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Reformulation and Mythology: has the fragrance really changed?

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It has happened to all of us.

We order a replacement for our much-venerated bottle, which has been kicking around in the bathroom cabinet for five years, and is now empty. We find, to our horror, that the replacement smells different from the original. This throws us into a desolate episode of buyer’s remorse, and we post reviews about the indecent violations our beloved scent has suffered at the hands of the latest reformulation.

But do we really know this?

The scent may not have been reformulated at all. There are a number of alternative explanations. Some of these, I enumerate below.

1) Old perfume smells different from new perfume.

Numerous changes take place in a bottle of perfume over a period of years. Perhaps the most important of these is differential evaporation. As we know, some of the notes in a perfume are more volatile than others: that is, after all, why the scent changes over time when we are wearing it, and why we get a “dry-down”. Long term, this dry-down happens in the bottle. Consider a half-empty bottle with an air-space at the top. This air-space will be occupied with the vapours of all of the fragrance notes, in proportion to their relative vapour pressures a t ambient temperature. Thus, mostly the more volatile components. Every time we open the bottle, we lose this dose to the atmosphere. The result is that the remaining perfume changes composition. Five years later, we have got used to the toned-down, bottom-heavy, rich dry-down remaining in the bottle. Add to this the ravages of oxidation, and other progressive processes, and the scent may change considerably.

2) Every bottle never smelled the same in the first place.

This is not a pharmaceutical synthesis operation. It’s a bunch of chaps mixing this and that together, sometimes in a less than quantitative way. Many of the raw materials will vary significantly from batch to batch. It’s not reproducible to a high level of precision. Two bottles five years apart may not be any more different than two bottles on successive days at the factory.

3) Our nose has changed.

Age and experience will change not only the olfactory receptors in your hooter, but also the grey matter in the bonce which makes sense of the signals arising thence. You’re older; you’re wiser; you have different associations, different memories. You have a different set of reference smells to compare to. The same thing will smell different to you now.

4) The new bottle is cold.

The bottle just arrived air-mail in January, and as we rush to spray it on our wrist, it is still ten degrees below room temperature. This will have a dramatic effect on the dynamics of the fragrance evolves.

5) Ok, ok, maybe they did reformulate it.


  1. Daianmixx's Avatar
    Probably the explanation no.5 covers alot but i agree that are a lot of exaggerations...


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