I Smell…Nothing. (by Nava)

I had a really interesting Thursday. I went on a sniffing expedition and was, how shall I say this: disappointed. I’ve tried to keep an open mind over the years and do my best to be an equal opportunity sniffer. My new next-door neighbour sells Avon, and I’m planning to ask her to get me some samples. Come on – who hasn’t had a bottle of Sweet Honesty over the course of their life, or one of Avon’s countless other scents? They’re worth a sniff, right? I’ll get back to you on that one.

My day started off innocuously enough. Then, I met a woman who lives in the building next-door to mine who proceeded to tell me her life story in the span of 20 minutes while we were waiting for the bus. She thinks she’s the only one with a crazy family. Shall I continue? Needless to say, I listened politely and kept my mouth shut.

Before I left the house, I went looking for some sniffing inspiration. That lead me over to Now Smell This, and Robin’s post from the other day. She wrote about how things in the fragrance world are chugging along to the tune of over 1,000 new releases per year now, up from about 800 when she first wrote about the topic back in 2007. That got me thinking: how many of them are going to smell similar to one another? How much innovation and originality can there possibly be if the market is so saturated? It was with these thoughts swimming around in my head that I went out sniffing. Robin’s words, particularly, “…flankers or mindless copies of things we already had too much of…” were echoing in my brain. Robin, if you’re reading this, don’t worry – you didn’t kill my inspiration. I didn’t have that much to begin with. There wasn’t anything in particular I had my heart set on, and I had a pretty good case of the ass-drags going anyway. I didn’t know what I was expecting to find.

What I did sniff left me colder than Nunavut in January (that’s about -40C on average). I tried Jennifer Aniston at Sephora: Bobbi Brown Beach with less Coppertone, but more salt. It can’t hold a candle to Bond No. 9 Fire Island, which is the Queen of all beach scents. No pun intended. Narciso Rodriguez Essence de Musc was a fleeting burst of citrus, then nothing. Coach Poppy was the typical non-descript fruity-floral we’ve smelled over, and over, and over, and over… After that, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up another tester. I was half-heartedly approached by a nice lady in The Bay, who offered me some YSL Belle d’Opium. When I politely declined, her supervisor couldn’t wait for me to get out of earshot before she reamed the poor woman for not beating me over the head with the tester bottle. After that, I packed it in. I was done like dinner.

What is it about fragrance that can leave you giddy and floating on air one minute, and ready to bag it for eternity the next? I was saddened to hear about Elizabeth Taylor’s passing on Wednesday; more so because of her talent as an actress, rather than as a perfumer. I know her scents have their legions of fans, but I’ve never been one of them. I wore Passion for maybe 5 minutes when it came out, but after that, I never went near White Diamonds or any of her other offerings. The only thing I’m yearning for now is a copy of Cleopatra to add to my DVD collection.

There is one course of action I’m contemplating: I want to try to pick a scent, and wear nothing but that scent for as long as possible. For me, that’s tantamount to sacrilege, since I’ve always celebrated my fickle perfumista ways. I could go weeks without wearing the same scent two days in a row. That was before my collection was filched…I know – I need an intervention from a room full of people telling me to get over it and move on.

So, what do you think? Shall I go forth with a “signature” scent, or should I keep prowling the shelves for something I know I’ll never find? My actions will be dictated by your thoughts. Maybe I should consider it an intervention after all. Decide my direction, and I will take it from there. Keep in mind that the research could take a while. It’s dangerous to go “cold turkey”.

Image: Jackson Pollock’s “One” in all its glory.

  • DJ says:

    After years of wearing Agent Provacatuer and occasionally Cabotine, about 3 years ago I decided I wanted a new ‘signature’ scent…well, 3 years later, I have smelled a lot of perfumes, and I have only fallen for 2 and while I am not monogamous, I am ‘polyamourous’ ;)

    That said, my friends all say that AP is ‘your smell!!!’ so, while I continue my hobby of sniffing and yearning for something that will melt into my personal scent nirvana, I know that my actual bottle count stays at about 7 or so.
    (finances would change that, maybe. I can admit that)

    I have gotten really good at finding things for my mom and my best mates. That is part of the fun of trying lots of scents.

    Like with art & writing & sport, some times we all need a break to feel refreshed. Like with dating, we can be selective.

    ok, enough crap metaphors…I agree with a lot of the other comments, though. Revisit old loves, and I wouldn’t keep trying as many as possible :) just for now.

    and I agree with Tammy regarding limited your pursuits to the notes you love in Hadrien, that way there is a fun focus to your sniffin’.


