Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who is questioning the Guide?

No fragrance company has taken an official stance on "Perfumes The Guide" yet. Nevertheless, at least a handful have personally contacted me with questions on what was mentioned about their products following my review of the new guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. Therefore I am deducing that it's still early and developments will follow. Hopefully those will be for the greater good of the dedicated perfume lover and not to the detriment of free expression and critique.

However upon perusing perfume boards and especially those who are not as simpatico to Luca as Perfume of Life is, such as the huge fragrance board of Makeupalley and the populous forum of Basenotes, I came across this scathing questioning which provided pause for thought.

Upon discussing the authors' opinions on current Caron perfumes, someone asked just what exactly happened to Caron to which this is the reply.

"They don't go into many details {about reformulations}. They just say that everything has been given a "soapy rose drydown" and is now thin and wan.
Both assertions are untrue.
And last week I tested four new Carons on my skin and let them dry down for hours. Not a trace of "soapy rose"!
Yep, and they claim that it's happened very recently (within the last year). Well, last week I went to the boutique in New York myself and compared the current perfumes with some older (1-3 years old) samples and decants that I have.
There was no difference. They haven't been "ruined" at all. It's a lie".
~posted by MizLiz211 (an avid Caron collector) on 4/15/2008 12:02PM on MUA

The criticism of Richard Fraysse's work on the Carons is worth pondering on, especially in light of Turin's raves on the recent reformulation of Mitsouko by Edouard Flechier for Guerlain; a reformulation which had most of the perfume lovers up at arms about it ruining the iconic chypre by seriously reducing the oakmoss base due to restrictions on the material's use by IFRA and the EU.

Hot on the heels of the above quote, comes this one, which I think applies to much more on the Net than the issue at hand (but let's not digress):

"An opportunity to rant: Have you noticed how often in LT's writing it turns out that something you will never be able to sniff (Nombre Noir, original Whatever) is the VERY BEST, transcendent, fabulous, and what you can buy now is SWILL?
Perhaps this is in fact true. Perhaps everything gets ruined.

But also perhaps:

1. Memory is faulty, even LT's memory.
2. Some things do get improved.

And isn't it convenient that I, the reader, cannot sniff LT's comparison for myself and therefore judge whether he has rocks in his head or not?
I think LT is a very very gifted writer -- I wish I could write as well. I'm thrilled that perfumes are being given the attention they deserve - if people are going to make money assessing wines, why not perfumes?

But the only sort of guide I'm interested in right now is something that would tell me what to buy now that Violette Precieuse has been changed. (Worsened? Depends on what you like. It happens to not have been changed in a direction I want to wear. But is it worse? Dunno.)"
~posted by Sarasotagirl (herself a book critic and journalist) on 4/15/2008 11:44AM on MUA

These are some serious doubts and they are stated by respected members of the fragrance board on Makeupalley, a place which Tania Sanchez credits as an infinite source of fragrance education.
It would be really enlightening and useful if the authors chimed in to clarify and reply to them and I am giving them the opportunity here, if they wish to pursuit it.

To be fair and striving for impartiality, as is customary to Perfume Shrine, I have to point out that in this truly Titan task they undertook, they reviewed almost 1500fragrances. Doing the math and supposing it would suffice if they didn't try them all out on both their skins, that's 700 each in less than 1.5 year! Some relative haste had to be in action if only to be professionally on time for the deadlines of the editor.
Furthermore, someone could question the memory of any individual ~and certainly in some cases it transpires through the writing that not all different concentrations of certain perfumes had been put to the test, such as was the case with Chanel No.5 till very recently per Luca's admission, or still remains so with certain others). But, and this is a big but, I wouldn't doubt the gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer on Luca's side. An objective and definitive test to be sure! Then again, it wouldn't be easy to run all classics in different batches through it to ascertain differences with the current versions.
The matter is terribly complicated.

Perhaps after all is said nothing sinister is at play and simply expectations are set very high because Luca Turin has earned the position of authority in fragrant matters and members on perfume boards act in proviso to that.

Now that Turin is leaving Flexitral after patenting several molecules to pursue a different path we wish him to go ahead and sell the innovations to the fragrance industry, if that means that a sufficient quality level would be attained to please us all. Because that is the crux of the matter which unites us all.

