I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the various notes with which we each struggle. Our personal bête noire, if you will. How many of us really pinpoint all the notes that really turn us off perfumes? A discussion in comments to the recent Serge Lutens’ Cuir Mauresque review and how it smelled “dirty” to some brought the issue of about animalic civet and musk to the forefront of my mind. So did a comment on another blog about lily-of-the-valley and muguet. But, while we know our greatest and most horrifying notes, the greater issue concerns the grey zones: what about those which straddle the line and where it’s all a question of their treatment in a perfume?
So, I thought it would be fun to play Questions. It’s one of my favorite games and, as a former litigator, I have my own extremely elaborate version with a complicated set of rules, but I’ll spare you what has been compared to the Spanish Inquisition and just stick to the basics. Well, as “basic” as someone massively detailed like myself can be….
This is the scenario: you’re going to a famous perfumer to order a bespoke fragrance. In preparation, he asks you to write down all the notes that you can think of and put them into six different categories. These are the categories:
- Notes you absolutely adore with a passion and which make you sit up just a little bit straighter when you see them on a perfume list.
- Notes you like.
- Notes you neither like or dislike. True and genuine indifference as to their appearance in a perfume.
- Notes that are very iffy for you unless done right, are in conjunction with other things, or are handled in a certain way. In other words, problematic notes that straddle the line between ambivalence and dislike unless something amazing happens to them.
- Notes that you don’t like.
- Notes that you hate with the searing passion of a thousand burning suns!
Now, you might be surprised when you really think about ALL the possible notes out there and which one of the categories they would really fall under. I certainly was for a few of them. Categories #3, 4 and 5 are the ones I’m most curious about. What straddles the line and what gets pushed over into some dislike? Are there things to which that you are truly indifferent, or that you like but are hardly going to get excited over?
For those of you who post here regularly, I know some of your hardcore buttons for Category #5: patchouli for one of you; civet or musk for another; Tide and soap for a few; and, yes, lily-of-the-valley or muguet for one poor person whose dislike almost verges on trauma. (You know who you are…) And, obviously, we all hate synthetics. (Or so I hope.) I’ll also take for granted that you’ll have problems with any note that is taken to a huge, abnormal extreme.
But I’m curious about how clear-cut things are for you. When thinking of your list, consider the following general categories in order to find ingredients frequently used in perfumery: Fruit; Food; Citruses; Things in your Spice Cabinet; Gourmand; Chypre; Fougère; Oriental; Leather; Abstract scents; Alcohol. Feel free to put an asterix next to any note where you’re still not sure where it lies and explain which other category it may fall into.
So, this is my personal list, though I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things:
1. Notes you absolutely love and adore with a passion. Essentially, notes which make you sit up just a little bit straighter when you see them on a perfume list:
Orange blossom; orange notes in general; saffron; sandalwood; labdanum; patchouli; incense; frankincense/opoponax; resins/Siam resin/Peru Balsam/amber; and ambergris.
2. Notes you like:
Tuberose* (may be in the Love category); jasmine; gardenia* (may be in the Love category); bergamot; honey; myrrh; cloves; cardamom; nutmeg; ginger; almond; boozy rum or rum raisin; hyacinth; and grapefruit.
3. Notes you neither like nor dislike:
Tobacco leaves; tea; tarragon; vetiver; lemon; verbena; fennel/anise; ylang-ylang; osmanthus; star anise; violets; frangipani/plumeria; peppercorns (pink or black pepper); lily-of-the-valley; muguet; salt; peaches; plums* (may be iffy if too purple patchouli synthetic); apricots; earth; chocolate; vanilla; caramel; coffee; and oakmoss.
4. Notes that are questionable and iffy for you unless done right, are in conjunction with other things, or are handled in a certain way. In other words, problematic notes that straddle the line between ambivalence and actual dislike unless done well.
Geranium; rose; green galbanum; powder; orris root/iris (due to the powder issue); skanky civet; leather* (needs to be done REALLY well or it will go the Dislike category); agarwood/oud; musk; white musk* (borders on the Dislike category since it’s often so synthetic in smell); powder; black licorice; cumin; coconut; aquatic notes (this is different than salty notes); cherries; rhubarb; dust; plastic; gasoline; asphalt; medicinal camphor; curry; celery; oleander (see “powder” issues); purple (purple grape-y patchouli); and “metallic” notes.
5. Notes that you don’t like:
Aldehydes; lavender; cedar; excessively peppery cypress; melon; angelica; coca-cola/root beer; sweat; butter; popcorn; horse feces (see, “leather”); urine; blood (not that I’ve smelled it yet in perfume, but I know it’s out there); and suntan oil.
6. Notes that you hate with the searing passion of a thousand burning suns!
“Clean, fresh” scents (soap; laundry detergent; fabric softener; Acqua di Gio); calone; baby powder; shampoo; hairspray; and rubbing alcohol/disinfectant.
So, what about you? Knowing what you love and hate is easy, but the shades of grey… that is much harder. As a side note, if you think it would be fun to have more of these sort of chat or discussion posts, please let me know.