A Little Perfumed Puff

Chandler Burr sets forth the opinion in his new book, The Perfect Scent,  that tastes and styles of perfume change, which is true – each decade seems to have a theme.  He continues on that perfumes from earlier decades – and I am wildly characterizing this and hoping I get it more or less right – tended to have more dramatic character, were fully formed as to what/who they were (say Gloria Swanson’ish in Sunset Boulevard), so they wound up wearing the person or you would somehow take on characteristics of the perfume or project what the perfume was saying; whereas modern perfumery is moving to a less rigid character, so they smell like the person, wrapping around them, but not overtaking who they are.That may well be true, but as my old priest used to mutter, “both/and, not either/or.”  I very much like that there are more realistic scents out there, more scents that seem to mold to the wearer, but if someone is going to take away my big, over-the-top Marilyn Monroe scents, I’m telling you right now, there will be trouble.   It’s not enough to not just take them away, I want you brilliant perfumers to keep making them, too… and make them better, more lush, more over the top.  Yeah, that’s right, I want more.

There are days when I don’t really want to be me… it is preferable to be some rich old woman done up with furs, sans the furs and money.  And that’s a day for Hermes 24, Faubourg parfum, First parfum or Patou 1000 parfum.  Other days I do want to blend in with who I am, gently scented, but completely me. That’s a day for Malle’s L’eau d’Hiver or Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande.  If I’m all up in my Marilyn Monroe, I want my Le Labo Aldehyde 44 or Chanel No. 5 parfum.  If I’m down with the sweats, Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan or Prada Iris Infusion will trail me that day.  There are a thousand facets to who I am, and every day the light hits this diamond a new way, and no one scent can express all of the people I am, was or want to become… so I’ll be needing a lot of scents to keep me happy.

My hope is that the perfume industry will read Burr’s book and not take away from it that they all need to make Kelly Caleche, but I hope they realize there is a wide world of customers that like to smell lots of different ways on about every day of the month, and if they make something beautiful and/or unusual from good materials, it will find an audience.  

For consumers, my hope is that you would all stop buying crap!  For the love of all that’s smelly, don’t encourage them making perfumes with no originality and smelling like cheap scented soap. If you keep buying it, they’ll keep throwing it out on our department store counters, and we all suffer for it.  Yes, I said suffer, because it’s wafting out there and invading my nose and my pores, and whenver people complain about perfume in the workplace, I can assure you they are not complaining about my smooth as silk, though cantankerous, darling Diorling. They are complaining about those overamped molecules that are trying to cover up cheap rose/iris/violet/pink pepper/purple passion grapefruit.

Mostly, I need interesting perfumes to write about. If you keep sending another Chloe, Elle, Midnight Poison, or Britney No. 57 out there, all I get to write about is… bleah, another cheap fruity floral. I’d far rather explain why someone might want to smell like Barbie Doll Sex or Lavender backstroking in your Cheerios than to just throw up my hands and try to review Paris Hilton Can’tSayNo with a straight face. 

Perfume is not going to solve world peace or hunger, and it is a luxury item we don’t need, but all things being sorta equal, I’d just as soon my part of the world smelled great, thanks. 

Okay, I’m done. It’s open mic, y’all can insert your favorite perfume rant in comments.

  • Eileen says:

    As one trying to educate my nose, I find the plethora of absolute dreck on the market makes the process all the more difficult. Some new releases are surely wonders, given the probable (miniscule) budget they have, but we beginners can’t sort through the mess to find them. I may not be quite ready for Chanel No. 5, but that doesn’t mean I want BubbleGumFruitoftheMonth either..

    • Patty says:

      I think it does make it difficult. There are some good mass market things being released, but they aren’t the norm. Even some of my favorite houses – Fendi, I’m looking at you – released one last year that I gave every chance to like and just couldn’t get there, the composition just never seemed to hold together as something cohesive.

