Scented Thoughts: On Starred Ratings via Chandler Burr's Take on Dzing! by L'Artisan Parfumeur


I just went and read Chandler Burr's latest reviews of three fragrances in the New York Times: Puissance 2 Jean Paul Gaultier, Dzing! L'Artisan Parfumeur, and B*Men by Thierry Mugler. In it, the author develops the idea that these perfumes are to some extent reflections of a range of olfactory notes found in the world of construction works. They all get 3 stars for succeeding in doing that.

I can only speak for Dzing! to say that I think it deserves better than a 3-star rating, even if that translates into meaning "breathtaking" by NYT standards. I feel that the originality of the fragrance is not properly recognized in this article as it is reduced to a flattening realistic interpretation of its personality. 

Chandler Burr is saying, in other words, that he smelled those notes before on the street around construction workers - hey, no big deal. "L'Artisan Parfumeur's Dzing!, a unisex fragrance created by Olivia Giacobetti, the author of Diptyque's popular Philosykos, is similar to the scent that daily bathes the urban hard hat, with his hammer and nails. I bet this guy never thinks about this complex scent, and I bet he would recognize it instantly". Does that do justice to Olivia Giacobetti's imagination, originality, again, and artistic risk-taking? I think not...

They don't know yet that they are wearing Dzing! by L'Artisan Parfumeur but they will soon, when they open the New York Times....




As I gazed over the star-rating system it suddenly struck me how the style developed in it is hyperbolic to the point of appearing meaningless, starting with the 3-star rating: *** "breathtaking", and then **** "total nose job", ***** "transcendant". 

Then what next, six stars would be...****** orgasmic? Let's do seven stars....******* you die? OK, how about eight stars...******** you die and you see Him or Her in a great flood of light? Nine stars....********* No human expression or imagery in any language and in any century can convey the depth of my feelings and express my sensations right now. I don't know what I am feeling right now to tell you the truth as I have lost all sense of time and space. Do I still have a consciousness? Mmmmmmm. You tell me. {        } I will have to stop here because my appreciation of this fragrance can only be conveyed by silence...and 9 printed stars!

It would be nice also to see more of the bottles and less of the stars. Apparently, the stars are meant to be imprinted on the readers' consciousnesses.

Conclusion? Don't be fooled by the 3-star rating which looks a bit scant. It must surely mainly be meant for fun and dramatization purposes. Dzing! is certainly something more interesting than just 3 stars. 

Building Blocks 

Source: New York Times

Photo of construction workers by Loupiote 

Related Posts

15 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Hi Lisa,

    LOL! I think his tendon will withhold the tension for a good long time before it snaps, LOL.

  2. I happen to be one of the few, it seems, who actually support his endeavors. The man is not a pro and doesn't claim to be one. He writes exactly what we all write about - his own impressions of scents. We should cut him some slack.

  3. Dzing is one of my holy grail scents and I thought Mr Burr did it justice. It would get 9 starts from me, but it is his artcile and his right to rate scents as he sees fit.

    I believe that, as you point out, the star rating system is meant as means of entertainment and should be taken as such, not as a serious system of grading scents. Entertainment and some interesting snippets of information is what I generally want from any perfume reviews, be it in NYT or on perfume blogs. Mr Burr's articles always deliver in that respect for me.

    This is not related to your post, Helene, but as a general observation...I really don't understand the negativity that Burr's work for NYT gets. His style is criticized, his scent choices are critisized, poor guy cannot put his foot wrong. I really don't understand why. Is it the case of green grapes? Do we think we could do better? But the thing is, HE got this gig, not us, so we should let him do it the way he finds it appropriate to do. Sorry for such long comment.

  4. Hi Ina,

    Thanks for your comment. I hope Chandler Burr cuts Olivia Giacobetti some slack:)

    By the way, I am not against him in case you got that (false) impression. I absolutely agree with you that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I never said that he was not a pro. I actually think he is a great reporter. I can't take this rating system seriously but some people might, so I'm publishing my opinion just in case and trying to do it with humor:)

  5. Hi Marina,

    Absolutely agree with you regarding the issue of expressing independent opinions, this is exactly what I am doing in my post:)

    I'm glad if my post can help people see that the rating system used by the NYT is more a form of entertainment than serious criticism.

    "I really don't understand the negativity that Burr's work for NYT gets. His style is criticized, his scent choices are critisized, poor guy cannot put his foot wrong. I really don't understand why. Is it the case of green grapes? Do we think we could do better? But the thing is, HE got this gig, not us, so we should let him do it the way he finds it appropriate to do."

    I wasn't aware that Burr got a lot of negativity; is that on MUA you mean? I myself targeted the rating system from the start and even ascribed it to the editor rather than to CB.

    I think you might have missed the humor in my post; your husband makes many (seemingly) derogatory and typifying comments in his posts but it's supposed to be funny, so I hope you can view my post that way too:)

    I certainly think we could all do better, in the sense that we could all improve our skills at offering fair, informed, and balanced evaluations of scents.

    "HE got this gig, not us, so we should let him do it the way he finds it appropriate to do."

    OK here I'm puzzled. You mean that because he got that gig he is above criticism? Do you really mean that for example if a president X is elected in a Y country and does things that a portion of the population doesn't like, then because he was elected people should just let that president do his "gig" and not criticize him???

