What Is The Role of A Perfume Blogger?

A perfume blogger hard at work.

My interview with the wonderful Natalie of Another Perfume Blog yesterday had me thinking about the various misunderstandings and skirmishes that have taken place between perfume bloggers and perfume companies over the past few years. I will not be naming any names. This will not be particularly juicy. Please read it anyway.

I believe that as a perfume blogger, my role is to talk about perfume. Hopefully we all agree on that part. But how do we talk about perfume? I sometimes get emails from people who dislike the sometimes snarky tone of Scents of Self. They remind me that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. I truly believe that this is impossible for a perfume blogger. Let’s just get this out of the way: the majority of new perfume releases are bad. They are generic, dull, and mediocre. This is true regardless of whether we are talking about mainstream or niche perfume houses. If I only talked about the perfumes that I liked, I would not have very much to talk about.

I am also not a big fan of the “tone argument”. The tone argument, as defined by Abagond, is “where you object to someone else’s argument based on its tone: it is too angry, too hateful, not calm enough, not nice enough, etc. It is a logical fallacy because none of those things has anything to do with whether the truth was spoken.” In my particular case, my occasionally inappropriate tone when discussing perfume is because I am not neurotypical. However, I do not see why any perfume blogger should have to be unfailingly diplomatic when it comes to bad perfume. Nobody expects film critics to be polite and discreet in their reviews of “Transformers 8: Now With Even More Victoria’s Secret Models!”

In my more cynical moments, I fear that the reason that perfume bloggers are so often criticized for criticizing is that, unlike book critics, food critics, or film critics, perfume bloggers are predominantly female. The perfume industry is also male-dominated. I have never gotten the sense that perfume companies think particularly highly of us wimminz. I believe that the perfume industry is used to seeing women as vague muses (“we created this perfume for the modern woman!”) or as mindless drones who will buy anything in a pink bottle, not as thoughtful, well-informed critics.

I do not criticize a perfume just for funsies, and neither do any of the perfume bloggers that I know and love. We do it because we really and truly love perfume. What purpose would be served by perfume bloggers staying silent as the standards for perfume drop lower and lower? If we do not object to boring and unworthy fragrances, then perfume companies will assume that all is well and will continue to make boring and unworthy fragrances. When I criticize a mediocre perfume, my intent is not to say “this perfume is bad”. I am trying to communicate that “this perfume is not good enough”. I know that perfume companies can do better, and I want to push them in that direction.

What do you believe is the role of a perfume blogger? Do you feel that perfume bloggers are overly critical, or perhaps even overly lenient? Are perfume bloggers necessary, or are we doing more harm than good to the perfume industry?

36 thoughts on “What Is The Role of A Perfume Blogger?

  1. I’m new to perfume blogging land (just two months). The reason I started this blog is to catalog my likes and dislikes and learn more about the world of fragrance along the way.

    First and foremost, my role as a blogger is to be sincere and honest. I have an obligation to my readers to provide accurate information and deliver the truth which sometimes can mean unfavorable reviews of a perfume (my readers deserve to know whether the perfume they have interest in forking $$$ over smells like doo-doo imo). If you do reviews, you have an obligation to the consumer not the perfumer. Second, most important role is to be yourself, if you are honest that’s a given.

    I think it all depends on why you’re blogging and who your audience is. I blog because I want to share the joy of fragrance with others and also learn from others. I want my blog to be accessible to everyone especially the perfume layman. I’m trying to reach the average person on the street. I guess this is who I’m targeting because I’m a layman myself, I am going to automatically assume anyone who is looking up a perfume review does not have an educated nose palette. I don’t assume everyone is going to know what labdanum is, vetiver, sillage, or name drop obscure perfumes that the average person doesn’t know. That would be excluding my audience and a total turn-off so I continue to write as if its perfume 101 explaining the technicalities. Hopefully, this will inspire them to delve deeper and want to know more.

    As for a blogger’s obligation to perfume industry, perfumer, being over critical? I know I’m new in this “game” and don’t know the politics yet, but I really don’t give a crap. I side with consumer reports’ philiosophy of being unbiased and impartial. I remain myself, I write what I know, I try to provide accurate information as much as possible, I write the truth as I see it. If they don’t like it, tough! It’s one woman’s opinion anyway, they can take it or leave it.

    Perfume industry, perfumer should be grateful that there are perfume bloggers because (1) It’s free advertising and PR (2) It gives them an assessment of their product and learn from their consumer, and improve their product if need be.

    Perfume as with any art is subjective. There are going to be a lot of different opinions about the same theme. As a musician and dancer, we are always up against criticism and rejection but we don’t take it personally or become defensive. We see it as more room to improve if anything. The world of art is full of critics and sometimes rejection. That’s the way it is. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen!

