Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (in perfume tastes)

Once upon a time I thought every perfume should smell like a rose. In 10th grade, I was thrilled to be given a complete Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose set. Every morning I slathered on the lotion, puffed on the powder, liberally spritzed that perfume, and went out to face the day. Considering that a brief tour of reviews on Basenotes reveals comments about Tea Rose like “an old, dry, almost fetid flower” whose “sillage is brutal” and “does pack a wallop,” you can imagine just how much people near me enjoyed my layering technique (and some very quite vocal about it). I didn’t care. I loved rose!

But times changed—and so did my taste in perfumes. One day I woke up and hated rose scents. Loathed them. It wasn’t just that I no longer wanted to smell like a rose; rose no longer wanted to smell like a rose on me. Whether I wore a rose soliflore or a rose-heavy blend, my skin radiated evil: cat pee, smarmy beeswax, vicious potpourri, you name it. Rose hated me, and I hated rose.*

About 15 years later, I became interested in rose perfumes again. Correction: I started to crave them. It began when someone gave me a sample of SSS Rose Musc. I tossed some on unhappily—and didn’t hate it. Even kinda liked it. It smelled like a rose, not road kill. Then I ordered a sample of Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady—and didn’t hate it. Actually, really liked it. And so on: a world opened up to me. Samples of Frederic Malle Une Rose, Serge Lutens Sa Majest La Rose,icon, Annick Goutal Ce Soir ou Jamais,icon, Sonoma Scent Studio Vintage Rose and Velvet Rose, various Rosines—rose perfumes in a range of guises landed on my doorstep. If I still wasn’t a rose-frag-freak, I was at least back in the game.

This kind of radical change in perfume taste wasn’t limited to rose. It also happened with an entire line: Jo Malone. From the mid-90s, when I first discovered the line, until the mid-2000s, I couldn’t get enough of the simple, happy Jo Malone world of “fragrance combining.” Until the day I sprayed on an old favorite and recoiled. It was thin. Screechy. Chemical-smelling. Foul. And it wasn’t just that bottle; I hated them all. Threw them in a box, eventually found a friend who loved JM, gave them all away. Now, 7 years later, I’m curious about them again.

This continues to happen, to lesser and greater degrees, with other notes; after years of blanket aversion to melon and vanilla, I can enjoy Frederic Malle Le Parfum de Therese and Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille. And in reverse: once an amber lover, I now shudder when it ratchets up its suffocating warmth.

What about you? How have your perfume tastes changed over the years? Did a progression from department store perfumes to niche scents inform your taste changes? Did you transition from a passion for vanilla to a craving for oak moss or an appreciation of civet? Or have you always loved a particular note? What perfumes did you once adore—and now run from, screaming? Do tell!

*One exception to my rose-loathing phase: Ormonde Jayne Ta’if. Always perfection.

  • HemlockSillage says:

    Great post! It is interesting to see how our tastes change with time. I’ve always loved fragrance, and had ‘fume loving mom, but my tastes have changed. Like you, I loved Jo Malone, and went nuts, purchasing most of the collection, and layering with abandon. Then one day, I disliked them all.

    I retried some a couple weeks ago, and enjoyed them. They were pretty in their fleeting nature, and layering was part of the fun. In case you wondered, I stuck on Black Vetyver Cafe with Orange Blossom, sticky sweet floral and bitter rooty coffee, which was weirdly nice together. I’ll play a while, but have mostly given up the idea of layering. I’ll leave that to smarter noses than mine 😀

    I agree with Maggiecat that sometimes the thing I hate will be the thing I crave later, and I root around in my collection, and find a treasure that I’d put in a back corner of purgatory. Lately, I’ve wanted more tuberose than I thought I would like. My incense and musks sit, pouting, not getting any skin time, waiting for me to turn again to them. I will. I’m fickle, too.

    • Sam says:

      Ah, another Jo Malone revisiter. Funny that you mention the Black Vetyver Cafe + Orange Blossom combo; I remembering layering those in the past, and was recently thinking I might like to try it again. I’ll have to seek them out.

      And another vote for tuberose! When I was in my rose-sample-buying period this winter, I tossed in a few tuberose samples, just for kicks. And gagged upon trying them. But maybe next year…

  • maggiecat says:

    Wonderful post – I find the same sort of thing happens to me in terms of what I like, crave, look for, and enjoy. My tastes have gotten far more eclectic, and what I find to be true more than anything else is my tendency to crave certain scents at certain times. I used to dislike “tropical” scents, and now I’m happily seeking out gardenias and other floral scents. I had – and still have to some extent – a love affair with jasmine all last year. The spring before that it was neroli. Lavender comes and goes. I’ve learned to put scents aside rather than discard them if i don’t like them at first – oftentimes they become exactly what I want some time later.

    Fickle. That’s what I am. My DH being the exception of course!

    • Sam says:

      You’ve articulated something I regularly experience but have never put words to: I, too, crave certain scents at certain times–of year, of day, of life, whatever. And you’re quite smart to put aside scents you’re not sure about instead of tossing them or giving them away–I’m still learning that lesson. 😉

  • Patty White says:

    Used to be all about the pretty. anything outside of “pretty floral” was just icky. I remember smelling Daim Blond for the first time, and I thought it was sooooo fierce. Now I smell it and think it’s quite tame.


    • Sam says:

      That’s one of my favorite things: discovering that a perfume I once found jaggedly outside my comfort range is now intriguing to wear. My 20-year-old self would be shocked at (some of) what I wear now!

  • Patty says:

    I used to loathe tuberose, but have recently done an about-face. Now I’m enjoying Truth or Dare, Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, and I can even tolerate Fracas!

