Ideas about Scent Testing for Beginners and Others

    Ideas about Scent Testing for Beginners and Others

    post #1 of 21
    Thread Starter 
    Wine tasters have a method. I admire that. It makes them look like they know what they're doing. I get the idea that after they've done it for a while, they do know what they're doing. They pour a very small amount of wine into the glass, they swirl it around in the glass. They observe the streaks of glycol running down the sides of the glass. Then they bring their nose close, they breathe in the aroma deeply. After a moment, they take a tiny bit of wine into their mouth, they hold the wine on their tongue, draw the air in across the little puddle of wine there, and pass the air on up through their nose. They swish the wine around in their mouth, they swallow. Then they make a pronouncement, "Tart, plummy. I get cherries, chocolate, and tobacco," or something like that. I'm impressed. Wait... tobacco? In that case, maybe I'm slightly put off.

    Anyway, by comparison, testing scents can look pretty haphazard: Sniff. Like/don't like. Why? Not sure. Later on, maybe more ideas about what you like or don't like. Later still, see emerging patterns in your preferences. Even later, tastes start to change, perhaps expand. How did that all happen?

    I'm convinced there can be some useful methods for going through this maze of scent sniffing and testing, and perhaps even evaluation.

    And if you're going to spend precious time (and money) on this hobby, why not try to organize your approach?

    So I have written down some possible ideas. For me, some were more appropriate when I was a beginner; others, more effective after I had been around perfumes for a while and had acquired some experience and concepts in the field. You decide which are which, or if they are useful at all.

    So, take all the following with a large grain of salt, try and keep what seems (and later proves to be) useful; discard the rest. Just maybe, revisit after a while, and see if what seems useful has changed.

    So, some guidelines for testing fragrances, which at different times have worked for me:


    1. I got scientific, methodical, even. I got a blank perfume notebook, and was diligent in recording every test in it. I dated each entry, and if I repeated testing a scent, wrote my new impressions blind, before I looked at my old ones. After I had written my new impressions, then I compared with the older ones. Then, right after my new impressions, wrote what was different from the first time.
    2. I think it was best to limit myself to smelling one house at a time, so as to get to appreciate the house style or "vibe." If I have more than two samples from any house, I just test two at a time, and physically pretty far apart, say one on the left hand and one on the right, to isolate them as much as possible. I don't try to compare them at the first test. I try to focus on one at a time.
    3. I wouldn't try to test more than two at a time on any given day. I'd just confuse my nose and get me all mixed up trying to remember what they smelled like and which was which. It's best for me if I don't wear a scent-of-the-day while I'm testing. It would confuse my sense of smell, interfering with the ones I was testing. I try never to sniff the spray nozzle or get scent on me near my nose I won't be able to smell anything else if I do.
    4. I make notes when I sample each scent, so I can go back and help my scent memory later. I use lots of adjectives, and list both what I like and what I don't like about the scent.
    5. I sample on my skin; I don't waste precious sample sprays on paper. I give myself just two sprays where it's easy to sniff, like the back of my hand.
    6. I wait about 30 seconds after spraying before I sniff. Before that, all I get is alcohol. I sniff at periodic intervals: close intervals at first, then longer in-between. I make notes about each stage of the scent: top notes (very soon after applying), heart notes (after about 20 or 30 minutes), dry down (after about 2 or 3 hours). In my notes, I mark down what stays from the beginning, what goes away after each sniff; I try to establish a progression of impressions. (This is what they mean by "development" in a perfume.)
    7. If I have a scent pyramid, I pay attention to development by noting the change in the scent on my skin over time, from top notes, through heart notes, to base notes (drydown).
    8. I pay attention to sillage (the perfume trail left by the scent). This can be done by passing the scented hand 6-12 inches in front of one's nose rather slowly while breathing deeply. Is the scent over that distance strong, moderate, or weak? This will give an idea of how one will impress other people nearby when wearing this scent.
    9. I pay attention to the longevity of the scent on my skin. The average eau de toilette should last a good 5-6 hours before becoming too faint to notice easily; eaux de parfum should last longer, up to eight hours or so; and the best pure perfumes should still be somewhat detectable the morning after. For each trial, I write down the time elapsed between the first sniff and the time when the scent became too faint to detect easily.


