Who Gets To Talk About Perfume?

All right, everybody out. You too, Patty. What, you haven’t heard? Look, I’m really sorry about this, but you’re just not qualified to talk about perfume. I mean, we’ve got to have some standards, right?

I’ve been hearing this impassioned cry for standards at all levels of the perfume world recently. From the self-hating perfume blogger corner, we have the recently retired Pere de Pierre, who declared in January, “The perfume world has been overcome by… crap ‘bloggers’. Fact is, it takes a long time to learn something as complex as the world of fragrance, and now it seems every Sally-come-lately is trying to teach lessons on something they know nothing of… I’m not saying I’m a professor by any means, and I’m happy to share the Internet, but please do a bit of reading before you teach a lesson…and I’m not talking about The Guide.”

This sentiment was echoed by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian in a recent interview with perfume blogger Persolaise, in which Kurkdjian stated, “I’ve never been impressed by any [perfume] critics… people are trying to critique perfumes without knowing what it is to critique a perfume. They don’t have the knowledge… people try to judge the final result in the end, but they don’t even know about the process of creating it.”

Well, about time, I say! I mean, we can’t just have rank amateurs spewing their uneducated thoughts on perfume, can we? Clearly we all need to sit down and establish a set of qualifications that one must possess in order to talk about perfume.

Pere de Pierre has already thoughtfully provided us with some guidelines by explaining that non-crap bloggers should “do a bit of reading… and I’m not talking about The Guide.” It’s obviously  not enough to simply read Perfumes: The Guide, even though author Luca Turin claims that he “is probably the best qualified person in the world to co-author a perfume guide” on the book’s website. You can’t fool us, Luca!

So what exactly is it that we’re supposed to be reading, then? Fortunately, far-more-legit-than-me perfume blogger Octavian Coifan has provided the answer in the form of an Amazon book list! The 21 books on his list, which include such titles as “Understanding Fragrance Chemistry” and “The Chemistry of Fragrances”, range from $108 to $370. So there you have it! Qualification 1: you must be able to afford a $300 chemistry textbook. And you’ll have to be able to understand it, too, which brings us to Qualification 2: you must have a degree in chemistry. FROM HARVARD. No, Yale doesn’t count. What are we, savages?

Further guidance can be gleaned from Francis Kurkdjian’s observation that “[perfume critics] don’t even know about the process of creating [perfume].” We can therefore infer that in order to criticize a perfume, one must have intimate knowledge of how perfumes are created. Now how does one go about acquiring this critical knowledge? Short of holding a perfumer hostage in your basement and demanding lessons- I call Maurice Roucel- we’re probably talking perfumery school here. The only unaffiliated perfumery school in the world is ISIPCA, which is located in Versailles and offers a 2 year master’s degree. (Of course, you’ll need a BS in chemistry or biochemistry to qualify- see how Qualification 2 came in handy?) You could also try a perfumery school that is affiliated with a fragrance firm, such as Givaudan’s three year program in Paris. I think we have our Qualification 3: you must have formal perfumery training.

Now that we’ve got our qualifications, let’s see who measures up! Well, I sure as hell don’t. Neither do the vast majority of my favorite perfume bloggers. Come to think of it, I can think of exactly two perfume bloggers who satisfy all three qualifications. (I’ll refrain from naming them, as one of them is very modest.) Self-taught perfumer Andy Tauer doesn’t qualify. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena only finished 9 months of Givaudan’s 3 year curriculum- does he count, do you think? And Lord help you lowly commenters. Why, I bet that some of you don’t even own a gas chromatographer!

At long last, the online perfume world shall be purified. No more Now Smell This. No more Perfume Posse. No more Basenotes or MakeupAlley. Definitely no more Scents of Self. Hallelujah!

As appealing as I know this must sound, I would now like to present a somewhat more reasonable viewpoint.

The idea that only those with formal perfumery training are qualified to criticize perfume is completely laughable. Robert Ebert somehow manages to review films despite his crippling lack of a film studies degree. Hemingway ripped half of the literary works of his time to shreds without any degree at all! Do these standard-demanders understand just how privileged you have to be in order to receive formal perfumery training? You’ll need to be able to afford three years worth of tuition, $300 textbooks, and French living costs. Your husband/wife will need to be willing to leave his or her job and find a new one in France. Your children will need to leave their school and friends. The vast majority of us do not have the time or resources to “educate ourselves” on perfume to the extent that these perfume critic critics would like, and I refuse to accept that that disqualifies us from talking about perfume.

So who should get to talk about perfume? Anyone who wants to. It’s the only way. No set of standards could ever be as valuable as the voices we would lose with each new restriction. If that bothers you, I have to ask: do you not understand how the internet works? The internet is a magical place home to many perfume blogs. If you happen across one that you find inaccurate or disagreeable, you can press that little red X in the corner of your screen and it will disappear forever! Crazy, right? Absolutely nothing is making you read perfume blogs that you don’t consider up to snuff! You only have to read the perfume blogs that you want to! You’re free! FREEEEEE!!!!

