One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Vapours

Estee Lauder's Sensuous really is the damnedest thing, isn't it?

Abigail said:

Sensuous was just blah on me. I'm pleased that EL is daring enough to create something other than a fruity floral and perhaps Sensuous is perfect for their target market.

Regarding the riskiness, that's how I felt, too. Sensuous is so different from most of what's being launched these days that I thought it was a real example of risk-taking in the mainstream perfume marketplace. As for whether it'll be a success, well, I have some small doubt, because Anita said:

Chemistry is an amazing thing. I wanted to love Sensuous, because I prefer woody scents and liked that EL was trying something different. I went through two samples and couldn't smell much but a faint carmel note that wore off in no time.

I think that despite the sense that body chemistry's effect on scents is right up there with astrology as an explanation of anything, there really must be something to it. I have a co-worker who can wear the same things as I do and have them smell amazingly different than they smell on my skin. I do think that if twenty random people wore, say, Mitsouko, you'd generally be able to recognize the scent if you knew what it smelled like, but I also think that there would be that twenty-first person who would somehow transmute the scent into something else: "It's kind of like Mitsouko, but not really, and what is it?" As for the faintness, Marchlion said:

I am clearly anosmic to some large percentage of Sensuous, and what I found wildly frustrating was the sensation that something was *there* and I can't smell it. I got, essentially, the scent of woody musk fleetingly discovered on some old sweater in the closet. This makes me sad, because I think I would like Sensuous very much if I could smell it.

So there's that anosmia thing. I think that might have been part of why I had so much trouble writing about it in the first place: it seemed to me that I was never smelling all of Sensuous at once, but only parts of it at any give time. I'd put it on and think, "Jeez, that's so much like Indecence without the spice", and then put it on the next day and wonder what I was thinking, because clearly it was nothing like Indecence but more like, I don't know, Fath Pour L'Homme or something. I was trying to analyze it so I could write something, anything, coherent, but I kept vacillating: it was enormously frustrating.

This seems to be a problem with modern perfume chemistry. Certain organic musks are undetectable to some people, but generally speaking, a naturally-occurring aromatic substance is there, unless you have a generalized anosmia. (I grew up with a couple of friends, a brother and sister, who literally couldn't smell anything; I think they inherited it from their mother. Neither of them had any interest in food.) There appear to be all kinds of newly invented chemical odorants, though, that just don't exist olfactorily for large numbers of people: Iso E Super, for instance, seems to be a popular one, and some people have complained that they can't smell Bulgari Omnia at all.

I can smell both of those, but I had what was for me a startling experience with anosmia in 1991, with the launch of Calvin Klein's Escape. I managed to snag a sample at the department store (then, as now, I will try anything, men's or women's), opened the vial when I got home, took a sniff and....nothing. Dabbed a little on my skin: nothing. Poured a bunch on: a faint rosy floral, barely there. Was this a joke? Had someone emptied out the vial and filled it with water? I smelled it from the bottle in the store a couple of days later: nothing. Clearly a big joke. Some time thereafter, a co-worker took to wearing it, and I discovered to my amazement that I could smell it after all.

As Luca Turin has explained, Escape was originally a floral drenched with Calone (though now it's been reformulated, like so much these days), and I think that at the time, the Calone drowned everything else out and registered as a sort of neutral ozonic nothingness, something I couldn't really smell. I can sure smell Calone now, though. It's in everything.

(P.S. to Marchlion: if you want to read all the Demeter reviews, I did an entire month of them in June 2008, the June 1st posting contains a link to all the previous ones, and in any event I think you can just click on the Demeter tag in any of the Junes and get all of them in one place, if I've done my tagging correctly.)


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