I've been thinking that there's a bigger difference between formula and formulaic than the addition of a two-letter suffix. A chypre, for instance, is a fragrance predicated on a fixed set of ingredients, namely oakmoss, labdanum, and bergamot. This is its formula, which cannot be omitted or substantially altered without disqualifying the resultant fragrance from membership in the genre. But so long as you've got oakmoss, labdanum, and bergamot, you can add just about anything else and achieve incredibly diverse results without corrupting the chypre's essential nature. There are patchouli chypres, vetiver chypres, tobacco chypres, leather chypres, floral chypres, hesperidic chypres, aldehydic chypres, animalic chypres, sweet chypres, dry chypres... and on and on and on. These fragrances rely on a formula, but they are not formulaic. You see what I mean?
The opposite of this vast spectrum of fragrant effects stemming from a common basis would be a portfolio of fragrances that all smell alike despite each boasting its own unique and singular notes list. There's no other way to explain what makes me reject the work of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and embrace that of Liz Zorn-- not that they are rivals, or even competitors. I just prefer one to the other, that's all.
So while a sample of DSH's much-lauded Pandora left me utterly indifferent, Zorn's Green Oakmoss moved me to my core. Why? Both fragrances are recognizably classic chypres of mighty earth-shaking proportions. But while Pandora smelled (as usual) like every other damn DSH fragrance in existence, Green Oakmoss resembled no other Soivohle and no other chypre-- and with so many chypres in my Scent Cabinet to stoke a thorough point-by-point comparison, this really says something.
What makes Green Oakmoss so memorable? That novel clove note, the minty-cold quality of the geranium leaf essence, the incredible clarity of the whole as it slowly unfolds? Or is it the marvel inherent in something that cleaves to its formula, yet transcends it? I don't know. But I could wear a chypre a day until Armageddon, and Green Oakmoss would still remain completely itself, separate and indissoluble, an idol of beauty and a bulwark against uniformity all in one.
Scent Elements: Bergamot, clove, tuberose, geranium leaf, carnation, oakmoss accord, leather, animalic musk, vetiver, patchouli, labdanum, woods
Portrait of Marguerite Moreno, Joseph Granié, 1899 (Musée d'Orsay)