100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 5: Smell Stuff

    100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 5: Smell Stuff

    post #1 of 11
    Thread Starter 
    So here's installment number five of my silly experiment, and I realize that I started off pretty deep and that there have been some seriously baffling scents in this list so far. I suppose its a little cruel to start people off with Jicky and Chanel No. 5, so I think its time to go back to the square one, the very first things I think guys interested in getting to know fragrances should smell.

    I know that some of you who read this will consider this cheating, but it may very well be the most important piece of fragrant advice Ive ever received and now have the pleasure of passing on. Hence, today's installment:

    Smell Stuff

    14. Go out and smell things

    This may sound like the dumbest advice ever given, but Im amazed how many times I read a thread here that says something along the lines of What frag should I try to see what basil smells like? Dude, just go to your kitchen and smell the basil. And everything else you can get your nose on.

    Spend some quality time in the spice rack. Smell cloves and black pepper and mace and notice how bay leaves smell like tea. Notice how the sage also smells like tea, but in a different way. Smell artificial fruit-flavored candy (like Skittles or Jolly Ranchers) - you'd be amazed how important those artificial fruit flavors are in perfumery today.

    Go for a walk around the block and smell the flowers in peoples yards. If you smell something interesting, figure out what it is. And dont forget that leaves can smell as good as flowers for one of the best smells on the planet, smell some tomato leaves. For a complete smell orgy, try to find a citrus tree in bloom and smell exactly why people 300 years ago sniffed that intoxicating mix and decided they simply had to bottle it.

    For bonus points, see if your town has a public rose garden theyre more common than youd think. Notice that every kind of rose smells different and that theres no such thing as a red rose smell versus a yellow rose smell.

    Go for a hike in a forest and smell the trees. And the soil and the moss and that indescribable smell of life and decay in the forest air.

    In the end, just get used to smelling whats around you and paying attention to what the smells are, to build up your scent vocabulary.


    15. Check out essential oils

    Your average health food store will probably have at least a couple of essential oils to smell. Lavender, clary sage, and patchouli are common, incredibly important in perfumery, and very much worth getting to know.

    If youre lucky enough to have a proper essential oil store in your area, go sniff as much as you can get your hands on. Smell the oakmoss and the frankincense and all the crazy resins and flowers you can. I promise, youll be amazed at how much the crazy frags you thought you could never figure out will start to make sense once you understand benzoin and opoponax and dozens more obscure-sounding notes.

    Essential oils are surprisingly cheap, so you might even want to buy a tiny vial of anything that you want to get to know better (for the record, with a couple of notable exceptions like carnation or jasmine, natural ingredients arent very expensive when expensive perfumes say theyre expensive because they contain natural ingredients, 99% of the time thats just marketing bullshit).


    16. Smell some raw ingredients

    One of the biggest misconceptions about how perfume works is that perfumers work in a big lab with a bunch of jars of oils and chemicals that are labeled leather and amber and rose and they just mix them together and out pops a finished perfume. In actuality, its almost all chemicals, and chemicals just dont work like that.

    Perfumery is more chemistry than youd think. Sure, a perfumer may think that cloves smell good with cedar, and they may even use some natural essential oils, but they dont just mix together clove and cedar. In fact, when you mix a chemical that smells like A and a chemical that smells like B, you almost never get something that smells like a combination of A+B, you usually get some complete other third smell, which often smells terrible and unrelated to either A or B. This is full on chemistry, not cooking. The art and the science lie mostly in the dozens of chemicals it takes to make a mix of anything smell good in a bottle in liquid form.

    The best way to really understand this and to truly step up your game in terms of understanding fragrances (from perfume to shampoo to cleaning products) is to get a little sampler of raw ingredients. If theres a single one (like Iso E Super or something) that youre curious about, ask around on Basenotes. Us crazy long-timers have been known to trade ingredient samples the same way we trade other perfume samples.

    Or, better yet, just invest in a sample pack of raw ingredients. Ozmoz sells some that are specifically geared towards teaching interested people how ingredients work in perfumes. The most popular one is from The Perfumers Apprentice Youd be surprised how many of the folks here at Basenotes who really know their stuff have this sample pack.

