The 5th Sense in the News & Scented Thoughts: Two Articles by Chandler Burr in the NYT


I just read Chandler Burr's new column in the New York Times. I am somewhat relieved to see that the author is not so keen on using the much advertised 4 star rating system which I cannot help but find a bit crude (please note, Burr does not even get to use 5 stars). But more to the point, I can only express scepticism regarding that approach to evaluating perfumes, so outrageously simplistic it is. It fails to convince because it does not leave room for the temporal, psychological, not to mention individual biological dimensions influencing one's appreciation of a fragrance. Stamping a perfume with one's four stars of approval could look ludicrous. In my opinion, there should be significant room left for doubt and openness, as a perfume, to use Umberto Eco's aesthetic notion, is perhaps more than any other art form, an open work of art...

Perhaps if one had to use a scale for clarity's sake, one could be inspired by professional wine tasters who use a scale from 1 to 100 using different criteria. But are numbers really more objective or do they simply offer the appearance of objectivity? See the debate, for example, around Robert M. Parker, Jr. in The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.

Jo Malone's Pomegranate Noir gets 2 "lovely" stars, but apart from that attribution, stars are not explicitly given to the other perfumes reviewed in the column. Although, I should probably check the paper edition to make sure of that. At any rate, they are not mentioned in the text itself. Bravo! This is probably some sort of inner resistance to an editorial decision.

Dark Victory 

Don't miss the other article by Burr today in the NYT about common misconceptions regarding synthetics in perfumes:

Synthetic no. 5

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6 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Thank you for the links. I liked the Synthetic No. 5 article, even if I found it a little bit too thin. The problem with Sandalwood: The Sandalore is fine, but it is not the real thing. There is nothing like Mysore sandalwood, and...sorry: our nose senses the difference.

    But he is right: Two things are troubling with sandalwood: First sandalwood is not produced sustainable and second: he is right that if you are allergic to sandalwood you are faced with hundreds of potential allergenes in sandalwood. But then.. maybe the changes of getting allergic to sandalwood are much smaller than getting allergic to sandalore (which seems to be pretty safe, as is sandalwood).

  2. Hi -- we get the Sunday edition at home, and he DID assign stars to all three -- Pom Noir got two, Rose Barbare got 3, Bigarade got 4. The (tiny) scale printed across the bottom: 0=do not inhale; 1=inoffensive; 2=eminently sniffable; 3=breathtaking; 4=total nose job; 5=transcendent.

    The part that bugged me is that he plagiarized himself -- part of this appeared weeks (months?) ago on his website. He couldn't have written something new for his NYT debut column? Sheesh.

  3. PS There is a fascinating article in the same Style issue on a smell artist whose name escapes me. I think you'd enjoy it.

    I do find the synthetic thing perplexing -- that is a common question submitted to our blog. It never occurred to me beforehand that people would erroneously assume that expensive frags were "natural."

  4. Hi Andy,

    Good to hear from you. I now wonder what is this 100 % synthetic hugely successful perfume he is referring to.

    I think that if you are used to sniffing natural ingredients then smelling synthetic ones really feel like smelling synthetic ones. But it's like people who prefer the taste of canned green beans and don't like fresh green beans or who like fish fingers but not real fish. You get used to a certain quality of notes and don't bother with the naturalness of them anymore as you have been socialized with the synthetic ones.

  5. Thanks March. That's news to me, it was repeatedly stressed Burr would use 4 stars, not 5. Thanks for mentioning the smell artist too. I think the scale is mostly fun and perhaps will be helpful to some. I just saw on Blogdorf that he actually got inspiration from one of his previous articles in the Times I think. I don't know, sometimes people don't want to take risks and prefer to reproduce the same thing because they know it has worked in the past. So maybe this self-plagiarization was encouraged. Or maybe the job is not paid well enough to encourage great creativity.

  6. Mimi -- I am 95% sure he is talking about Angel -- dim recollection of some discussion of his regarding its ubiquity and the chemistry that gives it the distinctive smell. I am no chemist, though, so could be totally wrong.


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