A new way of measuring fragrance potency? An Interview with Aaron Benjamin of the FPIndex Project

12th March, 2013

We had an email a few weeks ago from Aaron Benjamin telling us about his project - “The Fragrance Potency Index”. The idea is to catalogue and compare the projection of commercial fragrances using scientific equipment. This sounded like a fragrance-geek’s dream, so we asked Benjamin to explain the project.

How did the FPIndex come about?I really should begin by giving thanks where it's due: to you and the entire Basenotes community. The FPindex might not exist today if not for this fantastic resource. So, thank you very much!

I have always enjoyed fragrances, but that enjoyment turned into a full-blown obsession when I stumbled across Basenotes in the fall of 2011, while searching for the perfect winter fragrance. Up until that point I had never considered elements like projection, sillage or longevity when searching for a fragrance. All I was concerned with was finding something that was affordable, smelled great, and was relatively exclusive. I joined Basenotes and began the hunt for my "holy grail" by reading reviews and participating in forum discussions. Needless to say, I ended up with about 10 "holy grails" over the course of a few months. More importantly, I became more aware of the ongoing discourse related to projection, sillage and longevity. I noticed that people's individual impressions typically varied substantially, making it difficult to get an idea of just how potent a fragrance was. So, I set out to develop a system that could solve this problem. Shortly after, the FPindex was born.

How do you test the projection of a fragrance?To test projection, I first transfer the the fragrance from the bottle into a small atomizer. Then, once I have confirmed the air is clean, I spray a card and prop up the card at one end of the room. After a brief period of time has elapsed, I proceed to bring the odor detector towards the card from the other end of the room, ensuring it remains at the same height, until I get a reading. I then adjust the distance as necessary until the scent is no longer detected when the device remains at a certain spot for 30 seconds. From there, I measure the distance from the card to the receptor of the device and, voila! We have our projection rating!

What is your background? Did you have access to all this equipment before you started the project?I don't have a background in fashion or fragrance, although I have always been a very creative person and like to think that I am on top of the latest trends. I studied Japanese and Mandarin Chinese in university, and have studied and lived in Japan for a combined three years (Japan is my other love). I am now in law school, aspiring to practice international entertainment law after I graduate.

I definitely did not have access to any of this equipment, or anything even remotely resembling this type of equipment prior to the development of the FPindex. After reaching dozens of companies that sell odor-detectors, I slowly narrowed down my options and purchased the one that I felt would be best for my purposes. It was a hefty investment, but well worth it.

What fragrances have performed well on your index?It's probably not going to come as a shock to many, but Creed's Aventus really surprised me. There have been so many accounts of how Aventus performs, ranging from both ends of the spectrum, so I was very excited to see the results. Lo and behold, it turns out that Aventus is the most potent fragrance on the Index so far! Now the question is, how long will it be able to hold the throne?

Have you had any feedback?You bet! The feedback so far has been incredible. People have been offering great suggestions, and I have received a ton of questions, some of which I have done my best to address on the FAQ page of the FPIndex. Others have offered to provided services just because they want to be a part of the movement :) By far, though, the most common reaction I get is somewhere along the lines of "This is going to be the new standard! I can see people discussing fragrances and referring to their 'FPi' ratings in the future!". And that's exactly what I'm hoping to achieve.

You can read more about the project on the website here http://fpindex.com and follow him on Twitter here https://twitter.com/FPIndex

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About the author: Grant Osborne

Grant Osborne is the founder and editor of Basenotes. Grant has two children, and a dependence on tea, haribo and bacon.

Website: http://www.grantosborne.com


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    • FragranceBros | 12th March 2013 15:31

      I love the creativity behind this idea, but it seems arbitrary in its usefulness. Aaron himself said:

      "I noticed that people's individual impressions typically varied substantially, making it difficult to get an idea of just how potent a fragrance was."

      If this is the case (which I think we will all agree it is), then of what use is a scientific measurement of the fragrance's projection? If it varies from person to person, does it matter what a sniffing machine says?

