There are many things about the current state of artistic perfumery that irritate me but there is one thing that is top of my list. I genuinely look forward to seeing what has come in the mail every day. I live for the potential of trying that next new great fragrance. There is a dark side to that and it happens when I open the envelope and see it half-filled with multiple vials. I emit a sigh because another “collection” has found its way to me.
My biggest objection to the term, and the practice. is I think it is 99% marketing and 1% inspiration. The majority of these collections have only one thing connecting them, the name on the bottle. What is even more frustrating is it is apparent there was zero effort in trying to have a coherent aesthetic or theme. Heck I would even accept if it was made up of connected pairs. Instead it feels like a box checking exercise where the perfume line covers all of the expected bases. This would be great if the creative direction was focused enough to provide an interesting viewpoint. The other collateral damage to this collection obsession is it feels like the line can’t be bothered to make up their mind what is polished and ready to be released. Which is why within a collection there are many entries where my reaction is, “Why didn’t you take the time to get some feedback and really add a final edit?” Many of these feel like the perfume equivalent of reading the first draft of a novel before an editor gets a hold of it to tighten it up.
This leads to the second issue they are asking the consumers, us, to be their evaluators for them; at full price. Over the last three years as this ploy of releasing multiple perfumes in a collection has become more prevalent I’ve noticed a couple years on there are only a couple of them still on the shelf. I believe those are the ones which sold well and the majority were discontinued because they didn’t sell. This means they make us pay for the right to beta test their perfume and that should be their job not ours.
From a store perspective this also puts them under tremendous pressure to decide whether they have enough shelf space for a dozen new perfumes. The lifeblood of the indie and artistic perfume community are the small stores which cultivate customers who return to find out what the store owner has identified as worth trying. These new lines approach the stores and ask them to carry all of them or none of them. There is a bit of fallacious thinking that these lines are just on the cusp of being added to Bergdorfs, Neiman’s, or Saks by the line owners. They fail to see that success in those venues has almost invariably happened from a more conservative approach where you build the line over a number of years. These small stores which the purveyors of these collections hold hostage are the very people who will create the repeat customer and buzz for the brand that will open those magic retail doors they dream of.
I am sure there is a collection heading my way which I will be thrilled to explore fully but I expect to be sighing a lot more before that happens.
The advent of Sport Fragrances began in 1972 with Estee Lauder Aliage Sport Fragrance and based on today’s market you might be surprised to know it was made for “active women”. It wasn’t until 1987 with the release of Boss Sport that the Sport Fragrance business started to shift to the guys. The fragrance which would start the men’s sports fragrance snowball rolling was 1993’s Polo Sport. Perfumer Harry Fremont really ran with the idea of a fragrance for an active man as he set the formula for many masculine sport fragrances to follow. Citrus on top followed by light florals made more manly with spices; finishing with woods and musk. The use of Sport in the name was supposed to make it easier for a man to want to buy fragrance, and it worked. Polo Sport immediately became a best-seller and is still one to the present day.
Over the last twenty years there have been many, many sport fragrances released and most of them are flankers of flagship fragrances for the particular brand. The unfortunate part of this is most perfume producers took the wrong lesson from the success of Polo Blue. They decided that Sport meant light almost to the point of insipidness. Most Sport fragrances are an embarrassment to the other name on the label as everything that makes something like Encre Noire great is gutted in Encre Noire Sport. With all of this you might think this is an odd subject for The Gold Standard but there is one which shows it can be done right while hewing to the template set down, Guerlain Habit Rouge Sport.
If there is any fragrance I would’ve thought would never be amenable to sportification it would be Jean-Paul Guerlain’s 1965 men’s fragrance Guerlain Habit Rouge. Habit Rouge is a citrus/spicy/leather with the signature Guerlinade. Habit Rouge would be in my conversation of greatest men’s fragrances of all-time. When I visited the Guerlain Boutique at The Breakers in Palm Beach in the summer of 2009 I probably recoiled when I was proffered the bottle of Habit Rouge Sport. What I should’ve done was realize M. Guerlain would not stoop to make a pale simulation of his classic. Instead he uses three key additions and an overall lightening of the core to create the best sport fragrance ever.
