Friday, October 19, 2012

Personal Chemistry Affecting Fragrance Perception? A Question of Politics and Marketing

A dear reader asks the million dollar question: "Is it true that if you can't smell a fragrance on yourself that it either doesn't work with your chemistry OR it works like magic? I've heard both synopses from sales clerks."

I bet you heard some version of this before. You might even have said it yourself casually: "I can't wear this as it doesn't mesh with my personal chemistry" or "Oh, you're wearing that one? Must be very suitable to your chemistry, then" or even "I absolutely love this perfume because it melds with my personal chemistry". The way "personal chemistry" is brandished about in scent discussion between wearers, sellers, casual encounters and friends, as well as online partners in communication, one would think we all carry a kit with test tubes and smoking, foamy stuff tucked in our clothes! The truth is of course we don't. Or do we, in some more obscure way than the literal thing?

What IS personal chemistry anyway?

The term "personal chemistry" was coined to suggest that a person's individual smell (something as unique as a fingerprint, based on many biometric indicators such as general health, hormones, diet etc.) would powerfully react with a given fragrance, nuancing the latter into making it something more than merely what hides within the bottle. The term has also been used as a polite way to infer that you would never in a million years wear something someone else suggests or wears as you don't find it attractive for yourself for whatever reason. These niceties of course give rise to much confusion, at least as much as putting down someone's perfume by claiming you're "suffering from allergies" when in fact you are averse to their particular scent of choice. It's more useful in the long run if one is caring but honest, but I digress.
Despite the fact that the plea for personal chemistry can be a wonderful, romantic, even erotic notion, giving every woman the idea that her fragrance of choice is hers alone, because magically the scent is different in accordance with one's skin, this is largely a (potentially dangerous) myth and a marketing technique rolled into one. I'm using both descriptions purposefully, so let me explain.

A question of dubious politics... 

In the beginning of the 20th century, right when modern perfumery really took wings on the heel of late 19th century evolutions in organic chemistry (the first synthetics had really gained ground over the much more complex and expensive naturals, turning fragrance into a democratic luxury), the political milieu of segregation based on gender, race and ethnicity was gaining ground as well, culminating in the fascist regimes that swarmed over Europe and into the Nazi atrocities of WWII. The compartmentalization of human characteristics into "types" relying on complexion and hair color were seemingly innocent enough and venerable houses such as Patou and Guerlain readily suggested their best-selling fragrances according to these guidelines. Thus L'Heure Bleue was for blondes while Mitsouko was for brunettes; or think of the original triptych by Jean Patou from 1925: Amour Amour (i.e. love, love) aimed at blondes, Que sais je? (i.e. what do I know?) intended for brunettes, with Adieu Sagesse (i.e. goodbye wisdom) fit for redheads.

The underlying concept ~which surprisingly gets forgotten when discussed today~ was that most women didn't color their hair at the time. Hair coloring was semi-revolutionary, difficult and expensive and Jean Harlow almost lost all her famously platinum-hued hair due to the frequent peroxiding. No, the concept was based on natural hair color signifying a complexion variance; a natural redhead can't but have the milky white complexion we recognize at a hundred paces. A natural brunette can run the gamut of course, but she's not the same as the redhead, and both blondes and brunettes at the geographic perimeter of the big fragrance brands (France, England, the US, Italy, Germany etc) were only as varied. In certain countries the population was so tightly uniform then as to make even such variances insignificant!

But here is where the dangerous part of the equation comes into play. It's a very small leap from hair color and complexion being part of one's "personal chemistry" into ethnicity (which often dictates those parameters) and race! Therefore we have Bloch, an otherwise capable author, dissecting the human odor and concluding that gender, race, ethnicity and complexion all affect the specific odor of humans in an odd treatise that stinks of racism.

A question of social stratification...

