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  1. #1

    Default Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    I am very new fragrance and am really enjoying reading the fine discussions and reviews on this great site. I have pretty much zeroed in a number of scents that I want to explore and ultimately add to my small collection. I am in a quandary, however, with the issue of reformulations. I am not even remotely familiar with any of the original formulations of the classic scents, and frankly, at this point, have no desire to track down vintage examples of perfumes that are still made today. I am also basically ignorant about the regulations that might have precipitated today's reformulations.

    My question is: why would companies like Channel or Hermes or whomever, purposely and continuously reformulate their classic fragrances in such a way as to make them starkly inferior to the originals? That simply doesn't sound like a business model that would be sustainable. Wouldn't the frag consumer beat a door to the few makers that maintained the quality and character of the originals? And even if regulations compel makers to change ingredients, wouldn't modern day chemistry allow these companies to at least approximate, if not duplicate, the quality of the originals?

    Another of my passions is golf. It never ceases to amaze how guys will argue about the feel of a forged iron as compared to a cast iron; when many tests have conclusively proved it is virtually impossible to discern a difference. That may not be a good comparison, and perhaps it's just a matter of my ignorance which is most assuredly bliss when it comes to fragrance, but it just doesn't make sense to this newbie. Would love to see what many of the enlightened members here have to say on this subject. Thanks.

  2. #2
    hednic's Avatar
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    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    Quote Originally Posted by CesareBorgia View Post
    And even if regulations compel makers to change ingredients, wouldn't modern day chemistry allow these companies to at least approximate, if not duplicate, the quality of the originals?
    I think that many of them try to do this and get as close as possible even if it doesn't capture the original in all its splendor.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    Quote Originally Posted by CesareBorgia View Post
    I am very new fragrance and am really enjoying reading the fine discussions and reviews on this great site. I have pretty much zeroed in a number of scents that I want to explore and ultimately add to my small collection. I am in a quandary, however, with the issue of reformulations. I am not even remotely familiar with any of the original formulations of the classic scents, and frankly, at this point, have no desire to track down vintage examples of perfumes that are still made today. I am also basically ignorant about the regulations that might have precipitated today's reformulations.

    My question is: why would companies like Channel or Hermes or whomever, purposely and continuously reformulate their classic fragrances in such a way as to make them starkly inferior to the originals? That simply doesn't sound like a business model that would be sustainable. Wouldn't the frag consumer beat a door to the few makers that maintained the quality and character of the originals? And even if regulations compel makers to change ingredients, wouldn't modern day chemistry allow these companies to at least approximate, if not duplicate, the quality of the originals?

    Another of my passions is golf. It never ceases to amaze how guys will argue about the feel of a forged iron as compared to a cast iron; when many tests have conclusively proved it is virtually impossible to discern a difference. That may not be a good comparison, and perhaps it's just a matter of my ignorance which is most assuredly bliss when it comes to fragrance, but it just doesn't make sense to this newbie. Would love to see what many of the enlightened members here have to say on this subject. Thanks.
    An interesting and informative article I came across points out 3 reasons reformulation in perfumes occur. You might find this article just as informative. http://scentbound.com/2012/12/15/per...-with-success/. It is interesting to know that the decision is not always left to the companies...if they wish to remain in good standing, that is.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    It's not all about the money, it's also about the environment. Without restrictions, the Earth will be stripped bare of all its oakmoss, oud, Mysore sandalwood, etc.

    I do not know much about golf but I'm willing to bet your nose will be able to tell the difference when your favorite fragrance gets reformulated one day...
    Last edited by Diamondflame; 29th January 2013 at 12:03 PM. Reason: typo

  5. #5

    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    Restriction and cost factors may be important reasons, but then again, I simply have to ask myself once in a while
    if some fragrance houses aren't also a bit afraid that "individuality won't sell"- even individuality in their more edgy, experimental, artisan scents (irrespective if the fragrance house and the perfumer are niche, designer or mass-market).

