Scent Esthetics: Thoughts on Subtlety
by, 22nd January 2008 at 11:04 PM (682 Views)
Sometimes when I read posts in Basenotes, or on other sites and blogs, or even in advertising, I am forced to confront the meaning of "subtlety" as it is used by other writers.
The first impression I get is that many people mean "light" or "ephemeral" when they use the term. Sometimes I think it is used to mean "fresh" or "clean." Of course I don't have any contexts handy to illustrate this, but it is the feeling I get from the overall tone of some of the messages I read and hear.
To my nose, though, subtlety is about art; it isn't about faint, ephemeral, or hard-to-detect scents. When I encounter subtlety, I must be in awe of the perfumer's knowledge of materials, creativity, innovation, or respect for tradition (and yes, the ability and taste to twist it just enough). An unexpected note, a slow impression of growing heart notes that blend so seamlessly into the top that I can barely begin to detect the shift, yet feel its power: that is subtlety to me.
Subtlety is often there among powerful notes, in leathers, orientals and big florals. It is powerful precisely because the more powerful cannot overwhelm it. It can be in the blending or in the contrasts, or in true art, in the amazing tour de force of successfully blending disparate notes and accords.
Subtlety is never in predictability. It thrives on a vivid impression: surprise, amazement, curiosity, even contradiction. Some of the weak, "fresh," "clean," copy-cat scents guaranteed to be popular for a few months and then fade from memory may be faint, but they are not truly subtle. True subtlety will always be memorable; it will continually bring joy to the spirit; it does not die, but rather confers immortality on the one who achieves it in perfumery.
It cannot be all that common. It will be one of the hallmarks of masterworks. Other scents may be pretty and attractive in a less satisfying way, but the subtle ones will live on as some of the highest examples of how the art of scent should be done.
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