We have progressed from the times when George Orwell famously quipped that the social distinction in the West can be summarized in "four frightful words...the lower classes smell" (in The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937, chapter 8). He nuanced it by saying that "here, curiously enough, the Socialist and the sentimental democratic Catholic of the type of Chesterton [ed.note: seeing dirtiness as self-mortification] join hands; both will tell you that dirtiness is healthy and 'natural' and cleanliness is a mere fad or at best a luxury". Of course such social stigmata today in developed countries at least are taken to be the absolute peak of racism and bias towards specific groups and no doubt they are. After all, there is no one more insistent in deodorising the stench of manual labour by using heaps of soap or in bringing their shoes to an impeccable shine than the laborer, eager to shed the "image". The rise of "clean" fragrances (so on trend since the 1990s) could also be interpreted in the social climb-up-the-ladder in the last three decades, at least in affluent parts of the Western world, of people who would otherwise face a life on a rural environment that would involve the smellscapes they are now eschewing in favour of the exhaust, the rained upon concrete and the cubicle farm. The American urban landscape (excluding specific exceptions) in particular is not only more egalitarian, but -perhaps in accordance- more sanitized in what concerns olfactory miasmata as well.

Can "personal chemistry" be the social frontier revisited, this time ever so subtly so as not to offend? "Get off my side you stinky low class" being translated into "your chemistry doesn't suit the Chanels"? It's a thought... It's certainly ironic that Chanel herself had said of society women frequenting her salon "Ah yes, those women dressed in ball gowns, whose photographs we contemplate with a touch of nostalgia, were dirty... They were dirty. Are you surprised? But that's the way it was."


A question of clever marketing...

The marketing angle of "personal chemistry" in regards to perfume on the other hand was specifically conceived for Chanel No.5. To make the iconic Chanel perfume regain a bit of its individual cachet after the mass popularisation of it, following its exhibition in the army shelves market during the early 1950s, some new approach was needed. According to author Tilar Mazzeo, in her book about the venerable classic and its history, the Wertheimer brothers devised this plan to make No.5 not lose its sense of being a precious commodity even though it had become a bit too accessible. (This was a concern after the infamous days of American GIs photographed standing in a long line to claim a bottle of the classic perfume at the Parisian boutique during Nazi-occupied France). Ads from the 1950s featuring Suzy Parker mentioned "Chanel becomes the woman you are", the verb underlined and bearing the full meaning of both its connotations: that is flatters womanhood, but also that it transforms into the specific woman the consumer is.
The plan worked: The marketing line was added even into commercials well into the 1970s and Chanel never became Coty or Dana.

Personal chemistry: in the end, does it exist?

The truth is most contemporary fragrances -excluding all-naturals artisanal perfumes and a few with a particularly high ratio of natural ingredients in them- small exactly the same on the vast majority of skins. Think about it; this is why we're so quick to recognise their trail on a stranger on the street or across the cinema! It would be counterintuitive to market a perfume that no one recognizes so as to get prompted to get it for themselves.
 Skin does play a role into how scent "holds", nevertheless, but not how you think it does! In the movie Chéri (based on Colette's novel by the same name) the older courtesan, played by Cathy Bates, says to her -poignantly coming to terms with aging- peer Michelle Pfeiffer (as Lea) "you retain perfume so much better now that the skin isn't as smooth as it used to be". This very characteristic observation of La Belle Epoque is also confirmed by top perfumers working today, who add that the same applies to people with big pores; which -I infer- might explain just why oily skin (which often is more "porous"/bigger-pored by nature) retains scent better and longer. It might also explain why some obese people are considered "smelly" by some in the general population (it's not that they don't wash enough, but sweat might get trapped in skin folds). A certain Ph imbalance might also suggest a different reaction (a too acidic skin might turn sweeter scents less so or turn things acidic), but that's rather rare to generalize.

The fascinating part is it mostly turns out to be a matter of simple physics, rather than of chemistry! But it all might make you pause and think twice before using the term "personal chemistry" in relation to how you perceive a fragrance so casually.


  1. This is brilliant. Well researched and damn clever. Brilliant!

  2. Absolutely fascinating. Articles like this are the reason I enjoy your blog so much. We forget that all these perceptions were born not really so long ago in the stream of time

  3. Anonymous13:31

    I've long thought the phrase "that doesn't work well with my chemistry" is often a euphemism for I don't really like it. And it's okay that we don't all like the same fragrances!
    Thanks for this great article!

  4. Thank you Scentimentalist for your lovely compliment. High praise from a fellow perfume aficionado indeed. :-)

  5. Rosarita,

    thanks for saying so, I'm glad you enjoyed. I think a lot get forgotten when not seeing things in a contextualised manner. It's only natural.