    I remember the main points of my system. For every fragrance, there are three important observations to make: detailed impressions, sillage, and longevity.

    Later, as you begin to be able to distinguish individual perfume notes and genres, you can use perfume pyramids to help your nose notice more precise details. Look for pyramids and genre descriptions. As you become familiar with these, incorporate these ideas of individual notes and genres into your detailed impression.

    Here's a complete sample entry (a beginner's might leave out some of the parts in red):

    2/25/10. Left hand: Hermès Rocabar

    Genre: Woody-Floral, Chypre, Oriental Base
    [Pyramid <- Basenotes Directory] Strength: EdT (eau de toilette)
    Top Note: Bergamot, Lemon, Coriander, Artemisia, Juniper
    Middle Note: Cardamom, Violet, Orris, Carnation, Cypress, Cedar
    Base Note: Patchouli, Benzoin, Vanilla, Oakmoss, Canada Balsam

    First impression: I like citrus and spice, slight gin smell.
    After 35 minutes: too sweet floral notes, woody notes emerge.
    After two hours: woody, resin, vanilla notes prominent.
    After four hours: spice, florals, woods, resins, vanilla; citrus almost gone, florals and spice fainter.

    Sillage: strong for first 90 minutes; moderate for three hours after; then diminishing quickly.

    Longevity: fleeting after 7-8 hrs.
    I hope this will repay your effort if you try to do it for awhile. It may not be for you, but if it could be, it might help you make the right decisions about what you spend your money on!

    Good luck with your sniffing, and as always, thanks for reading my stuff.
    post #2 of 21
    Just about perfect. One comment however; you talk of only smelling from one house at a time, to get an idea of their style, which is all well and good. I would suggest that you try and get two very different fragrances if you are going to smell two at a time. I think if you are just starting out, you should limit yourself to one but after a while two is OK. However, if they are two very similar fragarnces (two citrus cologne for example) it is very easy to tire and confuse the nose, especially if you are a newbie.

    And thank you for writing your stuff.
    post #3 of 21
    i'm saving this to my computer
    i love that you go nerdcore on scents.
    epic. classic. good stuff.
    post #4 of 21
    Thank you Wonderful advice for the beginner.I too am saving this to my computer
    post #5 of 21
    I dont know where the idea comes from that the worth of a perfume can be measured in it's longevity. Toilet cleaner can be unbelievably tenatious. As can cheap drugstore crap.
    Whereas expensive natural based scents can be light and delightful, yet fleeting.
    Logevity comes from a predominance of basenotes. Things like patchouli and musk are naturally more "clingy" and odour intense. the lighter a note, the more fleeting it will be.
    There are of course a number of artificial fragrance ingredience that are designed to last forever...which is why you often find with modern frarances you don't like that you just can't wash the bl...y stuff off no matter how hard you try!
    Whereas expensive natural perfumes tend to linger more gently.....
    I'd be very suspicious of any eau de toillette that lasted 4 to 5 hours. You can pretty much guarantee that it's made of cheap artificial ingredients if it does that.
    post #6 of 21
    Another tip for sampling fragrance is to spray it on a tissue and place this in a ziplock bag for an hour or so...this way you get a good idea of the various layers in the fragrance without the variance on your own skin....I usually do this when I am creating as my own skins idiosyncracies will be different to eveyone elses...then I spray it on my skin, and on a number of test subjects...that way I get a good overview of it's different facets.....
    post #7 of 21
    I have enjoyed reading your blog and since I am a beginner it really helps in my beginning to understand the basics of enjoying scents. I also enjoyed the posts on the animalic scents as well. Thank you for sharing.
    post #8 of 21
    Thread Starter 
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Ambrosiawomble;bt2472

    I dont know where the idea comes from that the worth of a perfume can be measured in it's longevity. Toilet cleaner can be unbelievably tenatious. As can cheap drugstore crap.
    Whereas expensive natural based scents can be light and delightful, yet fleeting.
    Logevity comes from a predominance of basenotes. Things like patchouli and musk are naturally more "clingy" and odour intense. the lighter a note, the more fleeting it will be.
    There are of course a number of artificial fragrance ingredience that are designed to last forever...which is why you often find with modern frarances you don't like that you just can't wash the bl...y stuff off no matter how hard you try!
    Whereas expensive natural perfumes tend to linger more gently.....
    I'd be very suspicious of any eau de toillette that lasted 4 to 5 hours. You can pretty much guarantee that it's made of cheap artificial ingredients if it does that.