The same bigarade focused top notes are present but they are made brighter and the first key addition, bamboo, adds a fresh light woody note which transforms this into something recognizably Habit Rouge but also something new. The heart of neroli, patchouli, and cedar is the same. Then by dialing back the mélange of spices in the original to just one, pink pepper; and adding jasmine the heart is as easy to wear as that white t-shirt. The base is identical with leather over the amber and vanilla Guerlinade but as everything else in Habit Rouge Sport it is made less intense.
Habit Rouge Sport has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I wear Habit Rouge often but never in the warm weather; Habit Rouge Sport is what I wear these summer days. It may be faint praise to call this the best sports fragrance ever. Let me add to it Habit Rouge Sport is as good as the fragrance with which it shares its name.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
I’m not sure if there are distinct stages of being a perfume lover but there are many common experiences we all share. One of those is trying a “vintage” perfume. What I mean by that is an original bottle of a classic perfume that is over 10 years old and often is as old as 50-60 years. The moment of trying your first vintage perfume is usually followed with a statement along the lines of, “they just don’t make perfume like that anymore”. When it comes to certain ingredients that is definitely true especially now scarce to find authentic ambergris or real musk from the musk deer. There is also another part of the equation too as many who love vintage fragrances love the depth and subtle power inherent in these older bottles. There is then a belief that what they are smelling is somehow truer than a modern version, that is the myth I am here to bust this month.
Coffee Flower Macerating in Jojoba Oil
When you are smelling an older bottle of perfume you have to take into account what has been going on over the years in that bottle. One thing that has been going on is continued maceration. When making a perfume which is high in natural ingredients there is a phase of the process called maceration. What this means is once the perfume concentrate is diluted in the desired solvent, usually alcohol, it is left to sit for a number of weeks at reduced temperature and away from light. What this allows for is these natural materials to reach a steady state where the perfume reaches consistency of odor profile. As I’ve mentioned in the past natural raw materials are not one molecule they are actually mixtures of often hundreds of different molecules. When these are combined with other natural raw materials and diluted there needs to be a settling out period. This is most often done on as large a scale as possible. The perfumer will check over time until the blend reaches a congruency from three or four different samples over different days. At this point it is transferred to a bottle. Now if the perfume is all synthetic this process is totally unnecessary as those are single molecules and need no settling out. While the early maceration is done on a large scale it does not stop once it is in the bottle. Especially when we are talking time frames of tens of years. Maceration is now a much more gradual process but when measured over many years it is still going on. This is what most often produces the softness many remark upon when trying a vintage perfume. Just like a fine Bordeaux wine a 1961 vintage is much smoother than a 2011 vintage. Time does smooth out all things. The continued maceration also accounts for the blurred less definitive transitions also found in vintage perfumes.
This sealed bottle from the 1950's was filled right to the neck when new, notice the gap now because of evaporation
Second is good old evaporation of the top notes. Top notes by their very nature are meant to be volatile and the idea that any of these still remain in a perfume that is ten years old stretches the concept of simple physics. Even if the bottle is sealed once the top notes begin to evaporate they are now in vapor form and if there is even the slightest gap out they will go. To my knowledge there is no vintage perfume which has been so meticulously sealed as to prevent this most basic of processes from happening. The effect this has when smelling a vintage perfume is you get right down to business and go straight for the heart and base notes. This is probably what gives the impression that vintage has more depth because you aren’t distracted for a second by any top notes because they are no longer there.
Vintage Baccarat Shalimar Bottle half-filled with air and clear to let light through
Third is if the bottle has been opened at all or exposed to sunlight for any period of time. Oxygen and sunlight are the natural predators of many perfume molecules converting them into all manner of things. Some of which still smell good and some which definitely don’t. It is either, or both, of these twin plagues which make a perfume go “off”. In the best case it can still leave something behind which smells good but anything like what it smelled like when it was put in the bottle, not likely.