  6. Anon,

    assuredly it is so. Because have you noticed that 9 times out of 10 it's used when we don't like something enough to wear it ourselves?
    Then again there are those who struggle to wear something only to find out that it behaves better on someone those cases, I can offer my my sincere sympathies, that's a bummer. (I find that sometimes giving it a bit of time and a change of weather/diet might help though)

  7. actually, i respectfully disagree. naturally, any assumptions that are based on racism should be jettisoned; but there are individual variances in biochemistry that can affect the way a perfume smells on a given person. this has nothing to do with race or ethnicity or social class---it's just part of the normal differences from one person to another, or even one person at different stages of life. all sorts of things, from age, to state of health, to diet, to gender, to our ever-changing hormonal state, as well as whether our skin is dry or oily, can cause variation in how we smell and how perfumes smell on us. it quite often happens that i notice a scent on someone else and it takes me some time to identify it as "X" or "Y" perfume because it smells so different on that person. and for myself, there is a very notable variance from others' experience when wearing the same perfume, because whatever combination of factors shapes my current biochemical state tends to turn most perfumes markedly sweeter on me. again, i emphasize, it's nothing to do with any racial or ethnic affiliation; it's merely due to normal human variation. personally, i am pleased that everyone is different and unique, and i think it's rather nice that the same perfume can smell subtly different on two---or two hundred---different people.

  8. Very interesting!

  9. NFS,

    your experience is of course absolutely valid.
    In fact I can readily accept that there might be differences between male and female "skin" as there is a difference in temperature usually (men are hotter ~wait, this can be a double entendre! LOL) and in oiliness vs.dryness (men can be more oily or more sweaty). It's also fun testing something on both a man and a woman (and watch their reactions too!) :-)

    It might have to do with hormones changing too, though personally I have noticed no change in any stage of my cycle/fertility history etc. (though I don't know what will happen when I finally hit menopause, that would be an interest experiment to conduct).
    Largely however I think after the first impression most people in the general population have such minute differences in smell that only those very very sensitive (or attuned) to those slight variances can catch the differences fully.

  10. Cyn,

    glad you found it stimulating :-)

  11. Anonymous16:08

    Interesting article! While I find most claims of “skin chemistry” at fragrance counters are garbage and salesmanship, I also agree with nofixedstars.

    I agree that more synthetic scents are pretty stable and most department store fragrances smell the same on everyone. But I’ve also found that a lot of perfumes I’ve tried – some niche but some more established like Guerlain - have smelled dramatically different on me than on others. One constant partner in this experiment is my mother - often something that we both try on our skin will smell like two different perfumes – for example Aqua Allegoria Jasminora smells crisp, citric and floral on her while on me it turns very sweet and resembles pink lemonade.

    With Serge Lutens perfumes, a certain amber base he uses turns unbearably sweet and foul on me – classics like Cuir Mauresque and Gris Clair break down into a hot mess of rancid fat smells, and I know I’m not alone in this: witness the thread on basenotes, “Gris Clair – wtf ?!” It’s an unintended consequence of skin incompatibility, it’s an entirely different resultant scent than the scent on paper or on the majority of people’s skin. Likewise Feminite du Bois and Boxeuses both smell like stale peppery sweat on my skin, compared directly to FdB on people I know. These are not scents that I don’t like - they’re often scents I want to wear - and it’s also not selective hyperosmia since I can smell these “correctly” on others.

    So, even though I’d caution your reader to be very skeptical of that lady at the Jo Malone counter or wherever that’s pressuring her into buying something that agrees with her “personal chemistry,” I’d also argue that within the online perfume community I’ve found that knowing, for example, what notes personally disagree with you (or what notes become prominent – some call it “amping” of notes) is pretty common and pretty important, and also fosters an understanding that something that you finally tried after hearing so much about and hated, you might just need to try it again on fabric or give it to a friend to try. So in fact here when individual differences do exist in wearer’s experiences of perfume on skin, it fosters not discrimination but understanding and inclusivity - I regularly recommend perfumes that I personally cannot wear because I’ve learned there can be a multiplicity of experiences.


