Let’s talk about note categories, with love, hate, and grey zones! Although I’m still occupied with some family medical things, I’ve been working on a project that actually involves the issue of notes to a small extent. I will be doing an interview series with various perfumers, many of whom are self-taught. One of the things that I’ll be focusing on is: their individual process of learning about both the science and methodology of perfume making, and the handling of notes. There are questions on the ingredients that they initially loved, those they may have once found challenging to work with, and any notes that they might still find tricky to use in perfume-creation, perhaps because of the material’s innate characteristics or how it interacts with other elements.
Back in 2013, I started out my Questions discussion series on the precise issue of favorite and least favorite notes, as well as those that fall on a gradient in-between. My then-unnumbered Vol. 1 post sought to have you pinpoint not only the notes that you felt strongly about, but those in the grey zones: notes which straddle the line and where it’s all a question of their treatment in a perfume. Perhaps it’s an aromachemical, or perhaps it’s something like juniper, cucumber, strawberry, or fenugreek.
It’s easy to know the aromas you either love or despise — like tuberose, oud, amber, soiled underwear, or the way costas root can turn into dirty hair and urine if not handled carefully — but figuring out the less obvious ones that lie between the two extremes is a lot more useful or interesting, in my opinion. For example, do you enjoy the smell of carrots, gin and tonics, or mangos (separately, not together) in your fragrance? Do you like smelling of peppermints or Red Hot candies when you go to work? Is salty sea water nice but chlorine/calone an issue, or are both ingredients far from your personal cup of tea? Speaking of tea, do you like it in perfumery? I’ve concluded that I only like black or creamy Chai tea notes, and really dislike green or jasmine ones, though I will put up with whiffs of them if they are small and muted.
The blog has many more readers than it did in early 2013, so I thought it might be useful to revisit the issue of notes. For one thing, it might be helpful for you to have your individual breakdown at the forefront of your mind when I start posting some of the interviews over the next few weeks and you hear what the perfumers think about various notes. For another, some readers may not have thought about categories at all, and may find it to be a useful exercise in general. Even readers who answered Vol. 1 the first time around may discover some benefit, as people’s tastes change or develop over time. Mine have. I certainly have far more things listed in the various categories than I did back then, and many of the original elements have switched places.
There are six different categories:
- Notes you love passionately. In essence, those which make you sit up just a little bit straighter when you see them on a perfume list.
- Notes you really like a lot.
- Notes you neither like or dislike. True and genuine indifference as to their appearance in a perfume.
- Notes that depend on how they are handled, their quantity, or their treatment in conjunction with other elements. In other words, potentially problematic notes that might fall into the Dislike column unless they are treated well. Also, if there are notes that you may not like as a soliflore or in large doses but that you enjoy in small quantities, then this would be the category for them as well.
- Notes you really (or generally) dislike.
- Notes that you hate with the searing passion of a thousand burning suns!
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? I’m curious about how clear-cut things are for you.
When thinking of your list, you may want to consider the following general categories in order to find ingredients frequently used in perfumery: fruit; food; citruses; drinks including alcoholic ones; things in your spice cabinet; chypre; fougère; oriental; leather; gourmands; abstract scents; and aromachemicals. Don’t hesitate to give an explanation for any notes about which you’re uncertain and why.
So, this is my personal list, though I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things:
1. Notes you love passionately. Essentially, notes which make you sit up just a little bit straighter when you see them on a perfume list:
Mysore sandalwood (only Mysore); labdanum amber; ambergris; smoke; frankincense; spicy patchouli (not fruity purple patchouli); whiskey; boozy rum or cognac; Tolu balsam; Peru balsam; tuberose; Stargazer lilies; gardenia; orange blossom; lilac; heliotrope; hyacinth (may go in the Really Like column); peaches; apricots; tart Morello cherries; and oakmoss.