One silly question remains: what will they do with all those bottles they have accumulated (almost 2000 bottles per Tania's words)? Do they have a contingency plan?

Pic courtesy of Athinorama


  1. Anonymous16:21

    I just received my copy of The Perfume Guide today. I just browsed through it, found some reviews similar to my opinion, some lukewarm reviews of stuff I love, and a shocking one-star review of a scent I adore. I see the Guide as an interesting and entertaining read, and something that maybe will guide me in discovering new scent (the last thing my bank account needs!). But I believe scent, unlike wine, is something deeply personal and therefore one man's tuberose is another man's civet, so to say.

  2. It's totally understandable what you say there Sylvia. And not everyone has to agree on opinions on fragrances. I had much fun browsing through the guide myself and I wasn't angry at all at differences of opinion.

    What is perhaps more important though is that it might serve as a very useful reference for reformulation of classics: a topic which has been addressed in the book (Thankfully!! Someone had to go out and print this! So I thank them for it!). And therefore it would be useful if there was more explaining about what exactly happened, when and how. The Carons is one such issue, especially as they had been praised a couple of years ago.

  3. The reformulation: see the IFRA new guidelines for eugenols (spicy notes, I do not remember the year). As you know, many Carons are very spicy, not on top but rather on heart and drydown - and that's a problem with the maximum amount you are allowed to put it.
    But for changes the best persons to speak are those who used to wear a certain fragrance.
    For Carons you have 3 types: the fountain extrait, the actual EDT/EDP (a new formula-90's) and the EDP from the 80's still on the market (I remember some years ago at Sephore in Paris there where plenty of them for 20 EUR as if they did a vide-grenier).
    For Luca Turin guide - I don't think it should be intended as a buying guide but something deeper, even you don't like some reviews. If one would like to be scientifical (like in wines) then we should do guides according to batches - the different lots produced in a factory and indicated on the bottle, to have the correspondent of the year for wines. :)
    As for his preferences on greatest scents (rare and unavailable), even if the fragrance is not exceptional (for me) it's more important for the consumer to look after it, search it on ebay, wait ... try something different and discover a piece of the history nobody talked about. It is a cultural approach that I appreciate and I think it's more useful than going straight to Sephora or click on the Internet.
    I also speak a lot about past fragrances but I do not consider past better than the present.
    Speaking again about reformulations and vintages it's hard to be a judge when you do not know wich is the original. I smelled about 8 versions of Shalimar and I'm still not sure about the correct Jacques Guerlain formula :) Perfume is a living thing.

  4. Thank you Octavian for your very informative comment (as always!)
    The Mousse de Saxe base in the Carons, as well as the carnation accord (which includes eugenol and isoeugenol I believe?) can account for the wan version Turin experienced. True.

    The Sephora "vide-grenier" downloading doesn't bode good things...I wasn't aware of that! How possible is it for the NYC boutique to have old stock for the urns? I was wondering as I was reading that woman's experience, who collects Caron. It could be that she was actually comparing juice from the same batch?

    I can't begin to describe how much I am nodding my head in agreement about your suggestion that perfume companies should stamp products with a specific number of production date, just like wines. Batch numbers do not suffice, as they leave the consumer sometimes guessing.
    Like you say it's all so complicated! I have found myself numerous times wondering just what year the "vintage" I got sent comes from... :-O

    Also agree on people encouraged to go searching for perfumes and their cultural background, in which case such a guide serves as the trigger to do just that. A very adult -and academic- approach.
    It would be useful to have a primer on that though, so as to guide people into just how to search themselves and how to make an informed navigation through info; especially online, where some falacies are perpetuated, as you well know and point out.

  5. Anonymous23:12

    Thank you for your interesting post. The reformulations start to be a bit crazy and maybe this is only the beginning. Can you imagine the year 2030? There can be the fourth or fifth reformulation of Mitsouko in the shops. Who knows... I think that the reformulation (if there is any) should be mentioned on every bottle, so the customer knows what he buys. Only then it can be easier to find the real vintage things on ebay etc.

  6. Haven't seen more than excerpts from the guide, as yet.
    But I've got a lovely violet for you-
    Liz Zorn's new Domino Viole-

    I brought it with mew to Sniffa, and got raves from fellow perfume despots, LOL.

