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Reformulation Madness: Is Older Always Better?

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One of the things a serious collector and wearer of perfumes must consider is reformulation: That inevitability when a perfumer decides to change the formula based on ingredients availability, cost, changes in regulation, or sometimes even for stylistic refresh. That last one is all but blasphemy as most people who fall in love with a fragrance never wish it to change, but the ones before it are more or less begrudgingly understood as a fact of life within this hobby. Whether to pinch a few more pennies on the dollar for greedy shareholders, or to keep from discontinuing a fragrance because key ingredients are restricted or have become too costly/scarce to continue using, reformulations not meant to significantly change the smell of the perfume happen.

Sometimes a scent seems to stay mostly the same for five to ten year stretches, but in other cases, it seems as though these alterations come at a breakneck pace, with a scent undergoing changes in performance sometimes yearly, but some of that might also be environmental or the wearer as well. The point is, nobody wants an inferior experience to the one they've been promised by reviews or forum comments from other users, nor do people who have fallen in love with a fragrance want to have the initial experience they fell in love with altered potentially for the worse, so a bit of "Reformulation Madness" forms. People who've never smelled a scent are told to get the oldest possible version and not what is in stores, or people who have owned a scent for a while look to replace the exact batch they first bought if they can. People even go so far down the rabbit hole as to try and compare minor variations within batches of a scent made only a few years apart, which houses like Creed who support the concept of batch variation further foster.

What's the truth of the matter? Is older really better? Should you just not test what you see available at the counter unless the perfume in question launched this very year? It gets pretty expensive pretty quick if you start letting the people really sold on these concepts tell you what you need to smell, and sentiments like "anything made after the year 19XX/20XX isn't the real X" or "Y is dead. Anything made after Z edition should really be called a different perfume". I do get that scent is associated with memory, and we often form very strong emotional bonds with those memories, so for the people making these hyperbolic claims, it is truth. I won't contest it, and neither should you. If someone feels an older perfume with a longer production history stopped being what they fell in love with after a certain point, the burden is on them to keep themselves stocked with what they enjoy, or to just move on to wearing something else. Others will say there are no differences and that all versions of a certain perfume are as good as any, which while also a valid opinion, is not very helpful.

The short answer is: there are differences in batches of a fragrance with a long production history that may affect your enjoyment of that fragrance, but also may not depending on how you feel about the overall concept or style of that fragrance and whether or not the changes made affect the presentation of that concept positively or negatively. The long answer involves thinking of it like recorded audio that's been continuously re-released on various formats of different fidelity, remastered (and possibly remixed with different studio takes) a few times, but without ever going back to the original master recording in doing so. The sound quality will gradually "walk" further and further away from the original idea as each change is made. By the time you discover the music in question, you've gotten something digitally cleaned, compressed, with crisp highs and tight bass, but that technically has less dynamic range than the original vinyl pressing because it wasn't taken from something closer to the original source like that vinyl was, which also had all the "natural" sub-harmonics, tape-hiss, and mic bleeding left intact.

Somebody might prefer that arguably "richer" sound of the unfettered original recording, warts and all, while you might be content with your more-polished, albeit flatter-sounding remaster. The music is still there either way, and you're hearing the same song, but the performance has been effectively altered enough to cause cognitive dissonance in someone used to the earlier presentations, which is where that passion can turn to vitriol right quick in forum discussions concerning the validity of newer iterations. Ultimately, I think with perfume, the situation can reverse itself quite quickly if someone falls in love with a newer version then goes back to sample an older iteration but decides they don't like the difference in texture of the base or that there isn't a significant enough difference to warrant whatever an older bottle of a vintage scent fetches. Reformulations of newer scents seem to have this problem less, as it is mostly just a tweaking of whatever aromachemicals are in it, and it affects performance but not the fundamental personality of the scent itself (but there are exceptions).

Coming full circle, you just have to find a starting point comfortable to you when dealing with a perfume that has a long production history, be it the beginning or where it is at the moment. Rest assured that if you don't like overall nature of the perfume, going backwards to older or forwards to newer seldom helps, but if there is one unpleasant element of the older told to be removed from the newer, or something jarring in the newer said to be more smoothly handed in the older, and that slight difference is the make-or-break factor in deciding on a purchase, then by all means try different batches. Otherwise, it's best not to overthink it unless these subtle variations are of particular interest to you. I won't lie and say the differences don't matter, but batch fanaticism, vintage puritanism, and overall hysteria you often see in forums or in YouTube videos is just a manifestation of a level of interest that is probably orders of magnitude greater than yours. Enjoy your perfume, and don't worry about if it's "the right one".

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Loving perfume on the Internet since 2000