  • vizcondesadesaintluc says:

    Try not to test or wear perfume for thirty days and stay away from department store scents and places like Marionnaud, Sephora…
    Then choose only one perfume per week and give it a chance. Try every time a classic one from houses like Dior, Guerlain, Chanel…
    Regards from Spain.

  • karin says:

    Hi Nava – I still mourn the loss of your collection, and I don’t even know you! So I can imagine how devastating is was to lose it. That’s the nature of stuff, I suppose. It can be taken from us in an instant. That’s why we need to enjoy it while we can. If amassing another collection feels overwhelming and depressing (?) at the moment, find the most glorious scent you can, and wear it with pride.

    I’ve learned to stay away from department store scents and Sephora. Nothing compelling, nothing inspirational. The only scents that seem to float my boat these days are some of the niche houses and fragrances sold in higher-end stores like Saks, Barney’s, Neimans. What about attending the Sniffa Spring Fling? Or taking a short trip to a city that has some better sniffage opportunities? Or choosing a niche house and ordering a bunch of samples from them? Or perhaps you already have a signature fragrance in mind for yourself and can forego the search and just stick with the one you love?

    I know immediately what mine would be. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with other scents, though I do enjoy the variety. But every time I wear that one scent, I think, this is IT.

    • karin says:

      BTW – I’m happy to send you stuff!!! Email me at krnszn @ gmail dot com with your address. :-) I don’t have a ton of stuff, but there may be something that will make your nose happy. XO

  • Kym says:

    This winter I’ve been wearing three scents regularly – one of those with great frequency. Three other scents once in a while. I had been testing frags like crazy, several a day, and I have to say, and I know it’s odd – but I feel less scattered and more centered when I just turn to one of my big three. I only realize this today since for the past three days I’ve doing “sampling” again. I think you should consider a signature scent (or three) and see how it works for you. It might have a grounding effect. Good luck

  • Kitty says:

    As someone who had part of her collection stolen, I can sympathize with your loss. I didn’t lose them all- but if you want or need anything, let me know & if I have it, I’ll be happy to share. Even though I now have a sizable hole in my collection, I’m only planning on replacing two. There are just too many perfumes out there – and apparently not insurable because they get consumed…I’m grateful for the ones I have left and am trying to wear them more often.

  • tammy says:

    If I may ask a personal (and rhetorical!) question, how do you handle your relationships when they end/go bad?

    Do/did you go cold turkey on dating when you break/broke up with someone, or did you decide there was safety in numbers?

    If you look at your perfume collection as an ex of sorts, and think of healing from that loss the same way you do other losses, it might give you a clue as to how to go about helping yourself best.

    I think I’d be afraid that if I chose perfumes I loved to get through this, I’d come to associate them with this bad time, and it would ruin the juice for me.

    How ’bout looking for something similar to the Hadrien? You limit the search, but still have the fun of the chase, and you know you like it.

  • thea says:

    I am going through this debate right now, the terrible, I have too much, I still want more, god I should quit cold turkey debacle. It’s easy to look at my perfume sample box and feel absolutely ridiculous. I admire minimalists who can stick to a signature scent if even for a season. I’m trying to stick to certain brands or certain genre’s or notes depending on my mood and the season. I’ll have a trio of favorites and allow myself an impulsive wild card fragrance every once in a while.

    For me, wearing perfume is about stimulation and education. I find, I learn most about the fragrances I wear when they are new to my nose. Flirting with having a signature scent has led me to mild anosmia before and taught me that as hard I try, I just can’t be monogomous. For some it works for some it doesn’t.

    I think you should try sticking to 2 or 3 and then see if you can commit to one scent. Good luck!

  • March says:

    Didn’t I torture everyone with this a few months ago? Wear the same scent for a week? Everyone hated me. Maybe it wasn’t even a week. Anyway, I think you should pick one thing and wear it until your eyeballs bleed in desperation. Then maybe even Belle d’Opium will smell good.

    Okay, it WON’T smell good, I lied. It’ll still be a lame joke, but maybe something else will pique your interest.

    • Nava says:

      Yes, and I deliberately ignored you. It was last year, wasn’t it?

      I wouldn’t go near any form of Opium with a gun to my head.

