Saturday, 4 February 2017

Diss your worst! Share your scent slur similes in a perfume putdown throwdown. (Featuring a 'subject to availability' fragrance flingaway, and other prize options)

Photo by Tom Haroldson of - just add creosote
I love a good perfume simile - or metaphor for that matter. I don't stand on figure of speech ceremony, me. And I'll be honest that I sometimes enjoy the negative imagery more than the positive, even though there is less of it about. Not least because there are still lots of hackneyed tropes flying about the blogosphere like the dreaded 'cosy as a cashmere stole', for which I keep meaning to start a swear box. With 'sitting on my pipe-smoking grandfather's knee' and 'billowing fresh laundry on the line' following closely behind. With and without accents of mown grass and roses growing round the back door. Of the grandfather's house, indeed. There is arguably mileage in a whole post devoted to perfume writing cliches, but that is for another time.

There isn't that much negativity in perfume reviews, as I say, people in our community being by and large of the 'if you can't think of anything nice to blog, don't blog anything' persuasion, to slightly adapt all our mothers' adage for these social media-savvy times. I will qualify that though. I don't like swingeing critiques of perfumes from smaller houses, as they feel more personal somehow, a bit like mugging your neighbour and nicking their wallet rather than shoplifting in T K Maxx, if you get my drift - or not taking back the extra fiver you were mistakenly given in your change in John Lewis. Not that I would condone these activities either, obviously. So in my view there is a time and a place - and a sliding scale of appropriate targets - for wicked perfume putdowns.

Luca Turin is of course the master of these, though he has occasionally strayed into 'neighbour mugging' territory, most controversially in his dissing of Mona di Orio's original range. There is still much to savour in 'Perfumes: The Guide' without feeling you are rubbernecking at said mugging. Also, I would contend, if you disagree with his views, as I frequently do.

Two of my all-time favourite quotes from The Guide have to be:

"Like getting lemon juice in a paper cut" (Caroline Herrera 212)

Why, I don't mind this one at all!

"Powerfully cloying and nauseating. Trails for miles. Frightens horses. Gets worse." (EL Spellbound)

Ooh, I totally agree with him here, also his sub-heading for that one of "medicated treacle".

Then I am sure Turin had another corker about a perfume that smelt of molten plastic bottles floating down river, but I am blowed if I can find it.

I was actually moved to write this post by a chance comment of my brother's on Facebook the other day. He was reporting on a dream he'd had, in which someone was offended by another person's perfume, likening it to "last Friday night's spectacle cleaner". Now I know the subconscious is noted for its kaleidoscopically random firings, but the originality of this phrase is as startling as it is enigmatic. I don't know about you, but I tend to clean my glasses with a little slippery cloth from Sunglass Hut et al. What are these pungent cleaning products on which I am missing out? And is Friday night typically a time to make whoopee, as it were, with one's spectacle cleaning regime? And how long ago was Friday, in this particular instance? Also, does spectacle cleaner have a poor shelf life such that once opened, it deteriorates at an alarming rate - like flat tonic water, the dreaded occupational hazard of committed gin drinkers, only smellier? Who would have thought five words could be so gloriously baffling?

Source: Boots

Then I thought back to some of my own perfume putdowns - mostly (but not all) from back when I was VM I hate civet on Basenotes eight years ago or so, and lived in terror of any scent that was remotely animalic or overly spicy. For the record, I don't suppose I would still endorse these images, but they will serve to get the ball rolling.

"Sticks of celery coyly peeping over a freshly creosoted fence" (LesNez The Unicorn Spell)

"Like being trapped in a tea chest" (SL Tam Dao)

"Vintage embalming fluid" (Dioressence)

"Tuberose fright wig" (Givenchy Amarige) I stand by this one!

So today's 'Hunting the Snark' challenge is: hit me with your favourite perfume putdowns - your own, or favourite ones by other writers.

Then after the customary time has elapsed - say a week from today - I will hold a draw from those who have entered, and offer the winner a choice of prize:

- Cite a perfume that is a pet dislike of yours, and if I happen to have any of it in the house, I will ceremoniously throw away a sample of it in your name(!). ;)

- OR I will send the sample to a friend of your choice who you think might like it. Not out of mischief, obviously.

