Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Mascara frames the eyes but perfume will always leave a long lasting impression"

Thus says Jill Hill, MD of Aspects Beauty Company in Harvey Nichols.Little wonder that in times of economic uncertainty, women won't compromise on this one beauty treat. "People trade to smaller sizes, look for promotions or retreat to safe classics," affirms Jill. "In Harvey Nichols Dublin the DSquared2 fragrances are very popular due to their fresh, woody elements and Trussardi's signature scents Uomo and Donna are selling well." Of course perfume tastes evolve and as women gain self-confidence they tend to go for what they want in a more assured way. Which can get reactions from those not sharing her tastes...

 According to Tanya Sweeney, author of the article in the Herald.ie (with the rather confusing sub-header) from which the quotes come from, "women aren't the only ones to either love or loathe the way you smell. In fact, one male friend has even used the word 'dealbreaker' while referring to the fragrance choice of a potential girlfriend. The Smell & Taste Treatment & Research Foundation in Chicago has researched men's reactions to perfume ... and the results are startling. Natural, 'clean' fragrances like Christian Dior's J'Adore * were a favourite; woody fragrances were also popular, while florals (like roses) didn't rate too highly.[...] Notes Jill: "In a woman, men prefer floral orientals, femininity and allure."

And the author continues: "Vanilla notes in perfume are particularly attractive to men as it subconsciously reminds men of breast milk. [ed.note: And you thought men have progressed beyond the Freudian!]  "This is well known," says Jill. Vanilla is a sweet scent which occurs naturally. It is such a comforting smell that Johnson's Baby Powder has it, which of course has a childhood nostalgia for many people."
Likewise, citrusy perfumes may be too young and overpowering for many men. "The fact that there are very few successful overtly citrus fragrances perhaps tells a story," suggests Jill. "Fruity or gourmand fragrances seem to appeal to women, rather than to men. Some authors ascribe this to the fact that in ancient times women were the gatherers and the smell of berries and fruit was associated with their tribal function, rather than their personal function as mates." [there you go, there's an anthropological explanation for everything!]

*whether you find J'Adore "clean" or "natural" is purely subjective; I find it neither particularly.

It all makes for interesting discussion, eh? What do YOU think? 

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Perfumes that Attract Men and Smells which Turn Women On


  1. My experience has been that men's tastes are almost as diverse as women's. The results regarding gourmands conflict with that pumpkin pie and licorice study, don't they! I find myself wondering what their sample size was, and whether it represented many different cultures....

  2. Amy,

    exactly!! To be honest, as attested by the subheading (vanilla top notes, citrus base), I think we're dealing with someone who's writing with a tentative interest in perfume. Therefore the conclusions are based on minimal research, at best.

    I DO think that the famous Hirsch research is solely valid for North American men: here pumkin pie and licorice are as unfamiliar as calamari and seker pare is to the average Minnesotan, i.e. largely unknown. (I bet that'd be true for many other cultures as well).
    And in my humble professional experience perfume consumers gravitate towards the familiar. ;-)

  3. P:
    A historian like you must love these pseudo factoid mumbles. Now we know the reason for the syrupy fruity florals: prehistoric teens had to gather berries. (Of course contemporary teens won't find the smell in modern supermarkets because the fruit sold there smells and tastes of nothing). Men should then douse themselves in Muscs Koublai Khan or Kouros, which, sadly, is not happening.

    Equally sadly, it is unfortunately untrue that "Rare is the thirty-something who has slavishly stuck to her sophomore scent" - see fruity florals above.


  4. Masha16:54

    You have to wonder how much vanilla they put in baby formula, don't you? That breast milk explanation made me think 'and you thought journalism has progressed beyond Freudian' :) So annoying... And I do have a male friend who loves sweet and citrusy fragrances on his girlfriends - according to this piece, it could be one of the reasons we never attempted beyond friendship as my faves are all about amber, wood and herbs :)

    I absolutely agree with you, the idea of what's comforting is strongly related to time and place. Licorice is sore throat around here - a hell of comfort, ha?

  5. M,

    don't get me started: the amount of "historical" data brandished about re:perfume is ridiculously inaccurate most of the time (see all the faux "patronages" of houses as well as the lore on Cleopatra etc thrown about at the drop of a hat).
    The fact that there needs to be an even further back time, anthropological explanation as well is ludicrous to say the least; the hunter-gatherer divide among the sexes has been linked to whatever pop culture current view is au courant from women's shopping habits to their mating preferences. It all boils down to people relating to things instinctively, not thinking, which I guess is the perfect marketing "wet dream". ("Let's exploit anthropological feature D today to sell panty-liners!")

    I suppose the sophomore scents of the current 30-somethings were ozonics. How good is that?