  12. I'm going to agree with Lily and NoFixedStars on this one, that there are actually two very different kinds of discussions going on under the name "skin chemsistry." The one you mentioned that deals more with marketing and possible racism, I agree is simply silly. However, I'm one of those that can turn most florals very sour, and a lot of mainstream fragrances smell HORRIBLE on me. I've had more than one SA wrinkle her nose in consternation and say, "It's... not supposed to smell that way." I've got a good friend I've dubbed my Evil Skin Chemistry Twin, and it's very illuminating when we both try something on and compare the differences. For example, in the SSS line, the light florals smell wonderful on her and sour on me, while I smell amazing in the woodsy offerings, and they smell flat and blocky on her.

  13. Anonymous16:33

    Forgot to add: the differences I’m describing are no doubt due to changes in diffusion profile, which depends on physical chemical properties. But, saying that different notes come to the foreground or are subsumed in a noticeably different manner. Would be pretty surprised if my skin were actually breaking anything down here! >:D


  14. Anonymous21:34

    This is the FIFTH time I've tried to comment on this! The blogger keeps eating my comments...aaaargh.
    I love this particular blog because it opened an area of blindsightedness I didn't know I had. And that is this: I'm wondering now if the times I believed a fragrance didn't smell good on me was based more on whether or not I liked smelling it so close up. You see, when you smell a fragrance on someone else, most of the time you're experiencing the sillage. When you smell it on yourself you are smelling it directly from the skin at close range. What a difference! If we could each step outside our body and smell the sillage first-hand we might smell the exact same scent we pick up on someone else. It's OBJECTIVE at that point instead of SUBJECTIVE. It's sort of like hearing your own voice from a taped recording. We don't 'hear' our voice the way others (objectively) hear it. But wow are we shocked when we listen to the playback ... much to our disapproval. Same thing here applies. Unless you can compare apples-to-apples where you are sniffing the sillage instead of the direct hit, you are only sensing a different perspective and not necessarily experiencing it objectively. Hope that makes sense ... the articulation might not be as clear as I understand it now.

  15. solanace21:58

    Loved the article (interesting and well researched as usual) and loved reading the thread. I'm happily just as confused as I have always been about this intricate subject. :-)

  16. brie22:54

    Great article and great comments! From my own experience it is only natural essential oils that smell different to me from person to person (believe me I have conducted my own experiments, much to the chagrin of family and friends who are my guinea pigs). Most of the mainstream stuff always smells the same which is why it is so easily recognizable from person to person. However, I tend to agree with several commenters that certain category of fragrances (florals vs woods, etc) may not "agree" with certain individuals and come across smelling a bit "off" (maybe that's why my perfume hating co-worker abhors chypres on me although to my nose I think I smell just divine:)

  17. Scent affinity is in the nose of the beholder, as as to say.:) I agrre to opinion s of those who attribute this chemistry incompatibility to the way a prticular fragrance activates our nasal apparatus, thus making us negatively sensitive to all the nasal experiences including the surrounidng aromas. There were instances, when I, a long time smoker, almost insensitive to the stink of a burnt tobacco, spayed some scents on the skin and almost chocked with a resulting blend of what was on me and around. An d this was not the skin. It was the nose, which thanked the scent for being rigid and roughly true to my soul.

    Should I mention that people around did not confuse to assert I was wearing the same beloved scent? No. They smelled, say exactly my wonderful Ma Griffe with a solid portion of cigarette smoke. :))

    Sorry for being so negative on the issue. Perfumeshrine is absolutely right in saying the chemistry of skin is not the matter here as much as the cerebral chemistry is, accompanied by nose obliviating the known and defining the new.

  18. Well.........Helg.....I have a lot of the same taste in perfume as you do.
    I think about this .......I am not a "left brained" person. Logic does not have much to do with my perfume loves. My favorites are "mine." I cherish them. I can appreciate many....and feel like wearing them when I am in the mood...but "the ones".....that are very personally mine...have no rhyme or reason.....there is something that "relates" to me in spirit or feeling or whatever! My mood can be changed by a scent. I must admit I enjoyed the topic on the Coca Cola scents.....I do like a lot of those.
    My perfume is like falling in love. I was just set up with a man with millions by friends. Their hopes were high. It's a look a connection, something that you cannot describe. They have it or they don't. MAGIC is part of the equation.. It has to be for me! I do love orientals but orientals are not the same. I think if I read notes I am not a huge rose fan but....many of my favorites have rose or are rose perfumes? Just like falling in love, you know when you wear it. Some you will love forever and when you put them on's coming home! Some I enjoy a lot and wear.....but they don't necessarily define me. I enjoy them. I wonder sometimes why I have so many? Maybe I should be more of a signature scent is short. ??? Another question....but for me it's the magic or my mood! Or if I want to change my mood!! O.K. enough rambling.

