Monday, May 13, 2013

Entry #17: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas

This collage/mosaic of HRH Emperor Oliver was produced using the open source software program AndreaMosaic

Leibniz' Law

For any two things X and Y, X is equivalent to Y 
if and only if every property of X is a property of Y, 
and every property of Y is a property of X.

It might seem on its face that Leibniz' Law is being violated left and right in the age of reformulation. Nina Ricci L'Air du Temps is no longer L'Air du Temps, because the properties of the early and the more recent perfume bearing that same name are not one and the same. The ingredients have changed, in this particular case, a lot.

What's in a name? I discovered through an auto-Google that my given name is shared by several other people in the United States. I was surprised by this, as my name is not Jane Doe, and it seemed hard to believe that my first name would be attached to the same last name in so many other cases. But it was. As a result, multiple entities bearing no resemblance to me share my name.

The same can be said for sherapop, of course. Who is sherapop? Is she the princess of power? Or is she the philosopher of perfume? Or is she the philosopher of power? Or is she the princess of perfume?

All of these examples illustrate nothing really, because no one ever said that the same name could not be attached to two very different things. An interesting example in natural language is the string of letters g-i-f-t. Gift means present or wife or poison, depending on the language, and most people would consider those three to be very different things!

When a perfume company retains the name of a classic perfume for a less expensive or "re-imagined for the modern wearer" reformulation, have they violated Leibniz' Law? Not exactly, but they are banking (literally) on the fact that consumers will assume that the praise enjoyed by the earlier perfume is shared, transitively, as it were, by the newer perfume. 

In fact, the praise only applies or applied to the perfume actually sniffed, and when the two are dramatically different, then speaking of them as the same thing is rather like speaking of the very different people bearing my given name as one and the same, which is absurd. I do not deserve credit or blame for anything done by anyone else bearing my name. 

Names are crude bookkeeping devices, no more and no less, but they can be and are used by marketers to a company's advantage. 


  1. I have a relatively uncommon first name, and a relatively uncommon last name, and it seems unlikely that there would be someone else who wind up with the same two names as first and last name. Turns out, in the US, there are at least 5 others, (and three of them have their own websites). Someone looking for me on Facebook (won't find me there anyways) or elsewhere by using first and last name will find others with my name much more easily than they will find me.

    Five American women having with the same weird first name with the same last name, however, is not a deliberate attempt at deception on any of our parts. I certainly don't use my name in an effort to represent someone entirely different from who I am. (I was named after my mother's dearest friend, whose mother was enamored with Gone With the Wind.) If my full name became widely recognizable, in order to ensure proper representation of myself, I might use my maiden name, or first and middle name, or a made-up Klingon name, or something.

    Just because my name is Scarlett doesn't mean I'm Scarlett Johansson any more than it means I'm Scarlett O'Hara, or Scarlett Epstein. If I say I'm "Scarlett", deliberately intending others to think I'm the actress, the literary heroine, or the anthropologist, I am being deceptive (and delusional).

    That's how I feel about current incarnations of Mitsouko, Sublime, Chanel No. 5, L'air du temps, Shalimar, Bois des Iles, etc...They are deceptive. The liquids disguised by the respected, beloved names are cheap imitations concocted to swindle buyers into paying for the value earned by the famed perfume masterpieces. Buyers wind up with mediocre, assembly-line laundry detergent ingredients calling themselves Vol de Nuit.

    1. Thank you very much, Scarlett, for this incisive assessment of the situation as regards the deceptive use of names for perfumes which bear no or little resemblance to the perfumes whose properties were responsible for the fame of those names! You have definitely highlighted the problem here and the BIG difference between accidentally sharing a name, as each of us does with a handful of people, and the use of name as a crass and deceptive marketing tool.

      Your final paragraph definitely rings true to my experience. The perfumes really are different in such cases, and yet I observe over and over again that the raving continues on in a sort of parroting effect--not unlike the phenomenon you described in your comment on "A Found Review"!

      Brava, Scarlett, and many thanks for your insights!

  2. As much as I'm appalled by companies' using naming games for their reformulated perfumes (or even worse - as incase with Dior's ex-Cherie - reformulated AND a completely different perfume), I do think they do it not so much to deceive those who previously used the same perfume but to "maintain continuity" for all the marketing efforts and built-up brand image. I still think it's an awful practice and would like to make it a law to change the "vintage" of a perfume (a year on the bottle, preferrably two - one for the formula, one for the "bottling") every time formular changes.

    1. Hello, Undina, and thanks for weighing in on this issue.

      Yes, the renaming of Miss Dior Chérie as Miss Dior is bound to go down in history as one of the worst marketing moves ever! It's so egregious, in fact, that I have seriously entertained the possibility that LVMH may have been infiltrated by spies from the competition! ;-)

      You are a bit more charitable than I am (and Scarlett, see above), but I think that I see your point. Their business focus is naturally to benefit from name recognition created by all of the years during which the original was marketed. That's of course also the best explanation for the flanker industry: those slightly renamed perfumes are still going to evoke the images from the original campaigns. Lots of associations going on...

      I do not think that there's any hope of any legislation on these matters because of the peculiarly secretive nature of perfume formulas. Well, they're not intrinsically secret anymore, thanks to gas chromatography, but there seems to be little chance that perfumes will have to include gas chromatographic data on the side of the box, for the same reason that all we get now is "parfum"--the secret ingredient which makes the perfume what it is--or not...

      The work which has been done on the legislative front (following IFRA) has not served perfume lovers well, alas. Given the choice, I'd prefer total anomie to what we're getting now, which seems to be benefiting only big manufacturers of aromachemicals: make it abstract, make it abstract, make it abstract! they gleefully cheer on.


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