  • Mark Behnke says:


    Very well done, this is a good opening salvo in a good discussion to have. I’ve been one to preach that the internet is not a zero sum experience.What I mean is once you find something new to read it doesn’t mean that something else has to drop off your favorites list. I know when I first started reading about perfume on the internet my bookmark list was small: Basenotes, Now Smell This, Bois de Jasmin, Perfume Posse, and Perfume Smellin’ Things. From there I would guess I’ve added one new favorite to that folder a month because it numbers almost 60 as of today. I love reading a variety of opinion and am always interested to see how something I like or dislike is perceived by others. For me reading day is Saturday morning where I sit down with a cup of coffee and my laptop and work my way through my bookmarks. I can honestly say that I have never asked myself about the qualifications of the person writing because the most important thing to me is they share a passion with me for perfume and are brave enough to put their opinion out there to be lauded or lambasted. Which of course should sound like any independent perfumer you know; brave enough to put a personal creation out there to be shared.
    Whether you read 1 or 60 blogs about perfume as long as it adds to your fun and enjoyment who cares what others think?

  • Katherine Megan says:

    Ari, your posts make me laugh every time. I agree 100%- and it’s much like telling someone they can’t tell you the meal they just had is bad because they don’t know the recipe or didn’t go to cooking school. Food (and perfume) should be good enough to speak for itself, non?

  • Hannah says:

    I’m going to be that annoying person and give a contrary opinion.
    I read perfume blogs, but I mostly stay on nowsmellthis (where I post as krokodilgena) and Bois de Jasmin so I am not very engaged in the blogosphere.

    Anyone who enjoys perfume and wants to write a perfume blog should so as they wish. But I feel like those quotes are taken too personally.
    Where does Octavian Coifan, or anybody, say that you have to read (maybe even for free from a library for some of them) all of the books on that list to be able to be speak about perfume?
    I’m also not sure where anyone said “you’ll need to be able to afford three years worth of tuition, $300 textbooks, and French living costs. Your husband/wife will need to be willing to leave his or her job and find a new one in France. Your children will need to leave their school and friends.”

    I often wonder how people are qualified when I read opinions on blogs, and I often decide that they aren’t.
    Of course, people can decide for themselves what they find qualified, valuable, or useful.

    Additionally, I feel like there can be a lot of sheep-iness on blogs. Ex: always being anti-oud, pink pepper, aquatic scents, etc.

  • Vanessa says:

    “Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena only finished 9 months of Givaudan’s 3 year curriculum- does he count, do you think?”

    I am not sure I consider myself qualified to say : – ), but it may just explain his so-called “minimalism”. If he’d lasted the course, just think – he might have mastered those busy, “kitchen sink” florals…!

  • Joe says:

    This has provoked quite an interesting discussion here and elsewhere. I’m all for this type of discussion and questioning of authority.

    I *will* however say, that it rankles sometimes when people take a “my kid could do that” attitude toward all types of arts and creative products. Yes, we know what we like, but I think it crosses the line when we try to say something isn’t a valid piece of art or writing or whatever.

    It’s humbling for all of us — creators and bloggers alike — to remember the indelicate proverb about opinions being like a certain part of the anatomy. Yours may be more unappealing than you think it is. 😀

  • It’s always fun to see how people get their panties in a bunch! What a fun read (or wait, maybe it’s not because it’s not qualified to be fun??!). In any case, I love Duke’s Mayonnaise more than I like Hellmann’s Mayonnaise because it makes my potato salad creamier. Just because I am not a trained cook, I don’t get to share my opinion??!

    Be it an amatuer or professional; if you like reading what they have to say, just enjoy it. I’m much too old and tired of pretense and I love fragrance. I have no training. The only thing I do have is a nose and when I smell something I like I want to write about it… ok, I guess that goes for what I don’t like as well.

    Life’s too short to be upset about the trivial. You bloggers out there…keep on bloggin!

  • Persolaise says:

    Thanks very much indeed for the link to my interview.

    For what it’s worth, I’d like to chip in by saying that the world of perfume criticism (or perfume writing, if you prefer) faces the same difficulties and problems as that of music criticism, food criticism, film criticism etc: many of the issues come down to interpretation, subjectivity and cultural context.

    I think it absolutely goes without saying that, at least on the Internet, people are free to write what they please. As you so rightly point out (and I will never understand why people seem to forget this) nobody is forced to read the output of bloggers. People can simply close the window and choose never to look at the offensive blog again.

    Having said that, I do think there’s a case for arguing that some opinions are more ‘valuable’ than others… and here, I’d make a distinction between ‘valid’ and ‘valuable’. I guess pretty much ALL opinions are ‘valid’: if you’re not a regular cinema-goer, and you watch a movie, and you decide it’s brilliant, the fact that you haven’t seen many films doesn’t ‘invalidate’ your response to it.

    But if you’re a seasoned film critic who’s seen hundreds of movies, and you watch the same film as the person above, and you declare that, actually, no, it’s isn’t anything to write home about because it basically re-hashes stuff that’s been done tons of times before, then perhaps it could be argued that your opinion is somewhat more ‘valuable’.