    From this, all I really ask is that you come to grips with the fact that note lists and pyramids are basically just crap. There's no such thing as a magnolia note. Or a bluebell note. Or a leather note. At best, it's a way for a perfumer to try to explain to people who don't know the chemicals what they were trying to recreate. At worst, it's just a stupid lie made up by advertisers. Either way, it's simply not the best way to really get to know fragrances. Teach your nose and then trust it. Then, when you smell a standard white flowers accord with some synthetic apple added, you can just giggle when you see it listed as rare Tahitian pink summer hyacinth or something equally ridiculous and all the reviews talk about how they can really smell the pink summer hyacinth...


    17. Smell some real oud

    This one is quite a bit more specific than my other three picks today, and probably should have been included somewhere else, but it kind of fits into todays discussion and I couldnt figure out where else to include it.

    Get your hands on a drop of real oud. Yeah, I know. Its really expensive and confusing and they dont really sell it in America. Check out the Basenotes marketplace or try to get some in a sample trade. Or, if you have the cash to drop, there are online retailers that sell it.

    All you need is one drop. A tiny little dot of oil on your wrist will last days, and that same little dot on the cuff of a jacket will last a week, so anything more than 1 or 2 ml is overkill if youre only curious.

    There are other people here who would be happy to fill you in on the best ouds available. Its way over my head, so Ill just say to try the real thing and leave it at that.

    Of course, ouds come in varying qualities and ouds from different areas smell different. And, to make everything much more confusing, there are middle eastern oil blends that have all sorts of roses and incense oils mixed with the oud (or sometimes instead of any actual oud), and these blends are often called ouds, too, so be sure what youre getting, especially if youre paying for it (and beware that, if you can afford it, it's probably one of these blends).

    Anyway, just smell some oud. Its weird and gross and fantastic and smoky and contemplative and medicinal and leathery and some of them literally smell like shit. And none of them smell like M7 or Creeds Royal Oud. If youre like me, the smell you think is oud is actually mostly a mix of saffron and patchouli and pine tar with extra chemicals to make it smell more medicinal and intoxicating.


    Anyway, this has been a really rambling entry - Any thoughts?

    Any oud experts want to chime in with a good place to start?
    post #2 of 11
    your blog is nice to read. also for a becoming frag-head girl. I have sandalwood essential oil from Australia and rosewood oil, and am planning on finding a good patchouli and Indian or Sri Lanka Sandalwood. they are delicious on their own. and I understand they get better when they age. does oud also get better with age ? can you notice in a fragrance containing the natural ingredient ?
    post #3 of 11
    rogalal, roll on. Just keep rolling. This is good stuff!
    post #4 of 11
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cello;bt5592

    rogalal, roll on. Just keep rolling. This is good stuff!

    Absolutely! Smelling Stuff - in all generality - is one of the most important fragrance experiences you can possibly have. "Sniff the glove", as they said in that movie!
    post #5 of 11
    Keep them coming! Really nice reading, thanks Rogalal
    post #6 of 11
    Good blog. I'm personally trying to pay attention to all smells - the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones. I think that I've been trying to avoid the 'bad' ones by doing the equivalent of closing my eyes. Not a good habit to get into.

    I've also learned from essential oils (my supermarket carries both Aura Caccia and Nature's Apothecary) and from buying chemicals and accords from The Perfumer's Apprentice.

    I'll agree with your statement that there's no such thing as a leather note if you mean a single compound when you say 'note.' But there are combinations of molecules - accords - that give a recognizable leather (or rose, or jasmine, ...) smell, even in combination with other accords.

    Of course, I sometimes find that I can't separate two floral accords that I've mixed 50-50 (or two citrus, ...). Sometimes the combination smells like something new.

    Keep 'em coming.
    post #7 of 11
    Lots of great advice! I really chuckled at "Dude, just go to your kitchen and smell the basil!" So true: so many people forget that cardamom, cumin, basil, saffron, etc., etc., are right there, in a pure state and yet to be amalgamated or "reacted" with other notes, ready to sniff!

    I also really like your point about how A + B does not equal A + B when it comes to the notes mixed together in perfumes. I have often wondered whether when we smell perfumes it's not a lot like color perception. So, for example, when we see a patch of orange, we do NOT see yellow + red! When we see green, we do NOT see blue + yellow. Or take pointillist paintings: from a distance we absolutely do not see the dots: we see the larger figures made up of dots.

