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  1. #1

    Default What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Hi everyone,

    Firstly, I should say I considered posting this in the 'Single Notes' subforum, but there wasn't an entry for 'soapy' so I thought I'd post it here instead. Moderators, please feel free to move it if you see fit.

    I was just wondering what scent we're actually referring to when we describe something as 'soapy'. I have no problem discerning 'soapy' in a perfume (and here I'm thinking of, for instance, the middle/base notes of Prada's Infusion d'Homme and the very final notes of Chanel's No. 22) but what makes 'soapy' soapy, if you see what I mean.

    When we say 'soapy', do we actually mean a specific floral accord of some sort, or is there some other scent which all (or at least most) soaps have in common, which we've decided to label 'soapy'? And if the latter is true, does anyone know how this 'soapy' scent is created? (It smells to me like a combination of loud flowers, faint powderiness and a basis of fat... but then am I saying that just because I vaguely know how soap is made? And also, what do we mean when we say 'powdery'... but let's put that aside for the moment!)

    Thanks in advance for any ideas.
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  2. #2
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    Astaroth's Avatar
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    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    For me, "soapy" means "smells like Le Labo Musc 25".

  3. #3

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    To me it means Mugler cologne. From what I understand it's the scent he created that reminded him of a soap from his childhood. When most people smell it they too would be reminded of a fresh bar of soap.
    Trying to make the world a better place, one sniff at a time

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    neal's Avatar
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    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    From my limited knowledge it seems that Neroli in conjunction with something or two else is a component of 'soapy'. Perhaps others can jump in.

  5. #5

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    From a non-expert viewpoint like mine, soapy means to me a range, an accord, a variation of not just clean-smelling, but also crisp, slightly cooling, even slightly pungent (but not in an unpleasant, rather in a fresh, antiseptic way), but also rather creamy, mild notes. Now, it's difficult to say which actual fragrance notes contribute exactly to a soapy smell, but I often get soapy sensations, among other ingredients, from citrus, from green herbal notes, from cedarwood, even certain types of musk, from discreet, unobtrusive florals, from notes suggesting almonds or aloe (even if not containing these two ingredients, but smelling similar to them), from vetiver and from several fruity notes.
    Currently wearing: Zara Man Cedarwood by Zara

  6. #6
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    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Also from non-expert view point: I am pretty sure we'll all interpret soapy in our own way - the way we associate to it. However there are a few scents, that a majority of people collectively identify as having soapy aspects. Try smelling CK Be and Paco Rabanne Pour Homme.
    Currently wearing: Chergui by Serge Lutens

  7. #7

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Soapy = castile soap

  8. #8
    foetidus's Avatar
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    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    The "soapy" smell is produced by the reaction of oils or fats when mixed with an alkaline solution - usually lye. In other words, "soapy" smell like soap - which in today's world is a smell not encountered as much as in the past. Many soaps have been replaced by synthetics (detergents) and both have had substances added to them to produce other smells like citrus or pine or hundreds of other smells.

    But the basic soap has a particular aroma that can be experienced in a continuum from wonderfully refined to disagreeable, depending on the ratio of lye to fats and on the degree of contaminents present in the substances.

    In the US I think the touchstone of the basic soap smell is Ivory bar soap... 99.44/100% pure as the advertisements used to read. I'm sure there is a similar product in Europe which you could test. Look for genuine soap products with no added aromatics and you will smell what most reviewers refer to as "soapy." For a stronger, less pleasant soapy smell find a bar of brown lye laundry soap and smell it... same smell but with a stronger lye presence.

    In fragrances, the "soapy" smell is produced by combinations of notes that smell like soap. With the predominent use of synthetics in fragrances nowdays, it's hard to say exactly what combination of notes create the soapy aroma. The pyramids provided don't seem to mention the soapy smell, but it is present in many fragrances.
    Last edited by foetidus; 8th January 2010 at 01:32 PM.

  9. #9

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Thank you foetidus, that is everything I wanted to say but better!

    i make my own soaps as well
    You can check out my fragrances at www.garnerjames.com
    While I work on the website, you can email me for any inquiries at james@garnerjames.com

  10. #10
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    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Foetidus pretty much nailed it.

    I think it's a bit of you'll know it when you wear a fragrance that's "soapy." There are some frags widely reviewed as "soapy," but I don't think it can be clinically pinned via the notes. It's how it tends to react on people.

    For me, Malle's Noir Epices is a bit soapy. But in a really strong, pleasant and powerful way.
    Currently wearing: Royal Oud by Creed

  11. #11

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    I get Prada Amber ph as a soapy scent
    Last edited by Maz24; 8th January 2010 at 03:11 PM.