      At least there is a great back catalogue of some of the older designer scents that can be had for cheap. I keep discovering all sorts of little gems from the oldie but goodie pile.

      • Eileen says:

        Amen to the back catalogue! I’ve been sifting through reviews and seeing what has stood the test of time. Some are surprisingly affordable, others can be sampled for a reasonable price.

        I’ve feel like a kid in a candy store — turned loose with lots of shiny things but with no direction at all! But, if I stick with the older scents, I can rationalize that at least I’m shopping in an _upscale_ candy store, so nothing will be too awful. 😉

  • PlaysbyScent says:

    LOL at ‘overamped molecules’! Exactly – they could compete with armour-piercing projectiles, and sadly, I think when people complain about perfume, or believe they don’t like perfume, the probability is good that they’ve been over-exposed to floral/fruity synthetics that were marketed as ‘fresh!’, ‘clean!’, ‘inspired by Nature!’, etc.

    I’ve bought, and still do buy, crap but I was fortunate in that, despite being poor as dirt, I had a taste for Guerlains and Chanels early in life. There was no learning curve, I just dove right into them. My nostalgia may be throwing me off but it seemed like women in my childhood wore either excellent perfume, or none at all.

    • Divalano says:

      The women of my childhood, my mother included, wore musk oil or patchouli … I was a child in the 60s. I think she also had a teeny tiny fancy bottle of something fancy but never ever wore it. My Nana wore 4711 & washed in Pear’s Soap. My stepmom wore Opium when I was a young woman but then, so did I. So … I have nothing to look back on as a frame of reference for sophistication in scent & I’m no young thing. Having no elders to provide reference points I find that I’ve had to educate my own palate in scent & as it turns out, I’m very choosy & drawn to the niche & the complex. So I think it’s possible for young women today to do the same. It won’t be the masses, it never is. The masses always go for mass market. It’s the same for music, scent, clothes, etc. But I think if young women are hungry for excellence they’ll eventually gravitate to quality.

    • Patty says:

      Some of those molecules I always picture as those pointy metal bras that Madonna used to wear, just piercing and way too obvious.

      You know, price-wise, the Guerlains and Chanels are a bargain now and are much less expensive than a lot of the mass market designer things being released, at least before they hit discounters. So things don’t have to be expensive to be good or not-crap.

      • Dain says:

        I think you are right, but I also think that it is combined with an atmosphere in which we don’t want to “rock the boat”, or put another way, “jealously protect our interests”. There’s a constant demand for novelty but rarely for change.

  • sweetlife says:

    Hear, hear to all of the above but in addition:

    I vote for 2008 to be The Year of the Educated Perfume Consumer. If yuppies can cause arugula to become a mass-market food, then picky perfume seekers can have the same effect on what gets sold to us. I’m doing my part to addict, er, introduce alternative scents to, well, pretty much anyone who will listen to me. Hooray for viral marketing!

    • Patty says:

      Yeah viral marketing! I think a lot of that education has already begun. What I hope is that people who were turned off of perfume, bored with it, start exploring it again. It’s a new world out there, if you know where to look!

  • Debbie says:

    I choke back a scream when I read of yet another fruity floral being released. I never liked those, even in my younger days. How many of those things can they make?!


  • Dain says:

    I cannot speak for “most young people”, but I’m 22 and definitely want something as idiosyncratic and sophisticated as possible, while fruity notes send me into olfactory stroke (Bois et Fruits notwithstanding). I think it is more representative, not of individuals, but of a society in the excesses of decadence and hyperconsumerism. So, companies push “younger” products on us (because let’s face it, youth is the most marketable age), and lots and lots and lots of sex. They cannot see, by this point, that shock value has almost no meaning any more, and that mystery, that private world of rich inner life, is what stands out, what is special. Women used to wear perfumes for the sake of presence. Now, I don’t know, I think people are just lazy, and afraid to seem… aggressive in any way. I went to a very elitist, liberal university that prided itself on openmindedness, and yet everyone was incredibly judging and insecure, it was in truth a very conservative environment–five times worse in the girls. If they are representative at all, I can definitely see why, even in such a little thing as perfume, they just want to seem innocent and nonthreatening.

