Friday, April 15, 2011

Season Specific Fragrance Wardrobe & "Rotate Your Scent so You Don't Stop Smelling it": Fiction or Fact?

Surely all of you have heard/read these lines time and again: "You must change your fragrances from season to season to get a better effect". And: "You want to avoid wearing the same fragrance all the time, because after awhile you literally won't be able to smell it - that's just the way the sense of smell works. If you have several fragrances, you can alternate between them and avoid "getting used to" the way they smell. Add fragrances to your collection periodically so you have a nice selection that you can choose from". Great! It's not enough to just find something that suits you; perfume selling stuff, fragrance companies and glossies have persuaded you that it's a most difficult task and you need expert advice ~their advice~ to get the ball rolling. "Feel fresh and relaxed with moisturising body soap and men's perfume",  magazines say."You need to rotate your scents".

Now you need to find several of those, to comply with changes in season, weather conditions, occasions, mood, hormone imbalances and match it to your nail polish shade and your earrings. I'm of course kidding. All this received advice, which has been reiterated for decades to the point we've all believed it, is pure and utter bullshit; a myth, if you will. And I will prove to you why.

The main argument in favour of changing your perfumes from day to day is so your nose doesn't become too accustomed to it and you risk not smelling it on yourself any more". True, it's a scientific proven fact that our nose becomes acclimatised to existing odours after a few minutes so that it's ready to pick up alerting odours. It's the hunter-gatherer's gene: big predator is approaching; that bog is poisoned, better not drink water off it; something is badly burning, could it be the thatched roof on my hut? That said, the artificial corrolation of that fact with perfume use bears little logic. Fragrance wearing is not an opaque layer of odour that stays the same throughout the day, thus inflicting odour perception blockage like it would be if you were sitting in a chemical factory working every day to the same effluvium. Apart from the natural evaporation that would naturally occur, fragrances are constructed in a purposeful way so that different elements come to the fore with warmth, friction or simply rate of evaporation of the molecules in question. Usually we refer to this as the classic "fragrance pyramid" of top notes, middle notes and base notes. Although not all fragrances are built that way (indeed most are not nowadays), there is still a structure even in linear scents that creates a less or more intense scent that you catch whiffs of throughout the day. Think about it: How many times have you surprised yourself by smelling your fragrance amidst a daily chore and thinking "this smells good"? Clearly, your nose blunts a bit after the initial swoosh, intense enough hence the occasional sneeze when first putting it on, but the peaks of scent are there to remind you of its presence: now you catch it, now you don't; but you're not totally oblivious unless you're performing brain surgery, in which case what the hell are you distracting yourself with sensory stimuli for?

I have tried the practice of wearing the same scent for weeks on end myself as an experiment to see whether I would stop smelling it on myself several times (usually involving either Opium, Bandit, or Diorling) and the amount used and enjoyment derived never fluctuated; instead the continuous use allowed me intimate knowledge of the fragrance in question, something which could not be done if I was being fickle continuously. Not all days were the same while going the course, but at the end of each session I was not more oblivious to my scent than when I started. Perhaps getting people to change fragrance all the time avoids exactly this pitfall: they might realise just what utter dreck some of the products on the market are and never return to buy them! But wait, the fragrance industry has cornered that as well: "By the time you get bored with this one, we will have a new collection in the store", a line which makeup sale assistants have been using for ages. It seems like perfumes have become seasonal makeup items as well. Witness the hundreds of flanker fragrances (scents of the same brand coat-tailing on a bestseller's success with minimal change in name and packaging). And the tsunami of fragrance launches in the last 10 years: In the worlds of Oscar Wilde "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

But even if that weren't enough, maketing lore has cleverly played upon our most subconsious fears pertaining to smell. The implied innuendo of "after awhile you literally won't be able to smell it" is "think how horrible that will be on those around you!" Notice how sly they are into leaving it be hinted, without actually blurting it out: Because if you won't be able to smell it, why buy their product again anyway? They could have said, "you're not going to enjoy the scent as much after you put it on day in day out", but they don't, they say "you won't be able to smell it on yourself". Smell, not enjoy. As in "you smell!", aka a negative connotation. Because the perception of our human smell is such an intimate, personal thing, there is the fear that the way we project our homo sapiens projectiles might be repulsive to those around us. It just wouln't be the same with a visual example and they know it. Visual clues are unquestionable unless you're blind: either something is blue or it's not. But what is "good" and what is "bad" in olfactory terms? The confines are broader. And thus the perfume sale is sealed!