    1. I think that the fields that you named (music and dance) have a very long history of criticism that perfume simply does not have. Before the internet, perfume was only discussed on a large scale in magazines (and therefore was only discussed positively). Now, ANYONE can criticize a perfume! It must drive the perfume industry absolutely mad! But I believe it is necessary if we want to see an increase in quality.

      1. I don’t think it matters whether criticism in an art field has a long history. Perfumers (most of the big ones I’ve read about) consider themselves as artists and approach perfumery as an art. Even the perfumery students at Givaudan are trained with a hard critical hand the same way as musicians, dancers, painters etc. who have been formally schooled. As artists we are constantly bombarded with criticism and rejection. They are training us for the realities of the profession. Time and time again my teachers/profesessor have said, if you can’t take the criticism, you have no business being a musician/dancer. Be an accountant or something else!

        Art is art. It is subjective. A true artist knows there is no such thing as perfection, which is why art is a lifelong learning process no matter where you are on the ladder. I’m sure Thierry Wasser, Bertrand Duchaufour, or Jean-Claude Ellena feel their artistic creations are nowhere near perfection or feel they have created the perfect scent. They are constanty striving to get to that point. This striving for perfection is a catalyst for every artist as well as perfumer, which is why they come out with amazing pieces of work.

        1. You know, the thing is that I don’t even think it’s the perfumers themselves who are upset by the recent increase in critical analysis of perfumes. I’ve never heard an angry or rude comment from a perfumer about what a misunderstood genius he or she is. It’s the perfume companies who are getting freaked out, because they believe that criticism of perfume could hurt sales. (If only!)

        2. Having worked many years in marketing, I know enough that businesses don’t take things personally. Businesses know if they put a product out there, it will be scrutinized. If they put all their stakes in perfume reviews and get their feelings hurt every time a bad review comes up, it goes to show they don’t believe in and stand by their product. That’s no business model to run by. They either improve the product, target another audience who will be receptive, or take it off the shelf. At the end of their day its all about $$$.

          If Apple gave in to every bad review, they wouldn’t be where they are now. I don’t really think Steve Jobs gave a crap either, he had a vision and just wanted to see it through. I’m sure it’s the same with perfumers, perfumers are like the Steve Jobs’ of the perfume industry. Perfumers have a hand in it too in the guise of a company, it’s their perfume, and without their perfume there is no product to sell.

          Unless you’re Chandler Burr writing for the NY Times, I think most perfume bloggers have some but not that much clout unless you have a million readers. Nevertheless businesses can’t control what consumers think about the product, nor do they have a right to censor a consumer’s opinion.

          Just my $5 on the matter.

      2. I think this here is the main problem that perfume companies have (I was about to write a bunch about this but am glad I read your comments first). So many art, movie, food, book critics are in print and are assumed to have some qualifications. There is no real equivalent for perfume other than Chandler Burr or TS&LT. They’ve been used to getting only good press in magazines (where they generally aren’t reviewed in the same way that film or books are critiqued). So now they see a just regular people online saying bad things about them (and of course good things too), which of course they should because so much new perfume is crap.

  2. I think most perfume bloggers are overly lenient (with certain niche houses/noses held in high esteem).

    I read perfume blogs for “the subjective truth” of others I trust and many times that includes some snark and negative reviews. If there aren’t bad reviews mixed in with the good then what is the point? If every review was to be super-nice & positive then it may as well be a paid advertisement from the company…or a regurgitation of the company’s marketing schpeel then I would never bother to read perfume blogs.

    We are critics. It’s necessary not to be nice 100% of the time.

    1. I am glad you agree! I guess the issue is that some do not feel that perfume bloggers should be perfume critics. But how many blogs that simply regurgitate press releases could anyone possibly need?

    2. “I think most perfume bloggers are overly lenient (with certain niche houses/noses held in high esteem).”

      The more perfume blogging I read, the more I am beginning to see this as a problem. There are a few blogs I am thinking of taking off my reading list because the consistently praise all niche perfume and denigrate all department store perfume.

  3. I think going along with what I said up there about qualifications is like with any art, it’s subjective and emotional and up to personal preference (probably even more so as it’s something you put on your person, not just watch or look at). So to the perfume companies, having one person put out their personal opinion online, who may not have any qualifications or be particularly knowledgeable about perfume, to say something is bad or good to millions of people would be hard to take. I’m not excusing it or condoning it, but I understand. Of course, all the blogs I read are from very perfume-knowledgeable folks who are very up front about things they like or dislike, are familiar with a wide range of stuff and can tell high quality ingredients, etc. For example, if I had a perfume blog and was reviewing a perfume, say with lots of aldehydes and said i didn’t like it and it was bad, well that is just my opinion. I don’t like aldehyedes. That doesn’t mean Chanel No. 5 is a bad perfume, just that I don’t like it. If you’re just looking up a perfume for the first time and don’t know anything about perfume blogs, it would be hard to know who had what kind of background. But anyone who is internet savvy knows that any knucklehead in the world can have a blog so you take what you read with a grain of salt until you learn more about the site and its authors.
    Sorry for the ramble!