Patricia de Nicolai
For me one of the most eye-opening experiences to this phenomenon was when Patricia de Nicolai of the Osmotheque exposed me to the versions of some of my favorite older perfumes from the Osmotheque. Through the help of the perfume companies the Osmotheque has original formulae for many of the classic perfumes and makes fresh new batches of them for their library. As I experienced these fragrances in their complete glory with top notes intact and lively paired with the heart and base notes in the vitality of their youth I realized these were the real vintage perfumes. We had a group experience of this at Esxence as we had an Osmotheque version of Edmond Roudnitska’s classic Rochas Femme. Everyone was surprised at how different it was to any version they had tried previously. If you love vintage perfume you must go to the Osmotheque and really smell the vintage perfumes you love it will give you a whole new appreciation for them.
I am not saying vintage perfumes are not lovely in their own right. They are also not really anything like the original fragrance put in the bottle you own either. That is the myth of vintage perfume.
There are many things that are not perfume which smell great to me. One of those things is sunbaked skin coated in suntan lotion. The Coppertone my mother slathered on me before allowing me to make sandcastles. The Bain de Soleil the European women wore poolside at the Fontainebleau Hotel on South Beach. As much as the salt and the sand it is the smell of the tanning products that evoke the beach. The five fragrances listed below all remind me of lotion coated tan skin glinting in the sunlight.
Jean Patou Chaldee began its first incarnation as Huile de Chaldee an actual sun tanning product which was mostly castor oil which Patou perfumer Henri Almeras added orange blossom, narcissus, and vanilla to make it smell better. They knew they had a hit when they found women wearing it at night as a fragrance. Perfumer Thomas Fontaine has re-formulated Chaldee and in that reworking has hewed closer to its suntan lotion beginnings, which I really like.
CB I Hate Perfume At The Beach 1966 is constructed around a central “Coppertone” accord. Coppertone was the suntan lotion of my youth exactly in 1966. The suntan lotion used an overdose of coconut to attempt to disguise the medicinal sunblocking agent. It turned into a pleasant smelling tropical laboratory accord. Christopher Brosius gets this picture perfect and he places it in a beach milieu full of drift wood, crashing surf, and sand. It is a time machine in a bottle for me.
If I wasn’t on the beach I was spending time by the humongous pool at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. This was where I came into contact with Europeans using this tube of orange gel called Bain de Soleil as their lotion. In Bond No. 9 Fire Island perfumer Michel Almairac captures that odor plus the sun warmed skin underneath. I can almost see the row of chaises and smell the breeze blowing this to my nose. It is another perfect rendition of a scent memory for me.
The more modern takes on the smell of less scented sun products come from two of the great fragrance producers. Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess is a very close wearing fragrance which takes the warm skin accord in the base and over the top of it adds magnolia and tiare. Perfumer Alberto Morillas turns out a summer perfume which is all about living in the sun.
The final suggestion is the new Guerlain Terracotta Le Parfum 2014. Guerlain in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser takes the same sparkling tiare flower and sandwiches it with coconut milk and bergamot on top and the signature Guerlinade of vanilla on the bottom. This is a limited edition only available for 2014 and it is as good a mass release as Guerlain has done in years. It is perfect for the summer.
I am not recommending wearing perfume instead of sunscreen as you head out this summer. If you want to carry the day into the night any of these five will keep the summer vibe going into the wee hours.
Disclosure: I purchased botlles of all the perfumes mentioned.
Once the gourmand style of perfume had been created with the launch of Thierry Mugler Angel in 1992 a deluge of imitators followed. One common flaw to most of these was they all decided to work on the sweet shop side of the edible olfactory. That sort of slavish devotion to the candy floss character of Angel led to cloyingly overbalanced sugar bombs. As with every trend in perfumery it got to the point that I would steel myself for the onslaught of ethyl maltol every time I was told this was a new gourmand fragrance. It took five years for someone to try a different tack. Perfumer Annick Menardo would look to the candy aisle for inspiration too but she reached for a package of licorice when she composed Lolita Lempicka Perfume.
