Thoughts on Chandler Burr’s Untitled Series

Every perfumista who’s not living on Newt Gingrich’s moon colony has probably already heard about Chandler Burr’s Untitled Series project, but just in case, the concept here is that you pay $50 for a 50 ml bottle of an unidentified perfume. You spend a month experiencing it without being influenced by its advertisements or marketing, and at the end of the month Mr. Burr reveals the perfume and explains why he chose it.

I was at the Sniffapalooza lunch at which Mr. Burr announced his Untitled Series. I found him very bright and very tall, and I didn’t get the impression that he was trying to run any sort of scam. I did get the sense that hardcore fumies are probably not the appropriate target audience for this project, as we’re so familiar with so many perfumes that most of us are fairly likely to instantly recognize at least a few of the Untitled scents.

Other perfume bloggers have already dealt extensively with the fact that 50 ml is too damn much perfume (especially if it’s 50 ml of Prada Infusion d’Iris, which was Burr’s first pick). What I want to talk about is the concept itself. Do we really need to ignore marketing to truly experience a perfume?

I can definitely think of at least ten perfumes that should be experienced in an unlabeled lab bottle rather than in their original packaging. For example, L de Lolita Lempicka is a scrumptious gourmand, but its blue bottle and mermaid ads suggest an aquatic perfume. If I hadn’t read reviews of L online, I never would have picked that bottle up off of the Sephora shelf. On the other hand, I always think back to a very savvy quote from perfumer Ineke Ruhland: “The average person has a rusty connection between their nose and their brain. I think it’s important to use visual cues to give some guidance as to what a fragrance will smell like, and for a niche brand without advertising, that has to come mainly from the packaging.”

I guess my opinion ultimately comes down to this: as a perfume lover, I want people to wear perfume, and I have to say that I don’t particularly care why they’re wearing it. So what if someone gravitates toward a perfume because they connected with its ads or packaging? There’s no right or wrong reason to be wearing a perfume. What am I, the goddamn perfume police? Am I supposed to be giving out citations to people who don’t have a sufficiently deep connection with their perfumes? (Because I might be willing to do that. I’d definitely have to hear the Perfume Police salary and dental plan first, though.)

What do you think about the Untitled Series project? Do you consider marketing and packaging to be helpful or detrimental when you’re experiencing a perfume?

14 thoughts on “Thoughts on Chandler Burr’s Untitled Series

  1. Ari,
    You’ve touched a really interesting aspect, I was thinking about it myself: why should anyone who isn’t a judge in some competition or at least a self-proclaimed expert care to experience a perfume out of the context? And the only good reason I was able to come up with was the one that you confirmed with your L de Lolita Lempicka example: because people might have a negative predisposition towards the brand or the advertising and will end up not trying a good perfume because of it. And I actually read from one of the S01E01 buyers (who isn’t a perfumista, just a regular person) that she didn’t consider herself “a Prada woman” at the time so she never even consider trying Infusion d’Iris. S01E01 grew on her during a month she wore it without knowing what it was.
    If you missed it take a look at the Leftovers section of my recent Laughes, Lemmings, Loves episode for the epiloge of the post to which you reffered above.

    1. Fascinating! So the project did work for at least one person! I definitely think that non-perfumistas probably will get the most out of this project. As for me, I like context!

  2. I’m influenced by packaging….. a bit. Just a bit. Far more influential to me are the opinions of other perfume people. Tocade is a lovely rose/vanilla despite the fact it’s at the discounters and looks like a rocket ship? Well all right-y then, I’ll give it a whirl.

    1. How funny, I’m trying Tocade for the first time tonight! When Drew and I first started dating, he mentioned that his mother wore a perfume that was “in a really weird rocket bottle”- I knew what it was before he ever said the name! I think that I’m about average in terms of being influenced by packaging. I won’t buy a perfume for a pretty bottle (because no one but the kitteh will see it), but I will hesitate to buy a truly ugly bottle. Rochas Man, for example, got returned pretty freaking fast.

