Monday, March 31, 2008

Average Person vs Perfumista

Sometimes a question is not just a question. It includes its own answer and some surplus connotations as well. How can this theory be applied to perfume discussion? Here is how: "Do you think the average person on the street would like Chanel Bois des Îles?" The thought was further elaborated: "Does our extreme focus on fragrances make us unable to be impartial judges at this point to what appeals to the masses? And we even care what the person on the street thinks as long as we like it?" This got me thinking.

For some reason, a question like that presupposes certain things:

1) that Bois des Îles is not popular anyway (OK, I am willing to believe this due to exclusivity, if not taste)
2) that Bois des Îles is therefore somehow superior (which in all truth it is...But this is besides the point, as it is getting asked, so supposedly it would be under scrutiny whether it is)
3) that the average person cannot recognise the value of a superior fragrance if they smell it
4) that the person asking is not average (notice the term "masses")
6) therefore, by process of syllogism, the person asking is superior.

Don't you think such questions are more about the questioner than the question?

The answers are just as interesting:
"I do not think Bois Des Îlesis a particularly accessible fragrance" coming from a "newbie" as she admits. Another continues the above thinking: "I don't eat what the average person on the street eats (McDonalds!) and I'm sure they don't share my taste in scent. That's fine, we can have rarefied taste..." To which there is some follow up: "Bois des Îleswas not made for the average people. I am not interested in their reactions".
And the pièce de resistance, someone asks: "Which street?" (I am laughing now with the wry humour. If it's not humour, then I don't know what to say!)

A friend with whom I discussed this replied with another question: "Why the hell would I want the average person to love it on ME?"
Because it is inferred we pick them, not the other way around. True, dear, true.

Since when our choice of perfume makes us superior? Or is this as ancient as the first cavewoman/caveman who rubbed herbs on the body and believed to be better than the neighbour next...cave-opening? I am asking you!

Pic originally uploaded on Wit of the staircase


  1. Oh, E ! Beloved !!!
    You have me rolling and laughing !!!

    Clearly, I am in the "What street ?" camp....

    I , for one, have great faith in the regular Joe/ Jane.
    Just give someone an opportunity, don't imbue it with monumentally weighty significance, encourage an open mind-
    And let it fly, baby !

    We are ALL superior people in our own minds, more's the pity....

    I probably shouldn't give a rat's a@@ about the average person loving me-
    But I'm gonna take a risk, and admit that I DO, if I'm honest.
    I DO want to be loved.
    And I want to love back...
    Against ALL reason.

    Doesn't mean that I want to smell like everyone else; neither do I wish to affront everyone else.

    In both my views and my truthfulness, I'm probably in the minority.
    Which wouldn't be the first time, LOL.

    I love you.

  2. Anonymous15:16

    Of coarse, taste when it comes to perfume is as taste generally: the more smells one get to know, the better the ability to discern smells, and the more refined ones judgement of taste regarding smells becomes, and then one begin to like perfumes that may be difficult to appreciate for the main stream people (that does not mean that one can not also like main stream perfumes, just as I can like both Philip Glass and REM and ). Just like when it comes to wine, design, music, tea, etc. But that, of coarse, doesn't make one "superior" in av value laden sense, just more refined when it comes to smell discrimination, and "feeling" for harmonies/disharmonies/intersting combinations in smells.
    But every human being with a normal nose have the ability to refine that particular taste, if one would like.. One of my favourites among the early greek thinkers, Heraklit said: If everything that exist should become smoke, nostrils would (still) distinguish (them) (fragment 6, quoted by Aristotle in De sensu)

  3. Boy does this one dovetail into sexuality and as so many have said with the variety of people in world "We are all not supposed to be attracted to the same thing." This quote also holds to fragrance. I think people have better noses then they realize, but because we are fed the mass "normal" idea we fail to appreciate the things that we do actually inwardly appreciate that might appear odd. I've had plenty of my friends sit down to smell fragrances and I admit I always start with the "mass" ones and by the end I am always suprised when they often choose a unique one as there favorite.