    But then, who decides which opinions are more ‘valuable’ than others? Readers? Other critics? I guess the answer to that depends on what people ‘want’ from perfume/film/food/painting. Entertainment? Artistic self-expression? Social commentary? Escapism? A combination of all four…?

    So – in order to wind up what threatens to turn into an epic blog post in itself – I’ll just return to my original assertion and say that all the difficulties which exist in other realms of criticism are present in perfume criticism too. Readers will seek out the voices which speak to them with authority and conviction.

    • Joe says:

      I, for one, really enjoyed this response, and I find it less polarizing than the original post. “Valid” versus “valuable” is certainly an interesting question with no simple answers. Thanks!

    • Austenfan says:

      Very well put indeed!

  • Bryan Ross says:

    Well done, Ari. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

    I’ve talked at length about this on my blog as well. It strikes me as odd that some people feel perfumery is somehow on par with the other intellectual ivory towers of fine art and literature. Yet these same people hold perfumery’s intellectual discourse up to sacred levels, in some cases, far above art and literature, because perfume critics, unlike art, book, movie critics, cannot possibly gasp the metaphysical meaning behind chemistry equations, raw materials, and the alchemical change of material to meaning – nay, to the divine – which perfumers and perfume “experts” have all but assigned to their commercial endeavors.

    The folly, as you pointed out, is not so much in finding distaste in other people opinions, because opinions are like assholes, and everyone has one. The folly is in considering these opinions of lesser value than the opinions of “experts.” These people create and/or buzz around creators, and who are they creating for? They might have us believe it is secretly just for themselves, for their own enjoyment, a vapid inside joke that gets as many laughs the one millionth time as it did the first. Look at us, men like gods, making something only we can truly enjoy and understand! How great we are.

    This little fantasy is, of course, just that – a fantasy, and not a very good one. Because the truth about perfumery is that it is largely a commercial sector of contemporary markets, a multi-billion dollar/Euro Big Pander to massive demographics of perfume users. Their design endeavors are out in the public sector, impossible to reel back in, and guess what? Perfume wasn’t made for the perfumers exclusively after all! It was made, then marketed and sold, to every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Sally who ever had the presence of mind to stop for a moment on their way back from their lunch break and try a spritz of the latest Chanel, or Dior, or YSL. The success, the very fate of each product, hinges on our collective reaction to it. In the end, sales numbers don’t care whether or not I, you, or any perfume enthusiast holds a degree in chemistry, or incremental accreditation at Givaudan or ISIPCA. Sales numbers are dictated by who is buying and how much. That who is you and me.

    So if we’re the arbiters of fortune, voting with our attention spans and our wallets, it serves to reason that we’re entitled to express our opinions about these products. We’re entitled to self-reference when writing about perfume and our experiences with it. And we have every right to skip the chemistry lesson in imparting anecdotes and reviews on our blogs. Let the “experts” sneer at us from their corner of the room. Let us remember their sneers the next time we sit down at the keyboard and type.

    • Patty says:

      Beautifully said, Bryan. Love your blog, I’m missing so many good perfume blogs, I added you to our links.

      The beauty of the art of perfumery is that it IS approachable.

  • Erin T says:

    Ari, this is a wonderfully written post and I agree with most of it, but I must defend my good friend Dane. Anybody who has met Dane in person knows that he is self-deprecating, fun, extremely smart and generous. His enthusiasm for perfume is infectious and he shares both his knowledge and his extensive collection with newbie and obsessive alike. When I first met him, I was a bit taken aback by the severity of his opinions, but he does not take disagreement personally and has the rare virtue of being a guy who can admit to changing his mind. “You know how I said that perfume you like is a cheap, excretable attempt at grapefruit, a sort of Yankee Candle of Grapefruit? Well, I really like it now. It still smells like a Yankee Candle… but I like it.”

    He ends that January posy by complimenting Victoria of Boisdejasmin and praising her ability to speak her mind without insulting anyone, something he says he can “take a cue from”. From what I’ve seen, all he really seems to demand of someone, in person or online, is that they be interesting. It is quite simply easier to be interesting on any topic when you are educated about it. (This is not to say the most knowledgable people on a given topic have the most interesting things to say about it, of course.) I love the warm and accepting atmosphere of most of perfumanity and would never wish it away, but I do think that sometimes, in our desire to welcome everybody, we discourage disagreement — and some interesting comments.

    • Patty White says:

      Erin, I don’t know Dane, but I read his post and laughed, and I like his style. I think everyone who writes about perfume has been a crap blogger at some point – whether you’re writing from being uninspired or discouraged about the perfume industry or having a bad day.

      Blogging is just different than writing for a magazine or newspaper. You feel much more connected and in tune with your readers, and then you tend to let down your formality. I never take it seriously. Plus, I know a lot of young bloggers now (those just starting or having had a blog for a year or so) will turn into good perfume bloggers, some will quit. I worry that if there’s a blanket statement about crap perfume bloggers, some people won’t even try because they are afraid they will suck at first, and they will!