    • sweetlife says:

      Right on! Are you really 22? See, that just gives me so much hope for the future. I’m so glad I read your comment.

    • Patty says:

      Do you think the target is aimed at younger people because they think their tastes are still forming or that they are more usually influenced by celebrity and image in advertising? I know when I was younger, I was much more susceptibel to that sort of thing, and the occasional super-cute perfume bottle can still turn my head. (Hello, Betty — that’s my Isabela Capeto bottle).

      I know a lot of young people who have very definite tastes, but I think that’s the exception.

  • Divalano says:

    Hear, hear! Not that I’d buy crap, it gives me a headache & a case of the sneezies. That said, some people will always want McDonald’s over something real. I’d add to that, also don’t buy merely good luxe releases that cost a half a month’s rent (in most normal cities – er, not NYC). Come on people, don’t encourage this, it’s perfume not elixir of the gods, and often not even that unique a perfume at that. OK, so $200 is the new $100 but $400 is insane.

    I also wear something different for every mood and atmosphere. I wear different shoes, different colors, different clothes according to weather, activity & mood. Getting dressed each day includes selecting the right scent, too.

    • Patty says:

      Yes, there’s definitely a balance in there. I do feel for the small perfume houses, because you know they have to pay a LOT more for their chemicals than the biggies have to, so I always see why they are going to be pricier, but the price tags are getting just ludicrous. Sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face when they tell you the price.

  • minette says:

    Elle is a travesty – all that is wrong and worst with current perfumes.

    My question is this – do they really believe the younger generation is that boring? That it can’t tolerate something edgy and interesting, obviously sexual and womanly or manly, something, dare I say it, that smells like perfume? If they do, they have only themselves to blame. If bland and safe are all they make, it’s all the younger ones smell. Then they have no reference, no benchmark, to understand more sophisticated smells.

    My theory, which I’ve expounded somewhere online, is that when women were more buttoned-up in their clothing, when there was more mystery, perfume needed to speak for them – and it needed to say, “Don’t let the cinch waist, stockings and gloves fool you; I’m a hot-blooded woman of passion under here.” Now, when sex is so available and the clothing advertises it, perfumes need to say, “I may look like a tart, but I’m really just an innocent little thing – all fruit and candy. And I’m clean! Smell the starch?”

    Give me Femme de Rochas, Visa de Piguet, Patout Chaldee, No. 5, No. 22 and Cabochard any day. Thank you to those who were thoughtful enough to remember that mystery is a good thing and brought me Iris Poudre, Une Fleur de Cassie, Boudoir, Carolina Herrerra, 24, Rue Faubourg, Maitresse and Musc Ravageur. Because of them, I can still smell like a sexy, classy woman.

    • sweetlife says:

      Minette, I totally remember you offering this theory and I think of it often. I think you’re dead on. But in addition, I think it has to do with the habits of the next generation up — when Mom dresses like a 16-year-old and wears her perfume, too, there’s no glamor and grown-up-ness to aspire to, no mysteriously deep and difficult scents to catch a whiff of, or steal from the dresser…

      • perfumequeen says:

        excellently put. perfume was always grown up and mysterious. Now you can get it 3 for $15 at bath and body works. Or at least smell like you did.

        • minette says:

          I think you have something there. I don’t have children, so it wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Well, if I did have them, they would’ve been treated to a bit of mystery! But I have seen little girls, even in church, wearing Britneyesque wear and even singing sexually suggestive songs (they don’t know what they’re singing – they’re just copying the music videos) at a post-service mini-song-and-dance thing. It was creepy.