One of the easiest ways of cementing the need for a fragrance wardrobe is the concept of "a seasonal fragrance wardrobe". This is mainly because if you notice the bulk of the sales of perfume products happens in the temperate zone and not some sub-Saharan savvanah. The change in seasons in such places is dramatic enough that this seems like it makes sense. And yet we know that sometimes ambers bloom in the summer and florals can be icy and full of luster in the dead of winter. "Heat enhances the perception of fragrance," says Karyn Khoury, senior vice president for fragrance development for Estée Lauder Cos., who wears fragrance every day. "It warms up the skin and intensifies the diffusion of fragrance so you smell it more." (as reported by Beatrice de Gea in The Wall Street Journal) "When spring arrives, women may want to tone down perfumes so they aren't overwhelming. Ms. Khoury often leaves behind the deeper, richer scents of the winter months, such as patchouli and cedar wood, and instead seeks out fragrances with lighter touches—'citrus notes like mandarin, lemon and grapefruit, dewy green notes, things that smell like leaves or fresh-cut grass, lighter tropical florals like gardenia petals' she says." Khoury is responsible for mega sales of fragrance for decades, so she is a decathlon champion talking about running; you know there's a reason.

Historically speaking, the idea of changing your fragrance all the time, the concept of a fragrance wardrobe, didn't appear but very recently, in the middle of the 20th century actually. Perfume lost its prophylactic function in Western society when Pasteur made his discoveries, while it had almost entirely lost its sacred function way before that, so it became a middle-ground between craft, art and product. In Tilar Mazzeo's book The Secret of Chanel No.5, the cultural researcher notes that it was in the 1950s that consumer goods advertising firms started applying the expertise of psychologists, who realised that "any product [...]must appeal to our feelings". The idea that what mattered to consumers were images, especially images of self, was exploited to good effect: Perfume by its very nature explores an idea of self and to instigate that idea into its marketing is genius because it's something that can be used both for the championing of a signature scent ("this is me at its purest form") and for the necessity of a fragrance wardrobe ("these are my different facets, I'm not that simple")! Really brilliant, isn't it? It can also consolidate brand loyalty. Don't believe me or think it's counterintuitive? Just Google Images for "fragrance wardrobe". Oodles of pics of Chanel coffrets with a predetermined selection of mini parfums of their portfolio comes up. Several other houses issue their own "collection" so as to instill a sense of finding the scents you need for different moods and needs within the same brand.

Men who are ~bless their hearts~ such a saner creature in what concerns shopping practices ~apart from cars and electronics of course, but that's another fodder for another day~ consider the concept of having to change your fragrance all the time an exercise in consumerism and a sure indication that women are victims of wallet manipulation. The Western world female of 20-40 years of age is the most ferocious consumer of them all and thus the prime target of advertisers. As displayed on blog, men just don't "get it". But the women commenting provide all manner of justification! One reason might be that it's so totally fun to play with several fragrances, an epiphany that came to me when I had abandonded my idea that I should only have about twenty full bottles in rotation in case they spoil; why not bring them all out? A signature scent might be a most romantic, evocative idea, but in the end playing with a variety of fragrances allows a certain -otherwise denied- playfulness to surface, a playfulness that is sometimes a springboard of sanity in this tough world we're living in. Other people just have the collector gene in them. I know I'm one. It doesn't matter if it's paper-clips, stationery or perfume bottles of rare compositions, it brings on the completist in you.

But that is one thing and being told that we NEED to do it, otherwise the repurcussions will be unpleasant, are two very different things! I hereby proclaim my right to change my fragrance ~when and how and if I want to~ because it's fun and exciting to me and not because they tell me I have to. What about you?

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: On the flip side of the coin; the indefinable allure of a signature scent

Photo of Faye Dunaway from the set of Bonnie & Clyde. Perfume collection pic via Nude in black & white photo by Willy Ronis.


