When it comes to fiction there is a thesis which says there are only a finite number of stories. Everything which comes from that is derivative of the original. The problem with this is there is no agreement on how many comprise the baseline. The number varies from three to twenty. Which says to me there is some flaw in the thesis. In perfumery though that might be more accurate than in prose.
What got me thinking about this is a couple of recent reviews, of a chypre and a cologne, elicited two different e-mails on how derivative they were. These are two of the oldest perfume forms there are. How different from 1917’s Chypre de Coty and Jean Marie Farina’s 1709 Eau de Cologne does it have to be? The outlines of chypre and cologne were set by those two perfumes that is why we remember them. The question becomes does everyone after just become a different form of flattering imitation? My correspondents believe that if it comes close enough then they are unworthy of being seen as original. Just as with the concept of a finite number of basic plots I believe it is what a creative team does with these forms which allows them to tell a similar story but not necessarily the same story.
I would say that neither Chypre de Coty or Farina’s cologne would be lauded as the very best chypre or best cologne. In both cases I view them as the alpha with a lot more of the alphabet to come. The pinnacle comes when a creative team looks at these nascent forms and evolves them. The originals are still there within but the fragrance itself is different. That’s the easy case and not what my correspondents were talking about.
In both of these recent cases the question centered around whether changes have more to do with concentration changes on a classic form of chypre and cologne. If you upgrade the raw materials while making it stronger; is that different? I am more inclined to agree with my correspondents on this point. Although in the cases we were discussing I don’t agree with them that is what was going on. I feel the creative teams were going for something different and the similarity is more pronounced but not flat out copying. I absolutely see the counterpoint being offered. I just think these new perfumes did provide something different.
When I look at the classifications in Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of the World and see the entire perfume concordance broken down into fourteen categories I think perfumery is closer to living up to the thesis that there are fourteen basic olfactory stories. It is up to the creatives to make us forget that.