  4. Dearest Ida,

    thank you so much for such a rich in sentiment post! You're a darling :-) Love your candour.

    The "What street?" question had me rolling as well, because it was actually mentioned in reference to NYC, so it is VERY valid, don't you think so? LOL

    I too think that the average person can be nudged to think with an open mind and that makes all the difference in the world.


  5. SP,

    oh gosh, having both Heracletus and Aristotle mentioned in reference to my comments, I am overwhelmed. You're right, of course. There is a thing called "acquired taste". But that does not exclude anyone, if they're willing to give it a go. I agree with you!

  6. Jen,

    your comment resonates with me so much! Indeed there is so much lowering of the common denominator that people have forgotten to really smell.
    Your experiment is endearing :-)

  7. Anonymous19:04

    Hi Helg...

    In response to your reply to Jen, I couldn't but think the same thing about food here in the States. After we got back from Europe, we became food snobs (well hubby already was) and I am really into the taste of good food now much more than I was before. I've actually become picky.

    The same thing can said about scents/perfumes. Before my sense of smell became more trained or aware, I was one of the mass of dept. store fragrance wearers. I didn't know anything beyond those perfumes. I remember the exact moment I started to realize there was a whole other world in perfume and that was when hubby and I were in Vancouver, BC and we walked into a little boutique and I bought my first L'Artisan - Mimosa Pour Moi and then I started to slowly discover the other side. And then enter the internet, which opened my nose to so much more than I have ever imagined. I have learned so much from blogs like yours and of course sites like POL, Mua and BN.

    So, imo, the average person isn't aware of their sense of smell, or they don't care or they have a another sense (like taste) that is well honed or sometimes is just comes down to $$$. The average scent is alot more affordable than the more obscure or niche scents.

    When it comes to perfume, I like to consider myself above the crowd, but the rest of my life is very much average and I'm just fine with that.



  8. Anonymous19:11

    p.s. Sometimes I want the average person on the street to care what I smell like because perfume is so much a part of my personality. And, I would love to open the door for someone else and get them on the path to discovery. :) Perfume is something I am passionate about and I like to share it.

    But sometimes I don't care and I wear it just for me.


  9. Anonymous20:02

    You shouldn´t be impressed by me mentioning Heraclit and Aristotle, I´m a philosopher by education and occupation, and sometimes that shows in my associations.. :-)
    Agree about our potentials when it comes to olfaction. But to talk about what we smell, our language must be expanded. The world and the language come together; is in that sense one (well, not my words, but Wittgenstein´s)

  10. Dear Dawn,

    thank you for your detailed comment and your very kind words about my blog.
    Your food parable is very apt: if one trains a sense, then it becomes more discerning. And this is an exciting journey! I am sure that with your discerning husband you have experienced many new things and have really refined that palate.

    I do hope everyone would be more in touch with their senses in general and I mean all of them. I see things everyday which hurt the eyes, yet exactly because they're familiar, they seem not to register as much :-(

    Perfume is a part of my personality as well and I would LOVE to have people share with me about their preferences and their choices and what they want etc. But sometimes when I open such a discussion I see eyes glazing, so.....


  11. Anonymous20:26

    Dear Helg...

    In regards to the eyes glazing... You are not alone! lol ;0

    That reaction happens to me also.
    What's wrong with people???? Why aren't they psycho about perfume like us???

    Good day to you.


  12. That explains it, SP!

    And that saying is actually even older than Wittgenstein, in a way. In ancient Greece Λογος (Logos) stood for both 1)reason and the perception of the world through it and 2)language.
    I love the fact that you referenced it!

    And an expanded vocabulary for smells is completely necessary, I agree. We're just not conditioned to have one, unlike native tribes of the Amazon who do for other purposes (like the Inuit have lots of different words for shades of white).