By 1997, when Lolita Lempicka Perfume was released, there were no fragrances which featured licorice previously. It would become a trendsetter in that respect and over the last seventeen years some of the most talented perfumers have produced their take on licorice but Mme Menardo was first. Licorice has a pronounced herbal character to it in its best forms and Mme Menardo enhances that especially in the early moments before allowing it to become a little more candy-like in the heart. All of this lies on an expertly chosen woody foundation.
Lolita Lempicka Perfume opens with a vegetal green ivy note paired with aniseed. Together this is recognizably licorice but it is almost as intense as an herbal lozenge. Mme Menardo makes sure to keep this arid and delineated until she is ready to make the licorice sweeter. She accomplishes this with the addition of cherry which turns the licorice from black to more of a Twizzler red. Like those red whips of candy it is sweet but not overly so. As contrast a bouquet of iris and violet provide a floral component which synergizes extremely well. Lolita Lempicka Perfume lingers on this sweet tinged floral heart for many hours of wear. It is only after many hours that I notice that vetiver has crept in and brought a little vanilla and bezoin to allow the sweetness to resonate at a low frequency all the way through the woody drydown.
Lolita Lempicka Perfume has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Even seventeen years later Mme Menardo’s creation still feels contemporary and different. The licorice would become a bit of Lolita Lempicka fragrance DNA. Mme Menardo has made eighteen more Lolita Lempicka fragrances and every one of them has a nod to licorice in some way. It is a brilliant stroke to brand the perfume brand with a particular note. That is the advantage of being first it allows for a perfumer to make something their very own. When it comes to licorice I always think back to Lolita Lempicka Perfume every time I smell it in a new fragrance and it still stands up favorably to the comparison. This Discount Diamond can regularly be found for less than $30/oz.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When it comes to musk it is not like we as chemists don’t know the chemical structure of the natural source. In 1926 Leopold Ruzicka isolated and chemically identified the molecule found in the musk deer which primarily gave musk its smell and he called it Muscone.
In the structure above what you see is a 15-membered ring of carbon and importantly the bold wedge attached to the CH3 represents a methyl group which is coming up from the plane of the page. If that wedge was dashed that would indicate the geometry was going behind the plane of the page this is how we show three-dimensional geometry on the page. This orientation is very important because if that wedge was dashed and the methyl group was oriented differently the odor profile of muscone is significantly lowered. It is exactly the difficulty of getting this geometry just right that gives synthetic chemists so much difficulty in making molecules easily. In 1926 Dr. Ruzicka didn’t even try because he discovered if you just leave the methyl group off and synthesized the rest of the large ring you still had an acceptable musky profile. Thus was the first synthetic macrocyclic musk created, Exaltone.
These all-carbon large rings were difficult to synthesize but if you replaced one of the carbons in the ring with oxygen or added additional oxygen, those were much easier to make. These molecules are called lactones and the smaller versions of these also play a large part in perfumery. As you can see in the table above the same issue with the muscone still existed as if the methyl group was pointed away the odor profile was much more muted.
Dr. Robert Grubbs and Nobel Prize
The big breakthrough for the all-carbon macrocyclic musks came in the 1990’s when Prof. Robert Grubbs published a technique called catalytic ring-closing metathesis. That’s a lot of words but what it comes down to is now there was a chemical reaction which allowed a synthetic chemist the ability to form almost any size carbon ring imaginable. This is one of the most powerful synthetic methodologies of the last thirty years and Dr. Grubbs received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work. It fired the imagination of chemists everywhere and in the fragrance industry it sparked a bit of a race into which firm could produce and patent the best synthetic musk.
As for the use of these macrocyclic musks these are the musks most commonly referred to as “white musks”. The term was coined by perfumer Alberto Morillas as he combined a number of these musks to create a “cotton and linen” accord for Emporio Armani White for Her in 2001 and called it a white musk accord in the press release. M. Morillas would use the same white musk cocktail in one of my all-time favorite fragrances Thierry Mugler Cologne later that year.
These musks are also the musks that some people are not able to discern in a fragrance. We term that as being anosmic to musk but that is far too general a term. These very large molecular weight molecules hold a special property that we don’t understand very well which causes certain people to not detect them. The same people who can’t detect these macrocyclic musks can often smell either of the polycyclic or nitro musks and anosmia to those is far less common.
