Wednesday, May 8, 2013

White Noise Fragrances: More than Random Frequencies to Adapt to All Acoustics Conditions

Obviously the term "White Noise Fragrances" doesn't really exist; I just coined it, same as I had coined "parfums lingerie" in the past, in the hopes it catches on. The nomenclature of perfumery and -what's more, perfume use- is still in its embryo state compared to other fields of science and art, which have centuries of literature behind them, so I feel relatively safe and reckless enough (the scientific principle is proven anyway) to propose new terminology for effects we're all familiar with. Or aren't we?

via _esire @deviantart

Contrary to "skin scents", a term loosely used by numerous perfume aficionados to denote either a subtle scent that hover over the skin or mimics the latter's living, heaving aura, White Noise Fragrances do not attempt to appear any more "naturally occurring" than static. You can perceive them all right, they expand and detract minimally, just like an equal power signal with fixed width, always at the realm between comfort and annoyance. But contrary to the visual spectrum reference, they're not "white" as is the blaring light of some aldehydic florals, such as Chanel No.22, Lauder White Linen or the modern interpretation Tauer's Noontide Petals. Those are rays of sun eclipsing everything in their wake. These They are a constant buzz like the sound of a bubble-bee on a summer's morning; at the realm between comfort and annoyance, once again. But what we haven't quite admitted is that this can be a good thing, as it offers the experience of wearing perfume and at the same time accommodating the surrounding scenery; in a small way the definition of ωραίος in Greek, something which is in accordance (rather than discordance) to the time and place it applies, at once a broader and narrower, certainly more intelligent definition than "beautiful".

White Noise Fragrances can be exemplified by such cute little things like Cacharel's Noa and indeed it was a reader's query to fragrances similar to Noa, which put me into this thinking track and made me question just what makes such stuff oddly appealing despite their seeming lack of "character". If by character we mean an Al Pacino role where he claims the character through a spontaneous bout of angry shouting (increasignly trademarked by said actor), we're missing the mark. Fragrances such as these tend to be performing in varied degrees of histrionics, such as diva-esque tuberoses or shrill florals announcing their message from the rooftops. They do not possess the sophisticated quirk of an Elena Anaya either, the way a green chypre or a woody oriental would. Additionally, if you have always longed for your fragrance to make a statement, to be smelled as if embodying a hybrid between an object and a person, White Noise Fragrances won't appeal; they're too abstract and indeterminate. Yet they're one of the surest compliment getters; people just register them as "pleasant".
White Noise Fragrances aren't too imperceptible either, contrary to say some of the skin scents which recede and only surface when the skin is heated, such as the infamous Molecule 01 (Escentric Molecules), Narciso Rodriguez Musk for Her or Eau de Merveilles by Hermès. They're light, but they're not transparent.

No, White Noise Fragrances project at a steady, perceptible, above the skin volume which you can almost taste, but their buzz is sotto voce, unwavering, yet forceful like an inner bleeding that is pouring with no apparent source and no outlet. I just love them and frequently use them and it hadn't occurred to me till now what was the appeal besides their typical inclusiveness of various musks (smells which I adore). Now I have put my thoughts into a pattern I can see how it all makes sense. And I can propose a list of fragrances sharing those enviable qualities of Noa with all the necessary nuance to please different tastes within the genre.  White Noise Fragrances are not necessarily feminine-smelling in the traditional sense, though they're usually marketed to women, for some inexorable reason, and anyone could borrow them effortlessly. They're great for first dates, for office wearing (assuming your office doesn't have an outright ban on perfumes) or casual weekends, because even though they are detectably  fragrant they do not imprint themselves the same way as more traditional fragrant approaches do.
Though they include musk molecules in their composition (and Iso-E Super and Ambroxan most of the time), they're not tautologous with the "drugstore musk" fragrance type most are familiar with; indeed they can take a few elements of assorted accords. They also come in various price points, though they mostly abound in the mainstream market, since niche usually exalts the statement-making or the really transparent (in which case we're reverting to "skin scents").