          I wonder if our obsession with youth also has something to do it. Don’t smell like a grown up because that’s OLD! And what is the epithet about perfume we all hate to hear? “Eww, it smells like old lady (or old man).” We should appreciate those who’ve made it to a certain age and beyond and instead we use them as our negative example.

    • Patty says:

      That is a spot-on explanation, and I completely agree with it.

      Would that people let the imagination have more to occupy it!

  • Dain says:

    Utter agreement. I think the problem is that companies are targeting younger demographics on the notion that they have more money to spend, and that anyone past the age of 25 just wants to be sixteen again. Who wants to smell like Dina-Lohan in a bottle?

    • Malena says:

      i absolutely agree!
      another problem that occurs is scents are very quickly discontinued, perhaps due to the demand of a younger clientel always on the hunt for something new.
      as most recent scents (ffuity-floral & the like) are rather “faceless” it´s no loss when they´re discontinued, but unfortunately this happens to more classic scents – that may not seem fitting for younger people…- as well.

  • Malena says:

    my perfume obsession started with “crap” LOL – though, some of them still have a place in my heart & wouldn´t consider them as crap: loulou, anais anais, tresor, obsession, cloe narcisse, gloria. i wouldn´t wear them, nowadays, but i still like them & they bring back lots of (mostly good) memories to me.

    then i really went through a “crap-phase” (no need to talk about it 😉 it´s sad about the money i spent on such boring frags) until i finally realized i had to move on, find something better, more complex, even more complicated.

    that´s when i was introduced to niche perfume houses. & now i´m stuck with them 🙂
    by the way. it took me longer to fall in love with the classics like caron urn fragrances & the guerlains than to like/love more modern compositions.

    it´s really a process, IMO, you can´t just go ahead & fall in love with…AG sables for example. you have to sniff lots of bad stuff & lots of good stuff until you can appreciate the good stuff.
    (& some people never learn to appreciate good stuff at all… but that´s another topic 8-| !)

    • Patty says:

      Well, some crap is a grea thing! And if you love it, it’s not crap. But too much out there is, and there needs to be less of it. I’d love that crap more if there were less, I swear! Then it would be kitschy and fun, like the crazy lilliebell things.

    • Patty says:

      You probably remember well when I used to diss those classic Diors regularly. Hello Blind smell test! Well, I have expanded my horizons a bit since then.

  • donanicola says:

    Well I would like no more obfuscation (don’t you just love that word?)re the oakmoss and other allergens debate. I understand many much loved ingredients are allergenic to some people and I’m truly sorry for them and of course they need to be INFORMED. I also understand that IFRA says percentages of some stuff above 0.1 must be labelled clearly on the product for that reason. But the stuff isn’t banned. So how come we seem to be in a situation where nobody outside Guerlain etc really knows whether Mitsouko for eg has been tampered with? And is this why we may be losing Parure? I don’t want formulas, just some clarity and explanation. Reforms aren’t always bad – Rochas Femme? (though ok, I can think of a few horrors).
    And on a purely selfish note I wish all perfume houses would sell nice little 20/25/30 ml bottles.
    Returns to an Attrape-Coeur swoon brought on by a shopping trip to TPC – no crap there!

    • Patty says:

      I heard that, that none of that is banned, it just must be clearly marked. I still think that whole thing was cover for perfume houses to reformulate with cheaper ingredients and claim they had to when people complained it smelled different.

      Could be wrong, my mind tends to be suspicious, though. 🙂

  • March says:

    Hey, I love to read your list of what you wear when you’re in different operating modes!

    My general gripes are the ones others have already named. I would like niche houses to stop doing mass releases. (An aside: other than the Chanel Rue Cambons, can you think of one mass market brand that’s done the same? Chanel is luxury, but to me still mass-market, you can find them in Macy’s. Off the top of my head I can’t think of another.) And I really have my doubts that all those $250 – $300+ perfumes are priced in a way that reflects their cost.