  1. Interesting topic...I have to say that I have a friend who wore industrial quantities of her one scent (Paris), because she could no longer smell it on herself, until I took her aside and suggested she change things up a bit and she now owns and rotates about a dozen different bottles. She still applies loads of these new acquisitions, and claims not to smell any of them on herself, so I may have just shot my theory in the foot.... : - )

  2. Yeah, I think you just did, LOL!!

    I'm glad you shared this however as I know we all know someone who over applies and is oblivious to the fact. It might be a "too much of a good thing sometimes" (as in case of Paris)

  3. "All this received advice, which has been reiterated for decades to the point we've all believed it, is pure and utter bullshit..."

    I am so happy & relieved to find that you think so too! Thanks for putting it in print. I rotate scents merely because I have (way too) many that I enjoy; perhaps I'll whittle them down to a few favorites some day.

    I gladly discard the notion that I need fashion & beauty "essentials" so that I can make room for my collectibles, just because I love them and they are fun: hankies, silk scarves, perfumes, costume jewelry (although I'm cutting down on these), compacts, etc. Oh yes: love purses too!

  4. Stella P17:25

    I would guess that people who tend to over apply do it regardless of how many perfumes they use. (I know very well one of them). The idea of using only one fragrance is for me as impossible as the idea of using the same set of clothes day after day after day. Here in Norway the differences between winter and summer is so great that is "has to" influence what one like to wear.

  5. Maria B.01:21

    Their claims are silly. People who can't smell favorite fragrances anymore probably couldn't smell them well in the first place because their smell receptors aren't as sensitive. If they start overapplying after a while, maybe it's because with age their sense of smell is becoming duller. Men in general perceive scent less well than women. I find they're the ones who are more likely to apply enough to empty a room.

    I commend you on your choice of perfumes to wear a lot. :-)

  6. Anonymous01:48

    Dear E,

    I think the concept of a wardrobe of fragrances and seasonal scents is just a ploy to buy more stuff. I adore your "seasonal" posts, at the end of which you always ask what scents we would choose for the season in question. I never reply, however, because no matter how much I scratch my head and think and think, the perfect scents for any season are always my beloved Bandit and Vol de Nuit; my opinion on this topic would only elicit yawns: "there's Natalia again, constantly harping on about Bandit and Vol de Nuit". I never "stop smelling" the frags I love and part of the enjoyment is discovering how they react in the bone-dry freeze of winter and the heavy humidity of 30 degree summer. I admit that hormones do play a part in what and how we sense scent; I am currently sampling Amouage Jubilation 25 and I CAN'T SMELL IT!!! I get the most fascinating top notes for 5 minutes and then NOTHING. ARRGH!!! My plan is to put the sample away for a more conducive, ahem, "time of the month". My solution to "not smelling myself" is to always put on fragrance in the same amount and in the same place; just because I can't smell it doesn't mean others can't.

    I think mood and occasion is a far more valid reason for switching fragrances. I wear Bandit daily because it is what I feel and what I want others to feel about me. I wear VdN for myself and for my children. I take out my precious sample of Djedi when I have become far too immersed in a historical novel of the mother country.

    I guess that is a fragrance wardrobe, but it has remained the same for quite some time and I am not feeling the need to change it as summer approaches.


  7. Thank you for a thoughtful wonderful post on a topic we all can relate to!

    I will share my thoughts.

    Many women, I believe, end up masking their wants as needs. For some it seems more appropriate to say, "I NEED another bottle of perfume because blah-blah-blah at boo-boo-boo says so" rather than just say, "I am getting another bottle of perfume because I WANT it!" So, in this sense fashion industry is certainly exploiting a pattern that is already there. I would not go as far as to say that it's creating it, but I can be talked into this point given the right argument.

    Some perfumes speak seasons to me, and some are great for every season. Wearing those are more of a matter of being in the mood for them. as a new perfumista who samples a lot, I am not sure yet how it works for me, but I am gladly observing my experiences and reflecting on them.

  8. I appreciate this article just as much as I did your article on signature scents recently - I'm never going to love only one scent, that's just how it is, and I like it that way.

