Keyboard Karma

– Or…the problem with perfume bloggers…

The day, the day, the wonderful day arrived when The Perfume Magazine hit the pixels and went live last Saturday, and legions of perfumoholics – and perfumoholic bloggers – dropped all weekend plans to read it.

Well, I did. In so doing, I came across an op-ed by Raymond Matts entitled ‘Perfume Bloggers – You Have To Love Them!’

If you haven’t read it already, please do.

Now, op-eds are supposed to be provocative. But this one was a bit more than that…this one pushed several buttons (to state it politely), and I stewed for a few days wondering whether I should look the writer up and respond. On the one hand, it was rather nice to be noticed as a group. But on another level, something rubbed this cat’s fur in all the wrong directions.

I’d be damned if I were intimidated! So I wrote him back as follows:

Raymond, congratulations on becoming a commenter/contributor for The Perfume Magazine (something many of us are thoroughly stoked about), and thank you for your commentary about perfume bloggers! It’s always nice to know that someone besides perfumers and other perfume bloggers acknowledges our existence.
However, as a perfume blogger myself, I feel compelled to comment back to you. There are, I agree, far too many bloggers too entrenched in the pyramid mindset, determined to fit their descriptions of perfumes into them if it kills them – or their writing skills! I also wholeheartedly agree with your statement that there’s far too many perfumes and not nearly enough imagination – mostly!
Where I do take umbrage with your commentary is where you mention that you want to read what we smell – in other words, you want the perfume blogger to communicate that sense of transport only a perfume can give you. With all due respect, there are those among us who try very hard to do just that – and as I’m sure you know, this is a writing challenge of no small order! When I became a perfume blogger, I realized that I could never do what so many of the most distinguished among them do so well – take a perfume apart by the seams, so to say.
Instead, I attempt within that constricting corset of verbiage to convey a sense of the genie in the bottle – in other words, the story the perfumer is seeking to tell – to the best of my abilities to communicate what is essentially a non-verbal art form.
Isn’t that what you say is lacking in the perfume blogosphere?
Tarleisio of Scent Less Sensibilities

Lo and behold, a few hours later, this ticked into my inbox:

Thank you for your email. Please don’t take umbrage with the commentary. It really was meant to get blogger’s thinking about what they write. Writing about liquid emotion, something that is not tangible is extremely difficult. It is one of the hardest aspects of what I do. There is a lot to our industry behind the scenes that many do not know about and we get upset at times reading the nasty remarks from those trying to feel self-important.

A good blogger will not be offended and instead will agree with me that there are many who bring down the image of bloggers and the good they can do. I’m equally as harsh with magazines and their rote way of writing.
I’ve struggled in this industry to bring newness and have lost much because I’m one of the few holding on to bringing signature. I’m labeled too creative and this is a bad thing. If we are to become better at what we do.. then criticism of all kinds is and should be welcomed. Only, and I stress “only” when there is substance and knowledge from the source. There is way too much second and third hand information being regurgitated. This I don’t appreciate!
Sadly, I can tell you that many perfumers today do not have a story with their creations. Many fragrances even in the niche market are not really creative in structure and character. The “newness” is more in the story than the actual creation of what we smell. Many fragrances don’t have a story, and if they do they are contrived.
None of this is directed towards you, I merely am sharing some of my thoughts. For the record, as I was labeled a “Pompous Ass” by one blogger for the commentary… I can only say, I’m not a writer nor do I pretend to be. My piece was to get those who critique to not always chastise our creations. In many instances the fragrance we do are not what we want to either. It is the reason I will launch my own line. Trust me, many people will not like as it will rid a structure of heaviness and notes overused in our industry.
I can be honest in saying I don’t like many of the fragrances on the market. I find them old and antiquated and lacking in signature and substance. I find them offensive and invading my personal space to enjoy. However, I can appreciate at times the artistic talent and that someone out there loves the style. For this reason I do not write or critique fragrances, yet I’ve every right to as I understand formulas, balance, strength and character.
My real point was to have knowledge before one critiques… and make one dream.

