the same name.

Yes, there are matters of fact when it comes to perfume: all of the facts which are amenable to scientific testing, according to the emotivist. What the emotivist denies is that someone's proclamation that a perfume is "one of the top ten of all time" means anything more than that the speaker loves the perfume.

We have seen this again and again in the perfume world, all over the place. In perfume reviews people may wax poetic about the ostensible object of their review, but in the end they tell us much more about themselves than they do about the perfume.

Emotivism may of course be false. It is a theory, after alland a nonempirical one at that! Maybe there are value-laden facts about perfume. But if so, why do people not agree about what those facts are? Some people love Thierry Mugler Angel and Christian Dior Poison. Others find them abhorrent. What principles can be applied to adjudicate such disputes? To counter the emotivist's skeptical denial that value judgments are a matter of objective fact, one must come up with some way of resolving the disputes about value which arise among equally informed, equally intelligent people equipped with equally sensitive noses. 

People who wish to claim that their personal judgments about perfumes are authoritative, somehow more reliable or accurate than those of others, need to produce some basis for this claim. What is it about them that makes them uniquely qualified to judge the quality of perfumes? Or are such people merely projecting their tastes in perfume upon the world? That is the question, my fragrant friends.