    I have also experimented with living with only one scent over an extended period of time, and similar to you, I have not found that my overall perception of the fragrance is decreased. Even though on one day or another I might smell it more or less, that's just normal daily variation, not a trend toward anosmia.

    I do know that wearing a scent every day for at least a couple weeks is a surefire way to either make or break my love of a fragrance. It has convinced me that fragrances that I thought I liked really aren't "for me". This is usually because if a fragrance isn't complex or beautiful enough (to me) or if my love was only temporary, then I sort of "get over it" if I wear it every day for a while. On the other hand, sometimes if I wear one fragrance for an extended period of time, that is when I realize how much I love it. It has happened to me when trying to use up decants that I thought I wasn't that enchanted by. Most notably, this happened with Chanel Sycomore - after a week of wearing it every day, it was like something clicked. And I just fell in love with it. I hadn't been in love with it before, I had thought it was nice but "not me". Guess I was wrong!

    But in none of these experiments have I ended up with a scent that I just couldn't smell after wearing it for a few days (or weeks) in a row.

  9. In the US, everything is about Selling More Stuff, so, once one realizes and accepts that (with a shrug and a sigh of course) it is possible to live outside that norm. The re-use/recycle movement is gaining strength here, like buying clothes at thrift stores (I saw a vintage Pierre Balmain jacket for $7 at a Goodwill store) which are made from better fabrics with better workmanship anyway. Same with perfume -- at least half my collection came from such places, and fleabay.

    As for perfume -- I wear what makes me happy. Our beastly summers make the darker orientals difficult to wear, so I guess I do switch with the seasons. It just feels wonderful to spray on a cooling vetiver on a hot summer morning, or a rich amber on a cold winter one. It makes sense.

  10. So many thoughtful reflections that speak to my mind perfectly! Personally I do what I want (at least I think I do). Part of the reason may be because while I was growing up very little advertising was targeted to women of color, so the end result is that there was not much to identify with--so I think that made me follow my own instincts more. Buy the time I was being marketed to I was all grown-up and pretty set in my ideas. This is simplifying things a bit, but I think that's how it's effected me.

    As far as over applying goes. I think in general these folks have poor sense of smell more than loving the scent to death.

  11. I wore the same scent, day in, day out, for a little over 20 years. I loved it. I was never desensitized to it. I'm now exploring the world of perfume, but still reach for that old standby every now and then. It is marketing nonsense that you need to rotate, or buy different perfumes for different seasons. Just wear what you like when you like. I may get a hankering for a fresh floral in the dead of Winter to get an artificial dose of Springtime.

  12. I also used to have a signature scent back when I started wearing perfume (Mitsouko) and never noticed that I got desensitised. Since my interest in perfume has grown (much thanks to this blog, rhank you for all the tips!) I've started changing/rotating scents, but mostly according to mood, not season. I've only one "seasonal" scent, Une jardin aprés la monsoon, which I only wear during summer.
    Eva S Sweden

  13. The closest thing I have for a signature scent is Chanel's Cuir de Russie. I mainly rotate my perfumes so I don't get bored with the same 2 or 3 perfumes.

  14. QC,

    it's nice when we find someone who blurts out what we were thinking. So hooray for similarly thinking minds!!
    Glad I'm not alone, as it was a provocative line to write.

    Clearly you have a collector's spirit and there is nothing wrong with that. I don't think it needs any justification, no matter what they're drilling into our heads.

  15. S,

    I would assume that yes, in your own climate the difference is pretty dramatic. I think the companies and mags are targeting countries like that, makes sense.

    As to overappliers, I know several who overapply no matter what they apply. Even if it's just disnfectant for their hands or rubbing alcohol! They're probably of the "if a little does good, imagine how much more good a lot will do" mentality.

  16. Maria,

    I tend to think that overappliers might have a duller sense of smell indeed. I'd like to leave age out of the equation though, because on a previous post I read one reader commenting that they have heard of middle-aged women reporting that phenomenon. So like a good scientist don't want to skew my results.
    That said, there's some truth in differences between the sexes. Or perhaps most men have not been conditioned to differentiate the nuances and therefore perceive the scent differently, rather than smell it in lower volume. I'm hypothesizing on this, as I know men of keen smell in my close circle.

