Thursday, January 7, 2010

Perfume: What sold you on the note?

Photo a fire in a barrel, with flames shooting up.
It happens all the time. You dislike a note, or even hate it with a fiery passion, and you assume that you'll always feel that way. Then a perfume comes along that changes your mind.

Maybe the hated note is safely wrapped up in other favorite notes. Maybe you experience it in a completely different context, or on a person that you respect. Maybe the perfumer just has the ability to highlight the magnificent horribleness of the note so distinctly that you find yourself first eyeing it in a can't-look-away-from-the-accident sort of way, then studying it in fascination, then falling in love.

What perfumes have sold you on a note? I've made my list:

Hard Sells: These are the notes that I was distinctly opposed to before this fragrance talked me into changing my mind.
  • Benzoin: Parfumerie Generale Cadjmere. Puzzling, because I've never seen benzoin listed as a note in this fragrance. But before Cadjmere I disliked benzoin, and after learning to love Cadjmere's powder, I learned to love benzoin's powder.
  • Civet: Guerlain Jicky. Then I stopped liking Jicky, but kept liking civet. 
  • Iris: Parfumerie Generale Iris Taizo.
  • Jasmine: Le Labo Jasmin 17.
  • Myrrh: Parfumerie Generale Cuir Venenum.
  • Powder: Parfumerie Generale Cadjmere.
  • Tuberose: Parfumerie Generale Tubereuse Couture.
  • Vetiver: Hermessence Vetiver Tonka.
Easy Sells: I was inclined to like these notes, and this was the fragrance that confirmed that fondness.
  • Artemisia/Absinthe: Serge Lutens Douce Amere.
  • Birch Tar: Le Labo Patchouli 24.
  • Galbanum: Chanel No. 19 extrait.
  • Gasoline: Comme des Garcons Garage.
  • Incense: Serge Lutens Serge Noire.
  • Leather: Serge Lutens Daim Blond.
  • Lily: Serge Lutens Un Lys.
  • Patchouli: Bond No. 9 New Haarlem.
  • Rubber: Comme des Garcons Garage.
  • Tobacco: Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille.
Sale Pending: The notes that I'm still dubious about.
  • Aldehydes: Balmain Ivoire is the closest to convincing me that these have a place in a fragrance. I'm going to see if Chanel No. 22 can sell me.
  • Amber: I like a whole lot of fragrances that have amber in the notes list, but the more prominently it's mentioned, the less likely I am to like the fragrance.
  • Ambergris: Ugh. It's no longer a guaranteed dealbreaker, but it's a hard sell.
  • Aquatic: No luck yet. But I am going to try Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel. We'll see.
  • Bitter Orange: Love the idea. Haven't yet enjoyed any version of it enough to buy it or even wish for it, unless Theorema can be considered to have this note. (I think I smell it, but it's not listed.)
  • Clean Musk: Lorenzo Villoresi Musk is coming close to selling me, but this note is still on probation. Dirty musk, on the other hand, was such an easy sell that I can't remember what sold me.
  • Frankincense: I do like L'Eau D'Italie Paestum Rose and Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles, but otherwise, frankincense seems to be a near-guarantee that I'll dislike a fragrance.
  • Fruit: (Other than citrus.) Parfums de Nicolai Fig Tea and Annick Goutal Petite Cherie and Philoskyos are the only ones that tempt me, and they don't tempt me that much.
  • Gardenia: I love Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia, but what I love in that one doesn't seem to be in any other gardenia fragrance.
  • Honey: Ick. Love it in real life; hate it in perfume. Honey notes, as opposed to beeswax notes, are always horribly urinous on my skin.
  • Oud: Noooooo!
Photo: By Fumiaki Yoshimatsu. Wikimedia Commons.


  1. You know, Bond No. 9 New Haarlem was what convinced me that I actually loved Patchouli, too! I'm still working on my own note list, mostly of the floral variety (a struggle for me), but this post was genius!

  2. (Yay, a box!) Quite a number of comments I'd like to make here, but that would make my response here really long.

    I'm still coming to terms with patchouli. Balsams are still on my Dear God, NO! list. Vetiver and iris are iffy - I often find both unpleasantly dry. (Exception No. 19.) Jasmine comes in two varieties, and I like one (grassy) and struggle with the other (indolic).

    Fruit? So many categories for that, it's difficult to say. Fruits I like: plum, jammy peach (no Mitsy lactone), apple, currant. (I love Petite Cherie, but it stands alone.) Berries are icky. Vtg No 19's leather surprised me with how much I liked it, likewise the galbanum. Attrape-Coeur, 31 Rue Cambon, and Alahine showed me how much I love labdanum-y amber.