    All of this makes me sometimes wonder whether people are succumbing to the power of suggestion when they see large pyramidal lists of notes in a perfume before reviewing it and then proceed to recite many members of the list as though they were perceived as distinct notes. (I, no doubt, am influenced by those pyramids as well--even when it's just being disappointed that I did not catch any wafts of a note with which I am quite familiar...)

    Anyway, I'm enjoying your blog! Please do forge on!

    post #8 of 11
    I have taken the time to obtain Sandalwood essential oil and it made sandalwood colognes more interesting to me. BTW, Sandalwood essential oil makes for a very nice scent applied to ones skin.
    post #9 of 11
    Thread Starter 
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ECaruthers;bt5610

    I'll agree with your statement that there's no such thing as a leather note if you mean a single compound when you say 'note.' But there are combinations of molecules - accords - that give a recognizable leather (or rose, or jasmine, ...) smell, even in combination with other accords.

    Thanks - that's what I was trying to say. Of course, there are combinations of chemicals that make leather smells (or rose smells or whatever), but by the specific nature of leather, it's open to interpretation, simply because there are different kinds of leather smells, everything from a raw hide to new car smell to the heavily processed suede of an expensive coat, and none of them have a specific essential oil or simple chemical formula that equals their smells - it's more fuzzy and interpretive and artistic than that, which is what makes leather scents so interesting.
    post #10 of 11
    Thread Starter 
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Laureline;bt5587

    does oud also get better with age ? can you notice in a fragrance containing the natural ingredient ?

    Honestly, I don't know if oud gets better with age. I'd assume so, but I'm no expert.

    As for picking out natural ingredients in fragrances, it's really tough, and I generally can't, unless it's an essential oil I know really well. When a fragrance is all natural, nothing but a blend of oils, it's usually pretty easy to tell those apart from regular chemical perfumes, because they behave and develop differently. But as for something like sniffing out the real Grasse jasmine that's supposed to be in Chanel No. 5's extrait formulation, I couldn't smell any jasmine at all, let alone recognize it as real...
    post #11 of 11
    Wonderful post. You have a wonderful way with words. Hat's off!
    class="

    9/7/11 at 1:27pm

    rogalal said:



    So here's installment number five of my silly experiment, and I realize that I started off pretty deep and that there have been some seriously baffling scents in this list so far. I suppose its a little cruel to start people off with Jicky and Chanel No. 5, so I think its time to go back to the square one, the very first things I think guys interested in getting to know fragrances should smell.

    I know that some of you who read this will consider this cheating, but it may very well be the most important piece of fragrant advice Ive ever received and now have the pleasure of passing on. Hence, today's installment:

    Smell Stuff

    14. Go out and smell things

    This may sound like the dumbest advice ever given, but Im amazed how many times I read a thread here that says something along the lines of What frag should I try to see what basil smells like? Dude, just go to your kitchen and smell the basil. And everything else you can get your nose on.

    Spend some quality time in the spice rack. Smell cloves and black pepper and mace and notice how bay leaves smell like tea. Notice how the sage also smells like tea, but in a different way. Smell artificial fruit-flavored candy (like Skittles or Jolly Ranchers) - you'd be amazed how important those artificial fruit flavors are in perfumery today.

    Go for a walk around the block and smell the flowers in peoples yards. If you smell something interesting, figure out what it is. And dont forget that leaves can smell as good as flowers for one of the best smells on the planet, smell some tomato leaves. For a complete smell orgy, try to find a citrus tree in bloom and smell exactly why people 300 years ago sniffed that intoxicating mix and decided they simply had to bottle it.

    For bonus points, see if your town has a public rose garden theyre more common than youd think. Notice that every kind of rose smells different and that theres no such thing as a red rose smell versus a yellow rose smell.

    Go for a hike in a forest and smell the trees. And the soil and the moss and that indescribable smell of life and decay in the forest air.

    In the end, just get used to smelling whats around you and paying attention to what the smells are, to build up your scent vocabulary.


    15. Check out essential oils

    Your average health food store will probably have at least a couple of essential oils to smell. Lavender, clary sage, and patchouli are common, incredibly important in perfumery, and very much worth getting to know.

    If youre lucky enough to have a proper essential oil store in your area, go sniff as much as you can get your hands on. Smell the oakmoss and the frankincense and all the crazy resins and flowers you can. I promise, youll be amazed at how much the crazy frags you thought you could never figure out will start to make sense once you understand benzoin and opoponax and dozens more obscure-sounding notes.