      I think disagreement is great. I adore Victoria with every fiber of my being, she is gracious and smart and knows perfume like very few people, but some of the shit she loves that I bought just by reading her beautiful prose can fill a large box. 🙂 I don’t have a problem telling her that because I know she disagrees with some stuff I love. I’ve gotten very okay with my perfume cretinism with some of the classics and violent hatred of that FM Therese thing.

      But even larger, some young budding perfumista rolls through and sees a statement that people aren’t educated enough to publicly state an opinion on a perfume – either as a blogger or commenter or submitting a review to a perfume community – could easily just pull back from the whole community, afraid that they don’t get an opinion until they are “smart enough” about perfume.

      I think it’s just good for someone to keep saying that we all get an opinion, and we can hate the scents we hate and love what we love, even if we don’t know all the intellectual reasons why. For me, perfume isn’t intellectual, it is raw emotion and memory, and that’s how I approach it. Knowing all of the technical stuff would destroy it for me, so I clap my hands over my ears and sing tralalalalalalala any time someone tries to make me. :Happy-Grin:

      • Erin T says:

        Patty: As I said originally, I agree with the spirit of Ari’s post and your comment, too. Being who I am, though, I guess I have to approach perfumes as stories or mental puzzles/structures, and my concern is that there may be *no* intellectual reason why some of us love what we love. And it’s probably because it’s not worth loving. If somebody gets put off learning about perfume or blogging or reading blogs based on somebody saying it’s not worth loving, maybe they weren’t that interested in the first place. In addition to the encouragement of all you fine people, I have also encountered lots of “advertsity” in my perfume education and it’s never made me timid.

        I recently had an officemate who became very interested in perfume and I started sharing my desk stash and guiding her to online reviews, etc. She just hooted over any review (mine or otherwise) that disagreed with her and explained why it was wrong. Which is exactly the same thing she did with any disagreement to do with painting, cuisine, wine or literature — all subjects she was quite educated about. I agree with Ari that I’ve never gotten why people like Dane don’t just NOT READ the blogs that don’t catch their fancy. But many of the comments here are harping on the fact that we all get an opinion as consumers. Well, sure — but that doesn’t mean your opinion means much past “I’ll buy it” or “I won’t” and the dude who buys Bleu de Chanel at the duty free because he likes the packaging gets that.

  • Lisa D says:

    Excellent post, Arielle! Is the connection between the expansion of the niche perfume industry and perfume blogs only obvious to us poor, unqualified noses? Like many here, my perfume cabinet would be miniscule (and yes, I’d have a lot more cash on hand) were it not for the perfume blogging community. Where else would I have discovered the work of Vero Kern, Uncle Serge, or, ahem, Francis Kurkdjian?

  • rosiegreen says:

    Great Post Ari. I agree wholeheartedly. All the people who think we should just buy their product and leave our opinions at home are in the wrong century. The internet has opened up the world and it will not go away. Thanks.

  • moongrrl says:

    Love. this. post. Keep on telling it like it is, Ari!

  • Louise says:

    Fabulous post!

    I’d comment, but I checked, and I don’t meet Standards for Commenting : )


  • Wordbird says:

    Hooted with laughter and whooped with support in equal proportions.
    Ari, you’re SO cool.

  • March says:

    I had *such* a crap day, and I laughed all the way through this, starting with the image.

    I’m completely unqualified except I own a NOSE, and I’ll talk about anything I want to. Now I have to figure out how to share this on FB, and shame on you.

    • Ari says:

      Sooo happy to see you back on Perfume Posse, March, especially reading my post!!! A nose is all the qualifications that anyone should need.

      • March says:

        Sorry, it’s like arguing you have to have a f’ing degree in shoe-making to talk about Manolos, or your Le Cordon Bleu certificate to talk about whether you like Georgetown Cupcake. Watch me laugh.

  • Rena says:

    I think process is over-rated as compared to the final product–I don’t care if someone came up with a formula. In one shot by dreaming of it or they went through 200 variations. If FK really feels that we should care about process–then he should give us the exact formula and testing notes for one of his perfumes,for every single variation before the final product, but of course no-one sells perfume that way. Perfume is sold with imagery, emotions, associations…..A good blogger should give me those impressions with as much richness as possible. Any perfume that is not sold in Macy’s, Sephora or drugstores isheavily dependent on blogs and perfume forums if they want to sell to people who don’t live in major cities. Even living in the Boston area, there is, for example, no local stockist for Amouage that I’m aware of. Word of mouth has always been considered the best advertising and perfume blogs foster a community that spreads the word specifically to people that are interested

    • Ari says:

      Yeah, as if it’s our fault that we know so little about the perfume creative process! The perfume industry is notoriously secretive- 10 years ago, we didn’t even get to know the perfumers’ names!!

  • Both authors are French. The French have an academy that polices all usage of the French language to ensure there aren’t any “violations” of their standards — the Academie Francaise — and its members are called “Immortals”. Sounds like they want to enforce the same level of pretension for perfumery.