    Thus, under the illusion that "one size fits all", even iconic and bestselling scents with individuality, known and loved exactly for their individuality, may have been watered down lately to pleasant, but unremarkable notes that wouldn't offend anyone e.g. on social gatherings, in pub, while clubbing or in an office. By trying to become too popular, certain scents may lose exactly what made them stand out.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    Most fragrances today are designed by committee, designed not to offend, designed not to smell different. The difference s added by the Marketing department and advertising. Ken, you are absolutely right.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    There are few (if any) companies where a perfumer is in charge, sitting at his "organ," lamenting the missing bottles that contained ingredients now banned. Instead, in many if not most cases it's just a name that is purchased by a "conglomerate." They try to create super-cheap versions of old scents and hope few notice, while some of the old fans keep buying and a few new fans come on board. Certainly, some owners of small niche companies may be quite unhappy but that's not the subject of your post.

    As to the differences, for me it's more like putting a Ferrari body on a Hyundai chassis with engine, etc. And yes there are tests that can be done to show the differences in the molecules that are in vintage as opposed to new formulations. This has been done with fakes (I saw an Australian documentary on it), and my guess is that you would find a very similar situation in many of the reformulations (especially the ones that are now considered "drug store" quality and often sell for $20 or less for 100 ml at discounters). If you don't mind paying I'm sure you can find a scientist or lab that would do this for you.

    It took me a couple of years before I began to be able to tell the difference, and once that happened, I could no longer wear many of the "cheapos" I owned. The best way I can describe it is that you feel a kind of particulate tingling that I call "richness." In many of the new ones, there is a kind of sticky chemical quality, if not an outright "synthetic" overall feel, and it seems too "thin." They are often harsh, sharp, or metallic as well. In many cases new designer scents have decent top notes but then the base is of little interest, which is apparently fine for a whole lot of people.

    The thing about irons is that there are cast ones designed to keep the ball straight. The old forged ones required a better strike. I preferred cast ones that were lighter (with graphite shafts), but haven't played in so long I couldn't say more than I don't see much usefulness in comparing this to scent appreciation. In golf you are looking for performance, whereas with scents it's about an hours long pleasant experience that doesn't require you to do anything (other than pay attention), at least for me. I suggest getting several vintage samples and trying them every few weeks. My guess is that after several months, you will have one of those light bulb turning on over your head moments, and you will say to yourself, "the difference is huge, and that reformulated stuff is a waste of my time." For several dollars, what have you got to lose?

    A word of advice: you may need to avoid smelling too much of the top notes, or else olfactory fatigue may make it much more difficult to tell the difference. I know this is one of the issues I had, and I always make it a point now to only breathe in a minimal amount of the top notes.
    Last edited by Bigsly; 29th January 2013 at 01:21 PM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    To the OP. There is no doubt that reformulations change fragrances, and this can often be for the worse. However for me the quest for vintage is motivated mainly by scents that have slipped downmarket or been discontinued out-right. Yes there are examples of fragrances still in production where the vintage is markedly superior and - at least for me - worth getting. However reformulations can also be seized upon as a simple point of snobbery. Especially with more recent scents and amoung houses who are prepared to invest a fair amount of time and money into their reformulations.

    In a lot of cases there is little difference between reformulations. Sometimes they even improve the scent. Some houses seem to do reformulations better than others, or with more respect for their customers. Some will - as a matter of policy - automatically start cheapening any scent which has been on the market for x in order to chanel more funds into marketing their upcoming releases.

    To put it all very simply you need to look at fragrances individually.

    It never ceases to amaze how guys will argue about the feel of a forged iron as compared to a cast iron; when many tests have conclusively proved it is virtually impossible to discern a difference.
    This is why arguments from personal experience hold so little water. People are astoundingly dishonest and will always be prone to spout risible nonsense in the hopes of impressing people with their refined taste, or whatever else. A fragrance-related version would be the documentary where an unlabeled perfume was made out of a woman's sweat and sampled by a room full of fragrance enthusiasts who asserted it contained all manner of notes which it did not. One or two out of dozens did make the point that it smelled rather like sweat, or body odour and nothing else.