I often find that disparate influences converge to put me in a place where I stop and look back. My personality is to mostly look towards the horizon to find out what is around the next bend in the path. I believe it is that drive which makes me a good scientist. I definitely believe it is that desire to find something new that fuels my fascination with all things fragrant. Tomorrow is Father’s Day in the US and I have also been wearing DSH Perfumes Metropolis a lot in preparation to write my recent review. The confluence of the two events allowed me to consider the length of my perfumed path and where it all started.
When it came to my father when I was a young boy he carried a few unmistakable aromas around with him depending on what day and what time you met him. He worked at The Miami Herald as a typesetter setting the plates which would be used to print the pages of each day’s edition of the newspaper. When he came home after work he smelled of ink and paper. It was mostly an unpleasant smell but I associated it with a job done well. A man smells of his own satisfaction with his life.
Once my dad arrived home he would sit down in his recliner and pack a pipe full of different fragrant pipe tobaccos. As he lit up and smoked the living room would fill up with this pleasant smoke. A man smells of his favorite things.
On Friday night my father would escort my mother out to do something. I would often “help” him as he shaved and got ready. He would spray some Noxema on my face and I would use my finger as a straight blade to scrape it off and flick it into the sink. At the end he would pick up this heavy square bottle with a huge chunky wooden top, Dana English Leather, and rub some into his hands and slap either side of his face, followed by mine. I liked the smell but at this age I didn’t understand the purpose of it. I got the tolerant smile that fathers know it will be all too soon that the boyish innocent that asked that question would disappear. What he told me was, “your mother likes the way I smell when I wear it and I like the way your mother smiles when I wear it.” A man chooses to smell good because the people he loves like him to smell good.
My father passed away in the summer of 1983 and at the viewing I made sure to have all of the things he taught me on hand. One of his co-workers gave me a fresh printed page with his obituary which smelled of fresh ink and paper. I had his pipe in my pocket which smelled of the cherry tobacco he had been smoking most recently. When I finished shaving you know I put on English Leather. Three very important life lessons were wrapped up in those scents and to this day those lessons have stuck even though I’m more likely to wear Metropolis than English Leather.
To all the fathers, and the sons and daughters, out there; Happy Father’s Day.
When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.
There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.
Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.
Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.
For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.
Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.
As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
I spent the weekend cleaning up the area around my desk and it is sort of like archaeological layers of perfume samples. On top is the most recent and on the bottom it turns out were samples I had received from last fall. If they make my desk it means I like them enough to want to write about them. Having the time to write about them, well there are sometimes where it seems perfume samples arrive in an avalanche and the fall is most definitely one of those times. Which means things get left behind; unless I notice them during infrequent clean-ups as I did with Odin 11 Semma.
Odin 11 Semma is a classic case of an Under the Radar choice as it just got lost in the cascade of new releases at the end of 2013. Once I had the space to give it some more time to impress me I was amply rewarded. Odin New York is a men’s clothing store in NYC and brought out their first fragrance in 2009. Odin has had a pretty successful beginning to their perfume enterprise. 04 Petrana was widely praised as a masculine iris. 06 Amanu was formally praised as the first winner of The Fragrance Foundation Indie Perfume of the year in 2012. I like the overall line and always look forward to trying the new ones and so a little tardy here is my review of Odin 11 Semma.
Semma was composed by perfumer Corinne Cachen who had previously done 07 Tanoke for the brand. Semma was designed to be a warm spicy fragrance and Mme Cachen wraps her spices in a tobacco leaf impregnated with chili pepper. That chili pepper is what makes Semma interesting as it adds some restless energy to the smooth tobacco and spice.
Mme Cachen lays out her tobacco leaf and when I initially put this on it feels familiar until another familiar smell that of sliced Szechuan chili peppers arrives. The chili pepper can border on unpleasant but by cocooning it in the tobacco it surprisingly works. I think Mme Cachen probably spent a lot of time getting this balance right because a little too much pepper and this would be tough to wear. Now the more traditional spices of clove and cinnamon arrive and they also help in the continued taming of the chili pepper although both the clove and cinnamon add a fine-drawn kind of complementary heat themselves. The base notes are sweet myrrh, sandalwood, and tonka. Like a bit of sweet dessert at the end of a Szechuan meal these provide sweet solace at the end.