    Essential oils are surprisingly cheap, so you might even want to buy a tiny vial of anything that you want to get to know better (for the record, with a couple of notable exceptions like carnation or jasmine, natural ingredients arent very expensive when expensive perfumes say theyre expensive because they contain natural ingredients, 99% of the time thats just marketing bullshit).


    16. Smell some raw ingredients

    One of the biggest misconceptions about how perfume works is that perfumers work in a big lab with a bunch of jars of oils and chemicals that are labeled leather and amber and rose and they just mix them together and out pops a finished perfume. In actuality, its almost all chemicals, and chemicals just dont work like that.

    Perfumery is more chemistry than youd think. Sure, a perfumer may think that cloves smell good with cedar, and they may even use some natural essential oils, but they dont just mix together clove and cedar. In fact, when you mix a chemical that smells like A and a chemical that smells like B, you almost never get something that smells like a combination of A+B, you usually get some complete other third smell, which often smells terrible and unrelated to either A or B. This is full on chemistry, not cooking. The art and the science lie mostly in the dozens of chemicals it takes to make a mix of anything smell good in a bottle in liquid form.

    The best way to really understand this and to truly step up your game in terms of understanding fragrances (from perfume to shampoo to cleaning products) is to get a little sampler of raw ingredients. If theres a single one (like Iso E Super or something) that youre curious about, ask around on Basenotes. Us crazy long-timers have been known to trade ingredient samples the same way we trade other perfume samples.

    Or, better yet, just invest in a sample pack of raw ingredients. Ozmoz sells some that are specifically geared towards teaching interested people how ingredients work in perfumes. The most popular one is from The Perfumers Apprentice Youd be surprised how many of the folks here at Basenotes who really know their stuff have this sample pack.

    From this, all I really ask is that you come to grips with the fact that note lists and pyramids are basically just crap. There's no such thing as a magnolia note. Or a bluebell note. Or a leather note. At best, it's a way for a perfumer to try to explain to people who don't know the chemicals what they were trying to recreate. At worst, it's just a stupid lie made up by advertisers. Either way, it's simply not the best way to really get to know fragrances. Teach your nose and then trust it. Then, when you smell a standard white flowers accord with some synthetic apple added, you can just giggle when you see it listed as rare Tahitian pink summer hyacinth or something equally ridiculous and all the reviews talk about how they can really smell the pink summer hyacinth...


    17. Smell some real oud

    This one is quite a bit more specific than my other three picks today, and probably should have been included somewhere else, but it kind of fits into todays discussion and I couldnt figure out where else to include it.

    Get your hands on a drop of real oud. Yeah, I know. Its really expensive and confusing and they dont really sell it in America. Check out the Basenotes marketplace or try to get some in a sample trade. Or, if you have the cash to drop, there are online retailers that sell it.

    All you need is one drop. A tiny little dot of oil on your wrist will last days, and that same little dot on the cuff of a jacket will last a week, so anything more than 1 or 2 ml is overkill if youre only curious.

    There are other people here who would be happy to fill you in on the best ouds available. Its way over my head, so Ill just say to try the real thing and leave it at that.

    Of course, ouds come in varying qualities and ouds from different areas smell different. And, to make everything much more confusing, there are middle eastern oil blends that have all sorts of roses and incense oils mixed with the oud (or sometimes instead of any actual oud), and these blends are often called ouds, too, so be sure what youre getting, especially if youre paying for it (and beware that, if you can afford it, it's probably one of these blends).

    Anyway, just smell some oud. Its weird and gross and fantastic and smoky and contemplative and medicinal and leathery and some of them literally smell like shit. And none of them smell like M7 or Creeds Royal Oud. If youre like me, the smell you think is oud is actually mostly a mix of saffron and patchouli and pine tar with extra chemicals to make it smell more medicinal and intoxicating.


    Anyway, this has been a really rambling entry - Any thoughts?

    Any oud experts want to chime in with a good place to start?

    9/7/11 at 2:19pm

    Laureline said:



    your blog is nice to read. also for a becoming frag-head girl. I have sandalwood essential oil from Australia and rosewood oil, and am planning on finding a good patchouli and Indian or Sri Lanka Sandalwood. they are delicious on their own. and I understand they get better when they age. does oud also get better with age ? can you notice in a fragrance containing the natural ingredient ?