Here you will find my suggestions. Feel free to augment the list with your own in the comments.

Mainstream Buzz 

Estee Lauder Pure White Linen

Donna Karan Cashmere Mist

See by Chloe

Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au thé blanc

Bvlgari Omnia Crystalline

Cacharel Noa

Gucci Eau de Parfum II

Estee Lauder Pleasures in the Garden (a limited edition trio)

Terre d'Hermès

Prada Infusion d'Homme

Dior Homme


A bit harder to find but worth it

Voyage d'Hermès

Rochas Tocadilly (discontinued)

Chanel Les Exclusifs Beige

Serge Lutens L'Eau Froide

Chanel No.5 Sensual Elixir

Posh Indulgences

Guerlain Cruel Gardénia

Frederick Malle Angeliques sous la pluie

Alternative circuit

Oriflame Elvie

Zara White Jasmine


  1. Great post, E! Eau Perfumee Au The Blanc was the first thing I thought of while reading this, followed by Cashmere Mist. I hadn't thought of Omnia Crystalline, one of my favorite summer fragrances, but of course it's a perfect White Noise example. So since you already named what I was thinking of, I don't have anything to add to add, but I think White Noise is a brilliant perfume category. I'll be thinking of it as I wear certain things in my collection.

  2. Love white noise as a descriptor. It's a strange sort of appeal, that raspy synthetic frisson. Big "me too" for Bulgari Au The Blanc. Lise Watier Neiges and Frederic Malle L'Eau d'Hiver are two more that seem to fit the category. Some Egyptian Musks read this way to me as well, but I prefer quiet fragrances, so someone else's skin scent is my white noise.

  3. i tend to give away or wear only to yoga class perfumes that might fall into this category, because i like to have a truly noticeable scent veil from my perfumes. some of this may stem from the fact that my skin tends to "eat" scent, so what is "loud" on others often is not so on me. but this article made me think about it; and i realized that i do, in fact, utilize some scents as "white noise" perfumes...only mine tend to be incense perfumes, or have a strong incense component. i'd been calling them my "contemplative" scents, but i think it's the same thing under a different name...

  4. Anonymous18:49

    Your post is thoughful, but respectfully I have a problem with analogizing these scents with white noise, and think that they still fall within the category like ambient noise or background noise versus the very specific designation of white noise. The olfactory equivalent of white noise would either be 1) a fragrance in which, in isolation, individual notes or accords could not be at all discerned; or 2) a scent which in combination with its environment effectively made it impossible to pick out any discrete scents or accords in the smell of that setting. It is not impossible to detect accords in a scent like Cruel Gardenia – it has a definite, describeable shape - or to detect and identify individual scents in a setting when Cruel Gardenia is present.

    I think you are saying that there are no highs or lows, no emphasis or accent, to the accords in these scents, in turn making the accords all play at one level, and that a scent like Cruel Gardenia is muted within its environment, so the scent is discernable at a constant but low level. But that’s still not all there is to white noise! It therefore seems wrong to call fragrances that are actually carefully calibrated, and have a discrete progression and a discrete “voice,” white noise.

    In fact, typing this up I just remembered there was an article about scents that actually have no discernable accords and mask other scents when in combination – true white noise! Scientists created them by combining 40+ random accords, and the different combinations all yielded an identical, nondescript fragrance effect. That is actually a better or more precise olfactory analog to white noise in other scientific fields, or the auditory white noise that’s produced through a combination of many different audio frequencies together:



  5. sherry18:54

    Thank you so much for this information. I will definitely try out some of the fragrances you've mentioned. I absolutely loved Noa and desperately need a replacement feel good easy on the senses scent. I'm enjoying learning so much about fragrance from you and all your readers' input. I never realized how much actual science is used in perfumery. Thank you. :-)

  6. Anonymous19:14

    Oh, postscript! I read your article top to bottom but neglected the link in the first paragraph, which goes to the same study to which I linked. Apologies!! But, then why are you using the term white noise to describe these scents? (And, Gucci II? The raspberry/blackcurrant floral? White noise?)