Semma has 8-10 hour longevity and moderat sillage.
I am sorry it took me so long to excavate Semma from the deepest layers on my desk, it deserved a better fate. The unfortunate thing is it is now back on the bottom layer. The silver lining is when I re-discover it again in a few months it will probably be perfect cool weather to wear it in again.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Odin New York. (I think)
One of the many barriers to having fragrance breakthrough as an accepted art form is the need for a consistent vocabulary to evolve from the discussion of perfume. The perfume community doesn’t even have consensus on how to describe a specific fragrance. Consumers rely on the list of notes to help them decide whether they want to give a perfume a try. If they don’t like jasmine they are unlikely to try something as soon as they see jasmine in the list of ingredients. But should they? There are perfumes where the jasmine is used as a note of contrast and foundation never rising to noticeable levels. By just reading a note list a consumer might miss out on something they would really like because they see the note they don’t like in the list. The companies have become skilled in the art of describing accords in ever more flowery terms. There is one perfume I got the press materials for which called it “The Elixir of Love” accord. I have no idea what that means and depending on my interpretation it could go in so many different directions. In the end these descriptions are no more illuminating than a list of ingredients.
This has come to mind again as Chandler Burr has re-started his Untitled Series on Luckyscent. Mr. Burr is one of the most active proponents of making olfactory art something substantial. Towards that end he has used the language of other arts to describe those perfumes he considers worthy of being called olfactory art. Mr. Burr described specific “schools” of perfume and showed examples of each during his exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC. Mr. Burr is also very steadfast in his insistence that fragrances should not be broken down into a list of its components when describing it. He likens it to looking at a painting and describing it only as the colors displayed on the canvas without describing the overall artistic display.
When taken to the extreme I agree with him; a simple listing of the notes does not convey anything special about the overall composition. Where I disagree is that notes have no place in the description of a fragrance I think is olfactory art. I would never write about Thierry Mugler Angel and not mention the use of ethyl maltol Olivier Cresp used to create the cotton candy smell within this game-changing perfume. You can’t talk about Chanel No. 5 without talking about the aldehydes or Lancome Tresor without considering Sophia Grojsman’s use of an overdose of galaxolide. The very use of these materials in unique ways, I believe, requires us as writers to point them out. It is the ingenuity of the perfumer and their intuitive way of taking a raw material into a heretofore unimagined direction which often sets apart a fragrance as something worthy of the label olfactory art.
Here is where it gets a little tricky though. There are some fragrances which are so intricately composed to create a desired effect that trying to pick it apart into its component notes is completely irrelevant. Calice Becker’s By Kilian Back to Black, Bertrand Duchaufour’s Sienne L’Hiver, and Marc-Antoine Corticchiato’s Parfum D’Empire Musc Tonkin are such amazing still lifes that I always just experience them on that level without overanalyzing the notes which bring these exquisite perfumes to life. This is where I and Mr. Burr are in complete agreement but this can’t apply to every fragrance.
Where Next? by Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1846-1902)
Every writer has to make the decision on how best to communicate their experience with a perfume. I decided early on to plant my flag firmly in the middle. I always try to communicate the way a perfume makes me feel without relying overmuch on the individual notes. Then I usually spend the next paragraph exercising my analytical skills tearing it apart into the notes. This captures my two-sided love of olfactory art. I want to be transported by a great fragrance as any art lover does and hope to communicate that. The scientist wants to know how that was achieved and so that part of my psyche delves deep looking to figure out the inner workings of that which I admire.
Which is correct? I don’t think anyone can answer that for sure at the moment. What I can say unequivocally that the more conversation we have about the perfumes we think rise to the level of olfactory art the closer we will become to creating a uniform language of perfume. So to all who write about perfume whether on Facebook, a blog, or a forum pick the way you want to describe your favorite fragrances and add to the conversation; together we will create a language of perfume.