  19. Sorry......meant to say I wouldn't have had that man for all the perfume in the world! ha! No magic.

  20. Hi Helg and Glo above!!!
    I do miss "Perfume of Life" you think it will ever come back??

    Anyway - this is off topic but I saw the lovely vintage ad for Chanel No 5 above (a scent I do not wear ) but THAT ad would make me go and test it and probably buy it ---- compared to the Brad Pitt ad on our TV here and now ----- that would NEVER make me go and give it another try !!! LOL

    *NO Glamour Darlin and perfume Needs Glamour!!! LOL

  21. Lily,

    that's very interesting, thanks for getting into the trouble of composing your long and fascinating comment!

    I personally think that Guerlain fragrances are so complex and so nuanced that everyone picks a different thing when smelling them. (They're classics most of them for a reason). It would be interesting to learn whether your mother is significantly different in terms of skin acidity/dryness or of hormonal (ahem) profile: I find these two factors would indeed produce a difference. I also want to stress that brand with a high ratio of naturals (and Guerlain classics used to contain a relatively high level, as do some Lutens today) would indeed produce varying results.

    I admit I wasn't aware that the Lutens scent produce such a polarizing effect on the skin; I always attributed the polarizing on the aesthetic principle itself, i.e. liking vs. not really liking although accepting it's a revered brand (this happens with Guerlains, Carons and Chanels too, please note!) Therefore to put in a psychological term I thought it was a projection of an intellectual conclusion into a seemingly sensual perception. Does what I'm saying make any sense?

    Now, I do wonder whether beyond the amping of notes you mention, this indeed common effect is more due to one's nose than to one's skin. Meaning, do we notice certain things more depending on our sensitivity to them when they're on our own skin, i.e. a constant and smelled right up close, or do we notice them because they in fact interact molecule by molecule with something that runs in our blood and in our sweat? Therein lies the question!!
    I guess unless there's a definitive scientific experiment to dispel either notion (which I hope there will be at some point!), it's hard to proffer a conclusive opinion.

  22. Dionne,

    the evil twin is a very useful concept indeed! (Makes for the perfect swap partner too!)

    I sometimes wonder whether something we spray and have the SA act surprised when she smells it is due to using something else that interacts with it. Let me explain. Just think of all the scented products we use every day: shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, body lotion, deodorant, laundry detergent for our clothes and fabric softener, makeup and hair spray or hair gel/mousse...the list is endless. Not two people use exactly the SAME combination of products, therefore it's certain that they'd have a slight difference in smell indeed.
    Also, consider the remnants of perfumes on ourselves and on our clothes, us perfumephiles I mean who use tens of different perfumes each month. Some sticks around for longer than a day...

    I would assume that like Jean Claude Ellena mentioned when he first went to meet Edmond Roudnitska -who sent him away telling him to come when his clothes weren't full of the scent of detergent and softener-, it's something we don't consciously think of, yet it's there and it interacts with the effect we get when testing something.

    Worth a thought?

  23. Lily,

    yes, I got you. It is as you say, skin doesn't break down anything (which is what I mentioned in my comment to you above, sorry about that).

    I do wonder however whether other things can interact, things we don't notice consciously. Please see my reply above to Dionne for more of that line of argument. What do you think?

  24. Anon,

    thanks for the trouble you went through to post your thought-provoking comment and extremely sorry about the problem with blogger. (I really don't know why comments don't post sometimes. After all, I leave all comments open on the Hope page).

    I tend to agree with you. Something we love getting in the wake of can be quite intense when on us. I have this happen with Aromatics Elixir (and many others): it's delightful on strangers, really catnip, but when I try to wear it, it wears me. Unless I soak a Q-tip and wave that in front of me and go...(I'm joking, though not really, this one can be a bit too much sometimes ~the body lotion and the lighter edt are just right though). So there definitely comes a difference in perspective. Where does the sensual stop and the intellectual begin? It's very difficult to see that line.