  17. Natalia,

    how could I argue with your scent choices? I love them and you must enchant everyone who smells them on you (VdN wearing for one's children is such a tender, caring thought!)
    I personally find that Bandit (and most arid chypres) are perfect in high summer: they cut the heat with their cool and powder (and greeness or leather). I also use N0.19 like that, although more of a green floral; borderline floral chypre,

    Now, you provide the perfect springboard for a thought I had, in relation to something and didn't want to include in the post, for want of thinking a bit more on it. You say: "I am currently sampling Amouage Jubilation 25 and I CAN'T SMELL IT!!! I get the most fascinating top notes for 5 minutes and then NOTHING. ARRGH!!! My plan is to put the sample away for a more conducive, ahem, "time of the month". "

    Now, notice the word "sample". How many among us are using just that -samples- to judge a fragrance and how gingerly do we put on a drop or two on our wrist? I find it pretty logical that sometimes we can't smell a thing!! The juice is just so little!!

    Therefore I tend to consider that too often when people on blogs and fora comment "I can't smell this", they actually can't smell said frag because they don't have enough on. Sometimes, some scents need a big spray of them to land on skin for them to reveal all their assets. Some others not, of course. But there you are, an interesting consideration, no?
    Could I have just hit "warm"??? :-)

  18. W,

    I think you have hit the nail on the head! This is also explaining how companies market things because they realise the underlying need. *smacks forehead, why didn't I think of that in so many words?*

    There's a sense of joy and discovery when one first embarks on the hobby, so the more experimentation, the more fun! I suggest you continue on your merry path and forget about rules entirely. As I know you are.

  19. A,

    great, a kindred spririt! Thanks for confirming my thoughts and observations!

    Yeah, it's daily variation and sometimes it's a make-it-or-break-it variance. I'm glad you found the beauty in Sycomore because it is spectacular. Vetivers of course usually are pretty great, the material naturally lends itself to it, but this one is seamless and has an elegance like few. I also love Vetiver pour Elle which is pure heaven.

    Please do look above on my theory on why some commenters on fora and blogs say they can't smell things: I think they put on too little, from sample vials. (Easy, wasn't it?)

  20. P,

    your wise and consice thinking is always reliable in such matters, and I trust your experience with the music iundustry which works on same principles.
    I guess we have to shrug the advice off and pretend we didn't hear it. It gets annoying though through the repetition now that the Net perpetuates anything till eternity.

    Weather classification is perhaps the one classification that makes more sense than the rest. I kinda do it myself, although not entirely. But I live in a place with mild winters and warm-to-hot summers without much humidity, so I can sneak a truant or two easily. ;-)

  21. TFC,

    how very interesting! I did not know you were a woman of colour. What you say about advertising is what bugged me endlessly myself. In a part of the world that we didn't have many people of colour (at least when I was growing up), this was something to be viewed with the kind of awe and admiration reserved for something exotic and forbidden. Perfume advertising thrives on those notions, so one would assume they'd think of that. But no. A pity.

    It's interesting what you say into becoming more independent in your thoughts about beauty because there was little you could identify with! A non forseen bonus. Good on you!

    I can't believe that wearing something over and over will "dull" you nose from day 1 to day 100, as they say. It would be like saying eating salmon every day would make you not taste it any more. It might make you not< want to taste it anymore, but not perceiving it sensorilly? Hmmm...doubtful.

  22. Alice,

    ah...another one who agrees with me! We should make a club, sign a petition and send it to every woman's mag out there! ;-)

    Might I ask which is your old standby, if you're cool with sharing it, of course? I'm terribly curious, since you have been wearing it for 20 years.

  23. Eva,

    awww, you make me blush!

    Your scent choice is exquisite and if you had become dulled to Mitsy's beauty, then something would be fundamentally wrong with the world.

    Mood choice makes perfect sense. It's in the fun department, rather than the rules department. ;-)

  24. Eld,

    Never let boredom set in, is what I say. I tend to leave a little distance to things I love so I never become bored with them myself.