See, if he had only said so much in the op-ed….and said it quite so well! Since we had now established a dialogue, and since I’m that kind of blithering idiot Joan of Arc, back I waded into the fray, and in half an hour, no kidding, I knocked out…

I’m very pleased to meet you and even happier you took the time and the trouble to write me back so quickly – so thank you for that, too! Dialogue is a wonderful thing – for one, it gets people talking, exchanging opinions and information – and if it’s done with mutual respect and consideration, how can that possibly be bad?
I’ve worked in the media industry myself (although from a different perspective as an art director), so I know all about the uninspired and regurgitated PR that gets hurled around and passed off for original copy. Too often it’s heavily prompted by the big advertisers, and simply becomes covert ad copy that most readers will never even realize, alas.
With bloggers, however, the scenario is rather different. As bloggers, we are always, before anything else, opinionators in the sense that we’re shilling our opinions, exhibiting our writing skills or lack thereof and our ability to critique an art form that might just be the hardest of all to critique – nothing is more subjective than our sense of smell, simply for bypassing our abilities to articulate and head straight for the jugular of our emotions and memories in our amygdalas.
I agree with you completely that there is an appalling lack of vision in perfume today – which is to say, most mainstream perfumes and even a few hotly touted niche lines. Reformulations and target demographics have all but killed ‘perfume’…to an extent where I can hardly take any new mainstream releases seriously any more – no genies lurk in those bottles, waiting to come out and share their stories, and very, very few perfumers are willing to even dare tell them – although there are definite exceptions to that rule. You wonder what would have happened to the Ernest Daltroffs, the Jacques Guerlains, the Edmund Roudnitskas, the Jean Carles and Guy Roberts of the world if there were around today – creating to marketing briefs aimed only at the 15-25 age demographic…It makes me sad, but on the other hand, we still have those exceptions – people who believe in what they do, who believe in their customers, who have that vision, that fire and that inspiration where the exceptional can happen. That could be you and your creative vision, too!
Since becoming a perfume blogger myself, I’ve stuck my nose in an awful lot of…awful! Uninspired, poorly constructed, contrived messes without one remarkable idea or inspiration. But I’ve also had my nose blown to smithereens by the kind of originality, creativity and vision that does give me a little hope for the future – a future I look forward to following and exploring further. I can only hope I’m able to find the words to do them justice – and even if I don’t always feel I succeed, it’s not for lack of care or application. I wish this applied to the perfume blogging community as a whole, but you and I know too well – that’s not the case!
Anyone can write anything – right or wrong, with knowledge and insight or without – on a blog and pass it off as something other than it is – opinion. Once, I tried to pass off my opinions as nothing more or less – only to discover that there were stories that wanted to be told, genies that waited in those bottles and vials, dreams that wanted to manifest. As time went on, my tastes evolved and my horizons expanded, the storyteller I’ve always been overran the opinionator, which is the only way I’m able to enjoy the process of what I do – to find those bottled dreams and breathe them alive – first for myself and by extension for my readers.

OK. Here’s the postulate he claimed: That most perfume bloggers have an appalling lack of imagination – no surprise, given that so many releases are so uninspiring – and try to impale their prose down upon that often obsolete architectural perfume construct called …a scent pyramid. They also more or less sit at their keyboards armed with their rapier words ready to tear apart anything that isn’t up to some impossible standards of perfection – or torn to shreds on that infamous scent pyramid.

Gosh. I’ve so been reading all the wrong blogs – because I don’t read any blogs that do! Or if I do, it’s never for long…snark for its own sake is so off-putting. Once upon a time, I was so down on my luck that reading perfume blogs was the only perfume I could afford apart from Dove Body Cream. (No joke!) When I think back on that incredible mass of talent that taught me so much – Helg of PerfumeShrine, Carmencanada of Grain de Musc, the gorgeous gals of the Perfume Posse, to name but three Major Inspirations – all I could do was to sit back, enjoy that fragrant prose and dream impossible dreams of the day I got to smell all those wonders. If that’s not a manifestation of imagination, I don’t know what is.

Here’s what I believe, heart, nose, head and soul: Anyone can learn to write about anything at all in a coherent, readable manner – even those who choose that notoriously tough subject of perfume. Some of those who do will be more…entertaining, evocative, provocative or readable than others, but that applies to anything on the NY Times bestseller list – or the blogosphere. Have soapbox. Will foam at keyboard.

Talent is talent – some writers cultivate what they have – this applies to all the blogs I personally read, listed on the right – and some choose the easy road of snark and snide superiority to make up for their own lack thereof. Their choice. Some of us perfume bloggers are factual, and some of us are not. Some of us write about other things than perfume – some of us don’t.

But we are all of us…communicators, trying to communicate our passion for our subject matter as well as our talent, skills and our vocabularies will allow, bearing in mind that we are essentially trying to describe the indescribable…that rollercoaster ride in a bottle called…perfume, and make it possible for our readers – if we have them – to gain a sense of that perfume, of that story the perfumer was trying to tell.

In other words, precisely what the esteemed Raymond Matts is searching for in the blogosphere. He’s just been looking in all the wrong places!

What do YOU think? Do you think he has a point – or is he seriously misguided? Did that op-ed piece upset you, make you think, want to tear that guy a new one?

Or was it just a case of keyboard karma coming back to bite the bloggers? Let me know!