We need to talk… Do we really?

 

I read Andy Tauer’s response to Sheila’s post and realized that I had more to say than was appropriate for the comment section on either of those two blogs. It’s a good thing I have my own blog.

Cat Xing

Why would any perfumer want a meaningful discussion in blogs and forums is completely beyond my understanding. But from my, blogger, position I think those discussions is a Sisyphean task. Why?

First of all, in my experience it’s such an unappreciated activity – telling an artist anything but how much you looove his every brush stroke. So unless you’re a professional who can provide an insight on why something shouldn’t be done (e.g. not a stable mixture, will spoil faster than expected on average) or won’t sell (e.g. there are a really close alternatives from a more-known brand or for one-quarter of a price) you are better off sticking to “loooove” or “nice but doesn’t work for me.”

Second, it might be important that those who serve as judges on different awards committees and panels know the difference between “niche”, “indie”, etc. perfumery. But why should a regular blogger care “[h]ow are things done and why does it matter whether a scent comes from a larger factory or from an artshop that resembles a kitchen more than a factory.” (Andy Tauer)? Most of us aren’t perfume critics. Most of us do not position themselves as experts in the field. We are perfume lovers. We are consumers. We write for other people like us. If we appreciate a perfume we might want to look more into the underlying story and share it with the readers (or not); we might be fascinated by how the Artist was able to create something so beautiful in a kitchen sink. But what if we do not like the result? If an “indie” perfume isn’t better than a mainstream (or niche mainstream) creation it doesn’t really matter that a perfumer had to work 80-hours weeks, dreamt about the scent all his life and triple-mortgaged his house to launch it. It’s not a kindergarten and we should not be giving A for the effort. The best we, bloggers, can do is not to write anything – meaningful or otherwise.

And finally, when some of us dare to criticize some Artists’ work, what do we get in response?

[P]eople are trying to critique perfumes without knowing what it is to critique a perfume. They don’t have the knowledge. People don’t know what it means to compromise if you’re creating something for a brand.” and “[…] they try to drop ingredient names, chemical names, just to prove to their readers that they have the know-how. But so far, I’ve never been impressed by any critics. I read them to see if one day I come across something really different.” (Francis Kurkdjian’s interview with Persolaise).

Or

You have bad habits: you always expect people working in sales to creep in front of bloggers, because we are supposed to be afraid of your noxious comments? I’m the owner of Lubin, and I despise the people who criticize other people’s work and publish without even checking the most basic information. (a comment for Birgit’s review of Black Jade by Lubin)

 

 

So, in my opinion, the real dialog or criticism should be left to experts – it doesn’t matter real or self-proclaimed, let them defend their own status. We, regular people, will blog about something we loved or hated; will shout out our SOTD, SOTE, SOTA, etc. in 140 characters on twitter or “Like” a nice picture of a perfume bottle on Facebook. In the end we, laymen, will sell more niche and indie perfumes then those few chosen ones who are allowed to have an informed opinion and are capable of maintaining a comprehensive discourse in the subject. Why? Because most buyers are laymen with accounts on twitter to write what perfume their cat just spilled; on Facebook to post the newest “my cat sleeping on my laps” picture; on YouTube to watch the latest Maru video and Pinterest to pin up a bunch of cute kitten pictures.

Confused User

Images: my own

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39 thoughts on “We need to talk… Do we really?

  1. Ok. I am really out of the loop here. I manage to miss everything these days.
    Basically what I gathered from your post (I’m off to read the links you posted after I finish commenting) is that perfumers think of themselves as the great artists and cannot take criticism.
    How big are their egos I wonder….

    • Maybe Andy Tauer is one of the rare Artists who can, I don’t know – I haven’t tried criticising his work and since he seems like a nice person usually people are careful what they write about his creations. But knowing how some others react and how damaging for small brands bad opinions might be, I think Andy’s longing for those dialogs might not have been thought through.

      • The Mona di Orio story is a case in point. Luca Turin savaged her perfumes in the The Guide, and she ultimately lost her distribution channels for a while and had to completely rework her entire line.

      • Although… I also have concern when everyone is too scared to ever say anything negative. I feel like there is a lot of marketing going on in the blogosphere today; more and more I feel like I’m being given the official brand press line with certain blogs. =/

        • I think it’s OK: for those of us who read those blogs that “party line” will become obvious soon and we’ll stop reacting to those press release extensions the way we react to original thoughts and feelings. And for those who come across those “reviews” once in a while it will be just one more type of advertising: not knowing where the particular blogger stands one can’t really trust his/her opinion anyway (or at least shouldn’t).