    It's a real beaut- longer-lasting than VP.
    Try it !

  7. L, thinking of the year 2030 is somehow depressing in light of reformulations...But I think that it won't be the fifth reformulation of Mitsouko, but perhaps the 25th. Because surely there have been minor adjustement all along since 1919, right? I just hope it doesn't become unrecognisable (thank God I have stocked up enough of the version I enjoy for many years to come).

    I think you give yourself the answer on why companies don't go on and mark their bottles in exact terms ;-)

  8. Dear I,

    thanks so much for your lovely recommendation: I am sure you smelled DIVINE on the Sniffa!! I wish I could have joined you...
    Domino Viole, then, duly noted :-)

  9. Anonymous09:45

    Short digression:
    I look very foreward to read the guide, but what I really most would have liked to read, both personally and professionally, is a book with a title like "Questions of Taste, The Philosophy of Perfume". Have just bought a book with the Wine-version of that title. I think questions of taste in these field are not so different. Will probably be a pleasure to read that book :)

  10. It's true what you say there, SP! How one defines "good" and "bad" in taste? (I mean in preferences, not in taste buds! LOL) It would make for a GREAT read.
    (*off to go search that book on wine*)

  11. Anonymous09:58

    :) link to the book:

  12. I haven't seen the book yet, but the word on the Carons makes me very sad. I trust MizLiz's nose (if she's the same MizLiz from POL), but of course she might well have gotten some older stock. I've always known it was only a matter of time before Caron succumbed.

    On the larger issue of accusations of critical tyranny against LT and TS, I really think people are failing to enter into the spirit of the enterprise. The whole point of criticism is that it fuels debate. No critic has the last word on the value of anything. A good critic doesn't want it. If The Guide trashes a beloved perfume, then the proper response is to knock yourself out writing a brilliant defense. That's how we have fun. ;-)

  13. I think she is the same person, dear M. At least this is what everything I have read transpires to. I can't know how old the stuff of the boutique is where she tested stuff, though. Sometimes even the stores have older stock (although are the urns containing older juice?). That might explain it.

    I agree with you that there is no definitive opinion and it's funny to watch feathers ruffled because of a bad word about one's beloved frag: you're right, there should be dialogue after that, not angst :-)

  14. Anonymous13:37

    I almost post on French Blog, I will try on this one. Excuse my English.

    The attack of the Caron juices was quite unexpected.
    Caron is a brand for which I have a large respect.I know the nice SA in Paris shop since a long time. They have help me since now 20 years to understand perfume and at every encounter they have given free a 1ml sample of real perfume from the urn !
    Try to have a sample of perfume extract in a Guerlain shop ...

    So I still beleive that Caron's people love perfumes in the LT's way.

    The problem is so between the nose and the critics. Freysse in my humble opinion works as an Italian Perfumer (I am using Turin vocabulary). Which means that he likes to rubber the edge, trying to make all coherent and beautifull. We know all that LT dont like that.
    Furthermore in the guide LT and TS doesnt beleive that this kind of works is coherent with the Caron Spirits.

    I understand their point of view, even if it is not the slaughter that TS describes.

    What i dont like is that they used their point of view to destroy the reputation of the house.
    I personnaly dont like dead perfume house, I dont like dead flagrance. I dont beleive that's the perfumista dream is in Vintage.
    (it is ubber-snobery in my opinion even if I am on the market)

    I was ready to open my last sealed vintages of Caron in order to check the now differencies ... but why ? My opinion will have no value and it is not the problem.