  • FragrantWitch says:

    I agree with Teri, some consistency would probably be comforting and grounding. Also, when this period of ‘pitiful ennui’ that is pissing you off passes, you could bin the fragrance and ‘bin’ the period in your life as well. So maybe choose something you really like but not a beloved favourite…
    Best of luck and godspeed on reaching the acceptance stage!

  • Julie says:

    I think you should maybe buy 2 or 3 or 4 of your favorites from your pilfered collection – you already know you love them, so need to go out there and search for more, and no need to go totally cold turkey either. I have way more perfume than I can wear and things get neglected, but it’s nice to have some variety too.

  • sybil says:

    What Teri said. I think it’s good to have a rotation, but I wouldn’t go crazy finding a bunch of stuff right now. Just get 2 or 3 things you love (for variety) and build from there.

  • mary says:

    Nava–I go through phases where I seem to fall back in love with one or another of my old signatures, but then I wake up and something else calls out to me. Maybe a stroll down memory lane would feel good? What was a perfume from a time in your life when you were happy and optimistic? For me, that’s En Avion. And I’m glad you are going to try Avon. Avon did Deneuve which is beautifully done. Maybe they have some good stuff. Also, gotta say, there are some lovely little fumes in the healthfood stores. Good luck. And do keep asserting your rights to your personal property. Nothing stings like injustice. Just don’t get eaten up by it.

    • Nava says:

      Mary, I’m in the process of gnawing off my arm. Just kidding…

      If you read my response to Disteza’s post, you’ll see that I wore Eau d’Hadrien religiously. I had some great times wearing that, and it’s what I’m leaning towards going back to.

      Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

  • LindaB says:

    I’m really against the signature scent idea (at least for me). Been there, done that – it’s boring. Others have mentioned a type of “hybrid” decision – maybe spending time with one or two scents and I would elaborate that to include just a season. LAst summer, I fell in love with EL PC Tuberose Gardenia and refused to wear anything else for a couple months – I just didn’t WANT to put anything else on. So, maybe the scent picked me. But, once we felt the fall chill come on, I was back to ordering samples and religiously reading the blogs. As a perfumista, it’s just in our nature to keep sniffing and testing “new” things on our skin to see if we get it or wonder if everyone else is just crazy. :-) Good luck with whatever you decide….

    • Nava says:

      So, Linda, is this a genetic predisposition I’m dealing with here? In my salad days as a perfumista, the longest I’ve gone wearing a particular scent has been about 4 weeks. 4 weeks and a day would be a triumph for me.

  • Dionne says:

    I’d say go for a small collection – say, about six? – and rotate through them for a while. Maybe pick your all-time favorite notes, and have a perfume that best does it for you ie. your favorite incense, your definitive OB, the light, fresh floral green thing that makes you smile, the “I’m feeling sex-ay” scent, maybe something vulgar and trashy and fun just because. And then rotate them according to mood.

  • Jen says:

    I feel more overwhelmed than anything else by the sheer volume of scents available. When you add in all the classic scents that I still have yet to smell it’s truly overwhelming. I tend to gravitate towards scents based on seasons so perhaps picking a few for each season would cull the list while giving some choice? Also I’d love to see a post based around seasonal scent wardrobes.

    • Nava says:

      I once described myself as “serially seasonal” but even that’s starting to wear me down. 🙁

  • NancyG says:

    Go to Noor in Yorkville and treat youself. They are also generous with samples.

    • Nava says:

      I just read an article about Noor in the Star. I cannot believe I haven’t been there yet. Tomorrow maybe…

  • Disteza says:

    Regarding the endless parade of new releases, my sentiments are best conveyed by a snatch of a 40’s song I once heard: “Faded, jaded, and degraded too. Please take me away.”

    The signature scent thing is fine for really getting to know all of the nuances of a perfume, so I’d make sure I picked something that had some! A one-note wonder with no development seems like it would get boooring real quick, but one of the classic grande dames would keep you guessing, for a while, at least. You know, just like a lady should! ;)

    • Nava says:

      Years ago, I wore Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien to death. That scent is the epitome of one-dimensional. Oddly enough, it is one of the ones I’m considering going back to. When life turns into an onion and you have to keep peeling back layers of b.s. to get to what really matters, the single dimension can be a good thing – for a while at least.

  • Teri says:

    As someone who has had a foot in both camps (signature scent wearer and cast of thousands collector), there is something to be said for both.