          • OK, when I wrote my comment I mistakenly thought someone criticized Andy and he took it badly. I really feel ashamed now because all I have learned about Andy so far has made me see him as a truly nice person who enjoys making perfumes and discussing them and at the same time tries his best to make the world a better place.
            But I believe you have a point – sometimes discussion between bloggers and perfumers isn’t necessary but I’d say that solely depends on the individual. Those discussions can be wondefully illuminating but they can also show the worst facet of human nature.

            And I agree with Susan – MdO’s first collection seems to have suffered terribly and is no longer available and I thought it was absolutely wonderful.

            Luckily for me, it’s still available here. :D

  2. So sad. Just when I write a blog post about how amazingly warm the perfume community is, it turns out to be some perfumers – the people who make our community possible – who try to spoil the atmosphere. This post, and all the links you posted, just made me sad. :(

    I have now drowned myself in Golden Cattleya (Olympic Orchids) that just came in the mail. Pure joy is wafting to me; perhaps I will soak it in enough to feel a little better.

    Great writing!

    • Don’t be sad, Melissa! This things happen from time to time (those links are to the events set apart by months) but in general our Perfumeland is a very pleasant place with a lot of good, nice, kind and talented people.

      And also – how can you be upset about such an unimportant topic when you smell great? ;)

  3. These tempests-in-a-teapot eat up a lot of energy. By focusing our attention on a central (and often manufactured) drama, they halt actual creativity cold. Cui bono?

  4. I know what it’s like to be embroiled in conflict and I don’t like it. In this case, I am completely unaware of the origin of this discussion, so I’ll have to click some links after I post this comment.

    But I will say this in response to all that I’ve read right here–If I don’t like a perfume, I don’t really waste my time reviewing it. If I like or love it (or feel confused or surprised by it), that’s what I want to put my energy into- exploring my feelings and thoughts. Trashing perfumes is not fun for me. If I’m not inspired by someone’s work, there are 50 untested samples waiting for me to try them out. They whisper in my ear when I’m sleeping! No wonder I wake up with circles under my eyes. :(
    It’s like those commercials where women can’t go into a Pier 1 without inanimate objects talking to them.

    Undina, I have always appreciated your carefully crafted point of view– your honest insights, humility and kindness have always been the best things about your writing. That said. if anyone bothers you I’m gonna kick their ass! (I’m the cyber-muscle). :)

    • Carrie, thank you for your kind words. Most people are not aware of my existence (leave alone bothering me :)), it was just a general reaction to an ongoing rant on what is wrong with perfume bloggers, how we do not meet somebody’s expectations, write too much or not enough; are interested in wrong details or not interested enough; are too subjective or do not look deep enough to understand, etc. etc. Doomed if you do… The complaint from one of the most respected by me perfumers just stirred up all the previous bad memories.

  5. Thank you for the post, Undina! I will post here and at Sheila’s, uh-oh, point of no return :) it feels a little odd to post about my personal struggle between the proportion of passion and “work” in my perfume exploration, but I think it is relevant to the topic. I do not want to be pushed to become more meaningful through the external motivation. I leave this for my work at work and in my hobby I will rely on internal motivation and to where it will take me. Hope you won’t mind a long and personal post!

    ***
    Very interestingly, I constantly walk the line between passion and “work” in perfume hobby. By “work” in quotes I mean networking, participating in sample passes, making sure to read and respond to the blogs (which takes longer and longer, more and more time! good time to say I’m sorry I’ve been away for a while!). I do not mind work at all because there is always work in passion, the passion gives energy to learning about perfume, researching it, going out of the way to get the samples, organizing the samples, etc. Most importantly — wearing the perfume and taking care to notice its beauty and my response to it.

    But when “work” becomes a chore, when I feel stifled by a string of “ought to” — ought to sample because I am in a pass, ought to write a quick review because my friend wanted to hear my thoughts about the fragrance, ought to try a newest creation so that I know what my friends are talking about — the passion disappears.

    If I were a professional perfumer or a perfume writer, even a blogger (and this is why I do not have a blog yet), I’d be in trouble. How would I get all the energy for the work that’s needed to be done when the passion is gone? I am not. I am not a professional perfumer, I am not a professional writer, my work obligation lie elsewhere. If I continue having my passion about perfume, I will continue exploring it, buying it, talking about it in the community, writing about it occasionally as a guest writer. If I lose this passion in attempts to do “work” of trying to be more meaningful than I can be, there will be one less person in the perfume community. It is that simple.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      There are some things that we “ought to” do – go to work, see about family obligations, be a decent human being if you will. But everything else should get in line for priorities. Our hobbies are ours, for us, our enjoyment. So I agree that we should be doing it the way we might enjoy it without feeling the obligation to do it or pressure to meet somebody’s expectations.