    People often have trouble with rose, violet, tuberose and aldehydes, but they're right up my alley and always have been.

  3. Interesting that Cadjmere helped you like Benzoin. I'm definitely going to try Cadjmere for this reason and see if it helps me in the same way. The other note that I'm still not sure about is Tonka. I need something to help me over this hurdle.

  4. I have often found that a particular perfume might talk me into liking a note, but only in that specific scent, or a select few, say. For benzoin this would be (perhaps bizarrely) Clarins Par Amour. For civet it is Bal a Versailles and DSH Jitterbug. For galbanum it is Miller Harris Fleur de Bois, and A Scent, but I struggle with galbanum in Private Collection. For oakmoss it is Cristalle. For geranium, it is AP Strip and a specific bar of soap from Organic Surge. For Lavender it is Urban Retreat Reverie. These are all pretty much exceptions to the rule of disliking the note in question. For oud it is Montale Golden Oud. Oud is beyond the pale otherwise at the moment. For mint it is Ava Luxe Moroccan Mint Tea, and so on.

    Wholesale Surprise Love did, however, happen to me with rose, which I had previously dismissed as "scented drawer liners".

    Patchouli I probably have a 50/50 relationship with, and L'Ombre Fauve was very instructional here, once you get past the opening. Amber is another one that is 50/50 or maybe 60/40 skewed in its favour.

    Great topic - it would take me days to conduct as rigorous an analysis on a note by note basis, but this brain dump has been fun!

  5. Thanks, Diana! Sadly, Himself hates patchouli, more fervantly than he hates any other note. He tolerated the gasoline in CdG Garage a lot better than he tolerates patchouli. So I don't wear New Haarlem very often.

    Yeah, florals are oddly difficult for me, too, odd because I love the scent of flowers in real life. I've been slowly realizing what it takes for me to like a floral. So far, it's little to no aldehydes, and something strongly not-floral to calm it down, and not too much sweet, and really not much fruity sweet. But that's not enough to give me a decent record of predicting my likes from note lists and reviews.

  6. Hey, I like long responses, Mals. :) For Patchouli, I would suggest Patchouli 24, except everyone keeps saying it's realy birch tar, so it wouldn't serve the purpose even if you loved it.

    Oh, yes, I forgot that there's iris in No. 19. I always forget everything in that, other than galbanum and occasionally rose, because it's so completely blended that I don't notice.

    I forgot to mention Visa, with its great decaying-pears smell, in the fruits that kind of work. But I doubt that "decaying" is a description that appeals to most people. :)

    Violet! I _want_ a perfume violet to love, and so far nothing. I love violets in real life, but in perfume they always come out as those purple candy dots on paper that they used to sell.

  7. SignatureScent, there's a chance that I'm confused about the benzoin, but I don't think so. Benzoin makes me think powder, I used to hate powder, Cadjmere let me love some powder, now I love benzoin. So I think the theory works. :) Anyway, it's a lovely perfume either way, especially if you like gourmands and possibly even if you don't.

    Maybe Hermessence Vetiver Tonka for tonka? Especially if you're already sold on Vetiver, that could work. If not, then it might be a nightmare.

  8. Thanks, flitterniffer! Yeah, it can very often be only a partial sale.

    I haven't tried several of the fragrances that you mention; I need to try them. (Hmm. Montale Golden Oud. Worth a try? Oud is the kind of strong distinctive ugly note that I tend to like, and I'd like to like it, but, eergh!)

    Oh! Geranium! I want to like it but I can't. I love the first sniff and then two minutes later I want it to go away and two minutes after that I'm scrubbing. I'll try AP Strip. As a side note, I sometimes wonder if my problem with rose is partly a problem with geranium - I've read that geranium is often used in place of rose?

  9. Golden Oud is entry level oud - I recommend it!

  10. Cool! I will give Oud another chance. Thanks!

  11. oh I'm SOO glad I'm not alone w/disliking and/or having a difficult time with (and in my case outright hating) aldehydes! I feel much better now. Thanks!!!

  12. Howdy, Friday! Welcome!

    Yep, definitely lots of people have problems with aldehydes. I want to learn to tolerate them not for themselves, but because they're a part of so many classic fragrances that I'm otherwise very interested in.

    I am tempted to just go for the shock treatment and try five aldehyde monsters in five days or something, to get it over with. Maybe. (Which five? Chanel No. 22 and maybe Le Labo Aldehyde 44 because of the name and then....not sure.)