- OR I will consult with the winner as to their favourite styles / houses, and devise a decant prize that would appeal.

OR (for anyone who has enough perfume in their life) there is the option of a notebook in which to record your perfume wearings / musings / smart one-liners!

NB I will gladly ship within the UK, while Undina of Undina's Looking Glass has kindly offered to post the winner's item within the US, thanks to the good offices of an associate who regularly shuttles across the pond. It might delay the delivery a little until we can coordinate with his next visit to England, but it won't get me into trouble with the customs authorities again.

And I would also be most interested to hear whether you think there is enough negativity / frankness in perfume reviews - or too much - and/or whether it is more about how the criticism is conveyed rather than whether or not a negative view is expressed. Though wishy-washy comments like: "It doesn't work on my skin, sadly" (of which I am as guilty as the next man) are surely the equivalent of having your boyfriend break up with you by saying: "It's not you, it's me", or "You will make some guy very happy one day".

Source: Fragrantica

Editor's note: I happen to agree with LT's assessment of Mona di Orio's Nuit Noire - or I did in my civet-averse days at least. I even had a pop at it myself, so I will put my hand up and say that I am by no means squeaky clean myself on the mugging front. By way of defence, my main issue at the time was with the amount of the scent with which I was forcibly sprayed by the sales assistant, though I suspect I wouldn't have cared for it back then anyway.  I really like a number of her later creations, mind, notably Tubereuse, Musc and Vanille.


Tara said...

Haha! Brilliant.

LT's put-downs are generally witty and brief so fair enough when not "a neighbour" as you say. I'm not a fan of long, vicious reviews. I am all for the wishy-washy "it doesn't work on my skin" variety for stuff that isn't awful but not to your taste. The awful stuff doesn't need to get a mention.

Love your "Tuberose fright wig" for Amarige. Your "trapped in a tea chest" for Tam Dao (Diptyque rather than SL) resonates with me quite regularly.

I shall have to ponder a favoured put-down. It's a long time since I read the Guide although The Non-Blonde comes up with some good ones now and again.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Long vicious reviews are not helpful, I agree. It can happen that an entire house doesn't work for me and there is radio silence on here about their new releases.

In addition, I will almost certainly continue to have recourse to the 'doesn't work on my skin' excuse, partly because it really can be exactly that - as evidenced on those occasions where we do do a side-by-side comparison amongst ourselves. Other times, I admit it is more of a polite cop out on my part.

Come back if you think of a good putdown - or one of Gaia's.

Tara said...

Okay, I looked up The Guide's review of Allure because it's a "normal" - as opposed to "out there" - perfume I just can't stand. Luckily it didn't disappoint with this final line "Allure has since become the reference for women who wear fragrance not for private pleasure or to advertise their tastes but merely to signal that their status dispenses them from being pleasant". Ouch!

Unknown said...

I find perfume reviews that are not wholly positive, but still fair, to be quite helpful for gauging my perfume preferences relative to the reviewer.

I admire people who have the ability to pick apart a perfume they don't necessarily like to objectively say things like, "If you like X, you will probably like this too" or equally usefully, "If you didn't like Z, you probably shouldn't try this one." Some other phrases that I have read a fair amount include "well done," "nicely blended," etc-comments that I imagine relate to the details of perfume making technique that have less to do with personal preferences.

I do dislike overly vitriolic, bitter perfume reviews. It might be because it often feels like the negativity is coming from a place that has not so much to do with the perfume itself, as much as something very personal to the reviewer (that may or may not resonate with me, the reader).

Vanessa said...

I can't stand Allure either! What a fantastic line...;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Yuki,

Thanks for dropping in - that's all very interesting, and much of what you say chimes with me. Often, through my inability to describe a perfume in much detail, I adopt the comparative approach you outline, and it is a good way to steer people towards or away from a scent without the need to overtly talk about it in a positive or negative way. I am also that 'nicely blended' soldier, to which I will add 'quality/luxurious materials'!

And I concur with your theory that the really snarky reviews indicate something deeper going on in the psyche of the reviewer.

Tara said...

Oh good. I was racking my brain after posting thinking if you liked it!

Vanessa said...

Haha - I wouldn't be offended even if I did!

crikey said...

