One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Surprise, Surprise

You can't look at a list of perfume notes and imagine how a scent is going to smell. Well, maybe you can get a pretty good idea if there are only three ingredients, but otherwise, you're lost in a sea of proportions and qualities (Bulgarian rose versus rose de mai?).

A case in point: here's one (incomplete) list of notes for a very famous scent.

Top Notes: Orange, Lemon, Spices, Clary Sage, Aldehydes.
Middle Notes: Cinnamon, Carnation, Geranium, Jasmine, Heliotrope, Pimento Berry.
Base Notes: Vanilla, Musk, Cedarwood, Frankincense, Benzoin, Tonka, Ambergris.


and here's another (also incomplete) listing:

Top notes: Orange, lemon, lavender, basil, petitgrain.
Middle notes: Carnation, geranium, lily of the valley, orris.
Base notes: Sandalwood, cedar.


Interpolating these lists, we can see that the scent in question opens with bright hesperides and herbs, then segues into a spicy, heavily floral heart with what looks to be a sweet, woody oriental base. It could be any of a hundred eighties or nineties scents.

Here's a little story about the scent from Susan Irvine's chatty "The Perfume Guide":

Once, I did a blind-test of fragrances with perfumers and women whose business involved smell. Nearly all agreed on one heavenly potion as the most expensive, feminine, sexy, sophisticated. In short, their favourite. When they took off their blindfolds, they saw it was--

Well, what was it?

Clearly Susan Irvine and I are trying to play a trick on you. "Most expensive, feminine, sexy, sophisticated?" You're already guessing that it must be some cheap drugstore scent, and you couldn't be more right. The scent is Old Spice--yes, the men's fragrance that we associate with old fogies.

Old Spice has been around for almost seventy years and has earned its longevity. It's stunningly well-made, and while the fact that you can get it for five or six dollars at every drugstore in North America is going to turn off a lot of people, others--those who think with their noses--aren't going to let that stop them from appreciating something so good.

The top is bracing: a sprightly, citrusy, almost mintlike freshness in which no one note predominates. Pointed herbal notes lead into the middle note, spicy and intensely floral, dominated by carnation, my most beloved of flowers. (Geranium is also a major component of the middle notes, putting an edge on the more characteristically feminine floral notes such as lily of the valley.) The middle is aglow with these flowers, but that brazen, forceful carnation keeps it from ever become delicate or ethereal.

A sweet warmth gradually percolates up: laden with vanilla, benzoin, and tonka bean, it has a caramel overtone to it, and at times it reminds me, perversely, of bubble gum. It's a lightweight oriental base, never heavy but with a real presence nonetheless. The scent isn't as long-lasting as you might think with all those oriental standouts in the base: its lifespan on my skin is only four or five hours. But that'll do: however long it lasts, it's head and shoulders above most men's scents launched in the last decade.

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1 Comments:

  • Old Spice takes me back to the late 60's where slow dancing with my then boyfriend introduced me to this amazing scent. Old Spice drifted from his neck as we shuffled to Ebb Tide. I bought a bottle myself and have worn it ever since. One of the greatest classic fragrances there is.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:52 PM  

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