    Fact is, the internet’s a great leveler, for better or worse. As a consequence, mental health professionals and medical professionals are no longer seen as the ivory tower experts dispensing wisdom from above; clients/lpatients come in educated about their symptoms, and educated about treatments. The consumer drives the process, not an elite “Academy” dispensing wisdom from above.

    BTW, this has also been happening in the world of music, and in the world of publishing … artists and authors are increasingly selling their own stuff these days.

    I want to buy what I like, not what some “expert” tells me I should like. The world doesn’t work the way these guys think it does any more. If they don’t realize and acknowledge this, they’ll become increasingly irrelevant in the world of perfumery. My guess is they know little about the internet, or the profound effect it’s having on the democratization of information.

    • Ari says:

      “Immortals”! Amazing!! It sounds positively Orwellian, doesn’t it? I must say, though, that I am far fonder of the French standards for bread (this is a real thing! It’s the décret Balladur!)

  • Patty White says:

    You little shit-stirrer, I love you. 🙂 This attitude has been out there for a while, but I don’t know that anyone has said it as publicly as FK did. I do have to compliment him on his big hairy ones for doing it!

    The indies have completely smashed the business model – Andy Tauer, Vero kern, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Ayala Moriel, Mandy Aftel AND FRANCIS KURKDJIAN – they don’t have huge advertising budgets, and they went directly to online perfume news/blogs to talk about their scents. And it worked. where these scents barely got mentioned in the mainstream beauty press/mags before, now they are popping up right and left as the beauty editors understand there’s this whole other world out there beyond YSL, Dior, Chanel, etc. Hey, still love them, but they could all work a little harder. Dior is! I used to have crushing criticism about their brand and where they had come from and where they were now, but Demachy’s direction is turning me around completely on their vision and direction – I’ve got the biggest optimism at the moment about Dior becoming a first class perfume company again IF they would start putting their good shit out there in more stores!

    Now a perfumer can launch, build a customer base, and if they are producing great products, experimenting, even if one here and there is a flop, they can build a business without needing to sell out to Estee Lauder (Hey, Jo, Bobbi, how did that work out for your brand?) or some other corporation and start doing it “their way.”

    Small business perfume is where every single innovation has come from and will continue to come from, and that they are successful and pushing lazy companies who rely on flankers of past successes to start putting some effort into what they produce can’t be a bad thing.

    • Ari says:

      The feeling is absolutely mutual :Love-Letter:

      I really hope you’re right about Dior, Patty. I’ve never had a chance to try any of their exclusive scents (and I live near a Dior boutique! Not even all of their boutiques have them!), so all I see from them are endless Addict flankers, which gives me the impression that they’re going downhill! Nothing would make me happier than to see Dior moving back towards where they should be.

      I winced when you mentioned poor Jo Malone. She is clearly so unhappy with the direction in which Lauder has taken her line. I don’t think she’ll make the mistake of having anything other than an indie line again. She needs to bring Jo Loves to the U.S. already so that we can see what she’s up to these days!

  • dissed says:

    You, and the people over at I Smell Therefore I Am, are onto it.

    Is FK qualified for interviews? What ARE his qualifications? I want degrees. I want his resume. I don’t like what he says, so he shouldn’t be allowed to have it published on the internet. That’s what I think, so it must be true.

    What do we know? We’re just the people who pull out credit cards and enable him to continue his employment. We may not know what smells good, but we know what stinks. Right now, it’s FK. I wouldn’t buy his perfume if it was my Dearly Beloved One and Only. Ever. So there.


    • Karin says:

      Excellent post! I agree 100%!

      • Karin says:

        Oh, sorry – meant to reply to the original blog post, but dissed, you have good points, too! 🙂

    • Ari says:

      OH SNAP! Indeed, where are Mr. Kurkdjian’s journalism degrees? (Thankfully, I have a totally legit journalism degree from the D.C. Newseum, so I am up to dissed’s standards!)

  • tammy says:

    Altogether now: “Lighten up, Francis!”

    Admit it, wouldn’t you just love to get right in his face and say it???

    I am beginning to wonder if some of these pompous asses even want us wearing their precious creations. I always assumed the aspirational pricing was more of an ego stroke, but perhaps it’s truly meant to be a method of keeping out the hoi polloi and the Great Unwashed.

    FK, indeed.

    And Ari, thanks for a fabulous post!

    • Ari says:

      If I ever had the opportunity to get up in Mr. Kurkdjian’s face, there would be very little talking involved! :All-I-See-is-Love: That interview was totally obnoxious, but I find him awfully pretty. I’m so glad you liked the post, Tammy!

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    Then I must be one of those “crap bloggers” because all I have is a high school diploma. It does look like I have some kind of following on Blogger by checking my stats and most who are reading it are in the US or in Russia. It just annoys me and kind of gets me PO’ed that there are some people out there who think that there should be high standards with perfume blogging. Just because I don’t have these fancy degrees and training doesn’t mean I can’t try a perfume and write about it.

