I suppose a good way to start my Fragrance Story is to begin with setting out the method that I have currently chosen to review and discuss the various fragrances, I have available. I use the word "Fragrance(s)" as a generic term to describe perfumes; eau de parfum (EDP); eau de toilette (EDT); eau de cologne (EDC); body mists and hair mists etc.
As I've stated in the Preface, I am NOT a perfumer nor an expert perfume reviewer. At best, I would describe myself at being a little more educated about Fragrances than a neophyte. This is simply an indulgence in my fascination with the World of Fragrances. Starting from the aesthetics of the packaging; the naming of the Fragrance; the classification of the Fragrance; the notes of the Fragrance; and possibly a bit about the perfumer (if I can find such information); and the business behind the Fragrance. My goal is to educate myself with as much knowledge about Fragrances as possible that I would be comfortable to discuss it with perfumers. AND take you along with me on this path to discovering more about Fragrances, if you are so inclined.
However, I do come from a fairly academic mindset. In my life as a lawyer, I have published several journal articles and authored a chapter in a book (unfortunately now discontinued but I keep it to remind me of what I used to be able to do). Hence, it is likely that you will see a lot of references to books; research studies and articles. My blog platform is currently not set up for footnotes, so I will do my best by either typing out the reference (as per standard academic format) or by linking the quote to the online resource.
I am currently heavily influenced by two people here. The first being Michael Edwards and his eponymous "Fragrance Wheel" which is much used by perfumers. The second being Luca Turin, a most fascinating man with an incredible nose and ability to write about fragrances in a way, that I could only describe as "genius". So I will be quoting from them a fair bit. As I progress in this etude on Fragrances, I would expect to find more and more perfumers and perfume critics that I can refer to. This is only the beginning.
No doubt my method will change the more I learn about the Fragrance World. Hence, I have set out below, what I describe as my "starting approach" that I will use in reviewing or discussing scents. It may come across as being childish and/or unsophisticated; but like I have mentioned, it is only a starting point and I expect that it will change.
My (starting) approach is as follows:
Location. Location. Location. My fragrance related study will take place in a well ventilated room, and with headphones on playing white noise. I find music/sounds very emotive and so I do not want sounds to distract me.
I will test no more than 2 fragrances each day.
I will try to begin with a "blind-folded" sniff of the fragrance (studies have show that visual images can affect one's perception of a fragrance). This first sniff will be from the atomiser of the bottle itself. This is akin to smelling the cork of a fine bottle of wine. I will basically just have a box of fragrances before me from which to pick. I'm thinking of wearing thick cotton gloves so that the texture and shape of the bottle become slightly more elusive and indiscernible, or I could just ask my husband or a friend to hold the bottle to my nose. Probably the latter will be most effective.
I will then do a "blotting paper" test (I make my own blotters from acid free art paper). Also preferably blind-folded and conducted with the assistance of someone who can spray the Fragrance onto a blotter and hand it to me. This is the part where you spray a bit of the fragrance and wave it in the air for it to oxidise. Similar to decanting a fine wine so that it can "breathe". Hopefully this should then leave me in a position to classify the fragrance into groups. I'll talk more about fragrance groups below.
I will then spray a bit of the fragrance on my pulse points and leave it on for approximately 5-6 hours. This should give me sufficient time to test how long the fragrance will last and how it interacts with my own smell.
Leaving the room to go on a walk to: (a) work up a sweat and see how the fragrance interacts with that; and (b) to clear the nose.
First impressions of overall packaging.
A study of the bottle design.
Research on the history of the Fragrance and where possible identification of the perfumer. I think this is important because I have a working hypothesis that a perfumer like a composer will always have an underlying consistency in their creations. It is "same same but not quite the same". I'll think of a better way to describe this, but the one that comes to mind first is why can I sing every song by a composer the very first time that I hear them?
Very often if I need to do a quick first impressions (for example for limited edition fragrances); I will use the "coffee bean" method to clear my nose. Unfortunately, I have come to the realisation that this method may not be as effective as leaving the room and getting some fresh air. These first impressions can be found on the profile page of my Instagram account @teacupofmakeup archived under the highlight "PERFUMES".