    1. And just thought of a few more things! For smaller, indie, niche lines, perfume bloggers are a godsend (and I think they realize it, by sponsoring giveaways, etc). I live in a fairly big city but would never have heard of Tauer, Serge Lutens, Miller Harris, MPG, etc. if it weren’t for perfume blogs. But the big companies are in mainstream departments stores and they spend zillions on print and even TV advertising, so I’m sure they feel like they don’t need any more help from (or a potential bad review) from blogs.

      1. That was why the Lubin incident on Olfactoria’s Travels was so ill-advised. I had never heard of Lubin before, and I doubt that few of the other readers had either. So our first and only impression of Lubin involved a very unprofessional owner who referred to us perfume bloggers as “noxious”!!!

        1. That just didn’t make any sense at all. What kind of businessperson attacks a personal blog, which even had a good review of their perfume? It was the most unprofessional thing I’ve seen in a long time.

    2. Are there “qualifications”, exactly, to become something like a film critic? I know that some universities have film schools, but I was under the impression that they trained students to work in film, not to critique it. But yes, there are certainly no perfume professionals here on Scents of Self 🙂

      1. Maybe not formal training, but some sort of expertise or background probably. (And my brother actually has a degree in “Radio, Television, and Film.”!) And I bet most book critics were English Lit majors, which counts as some kind of background. In order to get a job and be paid for it, you would think they had some kind of background in it. Or maybe they are just good writers, who knows! And of course, many perfume bloggers have a lot of expertise – just sampling a wide breadth of perfumes, vintage and current, reading reviews, knowledge of perfume history and perfume structure/chemistry, etc.

  4. This is your blog sweetheart. You should be uninhibited and say whatever you want, however you want. Its for you to express you opinion, whether its good or bad or indifferent. I think people are too politically correct because they dont want to lose readers or offend somebody. If the bloggers werent honest with their reviews, the blog wouldnt be helpful. I love reading perfume blogs, because for the most part, the bloggers are ordinary people just like me, so i can feel secure that they have nothing to gain by praising a perfume, or ripping it to shreds in their review.

    1. Thank you, Rick! Perfume lovers are very bright people, and I think that it quickly becomes obvious when a perfume blogger is no longer writing honest, objective reviews. Of course, it’s definitely possible to write honest reviews and still be nicer than I am…

  5. I also read perfume blogs for “the subjective truth” of others, and I totally support the right to be SNARKY!!!! oh yessssssssss Please bloggers, Be as much Scents of Self as you can! 😀

  6. The main difference between us, perfume bloggers, and critics in other fields (books, films, food, whatever) is that we are amateurs. Very few might have a formal training in the field. We are beautifully, preciously subjective. But there is a big difference between saying that I do not like perfume X because it rubs me the wrong way and saying that perfume X is badly composed, pretentious, made with cheap material. The former is a personal opinion and nobody has the right to judge for this. The latter is a statement trying to pass for an objective evaluation. Every time a blogger makes such a statement he or she must be prepared to be scrutinized. After all we are righting about the work of professionals. No matter how strongly I feel that I like or dislike a perfume I do not feel that I can judge the quality of materials, the quality of the composition, the perfumes that were copied by a perfumer to create a new composition or anything of that sort.

    Of course the personal touch of each blogger is the main attraction. But let’s stop to think for moment how it feels for a perfumer who has created a new scent in all good intention to read posts by amateurs (us, with everything good and bad that this brings with it) calling his or her creation cheap, sensationalistic, rushed or any other name with a vague meaning. I always try to keep this in mind when I write and I have never felt strongly enough about a perfume to write bad about it. I do not say that this time will never come. I just feel a little…. small to pass very strong judgement.

    1. I definitely see a lot more of the “this perfume is not to my tastes” approach than “this perfume is bad” on most perfume blogs, thank goodness. That’s one of my favorite things about Another Perfume Blog- she has a whole page stating her perfume preferences, so that her readers can be fully aware of how her tastes might be influencing her feelings about a perfume.

  7. I think the point of bloggers on any topic is to provide an honest view on their experience. For me, writing about perfume is a personal passion and thus I tend to gravitate towards writing about the fragrances I love. However, I do write negative reviews where I feel that a fragrance doesn’t live up to expectation and that’s an important part of the perfume blogging process. Likewise with positive reviews, negative reviews vary between bloggers because we all have our own writing style – no blogger should ever be expected to ‘tone down’ their writing style simply to please someone else. I would much prefer to read a hundred snarky but honest perfume reviews on blogs, than a regurgitated PR release in any magazine.