    A signature scent is comforting in the same way as a gold bracelet you always wear. It’s an identifiable part of you that defines you both to yourself and to others. I once encountered a co-worker in a Meijer store (Midwest super-store chain)who said “I knew you were here! I smelled you.” Granted, some people might find that disturbing, but not me. I felt as though I was both unique and instantly identifiable. Of course I didn’t wear a mass market fragrance as a signature scent, either. I’m not sure a signature scent concept can work if countless others around you are identifying themselves with the same scent.

    But there are also joys in endless variety. For someone like me who has both a strong aesthetical side and a strong analytical side, I’m as attracted to the parsing of a scent as I am to the scent experience itself.

    I beg pardon for being an armchair psychologist, but with all the changes you’ve experienced in the last year or so, having a signature scent just now might be grounding, even comforting. One little island of stability in an unstable world. And when a sniffing trip becomes a joy again, instead of a burden, you’ll know it’s probably time to move on from that signature scent and add some others to your rotation again.

    • Nava says:

      What you suggested makes a lot of sense, Teri. There is comfort in the familiar and with consistency. Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something. :”>

  • carlene says:

    I am deeply considering 2 scents per year (one warm weather and one cool weather). Which can change every year. That sounds about right.

    • Nava says:

      Sounds like a good plan, Carlene!

    • Winifrieda says:

      Ha Carlene! I am being tempted to actually start categorising mine by the month! It hit me over summer just how locked into a certain style for the weather I’ve become…I always had a tendency like yours for say a cold and hot, but now the idea of monthly rotation is starting to take hold with the same obsessive force.

  • maggiecat says:

    Find something you love, wear it for a while, and keep an eye out for other scents to complement it. Sometimes I think it would b nice not to have to decide what I feel like wearing on a given day, or feelguilty about scents I haven’t worn in a while. Give yourself the time and freedom to do what you please, as long as you keep enjoying your scents!

  • Alice C says:

    Nava, I have always been in the ‘claim your collection back’ camp. I’ll call her lawyer for you; get me the number! I don’t see how you could possibly go to a signature scent. I you don’t have one you are currently “in love” with, I don’t see you finding ONLY ONE.

    Speaking of Elizabeth Taylor, did you notice anywhere what flowers were draping her casket? Gardenias, violets and lilys of the valley. I imagine it smelled gorgeous.

    Speaking of crazy people telling you their crazy stories at the bus stop. My hubby is a magnet for crazy people. Whenever we go anywhere there is a crowd of people, the craziest ones around will gravitate to him and proceed to tell him their life stories. It’s almost scary the things people have told him in mere minutes after meeting him.

    • Nava says:

      Alice, I think the crazies have something on us, like “gaydar”. Yesterday wasn’t the first time that’s happened to me.

      I read about the flowers draped over E.T.’s casket and I thought that was very fitting. The women of her era fascinate me, and the more time passes, the less of them there are. It’s such a shame. I also thought starting the service 15 minutes late was priceless.

      I really don’t see myself sticking to one scent for an extended period of time, but it would be enough of a challenge to see how long I could go without switching.

  • Kristin says:

    Personally Nava, I think you should mourn the loss of your collection so that you can indeed get over it. When you do, you can see it as an oppotunity to sniff and acquire new things, after of course, this pitiful ennui passes :)

    Much love, keep us posted,


  • Jane says:

    I have become much choosier over time and hardly like anything new. Love the signature scent idea but can’t really do that. I’ve decided to try all the older scents I’ve somehow overlooked. Make it a journey…

    • Nava says:

      This is a pit stop along the journey – who am I? 🙂

    • Winifrieda says:

      Yes me too….I missed what seems to be the last of the great individuals back in the 90’s because of Mitsouko. Then along came Angel, then — nothing. It was always so disappointing; but then I suppose I am handicapped by living far away from the department stores. I’m getting used bottles off ebay, my last was Amariage for $9. But I’ve had to do a lot of research to find out which ‘fumes are the supposed characters.

  • Ann says:

    Hi Nava. No need to go completely all or nothing, I think. Because if you were to go with one signature scent, after time you run the risk of getting burned out on it and might have trouble ever wearing it again. And that would be a shame.
    I say take three or so of your faves, rotate through them and wear them as you feel like it. But in the meantime, you could certainly keep browsing the new scents, but with no expectations. That way if you find one you love, great. And if not, no harm done.
    Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend!