    Just keep that attitude in mind when you read peoples take on reformulations. I'm not saying to ignore reviews, but - when it comes to reformulations especially - it can help to weight them en masse. Doing your own homework is even better.

    - - - Updated - - -

    To the OP. There is no doubt that reformulations change fragrances, and this can often be for the worse. However for me the quest for vintage is motivated mainly by scents that have slipped downmarket or been discontinued out-right. Yes there are examples of fragrances still in production where the vintage is markedly superior and - at least for me - worth getting. However reformulations can also be seized upon as a simple point of snobbery. Especially with more recent scents and amoung houses who are prepared to invest a fair amount of time and money into their reformulations.

    In a lot of cases there is little difference between reformulations. Sometimes they even improve the scent. Some houses seem to do reformulations better than others, or with more respect for their customers. Some will - as a matter of policy - automatically start cheapening any scent which has been on the market for x in order to chanel more funds into marketing their upcoming releases.

    To put it all very simply you need to look at fragrances individually.

    It never ceases to amaze how guys will argue about the feel of a forged iron as compared to a cast iron; when many tests have conclusively proved it is virtually impossible to discern a difference.
    This is why arguments from personal experience hold so little water. People are astoundingly dishonest and will always be prone to spout risible nonsense in the hopes of impressing people with their refined taste, or whatever else. A fragrance-related version would be the documentary where an unlabeled perfume was made out of a woman's sweat and sampled by a room full of fragrance enthusiasts who asserted it contained all manner of notes which it did not. One or two out of dozens did make the point that it smelled rather like sweat, or body odour and nothing else.

    Just keep that attitude in mind when you read peoples take on reformulations. I'm not saying to ignore reviews, but - when it comes to reformulations especially - it can help to weight them en masse. Doing your own homework is even better.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    Interesting conversation. I'm going to take Miket's advice and decide for myself what I like. I'm sure if I had been exposed to some of the "classics" in all of their glory, I might have a problem with the latest renditions. At this stage of my olfactory development, all I'm looking for is something that smells great and lasts a reasonable amount of time; that is enough for me. If I can get that from the latest example of Bel Ami, Antaeus, Egoiste, Heritage, or whatever, I'll go with that. I've been thinking about ordering Luca Turin's book and exploring other resources to develop my olfactory sense, but I'm really not sure I want to. Why make it more difficult for myself to get what I like?

  10. #10

    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    Yours seems a good approach. After you've smelled around current stuff, settled down with your likes and dislikes, you can check the vintage and see for yourself. It must be said that masculines have so far survived somewhat better, on average, than feminines, perhaps because masculines have always been a little less rich than feminines.

    I encourage you to peruse Turin-Sanchez (perhaps after you've smelled a scent, if you don't want to be influenced). Be aware that the main book (the AZ guide) came a couple of years before a big round of reformulations, and some of their reviews would have been different had they come later. Indeed, they later published a follow up small book on their top rated, 5-star perfumes, and many of them were sharply downgraded.

    cacio

  11. #11

    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    There should be a law that compels companies to label reformulations. Customers should know if the bottle they are buying is the same as the last bottle they purchased, or if it's different.

    Imagine going into a restaurant and ordering a 1996 bottle of your favorite wine. The restaurant is out of that 1996 wine, so they pour a 1997 wine into the 1996 bottle and sell it to the customer. The restaurant says it's the same wine company, the same grape, so it's no big deal! But to the wine lover, there is a difference.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Reformulations: a race to mediocrity?

    There should be a law that compels companies to label reformulations. Customers should know if the bottle they are buying is the same as the last bottle they purchased, or if it's different.

    Imagine going into a restaurant and ordering a 1996 bottle of your favorite wine. The restaurant is out of that 1996 wine, so they pour a 1997 wine into the 1996 bottle and sell it to the customer. The restaurant says it's the same wine company, the same grape, so it's no big deal! But to the wine lover, there is a difference.

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