    *cracky mood, can't you tell*

  6. Zazie17:06

    Oh my! Ms. Tanya Sweeney's article needs some serious research!! And her explainations! I'm holding my belly!! I would be hard pressed to find a fragrance less natural smelling than j'adore. Let's not even talk about the fresh part.
    Seriously, though, I think you should never ask a man what kind of scent he prefers, because most of them don't know! If they knew, they probably wouldn't have the vocabulary to express their preferences, just like most women - whose "fresh" might stand for apple of for white musk, citrus or whatever comes close to their soap "eidos".
    Second, my experience is that for men (and for me too!), perfume and make-up are subject to the how-much rule.
    Quantities of both, abundant enough to be registered and to be found distracting are usually not appreciated.
    The same fragrance that causes coughs and protests will attract cuddly and loving comments when subtly worn close to the skin.
    Ask my husband about Mitsouko.
    Third, men -like women- do not universally love vanilla. Many years ago, I was working in a mainly male and international environment. A female colleague wore a strong vanilla perfume. She wore too much of it. Each and every male colleague had a snarky comment to offer on the subject. They all came form different cultures but they all agreed that vanilla perfumes were awful.
    However, I am sure they meant another thing, i.e. that particular perfume, at that volume, was awful. While a dab of the same might have been judged sexy, if they liked the lady.

  7. Masha,

    I have often heard the "universal appeal of vanilla" and I guess it had to be explained somehow. Attributing it to milk -or breast milk, niftier- sounds conclusive enough.

    I don't really recall breast milk as especially vanillic (yes, I have sampled it, don't ask), it has a peculiar consistency that is much less smelly than usual dairy milk though, it's "delicate" if I may say so.
    I suppose that added vanilla in baby formula and baby food however eradicates other by-smells of the products, which is invaluable to make a baby consume them without too much grumpiness (invaluable for the mother!). That last part is a theory on my part though, so don't take it as gospel.

    I am 100% certain that smell perception is highly variant on cultural associations, in fact perfumers I have discussed this with working for big firms often cite it as a reason on choosing materials over others (you want to have as wide an acceptance as possible for mainstream launches). The examples of this phenomenon are numerous and it might warrant its own article on of these days (should make for interesting note taking and fact checking among our international readership).

    Not to mention that it irks me a thousand times to think that men behave like cattle and have no individual preferences on their own! If this were said about women you'd have a thousand feminists up in arms writing letters to the editor in protest. But men...bah..."those pigs". Too much disguised man-hate around -in general- for my comfort.

    I think the article is written under a pseudonym, really, for all those reasons you mention. Just a hunch. It's well-written -in English comprehension terms-, but it lacks some solid backup in the actual facts or at least some clarifying on the validity/variance of those "facts" presented.

  8. Masha17:43

    I don't really have to add anything valuable to the discussion, so I write this just to say that I again SO agree with you on the issue of explaining men's behaviour and preferences. Isn't it obnoxious? But I generally think that Freudian explanations of virtually everything are too often insulting and unenlightened: why count our intellect for nothing, and why ignore all the post-Freud developments in science? Same goes to Paleo-anything. Humans have gone a long way since Stone Age, why pretend they didn't?

    Sorry about the rant.. this article brought all these feelings to surface.

    P.S. I also sampled breast milk (don't ask :) Didn't have vanilla impression, too, but then the woman wasn't eating much of it. Could it depend on mother's diet? I spent almost a year in the US, and found the consumption of vanilla there higher than in all my years here in Russia.

  9. MariaA18:03

    Thank god my husband likes the same notes I do (except for oud there we have a disagreement) likr lily , iris, mimosa and so on that I absolutely adore. I personally don't particularly like vanilla scents mayby because my mother used them in pastries a lot and have combined that smell with cakes and food so I don't want to smell like cake i guess. Tastes I agree don't depend on sex I have met men that had very similar tastes as women did.

  10. Anonymous19:39

    oh, puh-leeze.

    there aren't any rules governing everyone's perception of perfume. there are lots of men who love floral perfumes (and hello, people, what do you think j'adore is, as 'clean' as it is - it's a white floral!!!). and many men love rose perfumes, as well. i have met a few!

    these articles are such b.s. and are written for those who can't figure out for themselves what smells good on them.

    now please excuse me while i go apply some eau sauvage... ;)


  11. Anonymous00:02

    I think blogger ate my first comment! Maybe it will show up in your inbox somewhere?

