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.

Roja Dove’s new Vetiver fragrance smells like a winner

I’m very fussy about Vetiver fragrances. I’ve tried so many and been disappointed so often (Creed’s Original Vetiver being the one I wear personally), so when I got to sample this new creation from Roja Dove I was bracing myself for yet another let down. I needn’t have worried.

This Vetiver –  a spicy Chypre fragrance lifted by green and citrus notes – has that familiar earthy, smoky vetiver aroma but the whole thing is made more complex by the addition of celery, nutmeg, caraway and oakmoss and – surprise, surprise – is imbued with that base, elemental and animalistic sexiness (what I call the ‘pornographic note’) that runs through so many of Roja’s fragrances.

All in all it’s rich and sexy and has real staying power. If you’ll forgive the awful pun, I think I smell a winner.

Available from Harrods from April, priced £195 for 50ml eau de parfum.

Anna Friel clearly has good taste!

I’m not normally one to name drop. In my career as a journalist I’ve met lots of famous types and non-famous types and the latter are generally by far the most interesting. But when it’s fragrance-related, I can’t resist sharing. And I hope she doesn’t mind the indiscretion (and I can live with the naffness of divulging).

Last night some pals and I got talking to actress Anna Friel in a restaurant and at the end of the evening she briefly came over to our table to share with us her current favourite fragrance, one she’d recently purchased from Liberty.

Spraying it on my pal I think she expected its identity to remain an enigmatic mystery. Alas, spoilsport Kynaston here recognised it immediately as Le Labo Patchouli 24.

One of my favourite fragrances, this unisex delight is instantly recognisable and possibly one of the longest-lasting fragrances I’ve ever come across (as my pal observed for himself this morning).

It’s a wonderfully earthy, sexy scent and I wrote about it here back in 2009. If you fancy  discovering why it’s so great for yourself you can find it here.

Tuberose Criminelle by Serge Lutens – the 13 word review

If I have a fault as a writer it’s that I’m a terrible waffler so in a rare attempt at brevity I am going to try to sum up the exquisite Tuberose Criminelle – the new fragrance by Serge Lutens in just one sentence. And here it is…

Tuberose Criminelle: as if a rose were standing above you brandishing handcuffs and a whip. There, job done.

A limited edition unisex fragrance with notes of tuberose, jasmine, orange blossom, hyacinth, musk and vanilla (amongst others) Tuberose Criminelle is available from Liberty from 3rd October and nationwide from 17th priced £78 for 50 ml EDP.

Jackson: The Fragrance…you couldn’t make it up

He might be stiff as a board but Wacko Jacko lives on in the shape of a new fragrance using extracts of his DNA in it’s formula. A company in the States called My DNA Fragrance claims to have made the scent using genetic codes from samples of Jacko’s hair (presumably what little was left after Pepsi got at it).

The company already specialise in fragrances made using dead celebrity mitrochondia (Elvis, Monroe, Einstein and Katherine Hepburn are favourites) which is extracted from the  hair and somehow translated into a scent.

I’ve read how they do this several times but still can’t made head nor tail of it but regardless of how it happens I guess it beats playing around with tonka beans. All in all quite the most bizarre thing I’ve heard since the day I was told that a certain Thierry Mugler fragrance contains a fragrance note designed to smell like freshly-ejaculated semen….

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