  12. #12

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Some more examples of soapy fragrances would be helpful. To reiterate a bit of what Foetidus wrote, soapy doesn't mean the smell of a bar of Dove or the smell of sparkling aldehydes and synthetic musks, it's the caustic, alkaloid smell of lye. It's an accord that hasn't been in fashion for a very long time and mostly occurs in old school men's fragrances.
    I'll name one, Creed's Vintage Tabarome, the smell of saddle soap.
    Last edited by Kevin Guyer; 8th January 2010 at 04:14 PM.

  13. #13
    Pollux
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    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ruggles View Post
    ... It's an accord that hasn't been in fashion for a very long time and mostly occurs in old school men's fragrances.
    I'll name one, Creed's Vintage Tabarome, the smell of saddle soap.
    My wife describes YSL's Rive Gauche drydown as soapy, which I don't: IMO, it is akin to classic floral-scented soaps sharing accords with talcum powder. Can it be that people get confused between the smell of "oils and fat with alkaline solutions - usually lye" (Foetidus) with floral essences added to them?

  14. #14

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Yes, I think a soapy smell is often confused with what is actually a powdery smell. Soaps often are scented with powdery accords. Baby powder is often scented with benzoin, there was a thread about this last week, and I think people often confuse the two. Leather scents are actually mimicking the smell of the tanning chemicals, which are very alkaline, and not the smell of leather itself. It's all very confusing.

  15. #15

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Soap itself has almost no discernable scent. There may be some slight smell from residual fat that was not saponified. For example, castile soap may smell faintly of olive oil. However, that slight smell is not what most people refer to when they describe a scent as "soapy."

    The fragrance that people come to associate with soap is whatever artificial fragrance was added to whatever soap they habitually use. Fragrancing soap is actually a rather modern phenomenon (since the Industrial Revolution moved soap-making from a household chore to a large-scale production). The first fragranced soap that I am aware of is Cashmere Bouquet from the late 1800s. Ivory smells as it does because of a combination of lemongrass and carnation, I believe. Other soap formulas contains aldehydes and musks. These are some of the notes that many people describe as soapy.

  16. #16

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Soapy is what I'd call the entry point into the mid-phase progression of Guerlain's Vol de Nuit caused by the amalgamation of the green notes into the decadent vanilla and Iris.


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  17. #17

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Quote Originally Posted by foetidus View Post
    The "soapy" smell is produced by the reaction of oils or fats when mixed with an alkaline solution - usually lye. In other words, "soapy" smell like soap - which in today's world is a smell not encountered as much as in the past. Many soaps have been replaced by synthetics (detergents) and both have had substances added to them to produce other smells like citrus or pine or hundreds of other smells.

    But the basic soap has a particular aroma that can be experienced in a continuum from wonderfully refined to disagreeable, depending on the ratio of lye to fats and on the degree of contaminents present in the substances.

    In the US I think the touchstone of the basic soap smell is Ivory bar soap... 99.44/100% pure as the advertisements used to read. I'm sure there is a similar product in Europe which you could test. Look for genuine soap products with no added aromatics and you will smell what most reviewers refer to as "soapy." For a stronger, less pleasant soapy smell find a bar of brown lye laundry soap and smell it... same smell but with a stronger lye presence.

    In fragrances, the "soapy" smell is produced by combinations of notes that smell like soap. With the predominent use of synthetics in fragrances nowdays, it's hard to say exactly what combination of notes create the soapy aroma. The pyramids provided don't seem to mention the soapy smell, but it is present in many fragrances.
    Thanks very much indeed for this, and for everyone else's responses. As expected, the answer to the question isn't all that simple. What you write about lye is interesting, because even though we could take ten different, commercially-available varieties of soap, and even though we could tell them apart in terms of their ostensible fragrance (ie, lemon or mint or tea etc) we would probably be able to smell something - some sort of soapiness - that they all had in common. Perhaps that's the combination of fats with lye?
    ---
    Please visit www.dariushalavi.com.
    Many thanks.

  18. #18

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    What a great post this is. Keep it coming please, I love Soapy frags

  19. #19

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Interesting! Purely subjective but the couple of Prada scents I have tried (in passing, I don't own them) I would say have a 'reassuring' soapy undercurrent. Creed's Original Vetiver has a touch of the same quality, and altho it's more 'barbershop' and has an almond feel, Profumum Antico Caruso fits in there too.