    Perhaps you and I don't mean the same thing by "longevity." I use it to refer to the time between application of a fragrance and the point of its virtual disappearance from detectability on the skin. Of course, this will vary from individual to individual, as well as according to other factors you mention. On my skin, for example, Hermès Rocabar EdT lasts a good 6-7 hours, and while I wouldn't say there are no synthetics in it, I don't think that it is made with cheap synthetics. In Rocabar, I think the persistence is due to the number, combination, and quality of the base notes. That the base notes anchor the scent and contribute to its longevity is a point I think we agree on.

    In my experience, there are many EdTs that do about as well on my skin in terms of longevity and come from Guerlain, Chanel, and other companies that don't generally use the cheapest synthetics.

    Of course, longevity is not the only measure of a fragrance's desirability. I never said that was especially important, but I think it is one of the things worth observing when one tests perfume. It matters more to some than to others, and that's fine with me. I'm suggesting some methods in this post; I'm not necessarily prescribing standards for others to apply. The various time spans I suggest for longevity of different fragrance concentrations reflect my experience and expectations. I have and enjoy some scents that don't fit those time frames. They are generalizations, and like all generalizations, don't apply to every individual case, but more or less to a class as a whole.

    Do I detect a slight preference on your part for natural materials in perfumery? I don't necessarily think that purely natural perfumes are always the best ones. Some of them are very good, as are many that contain good quality synthetics used judiciously. You can read David Ruskin's comment on a previous blog entry of mine (Animal Notes in Perfumery) in which he gives his opinion on all-natural scents. He's a perfumer in Great Britain, and talks about his own experience in making all-natural scents. This is what he says about it: "I've made a few all natural perfumes, but couldn't say I was over the moon about any of them. To my mind all naturals smell pretty much the same, or have a similar identity; and all smell "stodgy". Only my opinion, I hasten to add!!"

    I'll be very interested to see how Soivohle' Oud Lacquer smells on me when I receive it. It's an entirely natural EdP, and almost all the reviewers of it think it's quite extraordinary. I suspect that there are good and bad natural scents, and good and bad ones that use some synthetics. Given what IFRA and the EU are doing in legislation, I wonder if the days of all-natural perfumes aren't numbered...
    post #9 of 21
    Thread Starter 
    To the people who said they are saving this blog post: I am so very glad that you have found it useful, and it means a great deal to me that you think enough of it to want to save it! Thanks for your readership!
    post #10 of 21
    just had a chance to review this thoroughly, thank you again.
    really a gift to hear from a respected reviewer how they began and what their process is like.
    post #11 of 21
    ..........
    post #12 of 21
    Great article Jaime!
    I use Moleskine Plain Notebook 5"x 8 1/4". They hold up very well for when I go riffling back through my notes and the elastic strap keeps the book nice and neat.

    I'd add the nose/perfumer too. I have found I often like a perfumer more than a house.

    My hubby is a "wino" and his palatte is amazing! He tastes the wine and is pretty good about naming the grapes, the country/region, possible vintners, etc...

    I see many overlaps in our hobbies. I wish I had a perfume cellar!
    post #13 of 21
    Thanks Jamie! You've been a wealth of information for me since I joined basenotes. I appreciate the generosity with which you share your knowledge and insight and have to admit, I've become a bit of a follower of your reviews! Thanks again for all your hard work!
    post #14 of 21
    Great post as usual, JaimeB!