I may once have described one of the vero scents as feeling like I was being waterboarded with passionfruit juice. Maybe. Ahem. And La Religieuse as being trapped in the vent of a laundry, while eating sherbert lemons. But that's it, I swear. I mostly say "mmm, not really my taste"

It's probably just as well I don't review perfumes.

crikey said...

(oops. hit the button too soon.) I do like a little creative snark in reviews. And I'm very fond of some of L&T's sparkling dismissals. Bit I particularly appreciate it when someone has the courage to say why they don't like something that is getting drenched with unconditional love and/or advertising budgets. It can be hard to wander off in a different direction in a crowd. But vitriol for vitriol's sake? Nah. However funny it might be.

Undina said...

I think my inability to properly review perfumes come from several aspects: my limited scent-related vocabulary, limited capabilities of my nose and, what is the most relevant to the topic of this post, my complete lack of imagination when it comes to building parallels between what I smell in perfume and what it reminds me of. I don't get any images in my head - be that good or bad - so that "trapped in a tea chest" would have just never come to my mind (I love Tam Dao and liked the phrase :) ). I'm good with associations of perfumes with some events in my life (not necessarily directly connected to the perfume in question) but with that "smell - feeling", "smells like (doing/seeing/experiencing) I'm drawing blanks. The only time I had that type of association, I think I offended the creator (I don't think you read this one). Since then I'm even less inclined to "speak up my mind" about any perfume I didn't like. Oh, and my immediate response to samples offers from brand is "I don't mind trying but I cannot guarantee I'd write anything, either I like it or not, if there's not a story in it." It helps: most decide not to send samples ;)
Do I think we don't get enough negativity? I don't know... I'd say we have too much "PC" reviews, and, unless somebody is doing it almost as a job, I would have preferred they didn't write anything at all then posted a polite and "faceless" review.

But enough about me, here's one of the examples of a great put-down: term "bathtastic" carved by Steven (The Scented Hound). He used it first in his <a href=">review of Chanel 1932</a>, and later you could see it again on his blog and in at least one of Kafka's reviews.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh how I would love to put a whole big long put down post together. Hahahahahaha. So much utter rubbish to write about. But of course I wouldn´t because it´s all so personal isn´t it? More laughing. Truthfully, I have read some stuff from bloggers, some really nasty stuff, and it hurt people badly. Bringing them to tears, including two perfumers very dear to many perfumistas hearts. As Crikey said, create snark is good!! Hmmm. I don´t really have any examples of put downs to be honest. Although as a teenager, dripping in Tabu and/or patchouli oil, my mother would always say "You smell like you just stepped out of a whorehouse." Meant as putdown it had the opposite effect! I find myself using the same phrase myself. Smirk. Bussis. Great post!! (What do I really hate? Lutes Chergui. Hideous stuff.)

Anonymous said...

creative snark*

Vanessa said...

Hi crikey,

How I larfed at your 'waterboarding' image. Reminds me of my take on the 90s classic l'Eau d'Issey - 'a melon-scented freshly exited shower cubicle' - but your line is more surreal. And your La Religieuse description has a parallel in my description of Heeley Cardinal as flagstones in the nave of a church that the verger has scruffed with lemon Cif. We would make a dangerous double act if we didn't rein ourselves in. ;)

I know what you mean about it taking courage to step out of line when a perfume is getting uniformly favourable reviews. I have done that the odd time, most recently in reference to Alaia about a year ago. I agonised long and hard before publishing that, as the scent featured in the top 2015 lists of a number of bloggers whose noses I really respect.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Thanks for your very interesting contribution to the debate, which resonated with me on a number of levels. I am very similar to you in that I also say to perfume houses that wish to offer me samples that I will only write a review if I a) like the scent in question and b) can think of a bonkers angle. Or a personal connection / story of some sort.

I also suffer from a woefully blunt sense of smell and an inability to pick apart what I am sniffing in terms of notes and often as you say, I can't come up with any associations either. It's just a smell that is elusive in every possible way though I can say if I like it or not. When I do have any assocations, then I tend to review the scent on here, but those connections seem to be getting fewer and fewer for some reason!