    Also, did I read correctly that the author had grown up and out of Opium and Lou-Lou into Jo Malone and Creed? Is Tanya herself a subject in a study on the effect of pricing on perceptions of quality in women’s fragrances, or is it simply that DNA carries the genes of a tribe of females that gathered grapefruit and wild bluebells? NURTURE vs. NATURE! At least she arrived at Black Orchid. I wonder if, when the editor told her that her fragrance was supposed to smell like a crotch, she punched them in the nose!


  12. Miss Heliotrope01:49

    My husband is another who isn't so fond of vanilla yet open minded about most scents - he does, however, get reduced to a gibbering rage by cod science being used prove practically nothing except the laziness of journalists. The only cliche missed was to comment that favoring a particular scent was useful in evolution...

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Zazie,

    "clean, natural and fresh" are monikers thrown around for no objective reason (to things that might not be any of those things) but only to denote something positive in experiencing. I have come to 'translate" them like that and found my peace of mind at last. :-D

    People sometimes like "manufactured" things (as attested by best-sellers) only they don't like being told they're "manufactured"; as long as there's a tale about them being harvested by all natural ingredients, all's well. I guess the hypocrisy of the industry fed and is being fed by generations of women and men.

    As to your arguments, EXACTLY!! I think you nailed it. Subtlety preference, lack of communicative skills on this particular field and non universality of taste rule the day: hence the jarring results when asked to translate experience into verbal signals for us to classify and "explain".

    The greatest nugget of truth is in your last sentence though: "if they liked the lady". You NAILED IT! In my experience men "like" anything (at least temporarily) if they like/dig the female person doing it. ;-)

  15. Masha,

    I guess Freudian and Paleo-anything are like the received science of the people preceding those who ushered these into our world: the old slipper is always more comfortable because more familiar and has a wider audience reach for that reason, aka effective persuasion tool for journalism.
    Many people are not aware that those theories have been contested and are still stuck up with those nifty (and impression-creating_ explanations: they have something "magical" in them with the mantle of the scientific, which makes them supremely attractive. (best theories are constructed base up).

    PS. Sample was mine, btw. Neither did I consume too much vanilla, so makes sense. Diet might indeed play a part in this and yes, US mothers should consume more than universally average I should presume. Great point!

  16. Maria,

    you're very fortunate! (have the same situation with SO and feel blessed, it's an important aspect of compatibility that's not often considered)
    Your point about vanilla is a good one: vanilla is great in baking, but when worn as an overpowering fine fragrance it can be too close to homely to be truly distinctive/sophisticated. A dab in a mix with more complex character however can be good! (just think of all the orientals with a dab in them)

    As to men, dah...poor things, it would be so practical for the industry to lump them into one broad category. It's not so!

  17. J,

    thanks for chiming in and confirming that gross contradiction in the text: yup, J'Adore is a floral. Rather big one, really.

    The problem is that this kind of articles are not necessarily a fault of the writer; it's the fault of the chief editor who considers that readers want to read something pre-digested and secondly of the readers in response who lap it up and repeat it first chance they get in a social meet-up when the weather isn't the topic of choice. I have heard this kind of "perfume b.s." repeated in mixed gatherings more times than I would be lenient with. But alas, most people don't have the patience to start getting a proper education in this (ultimately) vast subject. Their eyes start to glaze. Those whose eyes DON'T start to glaze, there you have something going and they can become friends even. Brothers in Frags (a la Dire Straights) ;-)

    I was told recently while shopping for a gift for a male friend in his early 30s not to go for the [fabulous] Eau Sauvage as it's "rather grand-fatherly". The Dior Homme presented IS a very good fragrance, I agreed there with the SA (and would have leaped in any other occasion as I love it too), but the line made me pose and reconsider: is such a fresh, perky, foresty-citrusy smell as ES really "grandfatherly"?
    You sometimes have to distinguish between the scent itself and its demographic; just because older men who are familiar with it from their youth buy it, doesn't mean it smells dated!

  18. L,

    comment salvaged. :-)

    Interesting comment too!

    Yup, excellent point. The "holy grail" mention of Creed assured me there had been some glimpsing through Basenotes fora before writing. I believe unless we have a really vast experience with fragrance ourselves (and I mean by personal usage too, not just collaterally) we can't really appreciate mainstream for what it is sans labels, sans prices. (This is where the Burr exercise comes in handy; he highlights the good things about something that is readily available and we tend to overlook, dazzled by the brands and the images). Exclusive, niche, high-end or even celebrity-endorsed (I'm not talking about celebrity scents but of fragrances which are rumored to be favoured by the famous) are always going to attract people because in their minds the almost unattainable looks more attractive. It's human nature. Familiarity breeds contempt.

    BTW, I sure hope that Black Orchid will divest this "crotch" reputation; it doesn't smell like one and it's a pity to garner interest just because of that...

  19. C,

    good for you and him!