    As an occasional Crap Buyer (hey, I LIKE Light Blue!) I will now go sit in the corner.:”>

    • Patty says:

      I’m a more than occasional crap buyer, but the stuff I like that’s in the crap pile isn’t really crap. See, that’s the beauty of definitions. My crap is definitely NOT crap.=))

  • chayaruchama says:

    I’ve very mixed emotions, here.
    My soul agrees with Elle and you- but somehow, I wish there was room for everyone.

    I’ll have to ADORINGLY disagree with beloved Andycandy, though it pains me; in Europe, and South America, if you polled the ‘person-on-the-street’, you’d still get a lot of fruity-floral/ generic scents as favorites.

    We have many talented niche perfumers right here in the US- a lot of them….

    Maybe, I’d like to say to people:
    wear what pleases you, by all means-
    But, PLEASE- Take a risk ! Sniff something different-

    • AngelaS says:

      Here here! Well said. Take a risk, stretch your nose, and wear something different than the rest of the crowd. After a while, maybe a deeper appreciation of perfume will flourish.

    • Patty says:

      Oh, I definitely think there’s room for lots of things! I have a ton of designer scents that I adore, some newer, some older. But there’s so many of them that are poorly made or just a copy of another 30 things out there.

      My point in all of that was that I wish the mass market would see that variety is great. They don’t need to all smell like each other, copying the latest hit or trend, and that they can occasionally spring for some upscale molecules. :d

  • Helen T says:

    Stands up to applaud the speaker =d>

    No need to take the mike, you summed it all up beautifully and succinctly.

    Especially with the don’t buy crap command!

    • Patty says:

      Pretty sure I’ll get slapped silly for saying that. 🙂 Obviously it’s not aimed at the fine readers of this blog who find things that they like amongst the riff-raff. :-\”

      • Debbie says:

        Yes, Patty, like…(sit down)…Avon’s Extraordinary. True, it’s a little rough around the edges, but I still like it. Bath and Body Works Warm Vanilla and Chocolate Amber body cremes aren’t bad either. I don’t have the courage to try the EDT’s, however.

  • Carol Sasich says:

    Thank you, Patty…law of supply and demand…don’t buy crap…that really made me laugh, because it is a process. The more I sniff, the more I realize it is my nose that changes and learns to appreciate better concoctions. No one can smell it for you or your chemistry, you must get to know your own chemistry.
    Compare the cost of your scent to the cost of the car you drive…

    • Patty says:

      And your mind broadens to encompas more scents. I used to hate the Diors, but now they are at the top of my list because they are interesting and unique and well made. But they aren’t for everyone. And there’s some days I want something easy and far less challenging to wear.

      So there’s room for a lot of variety, I just wish the mass market stuff had more variety.

  • Elle says:

    No. More. Multiple. Luxe. Releases. That is my current pet peeve. Seriously – three perfumes at once in the $400 range? Hello! Financial ruin should I have loved those Diors. Blessedly, I didn’t feel enough love to take out a second mortgage, but the number of perfumes in the $200+ range I’ve seriously wanted has been unfortunate. If the ingredients are truly top of the line and the originality and creative genius are there, I’m genuinely grateful for a perfume at any cost (well, almost any), but my other pet peeve is that I *do* resent that suddenly $250 seems to be the low end of luxe. SIPs now seem almost dirt cheap to me, but I remember just a few years ago they seemed like a real financial stretch. I don’t care how much I get in a bottle since I never go through one. I just care what the price is – period.

    • Patty says:

      They are stretching the bounds on credulity on price. I’m also all for paying what it takes to get a quality perfume with great ingredients, but feel reasonably certain most of the time that can be done for far less than $400 a bottle. Well, with a couple of exceptions. 🙂

  • Louise says:

    Axe. What are we training our youth to appreciate? And me to run from?