    I only hope we will be able to see some "Comunication" on such subject


  15. I do not think a book or a review can destroy the reputation of Caron and I do not think there is something dramatic about Caron today. I still believe in Guerlain, I know what's good and bad in the present ... but even if I know what changed and I'm critic sometimes that doesn't stop me to visit/smell/buy their perfumes (I use both vintage&new). I know how hard it is to keep the balance between IFRA (the spices), animal notes and an old/new formula. I don't find any disaster at Caron, their perfumes are still very good (the fountain). What Caron lacks today is good PR and some marketing. I have the feeling that when internet forums/blogs started people were interested in Caron because of their high quality/history but very soon other brands became more visible because of good PR and novelty and there was not so much place left for a house that is quite "shy". It's also my case, in the past year I was very busy to pay attention to what was new and I realized after 8 months that I almost forgot Caron, one of my first loves.
    To "analyze" their old extraits and do a real critic is a hard job. Because there is a lot of strong naturals the formula tend to be different with the crops. It's hard to say if the difference came from a reformulation or from something with the naturals. To understand what I mean, try some Joy extrait or Shalimar from different years (vintages). Even if you respect strictly the formula, over a decade there can be surprises.
    I'm not able to say if Caron really changed that much (I do not feel it!) and I do not have at least 5 different extraits from the same perfume to evaluate the difference and what cause it.
    (another problem in Carons is the birch tar - another regulated product, or the styrax both used in leather notes).

  16. Dear French Anon,

    excellent points and thank you for your contribution here (welcome!)
    It would make sense what you say about Freyasse giving a rounded edge to everything the Italian way (which is not LT's idea, indeed) and therefore sutracting the angularity of some of the older versions. Of course what does not get mentioned as well as that with the absence of old bases and with the discrepancy in natural crops which provide many of the floral extracts in particular, those factors might contribute as well, for which little can be done.

    I also believe that it is no good always rhapsodising about the past, as if it's always better. This is where this whole vintage hunt is leaving me a little apprehensive: isn't it essentially an exercise in frustration and in admiting that ~in the words of one of the people in the discussion quoted in the post~ "the 19th century was more fun than the 21st"?

    However I don't think that LT is greatly opposed to today's innovations and possible classics of tomorrow, at least from what I have read of his.
    And destroying Caron's reputation...hmmm, I wonder if he holds that much power, no matter what he leaves us to believe. Caron has a rich history behind it. Small niche houses probably depend more on his opinion than Caron.

  17. Dear Octavian,

    thank you for your detailed comment!

    I haven't started the futile exercise of getting down and comparing every single Caron I have with the current batch out, but something tells me I won't and take your word for it :-)

    It is quite true what you say about them being a little shy in marketing and PR and it's really a shame contrasted with some very aggressive new niches which utilize those two forces to hide their mediocre juice...

    The differences in naturals depending on crops is also a crucial matter and very true. On the other hand, I might venture to say that it is the nose's responsibility thereafter to finetune the composition to accomodate for that as well.

    The eugenol, rectified tar, coumarin, oakmoss and citrus essences restrictions also pose significant obstacles. I can't see a way out of this for classic perfumes. Even if ~for instance~ Mitsouko is suppossedly still very good, it is not the Mitsouko of yore.
    In my opinion this doesn't leave much leeway to make classics appear as if they just had good skincare and genes all along instead of facelifts, to make an analogy.

  18. Of course a nose will try to mantain unchanged the quality - essence. But I tryed to say that perfume (the old ones with a lot of naturals) are living things. I like your analogy with cosmetic surgery.

  19. Assuredly, it is as you say (lovely thought!)
    Glad you liked the analogy :-)

  20. Anonymous13:22

    I am the same french blogger

    A french blogger has found a "bomb" link.

    Interview in French of Luca Turin :

    "Question : Quelques exemples de jus mythiques restés fidèles ?
    L.T. : La plupart des Caron, Fracas de Robert Piguet, Vent Vert de Balmain, Joy,1000 et Sublime de Patou, First de Van Cleef, Femme de Rochas et les Chanel. Ils ont même failli arrêter le N° 19 faute de matière première adéquate."

    I try a traduction :

    question : Which historical juices have not changed ?
    Answer : Most of the Caron ... (and not a mention to Guerlain for exemple)

    The trouble is that the interview has been done in 05/13/2005

    Fraysse was at the command since 5 or 6 years.

    In the same times I remember LT posts like "The fall of the Guerlain House" ...

    Now only more than two years later, the Guerlain are always Guerlain and Caron are worst than ever.

    So what to conclude ?
    (I am quite sure that Tabac Blond 2007 and 2002 are the same)

  21. The time lapse might be a reason, but still it is an interesting point. (no translation necessary, I can read French)

    I might blog about it if you don't mind. It would be nice if I could quote you, but if you'd rather not that's OK as well.

