Friday, December 21, 2012

Sophisticated, Fresh or Dirty? Three Fragrance Genres

It isn’t just the likes of Byredo, L’Artisan or Serge Lutens that are experimenting with perfumes packed with dark mystery, even Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent are jumping onto the oud bandwagon with their recent launches. The arguments being offered for this trend are that fragrance has always been divided into two camps: French (floral, girly, sophisticated, subtle) or American (fresh, upfront, clean). But there is a third camp: sexy, dirty, animalistic, darker… And the niche perfume houses have catered to this third camp." [source]

One might even argue that these divides are not so neatly divided as that! In fact the author of the quote, Vir Sanghvi, goes on to mention "dirty" French scents and one he's drawn to himself, Piguet Bandit, which he finds "dirty" even though he notes the French don't ~for what it's worth I don't particularly either. What's more I don't find American fragrances to always be "upfront & clean" either (cue in Youth Dew, Aromatics Elixir etc. )

Additionally, "fresh" seems to have gone through an historical trajectory. I was contemplating this while replying to one of my readers regarding the popularity of fruity notes in fragrances the other day, thinking that as consumers we have removed ourselves from the notion of "fresh" of yore. Back then, in the middle section of the 20th century "fresh" meant soapy scents (full of aldehydes, rose-jasmine and musks) or grooming rituals (the shaving foam impression of a good masculine fougere, the face and body powder dry aura of a mossy fragrance or one rich in aldehydes and musks). Nowadays we have been conditioned to believe that fresh is equivalent to the scent of the products we use in our showers; most shampoos have a fruity aroma (usually peach, berry combinations, grapefruit and green apples). So do shower gels, cleansing products and other paraphernalia of cleaning rituals, be it for body or home use. So "fresh" as a concept has significantly shifted.

 Still, it's fun to contemplate, do these divides help make a distinction between different sensibilities? Are they regionally/culturally founded? Do you find yourself mostly in one camp as opposed to another and why/why not?


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  5. Apart from the classification, I'd say an excellent article, with the right references. Bandit is one of my top perfumes too - so I can only agree. Let's hope Guichard doesn't mess up with it (as he did with Visa).

    I think the writer has a point about Americans now aiming for a germ-free, sanitized ideal of perfumery that suggests thrice daily showers with antibacterial cleaners. (That this desire is satisfied by some with rotten-smelling marines is a different matter). This must have happened sometimes in the 80s or so, in the period between Pleasures and Tommy Girl. Before, I think the idea was butch, bang for the buck assertive stuff that lasted through the last hour of the work-day. Hence Youth Dew (in bath oil as well) and the Bernard Chant work for Estee Lauder.


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  10. I'm new to your blog and plan to read everything. I want to learn about fragrances :)

  11. Cheryl12:25

    Congratulations on reaching the 1000
    member mark!

    Happy holidays, and many thanks,


  12. Nails,
    welcome!! Hope you enjoy it here.

    You might start with the Perfume Terms and How to Guides (linked on the right hand column, scroll down).
    From then on, there are hundreds of things, some linked on the right, some in the archives and tags, so the Search function might be of help if you're looking for particular words/phrases/perfumes/whatever.

    And please feel free to ask any question you wish, nothing is silly or too loaded. :-)

  13. Cheryl,

    oh right! I just noticed it too. Cool :-)

    Happy holidays to you and yours as well! May the New Year bring on good things to all mankind.

  14. ...and less spam on this blog that I'd have to delete, ROTFLMAO!!

  15. Anonymous19:31

    I usually prefer deeper perfumes rather than light and fresh, and this has been true since I was a teenager and enjoyed spicy perfumes like Youth Dew. I do find perfumes to like in most genres, but they tend to be the richer version, for example, I prefer Nahema and Lyric to lighter roses, and SL La Nuit to pale florals. Sometimes I think of it as brunette versus blonde perfumes, figuratively. :-) ~~nozknoz

  16. Anonymous18:53

    Dear E,

    Merry Christmas!

    I wear Bandit regularly (it is "my" perfume, together with Vol de Nuit) so I have had the opportunity to smell it on me in all climes and situations. I have tried desperately to find the dirty and skanky notes in it, to no avail. If I try really hard I get cannabis in the top notes but that is as "controversial" as it gets. It is just sharply green and that to me makes it "fresh" but I do agree that it is not the "fresh" of today, which rather tends to the fruity. The wonderful thing about Bandit is that it doesn't smell like anything that can be defined.

    I think the divides do make sense, although I do think they are based on what we think they should be rather then what they actually are. For example, I can't quite equate "French" and "sophisticated" after reading the top 10 in France in your previous post. But my idea of sophistication is of something unique and individual, not Lolita by Lolita Lempicka or even J'adore. I think it has more to do with the name, therefore the predominance of Dior and Chanel on the French list bestows the patina of sophistication, even if the fragrance itself is not particularly sophisticated.

    I think there is definitely a "clean" and " fresh" ideal in America, although what was "clean" years ago (hello, bubbly, soapy, champagne-swilling Madame Rochas)would be considered "old-lady skank" today.

    Another great post I could discuss at length E.



  17. Anonymous00:09

    Natalia, my comment got eaten (maybe among all the spam someone tried to flood the comment board with) but had written that I wear Bandit too and I can't find the dirtiness that everyone keeps referencing, even in older versions. I think it's pretty tailored and modernist.


  18. Noz,

    I love your brunette vs.blonde perfumes theory!
    (I find the same applies to me as well, usually opting for the deeper version of any genre)

    Insightful comment, thanks!

  19. Natalia,

    very astute observation!

    I think people sometimes "confuse" (for lack of a better word) the ashtray note in Bandit with "dirty" (which usually is used to describe bodily odours and such). I don't find it dirty in the latter sense either, even though lore wants it to have been composed with that in mind (of course the original formula is not followed to the T).
    It's sharply, fangly "green" as you say: it's the quinolines in the context of a chypre formula!

    As to what one considers "French" and what is actually worn, I think those popular/best-selling lists say it all. The element of "luxe" or "status" sway the perceptions considerably within the country.
    Older French perfumes were indeed rather subtle compared to the typhoons of the 1980s (which were largely an effect of American preferences for a "bang for the buck" product).

    And double yes on what was considered "fresh" before being considered "lady skank" today. This is testament to perceptions being very much changed through the stimuli around.

    It's all very interesting, eh? Who would have thought such a "frivolity" as perfume (as many consider it to be) would have such a vast subtext to it? :-)

  20. L,

    profuse apologies about your comment being eaten. As you have seen we have had a vast amount of spam these days (on hundreds of posts I might add, which I have to monitor like a hawk to avoid this sort of thing, argh!). You're most welcome to post it again if you wish.

    And as I said above, I believe the "dirty" part in Bandit is what some people perceive as an ashtray note and the word "dirty" is used without nuancing it to differentiate from "naughty-dirty", if you get my drift ;-)

    Just a theory of mine, mind you!


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