  25. Solanace,

    nobody said this blog is meant to offer a definitive answer! As they taught us in university, "the purpose is to make you ask the right questions". ;-)

  26. brie,

    we share this kind of experiments! It's fun for us though, isn't it.

    I kinda think that especially when dealing with families, one's own taste might account for a LOT of variance. (Somehow one can't fit a LOTV virginal frag on a punk, no matter what. It's an incongruity of the brain. )

  27. Η,

    no need to apologise!

    Thanks for your comment which sheds more light on something I always suspected, the selective picking of notes by our brains. I think there's lot in there and your example is an exquisite one!

    Thanks for commenting!

  28. Gloria,

    thanks honey, it makes total sense what you say. There are some things that are "us" more than others, so I believe that our gut instinct and fondness does manipulate our skin reception of them. We "make" them ours, sorta. I remember a perfumer saying to me "the perfumes you navigate towards to are the ones that suit best". I think he was right!

  29. G,

    of course! Magic makes the world go round! ;-)

  30. M,

    dearest, hello there!

    I think Jeffrey has announced that POL will be again up and running in late October. I hope that is true. He's very busy and the board got on the background. Let's hope we all come back together and have fun again!

    And re:OT. You're absolutely right. No glamour and no sense in all those words, either. Pity...

  31. Merlin16:30

    I think the 'personal chemistry' idea is misused as a marketing tool and as a euphemism - but I ALSO think it is a simple reality. Just the other day I hugged a friend and had to know what she was wearing. It was Tresor which is VILE on me. Also bitter chypre types: I love the idea of Magie Noir, but on me it is so bitter it makes me queasy, and the same with Clinique's Elixir. And, coming to think of it, Jo Malone's famous Basil and Mandarine, absolutely lovely on others - but totally mediocre on me while Pomegranate Noir is so bitter it again makes me nauseous on my skin...

  32. I do hope Jeffery can do it - I know he is a busy person but ... miss the old gang .

    Now Ms Helg - don't you get too busy - I would miss you alot too!!!:)

  33. Anonymous00:26

    In Brazil there is a saying: "The neighbor's garden flowers are always more beautiful than the flowers from my garden."

    There would be a psychological component also?

    Does my "neighbor" thinks the perfume that both use works best on my skin - but does not confess that even under torture - and I think otherwise?



  34. Lalla06:53

    Quite interesting. Racism and social discrimination hiding behind innocuous expressions.

    It is highly unlikely though that American GIs may have been in Nazi occupied Paris.

    When testing perfumes on my boyfriend and on me, they do not smell the same. At the beginning, the smell is identical but holds up much better on his skin than on mine. One explanation I was given is that my body temperature, while in a normal range,was slightly higher than his and could make perfumes evaporate or change faster.

  35. bradamante10:26

    what a fascinating read! Thank you, dear Perfume Shrine!

  36. Miss Heliotrope01:29

    This sort of article is why PS is so wonderful - and I liked the droll line re "stink of racism" - to manage puns as well as stimulating discussion is fab.

    People these days do have so many scented everythings around us, that it must affect the way we smell - as in use our own noses - and those scents must interact with the perfumes we intentionally use.

    But I agree with you that it's so often our brains that tell us what we're smelling. My parents have terrible senses of smell - it can be shocking at times for what they dont notice. Yet, if I am wearing, for ex, Chanel's Cuir de Russie, and bring it their attention, dad, who is into whisky, will say it is nice & try to work out what sort of scent it is, mum, who has a severe protestant upbring to overcome, tries not too obviously to show she hates it - not bc of the actual scent, but bc to her it reeks of a decadent and wasteful throwing away of money -

  37. As always, I enjoyed reading your intelligent and insightful post. You are certainly correct in saying that skin chemistry is a term that's tossed about in an imprecise and sometimes unpleasant way.

    Nonetheless, it has been my experience in sniffing perfumes with friends that different perfumes can smell quite differently on different people. Angel is always identifiably Angel, yes, but on some friends it's very pleasant and on others it's really an abomination.

    Some of the factors in this may be physical (skin texture, pore size) but others, as you concede, are chemical, too, such as skin acidity. Although ascribing different scents to different groups has a regrettable and unpleasant past history, in my experience there can be marked individual differences on how perfumes smell on a given person. Maybe we need a better and more precise vocabulary for this?