    • helo darqness | 12th March 2013 15:49

      This isn't equivalent to the Scoville Heat Scale where subjective sensations are objectively assigned a value. This is nice, but not really scientific

    • David Ruskin | 12th March 2013 17:19

      No description of what the "odour detector" is, or how it works. To be really scientific you need a room with a controlled temperature, humidity and air pressure. No mention of how it is confirmed that "the air is clean" either. Nice idea, but not really scientific.

    • Diogenes65 | 12th March 2013 21:13

      While not completely controlled for all variables, it is a neat idea. I won't waste my money on something with a longevity of less than 4 or 5 hrs...

    • paradigm | 12th March 2013 22:19

      Well he's not trying to launch bottles into space, just getting a fairly realistic idea about projection in a more real world environment. I think it's great! Kinda sour grapes for all the Aventus haters haha.

    • Derbyman | 13th March 2013 12:54

      This is a great idea - there's no way an experiment like this can take into account every known variable; heat, humidity etc. but this has to be a useful way of scientifically measuring fragrances for the benefit of the consumer. I'd love to see the classic powerhouses - Lapidus Pour Homme, Kouros, Giorgio Beverly Hills et al given this treatment.....It'd quickly be bye bye to Aventus's record...!

    • The Smelly Scientist | 14th March 2013 17:47

      Hi guys!

      I appreciate all the comments and criticism. I thought I would quickly address some comments just to provide a bit more clarity as to what I'm trying to achieve.

      Fragrancebros: I shot you a message with a longer explanation, but I strongly feel empirical testing to determine the baseline potency of a fragrance should not be precluded just because one person perceives a fragrances as being more potent than another.

      Helo: I apologize if my use of the word "scientific" appears misplaced. I do not hold myself out to be a real scientist (hence the silly moniker), but I do try to emphasize that there is a scientific aspect to the testing that I do, in that I am trying to obtain empirical data through a standardized testing method.

      David Ruskin: Please see my above comment.

      With regards to the odor detector information, I shall be posting more about my equipment in the near future on my site. Also, when I say "clean air", I mean that I use multiple air purification devices to eliminate any lingering odors, and only do testing when my odor detector reads "0" (essentially stating that there are no detectable odors to the human nose).

      Diogenese: Glad you like it! I wish I could properly test longevity; however, I wouldn't be surprised if higher FPi fragrances have better longevity than low FPi ones. I will try to do some subjective testing to confirm this conjecture in the future.

      Paradigm: I shot you a PM, but I just wanted to thank you for your support!

      Francop: Thank you!

      Derbyman: I appreciate you being lenient with regards to my idea. You're absolutely right in that it's near impossible to control every single possible variable out there for testing. In the future I do hope to conduct tests in a lab where I can attempt to control heat, humidity, and other variables, but for now I am doing the best with what I have.

      I would love to get some powerhouses on the Index as well. Hopefully I will be able to obtain some in the near future.

      Stay fragrant, friends!

      Aaron Benjamin

    • inscents | 16th March 2013 20:05

      You don't have to control every variable. Just run multiple trials so that the signal to noise ratio is high, look at the distribution of distances to make sure error variance is normally distributed around zero, if it is, then you can have high confidence in your results. (Bonus points if you do the statistical analyses as well)

    • pluran | 19th March 2013 21:16

      It performs better on fabric, but the people around me, including me, smell perfumes all the time and can barely smell Aventus after two hours unless they are up close within a few inches of me. The test is apparently BS. I'm beginning to think this site is a propaganda machine for Creed.

    • hednic | 20th March 2013 00:06

      Novel idea. Thanks for the link.

    • The Smelly Scientist | 20th March 2013 18:11

      Inscents: I do plan on doing a revamp soon using manufacturer-produced fragrances, and I will be sure to do repeat testing this time around to ensure there are no discrepancies. Thanks for the advice :)

      Pluran: I wish Creed would fund my site! I can't even get in touch with them, so a giant conspiracy is not really possible at this point. If you would like to prove me wrong, feel free to run a test of your own and get back to me with the results.

      Get back to me on the propaganda machine rehtoric when I have more than one creed fragrance on the site...

      Hednic: It means a lot coming from you, sir. Thank you very much!