  6. You bring up so many interesting points that it’s hard for me to know where to start! It’s hard to see the point of perfumers who say they want to see meaningful discussions about their works, but then turn out to be so thin-skinned that it makes it difficult for non-perfumers to be honest without receiving hostility in response.

    However, in terms of qualifications, I think that many perfume lovers know a lot and can be considered experts even if they are not paid professionals. Why? Because they have 1) smelled a lot, 2) really thought about it, 3) hopefully have done some research, and 4) discussed it with others.

    This is not exclusive to fragrance. In food too there is a lot of bravado thrown around by professional cooks and the little food bloggers they slag. However, I know A LOT of professional cooks who don’t read, don’t seriously think about food, and don’t consider how food fits into the overall bigger picture that is life. Just because you make the same dish 5000 times a month, doesn’t make you more qualified to critique food.

    For my first comment ever on your blog, this is kind of disorganized! For that, I apologize, but your post really gave me a lot to think about.

    I 100% agree with you though: for all the huffing and puffing about who should be qualified to write reviews, when looking to buy, I go to the un-technical-spec-nical, enthusiastic, intelligent blogger more than any published guide.

    • Welcome to here. I’m sure you’ll have many chances to organize your thoughts ;)

      I’m sure that perfumers, as all other people, are all different. Some might be great to have a discussion with, some are more touchy than others. And perfume bloggers are different – more or less intelligent, polite, knowledgeable, etc. But, in general, as I tried to say above, I do not see any real use for a wide open dialog between these two groups. I’d rather see those perfumers creating great scents for us to love and us, bloggers/twitterers/other-social-media-inhabitants, telling about those perfumes the best way we can.

  7. This entire scuffle weds me ever closer to the notion that perfume is not an art. A science, an aspect of design, an indispensable facet of popular culture and high/low fashion, but simply far from the intellectual discourse of the art world. I might be wrong about this. If I am, my apologies to those of you who are offended by the idea that perfumery and the discourses of those who love it and create it is fashion design and not art. But too often I’ve found that perfumers – through interviews by other bloggers – can’t really handle serious conversations about the successes and failures of their work. They automatically negate the intellectual prowess of unaffiliated critics, saying things like, “they’re not qualified,” or “they’re boring.”

    An artist knows that his art is automatically the domain of the public eye, fully open to all kinds of criticism from all different angles, around a central, grounding philosophical axis, which usually belongs to the artist’s personal stance (i.e. why he created his work). There are no unqualified critics. It’s part and parcel to the creative process. From the fray, one can discern who has steered closest to understanding the artists’ intentions, creative perspective and context, etc. Conversely, the casual nay-sayers can also be spotted easily enough. But neither the positive or negative critic can be faulted for being any more or less qualified than the other. If a child walks past a Gauguin and tells his mother “look, the lady has no shadow!”, his input is as vital to understanding the Gauguin as anyone’s.

    I tend to lose patience with the perfume world for wanting so desperately to be something it is not, and then arguing with bloggers, critics, even customers, when the folly of their ambitions is subtly pointed out by innocent bystanders.

    • I don’t know… As with any other field there are talented artists who create art, there are skillful craftsmen, educated technicians, amateurs without any knowledge in what they are doing – and all levels in between. But then I think that fashion design can also be considered an art: I’ve recently attended The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk (twice) and if this isn’t art I don’t know what else in the contemporary world is.

      With critiquing and criticizing It’s not all black and white. A person doesn’t need to have any qualification to write “I didn’t like it”, “It’s the worse perfume I’ve ever smelled” or “Perfumer A is such a talented artist” – as long as it’s understood that it’s a personal opinion/feelings. And it’s really not too smart for any artist, brand owner, etc. to take offence at that. But when he/she tries to sound as an expert who knows what he’s talking about, somebody might call them out.

  8. Thank you for posting, Undina. I had not seen these, so I’m thinking about everything I’ve read and forming thoughts. And maybe I will make more of a comment later. :)

  9. Well, you already know what I think on this, so I’m glad you posted what you think. :-) Should we draw a line between criticism from “amateurs” and from really above-the-line talent like LT (such as in the Mono di Orio case?) I could go either way, but I tend to think that “amateur” criticism is somehow inherently different. I’m probably wrong.
    We have literally thousands of years of gnawing on this bone and I don’t think there’s any clear answer. There have been millions of artists who thought their work was fantastic before and after some critic savaged it. There have been probably just as many critics who felt that their 2 cents helped an artist improve where she/he was weak and/or weeded out a field of options thus making the world of art (Insert your art here) stronger. The sad truth is that lots of art sucks, BUT there are always at least a few people who would or do like it, and in the networked world you can find the niche who loves you (the “long tail” effect). I don’t think it’s as critical any more make a “hit”. But the truth still is that everyone wants to make a “hit”. Which means there’s money in the business, and money makes people craaaaaaazy.
    I’m so glad YOU’RE sane. :-) (Really, I am. I love your calm blogging voice.)

