One Thousand Scents

Friday, June 28, 2013

Out Of Their Element: Alguien Sueña by Fuegiua 1833

If you stumbled across an article entitled Why This Vintage He-Man Action Figure Still Smells Bad 30 Years Later, you'd probably be intrigued for a whole bunch of reasons, particularly if you are old enough to remember the eighties vogue for scented dolls and toys, beginning with Strawberry Shortcake and her equally sweet-smelling pals.

The vintage He-Man action figure in question, Stinkor, was made in 1985 and almost three decades later still stinks. Specifically, he stinks of patchouli, which was added to the plastic used to make the toy. Unfortunately, the article doesn't go any further than that, and saying that Stinkor still stinks thirty years later because he contains patchouli is exactly like saying that blood is red because it contains oxygen: it's a literal answer to the question, but it doesn't really answer the question.

There are two elements which are liquid at room temperature: bromine and mercury.* If you placed a dish of bromine and a dish of mercury on a table**, you would soon be able to detect the vapours of each above the dish: they are liquids and they will evaporate. But bromine is highly volatile and will rapidly evaporate into nothingness, whereas mercury will take a long, long time to evaporate away.***

Elements of perfumery are classified as to their volatility. What we call top notes are like bromine: highly volatile, composed of small molecules, they evaporate almost immediately, so they're the first thing you smell and they're gone quickly. Base notes, on the other hand, are like mercury, composed of large, heavy molecules that evaporate only reluctantly, so they show up late in the perfume's life and last a long time. (Heart notes or mid notes are smack in the middle, neither here nor there.) Fruity notes are almost invariably light and evanescent (although there are chemists' tricks to tie them down for a while longer than usual): patchouli, on the other hand, is a base note and takes a very long time to dissipate.

And that is why Strawberry Shortcake lost her scent so quickly while Stinkor still stinks up the place decades later.


Fueguia 1833 is a new line of 18 scents, and I expect I'm not alone in thinking that launching 18 scents at one time guarantees that they won't each and every one be a great work of art. It's like releasing 18 novels all at once: even if they all have your name on them, then obviously you didn't write them all yourself, and it's hard to see how you could exercise editorial control over the whole batch, so they're not going to be uniformly excellent. Or maybe it's more like releasing a double album with 18 songs on it: even on that smaller scale, you know there's going to be some filler. Without even smelling them — and I have samples of all 18, so by god I'm going to smell them all — it's a near certainty that there are going to be some duds, or at the very least some also-rans, in the Fueguia 1833 line.

The premise of the line is that instead of the time-tested pyramidal structure of classical perfumery, each scent will have a nucleus around which two other main elements orbit.

Like Stinkor, Alguien Sueña — the name means "someone is dreaming" — smells largely of patchouli: as it happens, like Strawberry Shortcake it also smells of fruit, in this case cassis, or blackcurrant. (The third element is ylang-ylang, which in this case is vaguely floral but not really identifiable as such, at least not by me.) Consequently, we might call it a member of the fruitchouli family, an amusing and accurate term coined by someone on Now Smell This and much used thereafter. A certain grassy-minty quality which we sometimes find in patchouli keeps the scent from being too boring, and the proportions of the scent do seem to vary slightly from sniff to sniff, so the idea of electrons drifting around a nucleus isn't completely fanciful, but there's no real development at all: it's a solid object, a block of fruitchouli, not particularly offensive but not something I could imagine wearing repeatedly, especially not for the frankly outrageous price of $150 for an ounce, $240 for 100 mL.

* (Gallium is a pretty, silvery metal which will melt in your hand, something I imagine would be a crackerjack party trick in the right crowd:

Cesium will also melt in your hand, but you would be ill advised to try the stunt, because cesium bursts into flame on contact with the oxygen in the air and explodes when it comes in contact with water, of which you are largely made.)

** In someone else's kitchen, preferably, because you do not want to be inhaling the vapours of either, ever.

***Specifically, it would take about a year for a half a gram of mercury in a single blob to evaporate completely. You can't tell me that's not an interesting thing to know.

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