    I should surmise that having one scientific bone in one's body, one is sure to be annoyed by all this pseudo-science brandished about to support whatever case. The primordiality of smell in evolution is one cliche which turns my guts; one would at least think that that would entail only truly natural bodily scents at any rate and couldn't be reproduced accurately by the industry (or wouldn't even be desired by the industry to be reproduced; I don't see a huge market for smegma or pube-sweat scent stuff for inclusion in commercial perfumes!).

  20. Justsoyouknow,

    please refrain from including commercial links in the comments, thank you!

  21. Oh boy that was funny. I have had so many encounters that were opposite of these statements and encounters that confirm these statements. On the other hand there has definitely I found a gender bias of liking certain scents, example Trussardi Jeans, almost all of my girlfriends will compliment me on this one particular fragrance, boyfriends/men nope. And like you J'Adore, really? It has always been so incredibly harsh to my nose and smelling of nothing in particular.

  22. I think Zazie hit the nail on the head with every point! I agree with all of them especially regarding the fact that it is usually "how much" make-up/perfume you wear as to whether or not men like it.
    Also, I had heard the rumor that men were more attracted to vanilla scents, but I can't believe it is because of its relation to breast milk. Please!
    I've also found that more often than not when I ask a man if they prefer vanilla fragrances they say no!

  23. Miss Heliotrope02:13

    It may be one scientific bone (does classical philology count?) but mostly just disgust at complete & utter stupidity - sciencism is used by the mainstream media with absolute abandon & is meant to prove to we fools of readers how intelligent the article & journalist are - sigh.

    I have met two men who like vanilla scents (when not coming from nearby baking) - both gay & American. How's that for a scientific survey?

  24. Jen,

    I think people who are as experienced with scent as we are will have plenty of tales to tell...


    I would put my hand on the fire that an heliotrope almondy fluffy thing (ANY heliotrope almondy luffy thing actually!) would be popular with the ladies, rather than the men. ;-)

    The J'Adore quote is incomprehensible: I can see how the fragrance can be appealing (it used to be when it was launched and it can be smelled from a distance on someone who knows how to wear it) but how it can be translated as "fresh" or "clean" is beyond me. Like I said above these are just "signs" of positive cognition and should be interpreted as just that without any attempt of translation into what the word means. (Eco would have a field day with the perfume buying audience I bet!)

  25. Mrs.Scents,

    I thought so too: Zazie said it all really!!

    There's a GREAT very accurate illustration on how men perceive make-up and how they insist they like a "natural" face when in fact what they mean is they like one that is made-up in a way that it doesn't SHOW it's been made up!

    Here it is:

    I was quite surprised to see a correlation between vanilla preference in men (if so) and breast milk. Either it's grossly Oedipal (so Freudian yet again...) or it's grossly bordering on a fetish (a particular one which in fact can be rather taboo for most men, touching the Madonna/Whore syndrome as it does, there goes the Freudian again...) so how could this be true for MOST men, by its own definition???

    Personally I don't know of ANY man here who professes a liking for simple vanilla fragrances on women. They most they'd say is "it smells like baking cookies in here" and leave it at that. Is that considered a good thing? Vanilla in a small imperceptible dose in a complex formula, like Shalimar or such, that yes. ;-)

  26. C,

    philology is science as well; humanities are university material where I hail from and are taught with relentless principle. :-)

    Pseudo-scientifism is used to "sell", from keratin-containing shampoos which get absolutely no keratin into the hair shaft, to journalism that is meant to "convince". Without an analytical mind (or one who has the inclination and time to put their analytical mind into their reading, a task that is increasingly more difficult in our time-challenged times) one is a victim of the prose.

    I would put gays' taste a peg above an average guy, as they usually (but not always) have more sophisticated tastes.

    But really, if you ask me, it's got nothing to do with cultural associations in this case and plenty to do with something ELSE: I firmly believe that the "craze" for ersatz vanilla is accountable to cheap body shower gels & body lotions & body sprays used by DROVES of women in search of a diet-friendly calorific fix for their sweet tooth. The fact that the American market is more inundated with such products (simply due to the greater consumption of cleaning products and body products by the average American woman, as per my experience) is perhaps most telling of all. ;-)

  27. I just realized the pic about "unmade-up" face didn't show up.

    Try this:

    (how men understand makeup by Dain on ars aromatica)

  28. "In fact, one male friend has even used the word 'dealbreaker' while referring to the fragrance choice of a potential girlfriend. The Smell & Taste Treatment & Research Foundation in Chicago has researched men's reactions to perfume ... and the results are startling".

    I think "not liking" certain scents can often happen because the unpleasentness of being involuntarily turned on in public places.

    More skanky scents can have this effect.


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