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More on scent variation – a tale of sweet or dry

It’s amazing how different the same scent can be to different people, and just last week I had another vivid example. Someone emailed me to say that she’d received her samples and was enjoying most of them but was confused by Winter Woods because she perceived hardly any wood and instead mostly smelled sweet musk and vanilla. It took her by surprise because for her it didn’t fit the description on the website as the other scents did that she’d tried. Later in the week someone else at the opposite extreme commented how Winter Woods was all dry woods and needed some sweetness for relief. This situation happens occasionally with Tabac Aurea too because it also balances sweet musks against drier woodsy, amber, and tobacco notes. Luckily there are many people in the middle for whom the sweet/dry aspects of Winter Woods and Tabac Aurea balance well (they have been my most popular scents so far, along with Champagne de Bois), but it’s fascinating to see the broad range in how people experience them.

I want to learn how to construct my fragrance formulas to work well for as many people as I can. I think one way to do that is to reduce the use of musk in my scents, and I’m keeping that in mind while working on new fragrances. I don’t mean to imply that musks are the only things that cause anosmias. I’ve found that synthetic amber ingredients like Ambroxan and ISO E Super can be very soft or fleeting to some people, and salicylates can cause this problem too.

In addition to anosmia issues, I’ve found that we have different levels of sensitivity to all ingredients, causing different notes to read louder to some people than to others. Sometimes an ingredient we are sensitive to can almost totally block out other ingredients in some scents. It’s important to sample things for yourself rather than buying (or avoiding) based on what others say because we are all different. Even when the ingredients are top-notch, you might not like a scent because the blending style or balance doesn’t work for you or you just have different preferences. I don’t think anyone is right or wrong — we all have our own ways of experiencing scents, and we may change a bit too over the years.

These differences between us make the job harder for perfumers because there’s no way to balance things perfectly for everyone, so we do the best we can. I run each scent by a number of testers and try to hit a happy medium before releasing scents, but I’m still learning how to maximize the number of people that fall into that middle ground group. I think it is a life-long learning process as a perfumer.

I find it interesting to watch the extremely different reactions that sometimes happen with new releases (Havana Vanilla comes to mind). Sometimes to do something creative like that it’s worth accepting that it won’t work for as large a group of people, and most fragrance connoisseurs don’t want the focus-group designed fruity florals anyway.

In her review of Incense Pure, Abby writes, “What does one do when the comments are all over the place? For the same perfume, she surely receives this set of feedback: “too sweet,” “not sweet enough,” “too dry,” “too peppery,” “not spicy enough…” and so on. ” Abby is absolutely right, and it is indeed hard to figure out the best choices sometimes, but I learn more each time I go through the testing process for a scent.

So, those are just some thoughts that run through my head, lol.

In the garden: Today I had some help in the garden to put in the new plants I purchased recently on my trip to the nursery. I took some time out to work on that and we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day. I want to get the garden back into shape this year after letting it go too much the last few years. The plum tree has gotten so big that my shade area has grown — the plum’s shade now merges with the shady oak area. I have to adjust the plantings a little as the garden matures and the sun/shade patterns change. I’d like the garden to be a fun place for people to sit and sniff scents when they come to visit for open hours (when I can start that).

Still getting armloads of roses, and today I had my first three sweet peas of the season! Yum! Don’t know that I’d actually want to wear a perfume exactly like the scent of sweet pea because they really are sweet, but they are heaven in a vase to sniff. It’d be fun to capture the scent in a solid perfume to open and sniff whenever you wanted. I’ve never sniffed a perfume that’s quite like real sweet peas though.

I’m catching up with an influx of orders and will get back to working on the scents this week. Almost caught up…

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  1. Hi Laurie,
    It’s nice of you to take time to write during what must be one of your busiest weeks of the year, and this is interesting read for sure.
    I’m looking forward to seeing your garden someday when I can schedule a trip to Northern Cal. I really love the region, having driven through it on several occations back in the ’90s. As far as sweet peas fragrances go, have you ever tried Guerlain’s Foliflora in their AA line or Floret by Antonia’s Flowers? Both are supposed to be based on the scent of sweet peas. Samples of Floret (along with her other scents) can be obtained cheaply via her website. About 10 years ago I fell in love with Floret (never tried the Guerlain), which was gentle but persistent. Think I may have outgrown it now, but I still have “sweet” memories of the scent.

    1. Hi Ann,

      I’ve not tried that Guerlain but should! I tried Floret many years ago and didn’t think it smelled enough like real sweet peas to satisfy my sweet pea craving, though it was a pretty floral. I should try it again now because my expectations were probably unrealistic back then about finding a real sweet pea. I once had a tiny sample of the Caron sweet pea in parfum and that was quite nice — sweet but very pretty.

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