  • Rowanhill says:

    If you could claim your collection back, that would be the best solution. In the meanwhile, no need to go from a collection to just one perfume. I am quite happy to play with my 30 so bottles. They have also been outed from the cupboard so that I can enjoy the bottles, and finally each fragrance is used more as I see them every day. I have found the fragrances that I truly like and the likelihood that they would be replaced by another 30 is very small. So I am happy with them and enjoy trying new ones – when they come my way, so I do buy two or three bottles per year. I am back to the pleasure of perfume.

    • Nava says:

      The “pleasure of perfume” as you put it, is becoming a bit torturous for me. I’m definitely stuck between anger and acceptance in the 4 stages of grief.

      It’s great that you’re enjoying your collection. 30 is a nice round number. 🙂

      • Rowanhill says:

        Hmmm…. perhaps you should consider hiring Tom Cruise for a perfume rescue Mission Impossible .

  • Olfacta says:

    I can’t imagine where they put these 1000 releases a year. Every time I enter a perfume department, I see the same old same old. with their same new, same new flankers. I don’t worry about mainstream releases. Keeping up with niche and indie, not to mention vintage, takes up plenty of time!

    • Nava says:

      I think the lifespan of a department store scent is akin to that of a bad Broadway show. If the opening night reviews suck, it disappears shortly after. I’m not sure what the exact time frame is, but it can’t be very long.

  • Lily says:

    Agree, the onslaught of new releases is exhausting. It wouldn’t be so bad if some of them were actually worth wearing… But no luck.

    Go for quality over quantity I say.. Thank god we still have gems like vetiver tonka and chanel’s excusifs that still make wearing perfume worthwhile.

    • Nava says:

      That’s my beef with it as well; if most of them were full-bottle worthy, I’d feel differently. To just continually keep throwing scent after scent after scent out there is downright wasteful.

  • Louise says:

    In theory, a signature is a fab idea. I just have too short an attention span to stick to one perfume (or much of anything) for long. My urge for variety is now getting fulfilled by buying decants.

    So, why not give this a whirl? You can always cheat a bit, as needed ; )

  • Kim says:

    Well, I have a bias. Prior to The Posse, I was a signature scent person (Chanel No 5 for decades) and that has shaped my bias, with occasional evening or weekend forays into exotica (Magie Noire, Opium, Paloma Picasso). Then the Posse hit! After a few years of flitting around I still can’t abandon No 5 so have hit a happy medium – Chanel No 5 by day, whatever the heck I want by night, Seems to satisfy both my need for No 5 and my need to explore.

    • Anne says:

      Good approach. You don’t have to have a ‘signature scent’, but there have to be some still points in the turning world. Chanel No 5 is one of mine.

    • Ann says:

      Yes, an excellent suggestion. A good mix of stability and variety.

    • Nava says:

      A fragrant touchstone. How wonderful. 🙂

  • dee says:

    I think spending time with a “signature” might be a good idea, but it would be a difficult thing to accomplish. The longest I’ve worn one fragrance uninterrupted was about a week, and by then I was ready for something different.

    It would be easier, probably, if you stayed away from the online perfume community. But then, the community—though it’s full of enablers—is my favorite part about being a ‘fumie. :)

    • Nava says:

      I can’t leave the online perfume community. I think you guys are the only ones who really understand me!

      When I went on trips, I used to limit myself to one or two scents. That was a conscious choice. Now that my deprivation is out of my control, I think my mindset is being dictated by that.

      • mals86 says:

        I feel tantrum-y if something outside myself is providing the control. Choosing to limit myself is different. For me, anyway…

  • Margot says:

    I agree – choose a signature scent, and see how it goes. At least you’ll be choosing something you know you love, and there’s a lot to be said for that. The current overblown, repetitive, junk scent
    release trend is way too sketchy to waste your time on, IMHO.
    Stick with your favorite favorites. Quality wins over quantity any day.

    • Nava says:

      I don’t think it’s the quality vs. quantity debate for me. Maybe just a feng shui attack I’ll be over in a few days…

  • cathleen56 says:

    Go with a signature scent. Enough of this excess, and endless search for the something better that might be around the next corner. The numbers scared me — 1,000 perfumes per year? really? that means three a day — who can possibly be discerning in the face of that onslaught?

    • Nava says:

      Seeing that figure was really a revelation for me. I knew it was big, just not THAT big!

  • Meg says:

    Siege!!! No perfumista should be deprived of their collection!! My sympathies though. I too crave a steady “one” I could go back to… but who knows how long that would last.