An extremely brief overview of the science of smell and how it will affect my "Method"
Another important factor in understanding Fragrances and how to review them is the basic understanding of how we perceive scents and how they interact with our brain. I'm neither a scientist nor a doctor, but I do enjoy learning more about how our brain works in relation to the five senses (smell, sight, sound, taste and touch). This helps me build on my "scents vocabulary", i.e. what other descriptive words I could use to describe my perception of a particular Fragrance to you, besides the generally accepted descriptors of Fragrances.
I note also that our sense of smell is the one "sense" that is linked directly to our limbic system via the olfactory bulb which transmit information about smells directly to the brain through olfactory tracts . The limbic system includes such parts of our brain like the amygdala (that part of our brain that controls the "fight or flight" response; hippocampus (that part of our brain that processes and retrieves memories relating to events [time] and memories relating to places [space]); thalamus (that part of our brain that plays an important part in perception. It acts like a gate filtering information from our various senses relaying such information to our cerebral cortex. Interestingly, it does not relay information from our sense of smell) and the orbitofrontal cortex (that part of our brain that plays a significant part in our ability to make decisions). You might now question why on earth am I rambling on about the sense of smell and the limbic system. Well, studies have shown that because our sense of smell is linked directly to the limbic system, smells/scents have the effect of triggering certain emotional responses or evoke certain memories or, additionally in my situation, triggering my other senses to "see" or "feel" the scent. I could easily fall into the quagmire of the science of how our brain works, but it is not the focal point of my Fragrance Story. My knowledge is largely based on the information I have read in the online articles/studies, which I have linked and highlighted specific words to in this paragraph (i.e. if you enjoy learning more about how the sense of smell interacts with your brain, please click on the links above).
I also note that in my research to date, I've discovered that "you smell what you know" (I honestly can't remember where I first read this and once I remember I will update this bit to link it to that book/article, but the one linked here is most interesting). That makes sense to me. For example, how would you be able to tell the difference between different types of apples if you have never smelled or tasted a Granny Smith or a Fuji apple? My point being that I will try my best to expose myself to as many different scents as possible to build on my "scents vocabulary".
In summary, I note that my review of Fragrances, is going to be fairly subjective. They will be based on my personal experiences and possibly state of emotion at the time I am testing a Fragrance. However, in understanding that my perception is likely to be subjective, I will also include general (meaning publicly accepted) reviews about the particular Fragrance.
Tools and Reference Materials
The above Michael Edwards Fragrance Wheel was obtained directly from http://www.fragrancesoftheworld.com/FragranceWheel
These are my current go-to websites (which will be updated periodically):
Osmothèque's website (https://www.osmotheque.fr/en/) : Osmothèque is the World's perfume archive and their website includes a blog which seeks to educate and/or help deepen one's knowledge about perfumes. Osmothèque was established as a nonprofit organisation on 26 April 1990, as a living collection of existing or no-longer available perfumes. I highly recommend that you have a look at the vast amount of information on their website. It is sure to fascinate you. I would love to visit the Osmothèque one day. It is currently located at 36 rue du Parc de Clagny, 78000 Versailles, France.
Fragrantica (https://www.fragrantica.com/) : an independent magazine based in San Diego, USA, which also serves as an online encyclopedia of fragrances and includes an online forum for a community of perfume lovers to discuss and review perfumes.
Parfumo (https://www.parfumo.net/) : an online community for perfume enthusiasts to discuss and review perfumes.
The Perfume Society (https://perfumesociety.org) : another online resource for perfume lovers. I particularly like the easy navigation of this website.
And of course, the results of any "google search" that I might use from time to time.
List of current books I have to refer to (will be updated periodically):
"The Little Book of Perfumes: the hundred classics" by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, 2011, Viking Penguin
"Perfumes. The A-Z Guide" by Luca Turin and Tania Snachez, revised and updated version in 2009, first published in 2008, Profile Books Ltd
"Perfume. The Alchemy of Scent" by Jean-Claude Ellena (translated by John Crisp), 2011, Archade Publishing New York
"Scent and Subversion. Decoding a century of provocative perfume", by Barbara Herman, 2013, Lyons Press
"The Secret of Scent. Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell", by Luca Turin, 2006, first published by Faber and Faber Limited
Alrightly then, I suppose that is a start. Thank you for reading this!
If you have any suggestions as to how I can improve my methodology, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or DM me on my Instagram account (@teacupofmakeup). Also, do subscribe to my website (just fill in your email address in the subscription box) to be alerted to new articles I publish on this little website of mine. I promise you won't get irritating emails from me!