  7. Anonymous20:02

    enjoying the concept, but omg, cashmere mist is NOT white noise in my nose! it is a sledgehammer heavy metal band with killer amplifiers and speakers: nauseating and headache-inducing! i have to immediately leave the area if i find someone wearing it. ha. not kidding.

    let's see... turning the tables, my white noises might include prada l'eau ambree, l'artisan's la chasse, herrera's 212 sexy (the one with the double-headed bottle - really great musk scent), and creed's jasmal.

    i prefer scents with lots of personality, and hate to discover after applying something that it bores me and i have to find something else that engages me more... so most of my collection is more colorful than white noise. not that it blares loudly - it just plays a more definite tune.

    fun concept, no matter how you hear it!


  8. Miss Heliotrope02:06

    An interesting discussion starter, as usual -

    You seem to being saying that there is a character to these scents - what you're offering here is a "I am wearing perfume & it's not an inoffensive barely there one but at the same time it's not too scary for the plebs" sort of thing. It's a bit of both without being neither.

    If that makes sense - I havent had any coffee yet...

  9. Thanks for your thoughts Elena! I have often wondered, in particular, about CK I've never been able to dismiss it out of hand but continually intrigued by its seduction. I wouldn't (or haven't anyway) wear it myself but I've never felt at all uncomfortable recommending...a problem that I somehow have associated with a lowest common denominator distinction...
    But in this light, I'm going back and reexamining the genre...
    Thanks again

  10. These make a perfect work perfume. I mean I generally opt for non-invasive perfumes when going to work (generally, not always). ;)
    I would add Eau de Cartier possibly to the list.

  11. I'm going to add Oh, ooOoh …oh from Miller et Bertaux to the list if only because it frustrates me so. And not just the name! It's such a clean, air-filled bubble of a scent, with the depth of a glass of water. Maybe when summer comes round (southern hemisphere) I'll be panting for it...

  12. Anonymous05:34

    White noise perfumes - what a very useful category!

    "a constant buzz like the sound of a bubble-bee on a summer's morning; at the realm between comfort and annoyance" That's how I feel about Prada Infusion d'Iris - it undeniably smells good, but there's something about that constant hum of scent that becomes frustrating. I wear it from time to time but have never been able to decide if I really like it or not. ~~nozknoz

  13. Anonymous21:02

    Of those I've tried Cashmere Mist and CKBe. Cashmere Mist really trained my nose in that particular musk which is an odd one - it seems to induce a headache one day, and be comforting and snuggly another day - I associate it with a clean cat fur smell. I used to wear CKBe and liked it's gentle woodiness and subtle warmth, but nowadays I want something a bit more rich and round - to reflect my maturity maybe, or more likely the fact I'm getting rounder!

  14. Sorry I have missed replying to all your most interesting comments. Promise to come back shortly and reply in detail to each and every one.

  15. R,

    thank you. It's something that just needed to be put into words, as my feelings on this had been mounting and boiling over a long time.

  16. A,

    I suppose there is a subjective quality to how we register the volume and fuzz of things: so yup, one's skin scent is another's white noise.
    Thanks for the additions! Interesting, hadn't thought of L'EdH that way but you have a point.

  17. NFS,

    hmm, now that is something which makes sense to me too: and yeah to incense, it is mediative but it can also be a constant buzz which makes you notice but not "notice" if you know what I mean. Perfect example.

  18. L,

    thanks for the stimulating discourse!

    There is a point that perhaps strictly scientifically speaking ambient noise is more accurate, but I chose the white noise descriptor a bit more deliberately because it also brings to mind (not technically, through association) the all encompassing quality of the whiteness which includes the whole spectrum.