    • Ari says:

      The weirdest part is that there are no degrees in perfumery!! But don’t you dare get discouraged, because for every person who thinks that perfume bloggers need more standards, there are ten people who would be thrilled to read your “unqualified” opinions!

  • Patricia Hall Borow/Olfacta says:

    Somehow I missed Octavian’s must-read list. I added up all the books; the cost would be something like $4,576.

    I remember reading a how-to-write book by an author who insisted that every aspiring writer, no matter how broke, simply had to own the entire 10-or-so volume edition of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) which was going for well over $1000 at the time. This same writer later came out with a series of mystery novels starring her cat.

    This whole thing is really such a shame. It’s human nature, I guess, to be threatened by upstarts.

    • Ari says:

      Woooooow. I absolutely hate to think what would happen to literature if the author in question got her wish and only the most privileged of us got to write books. (Was this before dictionary.com???)

      I would probably read a mystery novel starring a cat if it was very heavily illustrated. But I’m not proud about that.

  • Kathryn says:

    The exquisite taste of all those highly trained professional noses in the perfume industry is why every fruitchouli and celebuscent smells so incredibly wonderful, yes? I love many, not all, of FK’s perfumes, but can’t help noticing that if he followed the logic of his own advice, he would need an advanced degrees in journalism and information technology before commenting on the internet coverage of his perfumes. It’s all piffle as far as I’m concerned.

    • Ari says:


      (But seriously that first sentence was the best thing I’ve ever read)

  • Ann C. says:

    I completely agree! In the end, we as consumers have the last word. If we like it, we’ll buy it. Perhaps the idea of an informed consumer scares them, but really, every other form of art and entertainment is subjected to review by critics. Since the market is flooded with new perfumes, I love to read reviews from bloggers that I trust to help me decide whether I want to sample, or even buy, a perfume.

    • Ann C. says:

      I was thinking about this topic in the shower (am I giving this too much thought?) and wanted to add an additional comment to my post. Do perfumers expect us to make purchasing decisions based on their marketing? Lol! While ads and commercials are often beautiful, they tell us next to nothing about the fragrance itself.

      • Ari says:

        I know, that part makes no sense! Why on earth would a PERFUMER tell us to pay attention to the marketing when marketing is so often used to distract from the perfume itself??

  • FragrantWitch says:

    Amen to that, Ari! Mind you, I studied Classics so what the heck do I know? Oh, wait- I have a nose, a brain and they talk to each other. Sometimes, I just record the conversation! Oh, and my soul pipes up too but that is something that seems to not be a qualification. Surely, some soul is required in perfumery, in trying to express the abstract and ephemeral you can’t deal just in dry chemistry. I would think that would result in a soulless, by the numbers perfume that cares not about any further development of either itself or you as a person….hey, wait a minute that sounds like a mainstream eleventy-millionth flanker. No soul- dull and soon discounted. Heart, soul, a desire to express something artistically= something memorable, for it’s subjective beauty OR ugliness. These perfumers should be flattered that their creations inspire such discussion and stir such passions in bloggers and commenters. Soul is the central qualification on both sides I think and the blogs I love and the perfumes I love all have soul in abundance.

    • Ari says:

      More soul is exactly what perfumery needs today. And we’re certainly not going to get it by shutting up and ceasing all criticism of those mainstream eleventy-millionth flankers!

  • killerrabbit says:

    Where is the like button? I have a nose and an opinion so surely that makes me an expert on something that is made for smelling?

    I have wondered what on earth could be going through the minds of people who criticize bloggers who are promoting their products for free. More interesting perfumes would be nowhere if they relied on the magazines that rarely mention anything other than the latest designer fragrance and the majority of perfumes displayed and sold in chemists are the same ones for the past 10 years. The internets are my great enabler for perfume knowledge and accummulation. Long live the perfume blog!

    • Ari says:

      I loved Poodle’s comparison up above about how she can tell that a shoe is comfortable without having to be a shoemaker!! And I would never have perfume-shopped anywhere more niche than Sephora if perfume blogs didn’t exist.

  • sonomavelvet says:

    Well it is interesting isn’t it? I wonder just how chagrined creators and purveyors of our fragrant delights really are about all of our buzzing, huffing, scrubbing etc. all across web space. I think most of these people are pretty savvy about marketing and know that chatter of any sort probably ends up in their favour. Is there any such thing as bad publicity? I don’t know, not knowing much about advertising or marketing, but I sure do wonder.
    I like to imagine most of them gleefully rubbing their hands at any free, FREE, did I mention FREE, and mostly completely unsolicited buzz about their products. If you think about it, what could be worse for a fragrance than complete and utter web silence? What could be better for a fragrance than discussion amongst enthusiastic $$$ paying customers? Who are you going to believe? Brad Pitt loves Chanel 5 because you see his pic beside the bottle? or someone just like you or me that describes being transported with joy over the sensual delights emanating from their own actual bottle? Even if they mention a hilarious race to the bath to rid themselves of the, in their opinion, toxic sludge oozing from their arms, it still reminds us of the product, the brand…. so I don’t know…. methinks perhaps someone doth protest too much????

