Do You Smell What I Smell? – A Challenge
by, 20th June 2011 at 01:41 AM (3751 Views)
Of course we’re all unique. But how large are our differences? There are fragrances – rose, lemon, vanilla, coffee, … – that most of us are very familiar with. We’ve all learned to recognize them, we associate the same fragrances with the same sources, and we use the same names for them. But what about less familiar odors? I wouldn’t have recognized a fougere or chypre before I got into fragrances.
I'm thinking about how wide the differences are in the way people experience smells. How do I know whether the 'fresh' note in fragrances smells like grapefruit to me and something else to you, or whether we're just using different names for the same experience, or whether I'm just less practiced at recognizing something that you notice at once?
We can all start out with the same molecules, say a spritz of Anais Anais on a clean dry handkerchief. [That’s to eliminate skin differences that might change evaporation.] Perfumes The Guide classifies this as “fresh floral.” The same molecules evaporate from my handkerchief that evaporate from yours. We both breathe them in. Assume neither of us has a cold. [More about that another time. I’m just getting over a cold. I hope.] The molecules make it up to the odor receptors in my nose and in yours. Do we have exactly the same receptors?
I have brown hair and eyes. Maybe you are blond and blue eyed. My wife, Kitty's eyes are green. My color vision is pretty good but Kitty has some trouble telling greens from browns. Kitty and I both convert asparagus into “perfume” about an hour after eating it. Not everyone does that. We all share the genes that develop eyes and hair and odor receptors and digestion. But variations on these universal themes are common.
I hope that most of my odor receptors are also yours, but I’m guessing. Maybe the similarities are 95% and the differences are 5%. But I once read [sorry, can’t find the reference] a comment on the web from someone who said he’d worked his whole career in fragrance chemicals and seen many test panels. He said that on every panel there would be someone who was anosmic to [could not smell] the new molecule they were testing. I don’t know if there were 20 on his panels, or 10, or 5. But it makes me wonder if our smell differences might be wider than, say, our color vision differences.
And then, after the various molecules from Anais Anais react with the receptors in our noses, signals go from the receptors to our brains and our brains have to decide what they mean. It’s not as if one receptor sent a signal that said, ‘lemon’ and another receptor sent a “rose” signal. First, the smell of a rose or a lemon contains many types of molecules and AA is a complex composition of multiple notes. It’s known that each receptor reacts to different molecules and a single molecule will trigger signals from multiple receptors. Recognizing a rose smell must be a bit like looking at a bowl of alphabet soup and seeing equal numbers of Rs, Ss, E’s, and Os, and arranging them to make R-O-S-E. How well we do that has to be a function of experience, attention, and even training.
So here’s a challenge: Help me figure out how close or far my nose is from yours. Maybe help me identify some new note(s) that I need to learn. I have three fragrances that are all described as fresh. To me they are clearly different but I smell something in common. I guess it’s the “fresh” note. And to me, that “fresh” smells a lot like grapefruit. But none of the notes listed in the Basenotes Fragrance Directory for these fragrances includes “grapefruit.” Actually, there are no common notes in the lists. Of course published notes lists are not necessarily complete. But maybe I just can’t make fine enough distinctions to appreciate that they are three different things. So, if you have any of these, and especially if you have all three or can smell them all somewhere, tell me what you think their fresh note is. Or, do they smell completely different from each other?
1) Cacharel, Anais Anais. (fresh floral) Top Notes -Orange Blossom. Middle Notes - Lily, Hyacinth, Carnation. Base Notes - Sandalwood, Incense.Don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I’m 64, so I can blame age [another topic to consider at another time] if I’m far away from everyone else.
2) Tommy Hilfiger, T Girl (not Tommy Girl). There’s no Basenotes pyramid but reviewers mention “floxes + grass,” “strong citrus notes,” and “daffodil, as well as the same sparkling clementine found in the men's version.”
3) Tommy Bahama, Set Sail South Seas for Men. (fresh fruity). Top Notes - Mandarin. Middle Notes - Violets. Base Notes - Rum.
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