  38. Anonymous17:23

    I am sorry I am so late in replying to your follow-ups. Your questions are thoughtful so I thought I should reply!

    Re: your question on “amping, I can only offer that when I have smelled certain perfumes up close and in the same time-frame on two different people, say me and an “evil scent twin” friend, and on the same part of the wrist or arm, there is a perceivable difference and that difference is observable by both parties - when some perfume wears wrong on me, it’s not just me that can perceive it. I would contrast this to something more psychological like what you describe – my personal example would be Bois d’Armenie which smells old-fashioned and too “mature” for my skin. Friends would agree that this perfume isn’t right for me, that it doesn’t smell nice on me, but there’s no major change in the scent profile. It just smells much more fit for a different person.

    Re: the Lutens, I think dislikes are mostly subjective – like you say, people don’t like particular fragrances. But I also think that in a few cases again there are some notes that actually diffuse oddly and hence smell remarkably different on some skin types. For the majority of people, likers and haters, Gris Clair smells like Gris Clair and some people don’t like it and certainly some people smell it differently b/c of their nose – individual acuities and sensitivities. But some people actually make this perfume smell wrong by virtue of how their skin chemistry man-handles certain notes! I guarantee the sweet and rancid note that I am one of the few people to elicit from Gris Clair is unintended – I can’t smell this bad note on a paper tester/fabric, I can’t smell it on most other people, and friends that have smelled Gris Clair on me are similarly reviled and describe a similar sensation without my prompting them. I grieve this fact b/c I think Gris Clair is one of the most magical perfumes! I suppose you could do an experiment with headspace analysis around the sprayed skin to see what is actually in the air and whether/how it differs from person to person.

    Lastly, your point to Dionne re: other factors like body wash, lotion or leftover perfumes is helpful. I think of a person’s hygiene routine as a part of the skin biosphere they bring to their personal perfume experience, so that how those factors affect the perfume they wear could be considered part of their “personal chemistry.” I remember reading claims including one by Michael Edwards that even something like antibiotics affect how a perfume smells on someone, where someone’s surface bacteria has been altered by their medication.

    (I don’t use lotion, I switch body wash brands frequently, altho the perfume effects I described don’t seem noticeably affected by that. I do however notice a big difference in, say, a scent sprayed on the back of my forearm, with it’s scent-retaining fine hair, and the smooth inside of my forearm.)

    Ultimately, agree with your point and Merlin’s that “the 'personal chemistry' idea is misused as a marketing tool and as a euphemism.” Overall, it's interesting stuff!

    - Lily

    1. Lily, you are definitely correct that (especially pre-2000) perfumes often smell(ed) very different, from person to person.

      There is, simply, no doubt about it.

  39. Anonymous07:09

    I concur with the other posters, this is fascinating reading! And since reading these posts I'm getting a far better sense of the link between perfume, its associations and different generations.

    I'm curious to know if oilier skin is acidic and dry skin more alkaline. You mention that acidic skin might turn sweet notes bitter, particularly if more natural ingredients are used in perfume.

    One example I immediately thought of was Sonoma Scent's Fireside Intense and Winter Woods. On me Winter Woods smells pretty bad, but Fireside turns quite buttery and sweet, on my sister it's the reverse - Fireside doesn't lose its initial bitter edge at all, but Winter Woods becomes lovely, ambery and warm on her. She has oilier warmer skin and I have dry cool skin. We spent a most entertaining comparing different perfumes!

  40. How very interesting Rosestrang! And thanks :-)
    It's always fascinating and useful to have two completely opposite subjects on which to test things out in vivo. It often garners interesting results and looks like you have just hit on the G spot of experimentation!

    Thanks for reading, hope to see you often on these pages.

  41. Lily,

    very interesting points, thanks for being so very thorough.

    I suppose that the way we perceive some people there are things that "fit" the impression, the Platonic idea, if you wish, we have for them, and things that don't. Looks like that's the case with bois d;Armenie and you.

    Perfume is such an abstract thing, not easily put in nomenclature of aesthetics/image that every person's impression can vary.

    It makes for fascinating research and discourse.

  42. Kathryn,

    we're certainly in need for a vamped up language (in both grammar and syntax and lexicon) for perfume talk. This is one of the goals I set to myself -in a minuscule position- here.

    Thanks for your kind words!