    9/7/11 at 6:14pm

    cello said:



    rogalal, roll on. Just keep rolling. This is good stuff!

    9/7/11 at 9:27pm

    Redneck Perfumisto said:



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cello;bt5592

    rogalal, roll on. Just keep rolling. This is good stuff!

    Absolutely! Smelling Stuff - in all generality - is one of the most important fragrance experiences you can possibly have. "Sniff the glove", as they said in that movie!

    9/8/11 at 7:11am

    lupo said:



    Keep them coming! Really nice reading, thanks Rogalal

    9/8/11 at 1:05pm

    ECaruthers said:



    Good blog. I'm personally trying to pay attention to all smells - the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones. I think that I've been trying to avoid the 'bad' ones by doing the equivalent of closing my eyes. Not a good habit to get into.

    I've also learned from essential oils (my supermarket carries both Aura Caccia and Nature's Apothecary) and from buying chemicals and accords from The Perfumer's Apprentice.

    I'll agree with your statement that there's no such thing as a leather note if you mean a single compound when you say 'note.' But there are combinations of molecules - accords - that give a recognizable leather (or rose, or jasmine, ...) smell, even in combination with other accords.

    Of course, I sometimes find that I can't separate two floral accords that I've mixed 50-50 (or two citrus, ...). Sometimes the combination smells like something new.

    Keep 'em coming.

    9/8/11 at 1:50pm

    sherapop said:



    Lots of great advice! I really chuckled at "Dude, just go to your kitchen and smell the basil!" So true: so many people forget that cardamom, cumin, basil, saffron, etc., etc., are right there, in a pure state and yet to be amalgamated or "reacted" with other notes, ready to sniff!

    I also really like your point about how A + B does not equal A + B when it comes to the notes mixed together in perfumes. I have often wondered whether when we smell perfumes it's not a lot like color perception. So, for example, when we see a patch of orange, we do NOT see yellow + red! When we see green, we do NOT see blue + yellow. Or take pointillist paintings: from a distance we absolutely do not see the dots: we see the larger figures made up of dots.

    All of this makes me sometimes wonder whether people are succumbing to the power of suggestion when they see large pyramidal lists of notes in a perfume before reviewing it and then proceed to recite many members of the list as though they were perceived as distinct notes. (I, no doubt, am influenced by those pyramids as well--even when it's just being disappointed that I did not catch any wafts of a note with which I am quite familiar...)

    Anyway, I'm enjoying your blog! Please do forge on!

    9/9/11 at 10:54am

    digger51 said:



    I have taken the time to obtain Sandalwood essential oil and it made sandalwood colognes more interesting to me. BTW, Sandalwood essential oil makes for a very nice scent applied to ones skin.

    9/10/11 at 12:43pm

    rogalal said:



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ECaruthers;bt5610

    I'll agree with your statement that there's no such thing as a leather note if you mean a single compound when you say 'note.' But there are combinations of molecules - accords - that give a recognizable leather (or rose, or jasmine, ...) smell, even in combination with other accords.

    Thanks - that's what I was trying to say. Of course, there are combinations of chemicals that make leather smells (or rose smells or whatever), but by the specific nature of leather, it's open to interpretation, simply because there are different kinds of leather smells, everything from a raw hide to new car smell to the heavily processed suede of an expensive coat, and none of them have a specific essential oil or simple chemical formula that equals their smells - it's more fuzzy and interpretive and artistic than that, which is what makes leather scents so interesting.

    9/10/11 at 12:49pm

    rogalal said:



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Laureline;bt5587

    does oud also get better with age ? can you notice in a fragrance containing the natural ingredient ?

    Honestly, I don't know if oud gets better with age. I'd assume so, but I'm no expert.

    As for picking out natural ingredients in fragrances, it's really tough, and I generally can't, unless it's an essential oil I know really well. When a fragrance is all natural, nothing but a blend of oils, it's usually pretty easy to tell those apart from regular chemical perfumes, because they behave and develop differently. But as for something like sniffing out the real Grasse jasmine that's supposed to be in Chanel No. 5's extrait formulation, I couldn't smell any jasmine at all, let alone recognize it as real...

    9/12/11 at 12:46pm

    mikeperez23 said:



    Wonderful post. You have a wonderful way with words. Hat's off!





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