    • Thank you, J! I appreciate your kind words.

      It must be really hard to be an artist. And it should hurt like hell when somebody trashes your work – be it a professional critic with the most convincing credentials or a school drop-out with too much time on their hands to build online following. But this is the cost of the chance to be successful – whatever each individual includes in that definition (money, fame, recognition, etc.)

  10. Seconding unseencenser in enjoying your thoughtful, measured voice, Undina. It seems like social media has closed the distance between the consumer and the producer, and we’re all still trying to figure out how to negotiate the new informality.

    • Thank you, Dionne!

      It’s so interesting to follow the development of the social media interractions between consumers and other acting entities. I wonder where we will be in five years.

  11. Undina, I agree completely. Why should *we* discuss and care how something was made? As you say, leave that bit to ( self proclaimed) critics and the perfumers who so wish- there are perfumers fora on FB for example, where I have seen such discussions.
    Also, I am 100% with Carrie M. on focussing on the perfumes I love, or which inspire me to write. Why should I waste my time on anything else:-)

    • RE: “Why should I waste my time on anything else” – To have a discussion “missing in the bloggosphere”? ;) Kidding.

      If I do not like some perfume, it doesn’t really matter what went wrong – whether they had to compromise for a brand, had a special vision or anything else. I might respect it (like I respect No 5 or Shalimar) but I will not either wear or write about it.

      • “RE: “Why should I waste my time on anything else” – To have a discussion “missing in the bloggosphere”? ;) Kidding.”

        hahahaha!

        And to the rest; we agree :-)

  12. Pingback: The Emotional Engineering Society « The Alembicated Genie

  13. Okay, I know everyone is over this, but here’s what I think in the end (or at least the end for me!). I don’t mind when people post their thoughts about what “should” be happening in perfume discussion on blogs. I find those posts interesting and they provoke interesting discussion. But in general, I don’t take them as guidelines, because if everyone followed the “should” there would be a lot less diversity in the discussion. We can’t all have the same interests and priorities, in other words.

    So for example, I can understand a post that says that brands “should” use social media in particular ways and I can also understand a post that says bloggers “should” promote an understanding of how artisan perfumes are created. Both of those positions come from a passion for a particular angle on the perfume industry in a given moment. But in my opinion, what makes Perfumeland a nice place for discussion is that passions are diverse and constantly shifting, but we still manage to be generally nice to each other. I’m not really interested in everyone taking a particular or similar approach.

    Just my two cents. Glad I got that out there. :)

    • The funny thing is that neither Sheila nor I were trying to stir a controversy :) We both had some thoughts and ideas that, being put into posts, provoked a much stronger reaction than, I suspect, any of us expected.

      Everybody has his/her own pet peeves. Mine is “bloggers should [not]“. Not in moral sense (e.g. “should be a descent human being”, “shouldn’t lie”) but as a directive (“shouldn’t pass negative judgements”, “should research/know more”, etc.)

      I agree with all your points.

  14. Perhaps part of the trouble here is how very full the perfume world is of new releases. If you’re a niche firm, you need buyers; if you’re mainstream, you need buyers, and since perfume production’s so inexpensive compared to thirty years ago, you reply to a flaccid demand by producing more!

    Result: even if all bloggers were willing or able to have “meaningful discussions of perfume”, there isn’t time to do so before the next avalanche of bottles hits the market. It all reminds me just a bit of “tulipmania” or the “Mississippi Bubble”.

    • I think there should be some perfumed quota per year! :) We just cannot process 1000+ new releases every year – let alone discuss them at any length. But I’m afraid that it works the same in this field like in many others – “everybody runs so I should run as well”. An average consumer suffers from ADD (and I do not know if it’s a natural or nurtured behavior), they need new and shiny things. People do not need the N-th bottle of perfume and left alone will slowly go through those that they already have – and then, maybe, will start looking for the next one or replanish one of their favorites. But with hundreds new perfumes out there every month you as a producer/seller have a better chance to trick customers into buying something even when they don’t need it.

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