    • Sam says:

      Wow–a tuberose turnaround! I enjoyed it, for the most part, in my 20s, but not since (15+ years). Maybe I’ll get lucky and learn to love it again, like you! You’ve given me hope. 😉

  • Rena says:

    My tastes have gotten bigger, rounder, lusher and skankier since my body has become comfortably settled into being postmenopausal. I now have scent glue skin so I’m much less patient with sharp or difficult openings. I actually can’t wear a few former faves because of that (Paul Smith London, Lann-Ael, TDC Bois d’Iris)

    • Sam says:

      Hormonal shifts deeply affect perfume perception/tastes, as Poodle said earlier, don’t they? Sounds like your shift into postmeno has come with some nice perfume benefits, if bigger/lusher/rounder/skankier suits you now!

  • Sassa says:

    Oh de London! Just reading that brought the scent back to me! My young girlhood told in a single scent. Thanks for the memory!

    • Sam says:

      The name made me chuckle–now I’m going to have to look it up to learn more. I’ve never heard of it before.

  • I find my tastes have not changed, so much as broadened. I was, as a teen, a lover of Yardley’s Oh de London. I still love it and on the days I wear it, it is still a lovely scent. Unlike the days of my youth, it is now a sillage monster on my skin. I do find that there are scents I cannot wear as readily, like Love’s Baby Soft or Fresh Lemon, but I still enjoy smelling them on others.

    • Sam says:

      How lovely–your tastes have broadened, not changed. In most things, I find that experience/time weeds out certain things for me. Remaining open to scents I used to love while learning to love new ones–that seems quite advanced. My black-and-white thinking is aghast at the notion! 😉

    • FragrantWitch says:

      Oh my, my mom adored Oh de London and I am always on the look out for it. Where did you come by yours? Or is it vintage? I know their is supposed to be Irma Shorell version but have no idea if it’s any good.

  • Eldarwen 22 says:

    I used to wear Bath and Body Works Cucumber Melon probably in my sophmore year in high school and that was what 12 or 13 years ago. At that time, I believe that Bath and Body Works was really starting to get big. Then when I got sick of that, I went on to Pleasures and Happy. After I graduated from high school, I fell in love with BBW Gardenia Lily. I will admit that I wasn’t into perfume until about 2 or 3 years ago. I still wear Pleasures and Happy once in a blue moon but I have moved on to other things, more expensive things. I think that the ones that I wore in high school were because they were nice but also the best I could afford for a 15 year old that was at a part time job making $5 an hour. It wasn’t until about 2 years ago that I got Chanel no. 5. I think that I used the hand lotion at the beauty counter and found it smelling like burning plastic. Now I think that the tester was sitting out too long under those lights in the mall.

    • Sam says:

      I went through a huge Pleasures phase, too–really loved it. It sounds like Chanel No 5 is working well for you now. It took me a long time to warm up to it. Even now, I find I’m more at ease with the Eau Premiere version, much to horror of my self image as a perfumista. 😉 I agree about the tester, by the way–those lotions can really get rancid. Ick.

  • DinaC says:

    In college, a friend handed down a full bottle of Fracas to me, and I wore it all through my 20s. I use to love it. Now I find it overpowering, and I can’t believe I used to wear it with abandon.

    On the other hand, when I first entered Perfumista-land, I started doing some research on notes held in common in all of my favorite fragrances. I was pleased to find that almost every single one contained galbanum, and that’s still my number one most favorite note.

    • Sam says:

      How interesting that all the scents you loved had a note in common–and such an intriguing note, too. Here’s to galbanum, something I can’t imagine tiring of.

      As for wearing loads of Fracas, all I can say is–wow! You must have been quite a dynamic individual to pull that off.

  • Ann says:

    Hi, nice post! Can’t think of any notes that I once loved and now loath, but back in my college days I liked Opium and Poison and can’t imagine wearing either now (except for maybe one tiny dab of Poison — just for old time’s sake). Please don’t shoot me, but that tea rose was one that nearly sent me around the bend as I had a roommate who wore the dickens out of it; and later another roomie put YSL’s Paris on like it was going out of style. So I was a rose-phobe for the longest time. I’ve just started coming around to several of the more spiced ones in the past year or two. But, hey, you love what you love and it’s all good!

    • Sam says:

      So sorry to hear you were rose-bombed by your roommates! At the time–the long-ago time–I didn’t understand people’s objections to excessive amounts of Tea Rose. But boy do I now, and it makes be doubly wince to hear about your experience in the past. How great that spicier roses are working for you now.

  • Poodle says:

    My tastes have definitely changed through the years. I remember hating Chanel No.5 and now I love it. There are scents I remember loving and now when I smell them I think how could I ever have worn that. I used to love Ysatis and now I can take it or leave it. I think the fact that my idiot husband bought it for his mom has something to do with it. I DO NOT want to smell like my mother-in-law. He has since received the lecture that I would rather he not buy his mom or sisters perfume based on my collection. I go through phases with notes too. For months I can’t get enough of something like incense and then I change gears and want roses. I used to like peach but now in heavy doses its just cat pee to me. The older I get though I find that I appreciate skankier scents more and find myself less interested in anything fresh and bright. Although sometimes I’m convinced my scent preferences are totally hormonal. I used to love vanilla and could not get enough and now if I find a scent too sweet and vanilla heavy I don’t care for it too much. I still like vanilla but not quite the way I used to.

    • Sam says:

      I cannot believe your husband gave a perfume you love to his mother! Oh, foolish man.

      Interesting how tastes change with time, isn’t it? I agree: some days I’m convinced it’s all hormonal, too. Whew!