Sunday, August 5, 2012

Chandler Burr - shaken, not stirred!

Two months ago I announced here the launch of a the project called Untitled Series, developed by Mr. Chandler Burr, and presented in the website Opensky (click HERE if you missed it). The basic idea was to "undress" the perfume of packages, labels, brand names and advertising, and give us the opportunity of a blindfolded experience. The perfumes are to be selected according to Burr's own expertise and taste (the explanation I got from him via e-mail exchange: "Burr will write a critical assessment of each including the brilliance of their structures, the quality of their materials, and their singular beauty, all characteristics he feels are essential to consider when selecting a scent".).
Since its launch in Opensky, a lot of online controversy is going on. Even Chandler himself fell into the trap of exchanging sour replies with someone in Katie Puckrik Smells (a perfume blog). 
I myself have clapped hands and also booed him since June. In order to explain why I have jumped sides a bit, and finally found my place in the other side of the fence, I am going to expose now what IMO is working out and what isn't in this project. Yes, dear readers, this blogger feels that something smells rotten in Denmark...

Let's start with the concept of the project. I think it is wonderful that he wishes to share with the public a new approach to fragrances.  Here I have already mentioned that this idea is not new, many did that before him.  Yes, many before him are curating what they call perfume galleries, perfume libraries or blindfolded sniffs. Perfumers, bloggers, owner of perfume groups in facebook, members of forums, you name it... But let's remind ourselves that Mr. Burr sat in his comfy chair in the NYT and was not mingling with fumeheads. He was not online. He did not know what others were doing or not doing before him. In fact, Honestly, I don't think he believes he is re-inventing the wheel. He simply proposed a game with rules, and people can join if they wish to, by paying USD50 to participate.
Bottom line: this project lacks creativity. It is a different approach, not a new one. So far, smells ok.

While many were cheering Mr. Burr (including me), Katie Puckrik stood out of the crowd and questioned:
"Now, does this seem like money for old rope? Or an exercise in meta-meta-meta? Burr's taking something that already exists and is rebranding it as his curatorial choice, à la Duchamp's "Fountain". And then selling it. I don't know if it's annoying or brilliant. Or both". One might do the same with an unlabeled can of Diet Coke:
"This is a beverage, created by one the world's foremost libation artists. It's not just a drink, it is fuel for the microchip revolution. Drinking this work of art places you in a pocket of well-being, where you feel uplifted, your essential you-ness enhanced. $50, please."

Again, I don't think Chandler, or Chazzy B, as she calls him, is in such an ego trip that he thinks he can put his name on a can of Coke and call it CB, and the rest of us, the stupid crowd, will run to buy it. I think he meant something different. I believe he is trying to intellectualize juices; what he calls work of art.
But then what happens? CB's PR, that now seems to be a team of people, probably told him that the best strategy was to invite the "enemy" to a debate, and turn her into a Burret cheerleader. Or at least play the charming one, so she will feel uneasy to criticize again on line. Yes, dear readers, as Chandler Burr revealed his E01S01 in Opensky broadcasting channel, there she was, beautiful, witty and funny as always.
So far nothing to twist the nose. A smart move...diplomatic I may say...does he play chess? Anyone? But the result of bringing Katie to the picture is where I have to say it stinks. He is IMO, literally using her blog, her communication skills and expertise in arbitration, to do the job he was supposed to be doing in the first place. People are going online to discuss his choices. People are going more to her, and not to him for the explanations. Basically, he offered you a deal where you would purchase an unnamed perfume, just because you would later, get to understand why he chose it, get to discuss the choice, the technicality or aesthetics of the juice, etc... Instead, you buy a perfume that you already have, you listen to them chatting for x minutes, exchanging small talks about the weather (Sorry Katie I don't mean to be rude to you, you are not the issue here), and finally, you get to discuss about it with strangers in her website (not in Opensky). People that won't even sign their names in their comments...Now, Katie executes her job perfectly, as usual. I sincerely hope integrity is untouched.
I also got very upset that he gave the pleasure of his presence there, not to engage into serious discussions about the fragrances, but to poke the guy who was posting his opinions anonymously. That was really the gesture that opened the door of the fence for me to step in the other side for good. Bad move for a chess player, or bad advice of the so called dream team of PRs???
Bottom line: the concept smells good, it is smells average; the execution thou... rotten eggs!
There is also a couple of things that really bothered me,and are worth mentioning. If you are selling "not a product", but an intellectualized experience, should you be doing it in a website that sells products and try to polish the sales by calling the sellers "curators"?
Opensky is bombarding my sorry soul 24 hours a day with their e-mails about new products, sales, etc...etc...just like Groupon! I mentioned in Katie's blog that in my opinion, if he opened a new department in such a hip museum and he is the curator, this project should have been launched under the museum's umbrella, not in such a lame website. That make us wonder if he is re-naming a can of Coke, and indeed selling it for a different price.
Bottom line: execution smells weird.
Finally, let's talk about the choices he has been making so far. I recall I said in Katie's blog that choosing Infusion d'Iris by Prada as E01S01 was really disappointing. The explanation of the choice made, very poor, lacking any expertise. It sounded to me that Prada was the only brand allowing him to do so, or the only ones he succeeded to convince at that time.
Bottom line: the first choice was not smelling good either. 
Check what I have said about this already HERE. I am loyal to my readers and my taste. I haven't changed my opinion since.