    Indeed your interpretation of what I meant (re:CG in particular, which I love, but also the rest of them) is correct: this is more or less what I meant. However the term wasn't used in a disrespectful way to the perfumes themselves, as I have clarified that I do not find their quality of "white noise" as something negative; on the contrary. I find their calibrating to be on a constant low hum to be a deliberate and cleverly constructed characteristic on the part of the perfumer, which I like, rather than "look down on". I suppose many people consider white noise just noise, I find it sorta comforting, though, if that makes sense? Perhaps this raises some philosophical questions, as to the constancy of things, the ephemeral and random being embraced as a disruption to the man-made order we're trying to impose on the universe (to no avail) etc. Perhaps on a different tangent on this, so feel free to stop me :-D

    Thanks for the link, I had included it in the article as a scientific data sheet for those interested, as it is so very intriguing.

  19. Sherry,

    thank YOU for inspiring me to put my thoughts on black & white, so to speak. I hope you find a replacement for the Noa among my and the readers' suggestions. And very happy you're deriving pleasure and new discoveries through this venue. :-)

  20. L,

    no need to apologize! Sometimes it' good to mention something twice; readers might have missed it.

    Like I said in my previous comment above to you, perhaps I like the inclusiveness of the spectrum connotation and perhaps I like the philosophical nuances that the term sparks indadvertedly in my mind.
    I may be wrong technically, still it's a catchy and nuanced term and this is why I chose it.

    As to Gucci II, I wonder, have you smelled it recently? It's not that berry-rich to begin with IMO (nor especially floral) and it lacks sweetness which would pierce sinuses coupled with the fruit, so it registers pretty low, pretty constant (thanks to the musks), and like a buzzy "ambience" refrain to carry around as you go about your day. That qualifies, doesn't it?

  21. C,

    glad you got a kick out of this!

    LOL, yeah, I recall about the Cashmere Mist!! I do think it can be strong on the wrong individual (probably the one who hasn't mastered their application technique, it's such a distinctive aura of a scent that overdoing it can be choking).

    Now I'm psyched to re-try all your recommended "white noise scents"! (wouldn't have thought it about Jasmal, but I trust you).

    For the most part, I also prefer things which are more engaging than that, but the other day I was wearing the gorgeous (and full of personality) L'Air du desert marocain by AT and I found I couldn't concentrate on my task (which was highly demanding of my full concentration, as it involved highly abstract concepts). This is when I started formulating the thought that sometimes we can actually find comfort in the buzz, a lullubying but also always on the edge of consciousness "thing" being "played" on, keeping us mental company but allowing us to focus on other things. Makes sense?

  22. MH,

    thank you, I'm happy that the discussion picked up and people have opinions on this. This is always the most interesting part of writing about perfume; the resonance with personal experiences.

    Both without being neither is a good simplifier of the discussion for anyone coming late to this so I will keep it, coffee or not! Thank you!

  23. jan/Palmer,

    thanks for commenting!

    CK Be is a good example as it is both comforting, both tonic, a strange mix of something lived in and at the same time there, perceived as something "other".
    I think CK stuff greatly suffers from its perceived "status", especially lately, but some things would be better "felt" if we divested the brands and judged them on their own merits (like you do, anyway, since you recommend it freely). This goes for many things... :-)

  24. Ines,

    EdC is a great scent and indeed it would fit the category.

    Yeah, white noise scents are office scents for the non-wallflower types! :-D

  25. Gorgonzola,

    haven't tried it yet, but I will take care to with that in mind. Usually the light summer stuff is built to be too light and fade away quickly, so to truly fit it needs something more, but who knows? It might just do the trick.


  26. Noz,

    ha, yes, my golly, how can I have not mentioned my feelings about this one? Unlike many others I do perceive it all the time (like you), it does't fade and come back and fade and come back the way other people describe it (more like a skin scent) which is the whole point of this concept. Unlike you however I do enjoy wearing it very much (Basically, the whole fallacy I feel is buying/trying/wearing Id'I as an iris scent; it's not)

  27. R,

    oh sorry about that!
    I find CM is a quite strong perfume, so with the wrong application it can be overwhelming, therefore one needs to be very careful with dosage. The deodorant gets high accolades, so this is my next purchase in that line. Maybe try it that way?

    As to CK Be, good going! LOL! I suppose it's a bit streamlined compared to other things (it's mostly found in the male section, even though unisex) but there's an undeniable something about it. Isn't there?


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