  25. So many topics in one.
    Of course we need a scent wardrobe. Who can without? Even my husband has one.
    On the other hand, that's a very personal problem, that I just can't leave L'Heure Bleue away. I would put some LHB and than may be another perfume.
    And here I kindly ask you for support. I am obsessed with finding something which comes close to L'Heure Bleue that I can really change sometimes. I wear also Shalimar in winter and Apres L'Ondee in spring but there is nothing like LHB. I tried everything is supposed to come close (based on notes), Iris Ganache, Iris Poudre, Insolence, even Vanderbilt or Sun Moon and Stars which are supposed to be inspired by LHB. But nothing comes close. May be it is not so much about ingredients but about a certain feeling and overall composition. Any advice for me? I would be really really grateful.

  26. Maria,
    I know you're not asking me ... but my thought would be to find something else you love that's completely different from L'Heure Bleue.
    What I think is if L'Heure Bleue is *perfect* in its scent category (to your nose) then searching for something similar to it will always be disappointing ("nice, but it's no LHB").
    Instead, I'd search for something different, that has never been intended to smell anything like LHB. You know ... a smoky vetiver, a refreshing summery citrus splash, a naughty musk, or a resinous incense.

  27. Proximity, thank you.
    You are absolutely right, I am actually looking for something different. Only something to give me that intoxicating, poisoning but close to skin feeling of LHB. Also LHB doesn't wear me and that's something I need from a daily perfume. I tried recently and loved Mitzah, Dior and Noir de Noir, Tom Ford. Unfortunately I tried them while traveling and right now I don't have access to any of them. And I would need some samples, since I have so many perfumes already, many of them I don't really wear. Sous le Vent also impressed me, but same story, I can't try it at the moment again.
    Thank you so much for your thoughts. What do YOU love most?

  28. Anonymous20:00

    I wore the same perfume day in and day out for years without changing but did not overspray because I was not obssessed with my perfume at that point in my life. *LOL* I think now I am fragrance obssessed I would be guilty of overspraying because I pay that much more attention to my scents and their development. I want to enjoy every stage of my scent and I want to smell it all .
    I rotate daily now because there is so much scent to enjoy and derive pleasure from. Going back to a scent I have not used in a while is like falling in love with it all over again .

    Still ,being faithful to one scent has a lot going for it. I just can't do it anymore! Fickle in my middle age! *LOL*

  29. Uh.... well. I regularly use maybe 30 fragrances, and that's just because I don't have a neat shelf for all those I own. And fishing something out of a storage box in the morning, before my first coffee, just doesn't work.
    I only noticed different preferences in different seasons. In the hottest summer, I wear exclusively Sycomore, it doesn't turn to crap on my skin, and when it's cold, I go for orientals. The rest is just mood. Yesterday I wore some stuff I made myself, today, it's the peachy-metallic Hyle which is positively weird and I needed half a year to get used to it. Bite the old wives' tales.

  30. Maria,

    even men can be persuaded into the ways of marketing, LOL! Just kidding of course. I know that people like to keep an array of things just to escape boredom sometimes.

    Now, on to your more serious matter. Have you tried/revisited Loulou by Cacharel recently? I find it bears a specific kinship with LHB without being the same.
    Of course your Apres L'Ondee is already the closest thing to LHB but it's one box checked, hence my other rec.

    Potentially off topic, but I personally don't find Insolence, Iris Ganache, Iris Poudre or Sun Moon Stars (that one is inspired by Tresor actually, same perfumer) anything like LHB. Where did the recs originate from? Automatically generated fragrance finder?

  31. A,

    sound advice to Maria! There's something to be said about getting close but no cigar when searching for something really close.

  32. Maria,

    are you cognisant of online decanters and the wikidot Scentsplits page? (evil ideas which gnaw on anyone's wallet).
    Not affiliated but satisfied personally from service rendered.

  33. M,

    fickle is good, we need a little fickle-dee-doo. :-)

    I think getting away from a scent for a little while holds this fascination that you describe so well: it makes you fall in love with it again. *sigh*

  34. L,

    hello pretty!

    Getting something out of the storage is always an adventurous prospect in the mornings. I have falled prey to severe elation and severe ennui that way ;-)
    I agree with your seasonal divide, though I rotate the chypres and vetivers in the summer (and some florals).

    Hope you're very well!


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