  13. Dawn,

    honestly I don't know! It strikes me as completely unfathomable too!!

    (surprise, surprise)

    I was clipping articles about perfume off mags when I was 10, what do I know.....LOL

  14. Anonymous21:34

    (Logos is an almost beautiful word! Because of the many aspects of its meaning in our modern languages, we as philosophers do not try to translate it, but use Logos. As we also use phusis and several others. They are good examples of word gaining their meaning in the heads of the students as they read the texts and about the texts.)
    Apart from this digression about philosophy; I think many of us are sniffing our way through life, but it is a theme that also touches themes that are difficult to discuss in public (Why we like certain scents may sometimes be difficult to admit, even for oneself.) And it takes an effort to find adequate words. I am in a stage when it comes to parfumes there my abilities of describing what I experience is not so adequte.. But it is nice to learn, not at least by finding all the interesting "voices" on the net! :)

  15. Well, you've inspired a lot of great commentary with this one, E. Those replies you list--"rarefied taste," etc.--are pretty hilarious.

    Some people have great noses and some don't. It's not so much a matter of "taste," acquired or otherwise, I think--it's more a matter of being able to appreciate the senses fully, which requires not filtering experience through a lot of preconceptions. People who are committed to a narrow idea of which smells qualify as perfume will have a hard time appreciating an unusual frag. On the other hand, people who are fixated on being avant-garde in their preferences will recoil from anything mas market, no matter how beautiful it is. Prejudice is a handicap in both instances.

    One other point I'd make is that snobbery is often defensive. Other people sneer at our little addiction, so some of us feel the need to construct an aesthetic defense. You see the same thing with food and wine snobbery, which are sometimes used to cover up a tiny spark of shame about the pleasure involved. Snobbery=prudery, quite a lot of the time.

  16. SP,

    I knew you're like the word! :-)
    Thank you for the commentary.

  17. Thank you M!

    Excellent points! There is an inverse "paralysis" towards the beauty of something mass-market, to be sure. I think we witness it often.
    As to snobbery=prudery, do you suppose it has to do with some spiritual/religious subcontext too? Like in wanting to make it difficult to please (aka punishing), so as to aleviate our guilt in indulging in the first place?

  18. Anonymous03:07

    I am, as I say, a fragrance fanatic. But I am more of a follower of fragrance, have not had the time to dicifer all of the different notes that make up a scent, but I am trying. And it does take learning.

    While I strive to make it to "perfumista" levels, I like to keep it real too. It is very easy to get caught up in it all and become a perfume snob, as in one who will only wear a designer fragrance. But it really does not matter what or who you are wearing. It is how it smells to you and how the notes make you feel about it.

    I like simple scents to complex, own some that cost very little, and some very prized scents. It all starts with the bottle for me, then the scent, then the name.

  19. It comes both ways. I'd like to think that if I like certain "great if unpopular" scents, it is because my nose is good, but I will also admit that sometimes my ego gets in the way of my nose.

  20. Cindi,

    thank you for your comment and I do wish you find many gems in your ongoing perfume journey.
    Keeping it real cannot be underestimated! :-)

  21. Dain,

    great perspective: it cuts both ways, it's true.
    It's good to sit down and think about these things I tell myself

  22. Anonymous19:03

    Average people think that the ability to smell is a prvilege of dogs, but it's not true.

    I swear I know the difference between the smells of many subway stations in Moscow - because so many of them are part of my everyday life. Tverskaya has a very dark smell, almost poison like, Trubnaya is filled with the aroma of paint and dust, some are chalk and sweat, some are just rats...

    I also once made an experiment: I asked 3 girls to hold each one book in her hands for several minutes, to turn the pages, while a boy was outside. When he came in he sniffed the books, the hands of girls, and then he was able to say which girl held which book.

  23. How very interesting J m'en F!!
    The Paris metro is probably the worst one smell-wise, though...


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