    Please see my answer to Ina to see all the good things I have to say about Chandler Burr. I am not attacking him, I am attacking his idea.

  6. Chandler Burr is an excellent, gifted writer. His book and articles on perfume raise the bar for the entire world, and have captivated a whole new audience who had no previous interest in perfume. For that he should be commended on many levels (and he has been) However, his reviews do not do justice to his journalism. They tend towards the bratty side of quirky -- in this regard (as far as reviews go), he's no Luca Turin. Of course I'll keep reading the reviews and impatiently wait for them anyway. Reviewers (especially of food) often elicit emotional, sometimes violent responses from readers because they pass judgement on experiences we all have. It's brave and new to do this with perfume. Just my thoughts.

  7. Dzing is one of my HGs and I must say that I felt he totally "got" it when he compared it to freshly cut wood and the sort of scents construction workers smell daily. That's exactly what it reminds me of as well. I'm not as familiar w/ circuses, so I don't automatically get the circus comparisons, which I am sure are valid, but just not part of my scent memory library.
    I often disagree w/ the ratings Chandler might give a scent, but it's not much different from the lipstick ratings on MUA reviews and only goes from 0 to 5 stars (each explained at the bottom of the article in the Times). 3 stars is for Eminently Sniffable. That's meant as quite a compliment from Chandler.
    I know you meant no personal criticism of CB in this post, but he's received an overwhelming amount of scathing, often personal criticism that I find inexplicable. He's a decent man, adores perfumes, is very enthusiastic about them and brings this enthusiasm to the NYT. Isn't that something perfumistas should applaud? More people may start to take our passion seriously and, no, he doesn't need to be a very knowledgeable perfumista for that job. At the NYT he's meant to write for people like my neighbors or like my husband who do *not* understand even the simplest concepts, such as base, middle and top notes.

  8. Hi Elle,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I think the reason why Burr, despite his endearing qualities, might still have the effect of a polarizing figure is that he often makes pronouncements and cultivates a simplistic style.

    Do you really think he writes only for the simple uneducated, perfume-wise, folks?? May I remind you that he has so stated that the international perfumery scene better watch out for his judgements on perfumes. He has made it abundantly clear that he intended to influence leaders' and readers' opinions at the international level. NYT is attempting to position itself as THE source for perfume criticism. This is ludicrous as they have even succeeded in making people think that Burr is the first and only perfume critic to appear in the international media. Well, not exactly. There are some perfume journalists that I know of in France and Canada who have been writing regular columns about perfumes before Burr came to the NYT. If you read French, please check Maïté Turonnet's articles; they are very informative and she is a very knowledgeable perfume analyst. Let me repeat again that Burr is not positioning himself as simply an enthusiastic perfumista (this is your own interpretation). He is positioning himself as a professional perfume critic, the first of its kind. I don't understand why you want to water down his endeavors and ambitions.

    Well, it seems that all the Chandler Burr's supporters are flocking to this page now and expressing their concerns. I am glad it helped you people de-lurk:)

    Have a good day.

  9. Hi House of Stone,

    Sorry, I didn't see your comment. Thanks a lot for your thoughts. I will need to think more about what you say.

  10. Helene,
    I genuinely apologize for defending him on your blog - I realize that you weren't intending to criticize him in the way he's been lambasted elsewhere. He just seems to serve as a lightning rod for very polarized opinions. I'd really only meant to point out the rating system definitions given by the NYT and the fact that they are similar to those which MUA uses in all their reviews.
    However, if you haven't read the second part of Marlen's interview w/ him, you might find it interesting. He addresses who his intended audience is there. I'll paste the link below.
    Again, I am sorry for having brought up things which were extranneous to your post. And I shall go find and read M. Turronet's articles. My French isn't fantastic, but I can usually manage w/ reading, if not w/ speaking.

  11. Just to be clear - I'm defending his writing but not his reviews! I agree with you completly that the tone leaves something to be desired (and I don't agree with the Dzing! description). But the Times as a whole has a quite elitist approach to style. What I find so interesting about the various perfume blogs is that none I have read have an elitist approach to the world of fragrance - far from it. Thank goodness! And thanks for a good discussion topic...

    house of stone
  12. Hi Elle,

    Thanks for the link. This allows me to underline the fact that it confirms my impression that editorial decision-making is a key ingredient here, as I had assumed previously. I note also that Burr has backed down from his previous claims about shaping the world of the perfume industry and keeping them on their toes single-handedly from his desk in New York. Great, the world doesn't need another world conqueror.

    You know, it just occurs to me over and over again that the star-rating system and the descriptives for the ratings are silly and even downright funny when you come to think of it:)

  13. Hi House of Stone,

    I hear you. It strikes me sometimes that CB might be even more passionate about engineering and science and biography and gays' issues deep-down inside him than about perfumes.

    Hmmmm, to be honest, I think that there might be traces of snubbery on perfume blogs sometimes:) I certainly think that there is a search for social distinction though perfumes.

  14. I think the guy is no Luca - but he brought me to Mr. Turin (himself a polarizing figure), for which I will always be grateful. I think CB is an excellent biographer, and us lurkers all showing up here proves there is at least interest in what he is doing. I've been pretty disappointed in the snobbery (*not* from you!) that this man's reviews have unleashed in the perfume community, so it's great to see everyone here defending the poor fellow.

  15. Thanks Erin.


Leave a Comment