Original Penguin’s first men’s fragrance is decidedly…un-Original

On paper the first fragrance from iconic fashion brand Penguin sounds promising: the press release describes Original Penguin For Men as being “an oriental fragrance with a distinguished combination of juicy gold apples, purple sage, Mediterranean neroli and a punch of black pepper, along with fresh acords of fir needle, lavender provence and a seductive mix of vanilla noir, tonka bean and dark musk.”

The reality, though, is decidedly un-Original. Like so many fragrances today is has a slightly bitter, acrid smell  and a predictability that makes my heart sink. With fragrances like this I often bring up my Plasticine analogy. You start off with lots of wonderfully vibrant individual colours but the more you mix them the more they’re destined to become an unappealing, nondescript, sludgy brown.

The fact is, this is a fragrance that could have originated from any number of houses where the prime objective in creating a fragrance is not to offend rather than to impress. What results, then, is a scent that could equally be a Beckham or a Boss. Or both. Either way it’s decidedly meh. Nice bottle though.

Original Penguin For Men is available from Debenhams, priced £33 for 50 ml eau de toilette

So what does make a good perfume critic?

The other day I read a great interview with Francis Kurkdjian on the excellent Persoliase blog. It’s a fascinating insight into the mind of a true artist but it’s proved somewhat controversial too because of some of the comments Mr K made about how fragrance is reviewed.

One paragraph in particular has attracted some attention – and understandably so. Asked what he thinks about perfume critics, the master perfumier says: “They’re so boring. And the reason why they’re so boring is that, to prove their legitimacy, they try to drop ingredient names, chemical names, just to prove to their readers that they have the know-how…people are trying to critique perfumes without knowing what it is to critique a perfume. They don’t have the knowledge.”

Understandably, these comments have stimulated quite a debate on Persolaise’s blog about what exactly ithe right way to critique a perfume and who amongst us has ‘legitimacy’.  I commented there briefly myself but wanted to expand here with my take on the matter.

To be honest, I hate the idea that you have to be knowledgeable before you can critique something. When artists in any field believe this it’s a sure sign they’ve not only caught sight of the ivory tower but have booked the removal van so they can take up residence on the top floor.

Yes, expertise brings depth and an added dimension and it most certanly has its place but it’s not the be-all and end-all. This is especially true, I think, when reviewing products. Sure, I known what parabens are and what nano-technology is and I’m more acquainted with a tonka bean than any man should be. But hey, so what? The questions on most reader’s lips when it comes to a new product are: is it any good? Does it work? Will I like it? Is it worth the money?

The whole issue of expertise has come up before. I remember one Beauty Editor having a pop at beauty bloggers several years ago because she didn’t consider them expert enough to comment properly (the very same person now has their own blog of course but is an industry expert so that’s okay). This attitude riles me beyond belief, partly because many experts (especially those on magazines) conveniently conceal the fact their recommendations are influenced by advertising. I’m a journalist. I’ve been there so I know the score.

To me, the opinion of a beauty blogger who smells a fragrance in a department store is just as valid as that of someone who’s been writing about fragrance all their lives and gets sent one for free by a PR. In fact, I sometimes think more so because the blogger takes time, effort and often spends their own money to explore what’s out there.

Personally, though, I don’t care whether someone wants to write a 2,000 word forensic ‘expert’ review, simply list the notes (and on that matter ingredient names are also dropped on the official FK site to give customers a steer I notice) or just wants to say ‘to me this smells like creosote mixed with roses and custard powder.’ What’s important, surely, is that people remain passionate enough to write about fragrance in the first place?

The fact is, reviewing a fragrance is as much a nebulous, imperfect and subjective art as creating one is. To me, having critics approach the subject from all different angles, with different spins, expertise and opinions is the only true way to build up a rounded picture of something. If a new fragrance hits the shelves I want to hear what the beauty editor of Vogue thinks about it but I also want to know what my favourite bloggers think about it, what the readers of basenotes.com think about it, what my mum thinks about it and what the woman who sells it in Debenhams thinks too. Fragrance is deliciously multi-faceted – that’s why it’s so enthralling right? So why should fragrance criticism be any different?

To read the interview that sparked this post on Persoliase click here.