    I think I differ some with Andy, after a number of visits to Europe in recent years. I mostly smelled heavy doses of flamboyant fruity-florals in shops, on the streets, and on friends. I ducked Paco Rabanne XS sprayers in every department stores. Even the selections from “better” houses were lesser choices, such as Guerlain L’Instant. Certainly there are lovely perfume houses carrying niche ‘fumes in Paris and London, but also in NYC-it just take a little seeking out.

    • Patty says:

      Axe is horrible, no? Whoever dreamed that up should be spanked.

      I think as long as they are selling an image with fragrance and people keep buying into it, there will be a ton more of the same — some of which is okay, but there’s just an awful lot of it that’s pretty unvarying. Sad.

  • Lee says:

    Bring the perfumers to the forefront. Allow creative freedom. Make pigs fly.:d

  • Maria says:

    With some of you I mourn the loss of gorgeous, maybe difficult perfumes that could only be brought off by women with character. There are plenty of us left who are up to the task. The discontinuation and reformulation are sad to think about.

    I echo the condemnation of the cheapening of ingredients and the efforts of politically correct nannies to label haunting ingredients toxic, leaving us no choice about whether to wear them or not.

    OTOH, there are wonderful independent perfumers who are able to produce work with integrity and make it known to all of us through the Internet. We can sample thanks to the decanters. We can keep our habit stoked through blogs.

    You win some, you lose some. But more and more the winning isn’t done by buying product from the big corporations.

    • Patty says:

      Yes, we’ve certainly come a long way from the perfume landscape of ten years ago, that’s for sure. I just hate to see some increcibly talented perfumers’ skills wasted on some of the dreck they’ve made.

      It’s like when the teacher tells you their child isn’t living up to his/her potential. 🙂

  • zenwoman says:

    The reformulations are detestable as is the war against oakmoss and all of the other rationalizations for replacing quality ingredients with junk. I have yet to encounter a reformulation that constituted an improvement:-w. Sorry to be so crabby, but I also think there are entirely too many new releases. The most positive development is the rise of the blogosphere and the decanting/swapping movement among perfumistas. The ability to sample instead of being forced to buy entire bottles has definitely been a boon.

  • Andy says:

    Yes. Both/and….and, from a European perspective: Don’t we see here the dichotomy one might call European (or French) versus American (US)? Just a thought..

    • Patty says:

      I’m not sure! From the other commenters, and I really don’t know, it sounds like there’s as much sheep’ish behavior on scent in Europe as in the U.S. Exhibit A would be Angel in France — yeesh!

      I know the French Sephora, full of the mass market fragrances, was about three people deep when I was in Paris, and most of them were French-speaking.

  • tmp00 says:

    well, not to ring the Pollyanna bell, but despite the ghastliness that are reformulations, I think we are living in the best of times. Yes we have the latest BritLoHo’s MidniteSherbetRehab, but we also have a lot of niche scents and the internets allowing freaks like us to spread the word.

    I mean, it’s great to think of the past and all of the great scents that were from it, but I am sure that for every Bandit there were 10 eau de pong that are thankfully forgotten.

    Having written that, NO MORE FRUIT!

    • Patty says:

      I do agree with you… for perfumistas in the know. But your average perfume buyer is too often turned off after smelling the same thing over and over again and stops playing with scent, not even knowing there’s a whole other world out there to choose from. My rant is really directed at that segment of the market.

      Wish there was a way to get the word out, like “have you sniffed something unusual today?”

  • perfumequeen says:

    perfume rant?
    one word
    let it fly…

    • Patty says:

      Yeah, they can just cut it with those reformulations as well. My suspicion is that they are driven by cost and not that much the “EU says we can’t use it” argument.

  • Gail S says:

    Hmmm, I appear to be completely you 😡 L’Eau d’Hiver and Encens et Lavande are two of my current favorites.

    I was just reading over on NST and there appear to be a surfeit of new releases coming up with “Pink” in their names. Doesn’t bode well……