    Btw, re: house style. Generally it takes more than a sampling of 2 fragrances to appreciate a house style. And smelling two scents from two different genres (e.g. chypre vs oriental ) at the same time will not be that helpful even if they're both from the same house, and applied on different arms. But that's really common sense and should be pretty obvious to anyone, so I understand why you left it out.
    class="

    2/25/10 at 12:15am

    JaimeB said:



    Wine tasters have a method. I admire that. It makes them look like they know what they're doing. I get the idea that after they've done it for a while, they do know what they're doing. They pour a very small amount of wine into the glass, they swirl it around in the glass. They observe the streaks of glycol running down the sides of the glass. Then they bring their nose close, they breathe in the aroma deeply. After a moment, they take a tiny bit of wine into their mouth, they hold the wine on their tongue, draw the air in across the little puddle of wine there, and pass the air on up through their nose. They swish the wine around in their mouth, they swallow. Then they make a pronouncement, "Tart, plummy. I get cherries, chocolate, and tobacco," or something like that. I'm impressed. Wait... tobacco? In that case, maybe I'm slightly put off.

    Anyway, by comparison, testing scents can look pretty haphazard: Sniff. Like/don't like. Why? Not sure. Later on, maybe more ideas about what you like or don't like. Later still, see emerging patterns in your preferences. Even later, tastes start to change, perhaps expand. How did that all happen?

    I'm convinced there can be some useful methods for going through this maze of scent sniffing and testing, and perhaps even evaluation.

    And if you're going to spend precious time (and money) on this hobby, why not try to organize your approach?

    So I have written down some possible ideas. For me, some were more appropriate when I was a beginner; others, more effective after I had been around perfumes for a while and had acquired some experience and concepts in the field. You decide which are which, or if they are useful at all.

    So, take all the following with a large grain of salt, try and keep what seems (and later proves to be) useful; discard the rest. Just maybe, revisit after a while, and see if what seems useful has changed.

    So, some guidelines for testing fragrances, which at different times have worked for me:


    1. I got scientific, methodical, even. I got a blank perfume notebook, and was diligent in recording every test in it. I dated each entry, and if I repeated testing a scent, wrote my new impressions blind, before I looked at my old ones. After I had written my new impressions, then I compared with the older ones. Then, right after my new impressions, wrote what was different from the first time.
    2. I think it was best to limit myself to smelling one house at a time, so as to get to appreciate the house style or "vibe." If I have more than two samples from any house, I just test two at a time, and physically pretty far apart, say one on the left hand and one on the right, to isolate them as much as possible. I don't try to compare them at the first test. I try to focus on one at a time.
    3. I wouldn't try to test more than two at a time on any given day. I'd just confuse my nose and get me all mixed up trying to remember what they smelled like and which was which. It's best for me if I don't wear a scent-of-the-day while I'm testing. It would confuse my sense of smell, interfering with the ones I was testing. I try never to sniff the spray nozzle or get scent on me near my nose I won't be able to smell anything else if I do.
    4. I make notes when I sample each scent, so I can go back and help my scent memory later. I use lots of adjectives, and list both what I like and what I don't like about the scent.
    5. I sample on my skin; I don't waste precious sample sprays on paper. I give myself just two sprays where it's easy to sniff, like the back of my hand.
    6. I wait about 30 seconds after spraying before I sniff. Before that, all I get is alcohol. I sniff at periodic intervals: close intervals at first, then longer in-between. I make notes about each stage of the scent: top notes (very soon after applying), heart notes (after about 20 or 30 minutes), dry down (after about 2 or 3 hours). In my notes, I mark down what stays from the beginning, what goes away after each sniff; I try to establish a progression of impressions. (This is what they mean by "development" in a perfume.)
    7. If I have a scent pyramid, I pay attention to development by noting the change in the scent on my skin over time, from top notes, through heart notes, to base notes (drydown).
    8. I pay attention to sillage (the perfume trail left by the scent). This can be done by passing the scented hand 6-12 inches in front of one's nose rather slowly while breathing deeply. Is the scent over that distance strong, moderate, or weak? This will give an idea of how one will impress other people nearby when wearing this scent.
    9. I pay attention to the longevity of the scent on my skin. The average eau de toilette should last a good 5-6 hours before becoming too faint to notice easily; eaux de parfum should last longer, up to eight hours or so; and the best pure perfumes should still be somewhat detectable the morning after. For each trial, I write down the time elapsed between the first sniff and the time when the scent became too faint to detect easily.


    I remember the main points of my system. For every fragrance, there are three important observations to make: detailed impressions, sillage, and longevity.