    • Ari says:

      Oh, I don’t think for a second that any perfume marketers are too worried about my huffing! And of course, not all readers found Mr. Kurkdjian’s interview as obnoxious as I did. I remember comments praising his candidness!

  • nozknoz says:

    I especially love your last paragraph and that picture, Ari! I admire anyone who has the energy and creativity to blog, and I prefer blogs that encourage comments, which I often enjoy as the posts. I also really enjoy Octavian’s blog, although some of it is lost on me.

    Keep up the great work, and that goes for everyone here as well!

    • Ari says:

      Thank you, nozknoz! I spend more time than I should probably admit searching for a relevant lolcat for many of my posts, and get a little upset if I can’t find one.

  • Ninara Poll says:

    Ugh, you mean ivory tower academic myopia, the need to defend uber-specialized academic turf by discrediting all one’s “opponents” by all means available, and the inability to handle criticism now have all infected the sphere of perfume? *cries* Dear Lord, I had more than enough of the “Only true experts can criticize me, and oh look, the qualifications for what makes a true expert means only I and two other people in the entire world are” attitude when I was in academia! In fact, it’s one of the major reasons I’ve never sought a scholarly career. I’ve noticed said attitudes have been infecting lots of unrelated spheres for decades (normally as a cowardly means of self-defense on the part of whovere is elucidating the argument), but to think it’s now appearing in the world of personal toiletries? It is insanity, I tell you. Please, fight this pointless bullying, don’t let it infect the blogosphere of scent!



    • Ari says:

      I know exactly what you’re talking about, Ninara. The glimpses of academia that I’ve caught in my time at Johns Hopkins have been more than enough to scare me far away!

  • Patricia Hall Borow/Olfacta says:

    The perfume blogosphere is a much more daunting place than it used to be, with all of this stuff going on.

    • Ari says:

      That’s what worries me the most, Patricia- that all of this kvetching and negativity will discourage potentially amazing new perfume bloggers! I think I might be too nervous to start a perfume blog now (so thank goodness I did it three years ago instead!)

  • Meg says:

    *sniffs own armpit* Yep. Rank amateur. 🙂

  • Winifrieda says:

    Very thought-provoking! When I jumped to the interview I was struck by the many contradictions inherent in Mr K’s statements! The unwashed public is ultimately the great critic, they either buy the stuff or they don’t! As a teacher of Art I was also struck by his allusion to the painters… he had to know a little of the context and techniques, without being an expert, to speak thus. I wonder where Serge Lutens fits in Francis’s estimation? Or apparently Jean Claude, or the patrons of perfumery who hire him?

    • Ari says:

      Such a great point, Winifrieda. Why was he talking about art without the proper qualifications, huh??? :Tounge-Out:

  • Janice says:

    I love this post! I had never seen that interview with Francis K., so I just clicked on the link and read all of it, and it’s actually pretty hilarious… only some of it intentionally so, I think. Especially his comments about JCE.

    I absolutely agree with Aparatchick and Poodle—probably 90% of the fragrances I own I learned about mainly through the blogs.

    • Ari says:

      Thank you, Janice! I really have no idea what possessed him to go after JCE. Insult your customers, fine, but JCE?!?!

  • Oh, lord, this is not something I expected to read today, but I did, and I laughed my ass off. Roger Ebert, for example, is what I would call a brilliant writer, not just a critic. Plus, he gave the world the gift of the script for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls! And us? We are writers (with cats), who happen to love perfume, and therefore writing about perfume. I think Thierry Wasser has the right idea– (at the very least, it makes sense) when asked about perfume bloggers in a semi-recent interview for Basenotes, I think it was, he said something to the effect of, “some are good, some aren’t, but they exist and that’s fine with me”. You might be wondering if I’ll ever shut up about Thierry Wasser, and I can assure you I won’t.

    Since I started blogging about perfume, I’ve been weirded out and/or disappointed by strange or bad behavior by my peers, perfumers, firms and executives more times than I could ever count. I’ve learned to ignore undesirable eccentricities– like you said, if one doesn’t like what they see, you close the browser.

    • Ari says:

      That was a very wise and tactful statement from Mr. Wasser. I am so glad to hear that you (a great writer with a great kitteh) enjoyed the post!

  • Poodle says:

    I’d have a lot more money if I didn’t listen to all you unqualified people who lead me down the path of uneducated purchases.

    Give me a break. I can’t make shoes but I can certainly tell you if I find them comfy or not. I am not a pilot but I can tell you if the one flying my plane makes a crappy landing. To think that someone needs to know the intricate working of something in order to express an opinion on it is ridiculous. Thank heavens for blogs and people commenting on them! I have gotten tons of valuable info I never would get otherwise.

    Makes me want to add fuel to old Frank K’s fire and start a blog of my own. I guess he doesn’t realize that most of the niche purchases are probably blog driven. I can tell you with the utmost honesty that I never heard of most of the fragrances I own either full bottles of or samples/decants of before the blogs. I’d still be shopping just at Macy’s and Sephora and wouldn’t even know who Francis was.