  22. Tania Sanchez and Luca Turin were interviewed on Good Morning America last week. I uploaded the interview on YouTube.

    (copy & paste URL onto address bar)

  23. Thankie, kind madame :-)

  24. Anonymous17:12

    French ano part III

    About Vintage comparison :

    First : We dont know the collection and we are not able to make the same comparison than TS. And "perfectly preserved vintage" .. is a sentence that means nothing ... all vintage seller say that.

    Second : Which Vintage ?

    For exemple for "Tabac Blond". Here is what I can say :

    First Area : The 1920 Version, it is rare I have only found one full bottle.
    The classic "Tabatière" bottle but "Caron" is written on the top with an "Art Deco" police.

    Second Area : What is called the 1950 edition. The bottle is the same except that Caron is written in a more schollar, thinner police.
    It is still difficult to find with the juice.

    After we have The Caron black hole (between 1960 - 1980). Here it is difficult to know which juice were availlable.
    (Narcisse Noir, Tabac blond, Muguet du bonheur and Fleur de rocaille)
    In my opinion there were many
    discontinuated time segment.

    I dont know when was produced the last Tabatière bottle (except in limited edition like the current Russian Edition at 1500 Euro :) )

    The Modern version : Between 1982 - 1986 all juice have been reformulated (to what is currently known as the Urn Perfume).
    I absolutely dont know if the reformulator noses (unknown to my knowledge) has controled the works with vintage issues or if they have worked only with formula.

    Around 2000 Caron was buyed by Ales Group and Fraysse takes control as "house nose" ...

    So please TS how can I compare all of this ?
    And during these periods Tabac blond was also availlable in Edt (even now) with different formulation.

    During the Chaotic history of Caron noses have been replaced by other without Tradition.

  25. I completely agree with you on several points: it's a losing game and one simply can't tell!
    "What vintage" is the perfect questions: there are so many, not only in Caron but in other fragrances and brands as well.

    BTW: It's quite interesting that one can consolidate oneself as an authority on vintage fragrance, because frankly no one who is at a functioning age now can possibly now how something smelled in 1920.

  26. Anonymous09:34

    French Ano :

    Only Osmotheque in Versailles can be the real judge.
    It is the only place where you can find "what really smell something in 1920"

    The trouble for me is the lacking of reference and the fact that with a sentence like :
    "I smell a vintage ..." You can say what you want.
    This sentence has became a false "argument".

    I know perfume market since 20 years. I am not a specialist or an authority.
    But I can say that the production of False vintage has never been so high. You can even create a false Sceal.

    Nobody speaks about it.

  27. Anonymous20:53

    In response to your paragraph about Luca Turin leaving Flexitral after having patented several molecules -- well, there are three actual patents:
    1. 7,342,042, Lily of the valley aromachemicals
    2.7,323,606 - Aromachemicals
    3.7,309,795 - Citral derivatives
    I guess "three" is like "several."

    The rest of his work is still in application status. He might just be holding off on selling them until they are actually patented, who knows.

    PUB. APP. NO. Title
    1 20080015136 CITRAL DERIVATIVES
    2 20070276152 Aromachemicals
    3 20070264340 Aromachemicals
    4 20070259042 Cyclopropanated Aromachemicals
    5 20070032401 Macrocyclic musks is a great place to get real, actual, accurate information about who's doing what, aromachemically.

  28. Anonymous03:52

    Hi there
    I just wanted to chime in with two things.
    The first has to do with the new european regulations; the truth of the matter is, they are not as severe on classic fragrances. This means the company can a) post ingredients on the box and be in compliance or b) change formula because it will be cheaper to produce and "maybe not a soul will notice". Well people have noticed!
    My second item is; I had purchased four Caron fragrances recently, and they smelt very different from the ones I had prior. This is no "lapse in memory" as someone said about M. Turin's judgment, this is an arm to arm comparison, and yes the newer Bellodgia, and Fleurs de Rocaille have a dull 'soapy' drydown; which for Bellodgia is a death cry. Gone was the spiciness, and the soul of the scent.
    So please do not discount these accusations against Caron; for anyone who has worn them for over 30 years, the difference will be instantly noticeable.


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