    Later, as you begin to be able to distinguish individual perfume notes and genres, you can use perfume pyramids to help your nose notice more precise details. Look for pyramids and genre descriptions. As you become familiar with these, incorporate these ideas of individual notes and genres into your detailed impression.

    Here's a complete sample entry (a beginner's might leave out some of the parts in red):

    2/25/10. Left hand: Hermès Rocabar

    Genre: Woody-Floral, Chypre, Oriental Base
    [Pyramid <- Basenotes Directory] Strength: EdT (eau de toilette)
    Top Note: Bergamot, Lemon, Coriander, Artemisia, Juniper
    Middle Note: Cardamom, Violet, Orris, Carnation, Cypress, Cedar
    Base Note: Patchouli, Benzoin, Vanilla, Oakmoss, Canada Balsam

    First impression: I like citrus and spice, slight gin smell.
    After 35 minutes: too sweet floral notes, woody notes emerge.
    After two hours: woody, resin, vanilla notes prominent.
    After four hours: spice, florals, woods, resins, vanilla; citrus almost gone, florals and spice fainter.

    Sillage: strong for first 90 minutes; moderate for three hours after; then diminishing quickly.

    Longevity: fleeting after 7-8 hrs.
    I hope this will repay your effort if you try to do it for awhile. It may not be for you, but if it could be, it might help you make the right decisions about what you spend your money on!

    Good luck with your sniffing, and as always, thanks for reading my stuff.

    2/25/10 at 2:31am

    David Ruskin said:



    Just about perfect. One comment however; you talk of only smelling from one house at a time, to get an idea of their style, which is all well and good. I would suggest that you try and get two very different fragrances if you are going to smell two at a time. I think if you are just starting out, you should limit yourself to one but after a while two is OK. However, if they are two very similar fragarnces (two citrus cologne for example) it is very easy to tire and confuse the nose, especially if you are a newbie.

    And thank you for writing your stuff.

    2/25/10 at 8:11am

    jayjupes said:



    i'm saving this to my computer
    i love that you go nerdcore on scents.
    epic. classic. good stuff.

    2/25/10 at 9:37am

    ppf said:



    Thank you Wonderful advice for the beginner.I too am saving this to my computer

    2/25/10 at 4:47pm

    Ambrosiawomble said:



    I dont know where the idea comes from that the worth of a perfume can be measured in it's longevity. Toilet cleaner can be unbelievably tenatious. As can cheap drugstore crap.
    Whereas expensive natural based scents can be light and delightful, yet fleeting.
    Logevity comes from a predominance of basenotes. Things like patchouli and musk are naturally more "clingy" and odour intense. the lighter a note, the more fleeting it will be.
    There are of course a number of artificial fragrance ingredience that are designed to last forever...which is why you often find with modern frarances you don't like that you just can't wash the bl...y stuff off no matter how hard you try!
    Whereas expensive natural perfumes tend to linger more gently.....
    I'd be very suspicious of any eau de toillette that lasted 4 to 5 hours. You can pretty much guarantee that it's made of cheap artificial ingredients if it does that.

    2/25/10 at 4:50pm

    Ambrosiawomble said:



    Another tip for sampling fragrance is to spray it on a tissue and place this in a ziplock bag for an hour or so...this way you get a good idea of the various layers in the fragrance without the variance on your own skin....I usually do this when I am creating as my own skins idiosyncracies will be different to eveyone elses...then I spray it on my skin, and on a number of test subjects...that way I get a good overview of it's different facets.....

    2/25/10 at 10:45pm

    Starsoflight said:



    I have enjoyed reading your blog and since I am a beginner it really helps in my beginning to understand the basics of enjoying scents. I also enjoyed the posts on the animalic scents as well. Thank you for sharing.

    2/25/10 at 11:11pm

    JaimeB said:



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Ambrosiawomble;bt2472

    I dont know where the idea comes from that the worth of a perfume can be measured in it's longevity. Toilet cleaner can be unbelievably tenatious. As can cheap drugstore crap.
    Whereas expensive natural based scents can be light and delightful, yet fleeting.
    Logevity comes from a predominance of basenotes. Things like patchouli and musk are naturally more "clingy" and odour intense. the lighter a note, the more fleeting it will be.
    There are of course a number of artificial fragrance ingredience that are designed to last forever...which is why you often find with modern frarances you don't like that you just can't wash the bl...y stuff off no matter how hard you try!
    Whereas expensive natural perfumes tend to linger more gently.....
    I'd be very suspicious of any eau de toillette that lasted 4 to 5 hours. You can pretty much guarantee that it's made of cheap artificial ingredients if it does that.