  20. #20

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    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    A 'soapy' thread pops up here every now and then, but this is probably the first attempt to analyze what 'soapiness' really means. Crude soap made of animal fat has a characteristic smell, that is true. Castile soap, yes. But I would say that what we perceive as 'soap' is mostly based on our olfactory memories of what we were washed with as kids. Blame it on the Iron Curtain, the Great Wall or any other physical/cultural barrier, but people from different societies, and from different generations will have different ideas about their soap! I personally find Vintage Tabarome (and even Amouage Gold Men) more 'soapy' than, say, Mugler Cologne and Prada IdH.

  21. #21

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Quote Originally Posted by fjord View Post
    But I would say that what we perceive as 'soap' is mostly based on our olfactory memories of what we were washed with as kids.
    There ya go, that's what I wanted to say. While I'm sure that the original (TM) soap smell is the lye mentioned above, I'm confident that's not what I perceive as being soapy. In my experience, soaps are lightly scented with roses, lily of the valley and/or orange blossom OR they have that vaguely plasticky scent of allergen-free products.
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  22. #22
    ausamamira's Avatar
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    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken_Russell View Post
    From a non-expert viewpoint like mine, soapy means to me a range, an accord, a variation of not just clean-smelling, but also crisp, slightly cooling, even slightly pungent (but not in an unpleasant, rather in a fresh, antiseptic way), but also rather creamy, mild notes. Now, it's difficult to say which actual fragrance notes contribute exactly to a soapy smell, but I often get soapy sensations, among other ingredients, from citrus, from green herbal notes, from cedarwood, even certain types of musk, from discreet, unobtrusive florals, from notes suggesting almonds or aloe (even if not containing these two ingredients, but smelling similar to them), from vetiver and from several fruity notes.
    if i were asked what "Soapy" means to me i would have answered the same as Ken_Russell

  23. #23

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    I find this topic most interesting. I tend to like "soapy" fragrances, but actually "soapy" isn't really a scent listed on the fragrance wheel. Have any of you ever smelled unscented soap? The scent from an unscented mostly comes from the type of fat/oil used to make it. My grandmother, a no nonsense farmer, used to make her soap (unscented) from bacon fat. It had a most unpleasant scent to me and unfortunately, the bar of soap laster forever! An unscented olive oil based soap has a very mild scent. What we end up calling "soapy" is based on the fragrance-filled soap and shower products we use today. It's almost impossible to find a soap that does not have a fragrance added. So it's really that fragrance, whether rose, sandlewood, etc, that is referred to as "soapy," not the soap itself. Still, it's in our lexicon and I'll keep using the word too. I wonder if perfumers use it? As a side note, but applicable to this topic, the following story illustrates what I am talking about. The ancient Romans thought that the Germanic tribes stank. It wasn't based on their bathing habits, but that the Romans were used to olive oil based soap and the Germans used bear oil based soaps. I'm sure the German bear oil soap had a much stronger scent (based on my experience of the pig fat soap of my youth), than the olive oil soap of the Romans. Or to put it another way, the Germans were wearing an evening scent and the Romans a day scent!

  24. #24

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maz24 View Post
    I get Prada Amber ph as a soapy scent
    I second that. Morabito's Or Noir also features an interesting soapy side in the drydown.
    Currently wearing: Ébène by Pierre Balmain

  25. #25

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    i've always wondered WTF this meant.

  26. #26

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Original vetiver, it smells kind of like soap suds or something, it has a relation to the smell of fresh soap, the clean out of the shower smell.

  27. #27

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    Anything that conjures up and existing or potentially existing bar of soap. A lot of frags have an accord which reminds me of the old "Zest" bar (which wasn't bad). I just feel cheated if the cologne smells like soap since it's pretty obvious that the fragrance oil can be made pretty cheaply, yet they mix it with alcohol, put it in a fancy bottle, give it a French name, then retail it for megabucks. I stubbornly refuse to knowingly be suckered into the whole soap fragrance thing.

  28. #28

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    really good post on the subject...

    http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.com/20...st-matter.html

  29. #29

    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    I rarely tend to find soapy notes in fragrances, even in frags where others say it is all they can smell. The note in Mugler's cologne which I assume others refer to as "soap," for example, smells more like a burning unscented candle to me.

    When I do think fragrances are soapy, it seems to be more that they remind me of the texture of soap than a specific scent. Such as in Paco Rabanne pour homme.

  30. #30
    DULLAH's Avatar
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    Default Re: What do we mean when we say 'soapy'?

    I always try to describe the type of soap:

    for instance:
    Roger & Gallet's Open smells like dial gold and shaving soap mixed.
    Orange Spice like milled Neroli barsoap being lathered in a freshly bleached bathroom.
    Dominguez Vetiver & Colonia Essenza smell like green Ayurvedic barsoap.
    Lagerfeld Photo smells like strong white barsoap
    and so on




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