2. Notes you really like a lot:
Leather; suede; tobacco; benzoin resin; styrax resin; jasmine; ylang-ylang; davana flower; champaca flower; carnation; honeysuckle; mimosa; orchids; cherry blossom; chocolate; cocoa powder; honey; cloves; saffron; cardamom; ginger; cinnamon; nutmeg; almond; hazelnut; plum; orange; blood orange; mandarin or tangerine; rum raisins; hyacinth (may fall in the Love column); tonka beans; coumarin; hay; Chai lattes; vanilla creme anglaise sauce; meringue; marzipan; gingerbread; champagne; wine; and coffee.
3. Neutral notes, ones you neither like nor dislike:
Black tea; anise/fennel; osmanthus flower; lily-of-the-valley or muguet; tiaré flower; geranium; linden blossom; daffodils/narcissus; peony; star anise; castoreum; civet; hyraceum; salt; black pepper; tarragon; rosemary; verbena; sage; earth; peat; rosewood; birch tar; cade; cedar; fir; pine; Cashmeran wood; oud; pomelo fruit; mango; apple; sweet cherries; cranberries; plum puddings; mineral accords; petitgrain; neroli; milky notes; cream; beeswax; hemp; rice; and wheat.
4. Notes that depend on how they are handled, their quantity, or their treatment in conjunction with other elements.
Rose (so long as it’s not a soliflore note, or else it goes in the Dislike column); iris (same); vetiver (same); jasmine tea (same); green tea (same); galbanum; juniper; celery; myrrh; guaiac wood; green Australian sandalwood; lavender; clary sage; cannabis or marijuana notes; magnolia; immortelle (not keen if it’s solely heavy maple syrup); frangipani/plumeria (may belong in the Dislike column); marigold or tagetes; freesia; rose geranium; powdery notes; orris root (due to the powder issue); ambrette seed musk; gasoline; medicinal camphor; eucalyptus; rubber; latex; fur; horse accords; costas root (think dirty hair, sweat and urine if not handled carefully); oleander (see “powder” issues); coconut; grape (has to be a small nuance); Red Hots cinnamon; peppermint; black licorice; basil; cumin; mint (can’t be a lot, or it goes in the Dislike column); Chili, Szechuan, or pimento pepper; fenugreek; curry; chamomile; thyme; coriander; bay leaf; lime; carrots; passion fruit; grapefruit; bergamot (quality matters a lot for this one); rhubarb; cassis (black currant); banana; pineapple; tomato; tomato leaf; kiwi; pumpkin; fig; lychee; mushrooms; black truffles; overly sweet caramel; parchment or papyrus paper; dust; ink; green grass; yerba maté; lipstick notes; shaving cream; BBQ; BBQ meats; vodka; and root beer.
5. Notes you dislike in fragrances:
Gin; aldehydes; soliflore roses; soliflore vetiver; dried roses; potpourri; violet ionones; violet leaf; plumeria/frangipani; tea other than black tea; “Baie rose” or pink peppercorns; fruity patchouli; angelica; lemon; raspberry; watermelon; melon; very sugary cupcake or creme caramel vanilla; butter; popcorn; makeup powder; baby powder; stale sweat; grape jelly/jam; suntan oil; cypriol (nagamotha); hedione; Kephalis; “metallic” notes; asphalt; ashtrays; vinyl or plastic leather; blood; feces; cat urine; petrichor; cucumber; and strawberry (may belong in the passionate Hate column).
6. Notes that you hate passionately in fragrances:
Clean white musk; laundry detergent; fabric softener or drier sheets; soap; calone; aquatic notes (but I like salty sea water); chlorine; ozonic notes; dry cleaning accords; shampoo; hairspray; rubbing alcohol and antiseptic disinfectant; ISO E Super; Norlimbanol; Ambermax; Trisamber; Ambroxan; plastic; burnt plastic; burnt rubber; crusty underwear or dirty genitalia smells; and mildew.
So, what about you? I realise it will take you some time, so think about it, see what elements in my categories strike a chord, and then let me know. In the meantime, have a lovely weekend.