Second month approached, a new fragrance was picked and delivered. After its revelation, more fuzz, more controversies. Was the fragrance reformulated? People went to basenotes, not to him, to argue that. People went to Katie too...
This time the choice did not disappoint me, but the description/explanation of it certainly did it. I found that Mr. Burrs description of the fragrance, and later the explanation of why he chose it and why this fragrance is so special, is what I call "a re-whiffed" critic of Luca Turin in his book PERFUMES, THE A TO Z GUIDE. But hey! I have already purchased that book. 

Cologne (Thierry Mugler) **** steam clean $
I assume that, when he is not pretending to be French to save trouble, Thierry Mugler travels with a passport that says Forbidden Planet. All his clothes and many of his fragrances have that oversized-pentagonal future-past thing. which makes us want to lie back in your magnetic hammock and ask Robbie to bring you a purple cocktail. His cologne is that rarest thing: And like all good jokes, it's brief and to the point. Take an aromachemical that smells hissy like hot steam from an iron, and instead of putting a smidgen to it in a lemony-woody composition (fresh, bracing, blah, blah, yawn...), just use it almost by itself, accompanied by some pale floral-aldehydic notes. There you have it: triple-distilled essence of space-age barbershop. And it comes in a bottle big enough to last a Krell several days. LT - extracted from LT's book, page 182-3.

Chandler Burr's description:
E02 is a work of olfactory science fiction. It is not merely the morphing of the eau fraîche into a 22nd century form (which would be feat enough), it is the scent of a plant, a lovely curling vine, in a garden built in outer space. It is the green scent of the plant’s delicate green tentacles and its graceful leaves in the precious, pressurized air circulating in cool post-metal tubes, a perfect equilibrium of the heartbreakingly natural and the mesmerizingly artificial.

He uses the term metallic air-conditioning in the web conference with Katie/ air in cool post-metal tubes; Luca calls it hot steam from an iron.
He uses the term reinventing the eau fraîche; Luca calls it a future-past thing, space-age barbershop...and I could go on and on...

So I ask myself, why bother to spend USD50 in a fragrance (that was renamed Chandler Burr) + a rewhiffed critic that was published originally by another genius? 
That is it my dear friends, or as I used to say in earlier days, "I rest my case".

As much as I find Chandler a nice guy and I simply LOVED his books; I think the scent dinners and other off-bottle projects he does, works of art; as much as I embrace the idea of the Center of Olfactory Art ( MAD); and many other things he is up to these days I am so far, absolutely disappointed with this project called The Untitled Series. He had a good idea but he is failing to execute it right.
We have more months ahead of us. I wish him good luck with that. Meanwhile we can all sip Vodka Martinis. Shaken, not stirred. And since I mentioned that, I know I shook things up. But I had to do it. I can't continue to do it in somebody else's blog. It is not fair to jump sides of the fence here and there. One must come clean and decide.

As per Chandler, I think he should know I respect him and like him as a person a lot, but unfortunately I cannot say the same about this project SO FAR. I will continue to follow the series, but I will only address to them here if I find the fragrances he chose, special or interesting. Otherwise I will not comment here or at Katie's. It is not productive to criticize it over and over again. I made a point, and I hope I will be ABSOLUTELY WRONG FROM NOW ON! I SINCERELY DO!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...