Oh gosh, yes, those bland and pleasant reviews can be really annoying. Sometimes a reviewer will like every single scent in a range, where I might only like 2 or 3. And I can't help wondering if I am really that fussy, or whether the reviewer is simply easy to please - which is possible - or just doesn't wish to be negative and finds something wishy washily agreeable to say instead.

Loved that 'bathtastic' review!

And your perfume review is charming, and highly original. Floor wax may sound a little pedestrian, but it was a positive memory for you in the overall composition. And no, I didn't see that one before - it was just after I moved house, so I was probably busy combating woodworm at the time! Good to note in the comments to that post that you love milk. I need to get my facts straight for another time. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Val,

The Bussis are the giveaway? I do remember an incident that upset one perfumer - something nasty as you say. I am sure you rocked those pungent perfumes of your youth. I do love me a lightly louche scent as you know. Your pet hate is Chergui, interesting. I can totally see that - it is a bit medicinal - but I do like it myself. Saying that, I haven't worn it in a long while.

Undina said...

See! See!!! I got even you confused with the milk example in my 6th year anniversary post :)
Just to set the record straight: I love milk and I adore butterflies (and not afraid of them) ;)

Undina said...

That's because now I have your bottle. And both boxes ;)

Vanessa said...

You did, you did!! And I always pride myself on telling fact from fiction, and spotting irony, poetic licence and tongue in cheekness at fifty paces. I was well and truly fooled. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hahahaha, so you do!! I have a decant somewhere, but it is easily overlooked in the tray of silver topped decants. Assuming it isn't gold. ;)

odiferess said...

Oh this has made me chortle!

I can't think of any moments when I've thoroughly slated a whiff, but I do think there are many bottles that are worthy of such vitriol! In general I find the industry nowadays frequently riseable in Emperor's New Clothes stylee. Niche, privee exclusif anyone?

Instead I shall quote from the wonderful 'ScentBitch':

"Creed are to make a perfume for babies because apparently even they deserve to be able to have bad taste in perfume"

If I win, please throw away a sample of Elizabeth Arden Sunflowers for me.

Anonymous said...

When I am sad I go read reviews of Yatagan, Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan, YSL Kouros, and of COURSE EDLO Secretions Magnifiques. Some of the following may or may not be compliments and not disses but there is nothing like a perfume that is supposed to smell like a hint of something unmentionable to bring out the strong opinions:

" It smells of ice cold razorblades, fishy semen, and metallic blood. It evokes memories of visiting my grandfather's veterinary clinic as a child - cold metal counters and cages, unbandaging bloody wounds, animals in misery and bodily fluids. If you have anyone close to you who enjoys this fragrance, I would be very concerned."

"I imagine this is what Zeus would excrete if he were to roam the earth in search of a mate."

"men will most likely complain when they smell it. its too masculine for them. a beta male wont be able to wear it. he will freak out and try to Wash it off."

"Makes you smell like you have been living in the woods, sleeping on pine needles and not bathing."

"Smells like a trash bag filled with dirty unwashed sexual organs."

"I sprayed Yatagan and....6 year-old Iman in his Indian house attacked by bolting flocks."

crikey said...

Eww... melony showers. Yes. Exactly. (I rather like Cardinal, but, now I may have to revisit my sample to see if I get the whiff of Cif.)

Meant to say, when I saw the title I was suprised to see a sign for celery rather than sprouts. Diss is very pleased with itself for being the town with the higher per capita consumption of said veg. (Are there any unfortunate perfumes that have a note of over-boiled brussels, I wonder?)

(I was very glad at the time when you fessed up to being less than smitten by Alaia, as I was baffled by it, and felt that I was clearly too ignorant to appreciate whatever wonders others were finding in this fragrance.)

Blacknall Allen said...

This was a brilliant idea Vanessa. We've all read some nasty put downs and I like "bathtastic" too.

Sometimes pans and praise are close to one another. I thought Mona di Orio's Ouiro was all about ass, but would sell poorly Stateside because Americans dismiss ass. What we do is to kiss ass, kick ass, or haul ass, but we don't talk ass. The French do that ;-)

Vanessa said...

In fairness, my comment about Cardinal is from way back. I may be better with substrates of dank flagstones these days.

