Welcome to 2016, everyone! Instead of delving straight into reviews, I thought it might be a useful exercise to start the year by thinking about specific notes, taking stock of how we feel about the raw materials in perfumery and, more importantly, the extent to which our tastes may have developed or changed. Last year, in Questions #9, I asked you to think in detail about note categories, with love, hate, and grey zones. Whether you’re new to niche perfumery or a veteran, I think such analysis helps you to look at perfumery with a more critical eye, to really think about what you’re smelling, and to pinpoint your tastes with greater precision.
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.