  43. C,

    how very interesting on your parents!
    The whiskey aficionado is obviously seeking for something familiar (and I wouldn't blame him for it, as whiskey in itself is such a complex bouquet, it should crop up as separate "notes" in fragrances). And your mother has a political stance on perfume. (Political in the classical sense of affecting the "polis", the community and the individual as part of it). That last bit is in my opinion why so many people are intrinsically opposed to fragrance. It's just so decadent....and unnecessary...


  44. Bradamante,

    you're most welcome! Thanks for reading. :-)

  45. Lalla,

    thanks, I should have said "American GIs just after liberating Nazi-occupied Paris" of course!! :-D

    (goes to show you I was so taken with the subject)

    My experience is that male vs.female skin does present some difference. It's accountable indeed to temperature most of the time, oiliness vs dryness sometimes and less so due to testosterone (modern men are so much fed with estrogen through food they've lost the manly man scent long ago).

  46. Luis,

    what a beautiful saying! The grass is always greener...

    There's definitely a psychological element there, I believe.

  47. Lady Jicky,

    oh, you're so sweet! :-)

  48. Merlin,

    there you have it: What smells fine from a little distance and in measured doses becomes unpleasant up close and personal and as a constant.

    Not unusual at all and you're totally justified! Great observation!

  49. This is fascinating stuff. :)

    However, I would have to disagree that scents don't smell very different on different individuals.

    As a child and a young teenager, I used to spend every weekend and practically every day of every school holiday with my mum and we would, almost always, spend those days walking around the shops.

    We must have tried on practically every fragrance going, at the time and she ended up buying a few.

    The interesting thing, was that we would apply these perfumes almost simultaneously and every single perfume would go sweeter on her (often too sweet); whereas, every single perfume would go sourer on me (often too sour).

    They would go so sweet on her, that even though she had her favourite nicer fragrances, like Estee Lauder's Beautiful (which, interestingly, smells OK on me, too; although less sweet than it did on her), her favourite perfume was a fairly cheap chemist/drugstore one, made almost exclusively from lemons!

    I think it was, technically, an aftershave, or a cologne meant for men, not women?

    But, it would turn into the most delicious, old fashioned lemonade scent, on her.

    Whereas, on me, it smelled absolutely vile, as it turned even sourer than its original pure lemon smell.

    I'm white British and both sides of my family are/were very white - except, as it turned out, for my mum's dad.

    He was estranged from the family, due to some sort of scandal (which ended in divorce), that my grandmother, being of a much older generation (there are big generation gaps in my family) really didn't like to talk about.

    The stigma about divorce, back then, was still horrendous.

    So, anyway, my mum and I finally saw a photo of her real dad, after my grandmother died (when I was an adult) and he was very tall, very slim and dark (Mediterranean looking, I guess?).

    My mum was quite surprised, as my grandmother had never even told her what he looked like and had just said he was half Scottish.

    So, even though my mum was definitely still white-looking, she had inherited some of his features.

    For example, his natural slimness, a slight bump in her nose and she had slightly more olive, oily skin than her mum did, with slightly more visible pores.

    Whereas, my dad's side of the family were from the North of England and were descended from Normans (so, basically, Vikings originally) and were even fairer skinned than my mum's side of the family (excluding her dad).

    So, I am more dry/combination and fair skinned, again.

    It's pretty obvious that this skin type difference affected the smell of fragrances on us.

    Although I totally agree that you don't want to encourage racism, I think it is foolish to pretend that skin chemistry doesn't affect fragrance smell, because it does seem to.

    Especially bearing in mind that we were living, or staying, in the same places, using more-or-less the same toiletries, leading a similar lifestyle and eating more-or-less the same foods.

    I think the key is to not view one skin type as preferable to the other; but, to view them as slightly different, but totally equal.

  50. I will just, quickly, add that I noticed a change, a few years ago.

    Maybe when the EU banned certain natural materials from fragrances, due to allergies?

    Or, maybe, when manufacturers just stopped using as many natural materials, in general?

    At that point, perfumes stopped changing on me as much and often, just smelled very sweet and slightly chemically, on or off the skin.

    In a way, I guess that is a good thing?

    Epecially if people were suffering from allergic reactions.

    However, I find myself missing those natural smells and that unknown journey.

    Even if it did, very often, end up in a super-sour disaster, on me! xD


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