Diss as the epicentre of sprout cultivation! I have learnt a new fact there. Way too abstruse for me to have incorporated it into the post, but hat's off to you meanwhile. I needed the celery to tie in with my review of The Unicorn Spell. Funnily enough I used to have a celery factory in my portfolio when I was the Empress of Prepacked Salads in the 80s.

Glad my inability to 'get' Alaia struck a chord! I found it chilly and insubstantial, and I am supposed to be a fan of wispy scents.

Vanessa said...

Hi odiferess,

Ooh yes, there's a lot of Emperor's New Clothes syndrome going on I feel. Entire wardrobes of it.

Like that quote from ScentBitch - this stuff must be her stock in trade - or should I say mother's milk? ;)

Vanessa said...

PS May have to find a tester of Sunflowers, hehe, to make your sample.

Vanessa said...

Hi Anonymous,

Strong opinions definitely count, I'd say, given the strong meat of the perfumes in question. That is a very fine selection, thank you. I have myself had a pop at Yatagan - here it is, being compared to Amouage Tribute, which I dubbed 'Attila the Attar'. And I stand by that!

"It is Caron Yatagan and its swishing bloodied scimitar on steroids."

Not forgetting the Band-Aid note in Yatagan, evoking the tending of the inevitable wounds.

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

LOL at the notion of the US shying away from ass in the perfumery sense. Americans are supposed to have more preppy, Estee Lauder-y tastes, aren't they?

sunnlitt said...

Oh, thank you, you have just reminded me that I need to throw away a BOTTLE of Sunflowers that sits on my mother's bathroom counter. She will not know what happened to it,and I will be spared every smelling it again, up close and personal.

hayley said...

Hi Vanessa
I don't like to read horrible and sometimes cruel reviews especially about independent perfumers, it's just plain mean. However I do think it's a bit dull to read some bland reviews were its obvious the reviewer doesn't want to upset any brands. I like blogs that offer an opinion but that appreciate it might not be others, as its unpleasant to read something nasty about a perfume you love. When I say nasty I mean some reviewers can go OTT and say some yucky things. I think it's better to say it in a witty humorous way.
I was racking my brains for witty put downs as I want to enter the competition! I do enjoy reading the black narcissus blog for these reasons and thought this was a good example: of diptyque essences insensees
"I might be wrong but this smelled to me, on first sniff, like a lamb chop, topped with mimosa, and tossed, forlornly, in a field of grass."
Best wishes Hayley
Ps loved the truffle post 😻

Vanessa said...

Hi Hayley,

I completely agree with all the points you make - I shy away from blandness and vitriol and love a witty riposte, especially - as in the case of the sublime putdown from The Black Narcissus - it is prefaced by 'I might be wrong'. That is just brilliant.

I have put you in the draw as I do normally post on a Sunday, and my deadlines are as capable of the bonkers treatment as any other aspect of the blog.

Glad you enjoyed the Truffle post!

Vanessa said...

Well, that's a happy spin off of this post! ;)

Asali said...

I like this theme very much, so finally catching up on my reading I'll chime in 😊 I think I've written quite a few times that I prefer to write in a way that make people decide themselves if they like something or not. I can often see in the comments that it works, which means if I would have written a putdown those same people wouldn't have assumed to like this same perfume. I think on my blog the worst I did was "Let me start in Sweden where they have some excellent brands, which have managed to manifest themselves internationally; Byredo, Agonist, Friedmodin… However, these are really international perfumes with no hint to their origins, and no attempt at a Scandinavian scent profile, it seems only the design angle is allowed to be Scandinavian cool. When it comes to Denmark, the story is sad indeed; Henrik Vibskov’s Type C (for Copenhagen) is nothing but a grim citrus-ozonic that is as far from the smell of the sea air of Copenhagen as you can get. Or for the new brand Zarkoperfumes, just go to Serguey Borisov’s reviews at Fragrantica to read what I couldn’t have said better myself." Sergei then does an amazing job at a putdown! :-D

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

I quite agree with you in your approach to reviews - helping someone decide if their taste chimes with the reviewer - or the exact opposite - is equally helpful. Good on you for getting Sergei to do your dirty work on that Zarko brand. I also enjoyed 'grim citrus-ozonic' - if Copenhagen smelt like that it would surely put me off returning.