  8. I think that as of today perfume bloggers do not even scratch the surface of the industry. At least yet. Look at the last men’s perfume from Chanel. I think everybody who wasn’t lazy wrote a word or two (and none of them too favorable) last year when it was released. And what? Sales were great, awards were given…

    I’m not even sure if we, bloggers, have a real influence on much smaller, niche houses. I think that most consumers do not browse Internet looking for some obscure perfume that can be bought only online from a couple of very specialized sites for a price of two to four bottles of mainstream perfumes, which you can try at a store or at least smell in a magazine or store ads. And those who do browse for that information (other bloggers and perfume enthusiasts) are not such great consumers: we buy or exchange small samples and then do splits. I don’t think we influence a bottom line for those niche houses more than tourists or wealthy shoppers who decide to buy a perfume they haven’t seen anywhere else from some small boutique on a whim.

    It leaves us with small indie brands – those whose perfumes cannot be found anywhere else but online or in their studios, those for whom every sale means something. Here, I believe, a word of mouth might mean a lot. So if the first two categories, in my mind, are a fair game for all and any review will reflect more on its writer than on a brand or its financial success, when it comes to indie brands we, bloggers, should be mindful of a possible effect our reviews may cause. I do not think we should lie and do positive reviews for perfumes we didn’t like but we do not have to write negative things as well. If for big houses any publicity is publicity, for small brands every negative review can be really bad.

    1. I agree with you that perfume bloggers do not yet have much influence over what people buy, and I’m not sure that I would even want that kind of influence! My only goal with regards to influencing people’s buying habits is to provide honest information about a product to anyone who wants to hear it, so that they can base their buying decisions on more than just marketing.

  9. I think my approach to blogging is similar to yours – speak as you find and let the chips fall where they may. One indigant reader once called me “God’s mistake”, and marvelled at what it must be like to live in my head. It rattled me a bit at the time, but now I look back and think it is good to be different, and not worry unduly about tone. If too many people pussyfoot around in their critiques for fear of causing offence, it is hard for readers to form a proper consensus of how a perfume actually smells. Many’s the time I have tried a scent that has been favourably reviewed and thought: “What??” and in some of those cases I think it has been because a reviewer who was in fact underwhelmed held back. I wonder if this is also to do with a feeling of reverence towards the perfumer in question (in the case of niche, I mean). I would say more, but I have to go to Belgium!

    1. What an utterly odd thing to say. You are the last person that I think of when I hear “God’s mistake”, believe me. I mean, have they never heard of tofurkey?? Now THAT’S God’s mistake.

  10. I think the responses here are indicative of the diversity among perfume bloggers, which is a good thing. We have people who are not afraid to be more blunt in their criticism as well as those who hesitate to pass strong judgment. I tend to be more at the latter end, because while I have strong *preferences* I try to be more diplomatic in my *judgments* — especially when it comes to something that is written down. I would feel terribly badly if I inadvertently hurt feelings or criticized something harshly that meant a lot to someone.

    At the same time, I staunchly defend the right of others to be as harsh or blunt as they want, and I relish that there are people out there who are more direct and more open about sharing their judgments in a really black-and-white way. I just recognize that’s not where my particular skills lie (at least when it comes to perfume blogging). 🙂

    Great discussion and great post, Ari.

    1. The internet can definitely embolden us to say something harsher than we would say to someone’s face. I am very glad that we have perfume bloggers like you, who are smart enough to know to be diplomatic!

  11. I don’t think it is our role to influence the market. Marketing people are better trained so we don’t actually stand a chance. Chanel Bleu was successful in sales because it was designed to be successful: easy, inoffensive, accessible. No matter what we think it is highly likely that the “average shopper” will buy this a lot more easily than an equally accessible niche or independent creation because the label is more recognizable. On the other hand we equally should not try to influence positively. Many times I have read rave reviews about a new release from across the blogosphere and when the time comes to sample it I find it totally mediocre. Our role is to speak our mind. Those who value our opinion will get the message.

    And it is not actually a case of being afraid of our opinions. It is just a case of not taking ourselves too seriously. I think this is a good thing.

  12. Great Post Ari! Your very thought out, and had some great points.

    My two scents on this topic are:

    That are two types of products out there, lets say skills.

    1.Technical such as mechanical engineer,Dr, or researcher. That requires an loads of schooling and expertise. Your average person isn’t going to comment on a heart stint or coding on a website.

    2.In the fields that that are more sensory such art,film,design and of course Fragrance it’s subjective therefore open to discourse.Opinions are fantastic, they add color and gave us another perspective on how others see the world. Thats what makes life interesting.

    Had this idea that can help others properly discover scents that love by trying them over an extend period of time.I know that your extremely diplomatic, love honest feedback on this idea.

    Here is the idea:

    I apologize in advance if you don’t allow links posted on your website.

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