    • Ari says:

      LOLOLOL! There you have it, folks: listening to unqualified perfume critics leads to bankruptcy and despair. You heard it here first. And I’d read that blog of yours no matter why you started it, Poodle!

      Your last paragraph reminds me of that post on Olfactoria’s Travels on which the owner of that niche brand Lubin left some very rude comments about “you bloggers expect sales people to crawl in front of you!” I remember thinking, “I would never in a million years have heard of your line if she hadn’t written this post!”

      • OperaFan says:

        Is THAT what got Brigitte so depressed? Well then I won’t be buying anything from Lubin for sure.

    • Ann says:


  • rosarita says:

    LOVE this!

  • It’s infinitely laughable, for those of us who provide enough money to purchase these perfumes on a regular basis, to be told that we are not qualified to have an opinion about the stuff we buy and use everyday! At this juncture, we can only hope the perfume counters at our local department stores, Sephora and other such establishments, not to mention online retailers, will not be putting licensing requirements for qualified folks to make a purchase. Perhaps they could make us, one and all, sign a release upon purchase of a fume, agreeing not to blog about, or comment on a blog about said purchase. the perfume industry gets a fair percentage of my money as it stands, and a sh-tload of absolutely free advertising to boot! I find the opinions about qualifications for bloggers to be extremely offensive, not to mention positively absurd!

    • Ari says:

      Shhhhh! Don’t give them any ideas! That whole interview was a serious case of bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you-itis. Not to mention and-bite-Jean-Claude-Ellena’s-hand-for-good-measure-itis.

      • Ann says:

        Ari, your “bite the hand that feeds you” was on the tip of my tongue, so I’m seconding you here. Maybe they haven’t stopped to think that the blogging community help generate interest and publicity (and in turn sales, $$$ — ding! ding! ding!) for their fragrances. I know without all these wonderful Internet resources, many of us would have no choice but department store offerings.

  • unseencenser says:

    HI ARI!!!

    As you know, of course, I’m all up on your side. There is no art form where people have to be “qualified” before they critique; and in fact if they were, artists still don’t want to be critiqued, because… they don’t want it, that’s why! That’s OK. Everyone can just go back to doing what they want. It will all be OK. 🙂

    I so love your writing style.

    I wish someone would do a study, apropos of Aparatchick’s comment above, about how MANY more perfumes so many of us buy because of internet commentary.

    • Arielle says:

      HI JUDITH!!!! :Who-s-the-man:

      Thank you so much for the compliment! Rants are my favorite thing to write. And it’s so true- nobody likes criticism, no matter where or who it comes from!

    • Gwyneth says:

      Since my discovery (years ago) of online perfume blogs I have amassed a very large collection of perfumes. And how did I obtain these bottles of perfume? I bought them, of course. Here is the point….it was directly because of perfume blogs which fueled my obsession that I have spent $$$$$ on perfume.

      I have done my part to subsidize the Perfume Industry with my hard-earned cash! This and this alone should qualify me to read about perfume, write about perfume, have an opinion of perfume, etc., right?

  • Mrs. Scents says:

    Great (and understandable) rant! Hopefully some of them do appreciate the feedback (and all the free marketing!) from the people that wear (and most often times love) their creations!

    All I have to say is Stay Strong and Blog On, scent sister!

    • Arielle says:

      Thank you for the encouragement, Mrs. Scents! I have read interviews with quite a few perfumers (a Ca Fleur Bon interview with Maurice Roucel comes to mind) who seemed much less hostile towards perfume criticism from us lay people… or were at least prudent enough to keep their true thoughts off the record!

      • Patty White says:

        Word I’ve heard, Roucel doesn’t have a filter button, so it’s likely if he hated perfume bloggers/reviewers, he would have said it. Though Michelyn may have judiciously edited around that. 🙂

  • Aparatchick says:

    Love it!

    It’s not only perfume bloggers who’ve been getting bashed. Book bloggers have been hearing this from publishers, authors, agents and even “real” book reviewers.

    Who are bloggers to dare to have an opinion?! Those amateur readers should just buy the damn books and shut-up as they did in the good old (boys club) pre-internet days.

    Well, those days are long gone, and good-riddance to ’em. Without perfume and book blogs I’d never have known about, or … ahem, BOUGHT, half the perfumes and books I own.

    • Arielle says:

      This is spot-on, Aparatchick. I think that a lot of people in a lot of industries are very unhappy that the internet is helping us to learn more about the things we’re buying. I don’t understand why anyone would miss those days, unless they were profiting off of them!

  • Musette says:

    Oh, THANK YOU!!
    I didn’t know we had to know what goes into making a perfume. I thought we just had to know whether or not we liked it!

    My mistake. Tell ol’ Frankie K I’ll vamoose!

    xoxo :Devil:

    • Arielle says:

      So silly of you, Musette! Thank the lawd we got you all straightened out before you could do anything TOO crazy, like rendering UNQUALIFIED PERFUME JUDGMENTS!

  • Darryl says:

    *slow clap*

    This post made my day.