    Perhaps you and I don't mean the same thing by "longevity." I use it to refer to the time between application of a fragrance and the point of its virtual disappearance from detectability on the skin. Of course, this will vary from individual to individual, as well as according to other factors you mention. On my skin, for example, Hermès Rocabar EdT lasts a good 6-7 hours, and while I wouldn't say there are no synthetics in it, I don't think that it is made with cheap synthetics. In Rocabar, I think the persistence is due to the number, combination, and quality of the base notes. That the base notes anchor the scent and contribute to its longevity is a point I think we agree on.

    In my experience, there are many EdTs that do about as well on my skin in terms of longevity and come from Guerlain, Chanel, and other companies that don't generally use the cheapest synthetics.

    Of course, longevity is not the only measure of a fragrance's desirability. I never said that was especially important, but I think it is one of the things worth observing when one tests perfume. It matters more to some than to others, and that's fine with me. I'm suggesting some methods in this post; I'm not necessarily prescribing standards for others to apply. The various time spans I suggest for longevity of different fragrance concentrations reflect my experience and expectations. I have and enjoy some scents that don't fit those time frames. They are generalizations, and like all generalizations, don't apply to every individual case, but more or less to a class as a whole.

    Do I detect a slight preference on your part for natural materials in perfumery? I don't necessarily think that purely natural perfumes are always the best ones. Some of them are very good, as are many that contain good quality synthetics used judiciously. You can read David Ruskin's comment on a previous blog entry of mine (Animal Notes in Perfumery) in which he gives his opinion on all-natural scents. He's a perfumer in Great Britain, and talks about his own experience in making all-natural scents. This is what he says about it: "I've made a few all natural perfumes, but couldn't say I was over the moon about any of them. To my mind all naturals smell pretty much the same, or have a similar identity; and all smell "stodgy". Only my opinion, I hasten to add!!"

    I'll be very interested to see how Soivohle' Oud Lacquer smells on me when I receive it. It's an entirely natural EdP, and almost all the reviewers of it think it's quite extraordinary. I suspect that there are good and bad natural scents, and good and bad ones that use some synthetics. Given what IFRA and the EU are doing in legislation, I wonder if the days of all-natural perfumes aren't numbered...

    2/25/10 at 11:21pm

    JaimeB said:



    To the people who said they are saving this blog post: I am so very glad that you have found it useful, and it means a great deal to me that you think enough of it to want to save it! Thanks for your readership!

    2/26/10 at 6:55pm

    jayjupes said:



    just had a chance to review this thoroughly, thank you again.
    really a gift to hear from a respected reviewer how they began and what their process is like.

    2/27/10 at 6:12am

    Bartlebooth said:



    ..........

    2/28/10 at 12:55pm

    Splash said:



    Great article Jaime!
    I use Moleskine Plain Notebook 5"x 8 1/4". They hold up very well for when I go riffling back through my notes and the elastic strap keeps the book nice and neat.

    I'd add the nose/perfumer too. I have found I often like a perfumer more than a house.

    My hubby is a "wino" and his palatte is amazing! He tastes the wine and is pretty good about naming the grapes, the country/region, possible vintners, etc...

    I see many overlaps in our hobbies. I wish I had a perfume cellar!

    3/4/10 at 7:57am

    Fable said:



    Thanks Jamie! You've been a wealth of information for me since I joined basenotes. I appreciate the generosity with which you share your knowledge and insight and have to admit, I've become a bit of a follower of your reviews! Thanks again for all your hard work!

    3/12/10 at 10:17am

    Diamondflame said:



    Great post as usual, JaimeB!

    Btw, re: house style. Generally it takes more than a sampling of 2 fragrances to appreciate a house style. And smelling two scents from two different genres (e.g. chypre vs oriental ) at the same time will not be that helpful even if they're both from the same house, and applied on different arms. But that's really common sense and should be pretty obvious to anyone, so I understand why you left it out.





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