  3. When I first read about this project I was surprised in two different ways. One way made me think that there are many people influenced by the marketing actions. To my mind came this thought “why do men buy expensive Creed fragrances?” Doing a reasearch at Basenotes I doscivered that they didn’t buy it because they really liked it, they bought it because it was trendy to have one or two Creeds in one’s wardrobe.
    The other way of surprise was – why does it have to be done in such a way, can’t you do it in more simple, yet effective way?
    I’m a person that rarely falls for the commercial aspect behind a scent. I was caught once by the ad copy of Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilee. But luckily it appeared in the market in Poland and I had a chance to smell it. I found it pretty and unusual so I decided to buy a bottle and organize a split (which perfumista needs 100ml of a single scent) But I didn’t buy it because of the ad copy or because it was new release. It was the first niche and first Goutal I tried and I bought it because I like it and have quite a lot of chances to wear it. That’s it.

    1. Who on earth could resist that Nuit Etoilee bottle?? I think it’s the most gorgeous perfume packaging I’ve ever seen. I tried so hard to love it, but ended up preferring Ninfeo Mio. I’m so glad that it worked better for you!

      1. The bottle is gorgeous! I bought the so called “male” bottle version – I mean the square one. It looks more simple and more sophisticated. I really like it. And BTW, I just discovered Ninfeo Mio and I really like it. I’m telling you I’ll get a bottle one day! Few more Goutals will look beautiful standing next to each other. I’m not a fan of fig in perfume, but in Ninfeo Mio I can easily like it.

  4. Thanks for the serious eval of the Series, Ari. It’s funny– I’m not really sure after reading it whether you’re into the concept or not, but I assume that’s the point. I can tell you one thing: Many of the most hard core scent people were the most surprised by S01E01, and I just got an email from another hard core about E02; he guessed it correctly (the only one so far), then told me he owns it, THEN said that despite both those facts, getting it in a lab bottle with the description (he said my description is one he would never have agreed with but after a few days saw “very well” why I’d written it) made him reconceive the thing. I’m pretty proud of that.

    Btw E02 is $25 and it’s 30ml.



    1. And thank you for reading, Mr. Burr! I am intrigued and pleased to hear about the responses you’ve been getting to S01E01. Your project is interesting and worthwhile, and I would like to participate if I had the disposable income. Alas, I am a college student (one who asked you about genetics at Sniffapalooza!) $25 is an excellent price for 30 ml of perfume. I’m sure that many of the people who expressed reservations with the project initially will be much happier with that lower price point.

  5. Okay. Okay, I admit that I rolled my eyes somewhat at the whole blind-sniffery thing, but it was more the idea of selling whole bottles that smacked of unworthy attempts to winkle my credit card out of my pocket. I mean, LOOK: I tend to keep a death grip on the thing anyway, and after that %(#*&^% Big Fat Lie ad campaign the Jean Desprez people ran on perfume bloggers via email, offering the chance to buy their next fragrance and intimating that the thing would be at least similar to the fabulously rich and luxuriously dirty Bal a Versailles… well, let’s just say that I was most definitely suckered into that, and I should have lit my $30 on fire instead. At least that way, I’d have gotten some entertainment value out of it.

    I further admit that I’d have been much more interested in the project if it involved much-smaller decants. I’m hardly ever, *ever* buying perfume in person anyway, and I’m not sure I’m terribly influenced by packaging. Notes lists, though? Or other ‘fume bloggers’ reviews? Yep. Yep, I have been influenced by those. I’ll often go back and try to find notes I didn’t notice the first run-through. And I’ll also say that frequently I am most delighted by thinking that I’m absolutely going to detest some fragrance or other, based on the notes list – and then finding that, after all, the thing is a joy. I was genuinely surprised by liking, say, Serge Noire.

    1. That Jean Desprez campaign must have gone straight to my spam folder, or maybe I wasn’t famous enough to be targeted?? I’d be maaaaaad. On the bright side, I imagine that perfume creates much more exciting fires than $30 does!

      The decant size is everyone’s biggest objection, I think. I was surprised and excited to learn from Chandler’s comment above that S01E02 is both smaller and significantly cheaper. I wonder if all of the perfumes in the series will vary in size and price?

      1. Hmm. I COULD light fires with the Very Wrongly Named “Gold” – but then I’d have to smell it. It’s a lot like Angel (which I hate), but more chemical.

        The fume size is burning my shorts. Yes, I get that you’re supposed to use it lavishly and really live with the thing in order to form an opinion of it… but 50ml? Really? I don’t want that much of anything, unless it’s something that I already know I love. I don’t even want 30ml of something I already know I love. A mini-bottle would be perfect for what is, after all, mostly an experiment.

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