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Thread: Detecting Notes

  1. #1

    Default Detecting Notes

    Again, apologies if this is another silly question but is there a knack to picking up the different notes in a fragrance?

    As an example, I'm wearing a sample of Oud Saphir from Atelier Cologne that I really like this evening. I checked out the review on here and although I can definitely pick out a leather scent, getting sweeter the longer it's on my skin, I wouldn't even know where to start in detecting some of the notes people were mentioning.

    Does this come with time and experience?

    The nearest thing I can think to compare it to is wine, which I also really enjoy but there's always that awkward moment of reading the label where it talks about notes of black olive and cassis when you're thinking 'all I can taste is blackberry!'

    I'm really keen to be able to pick out some of the key notes and understand the process from initial top note to drydown.

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazzle77 View Post
    Again, apologies if this is another silly question but is there a knack to picking up the different notes in a fragrance?
    If there is, I haven't found it yet.
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    Mean spirited, nasty, snide, sarcastic, hateful, and rude individuals on Basenotes don't warrant or deserve my or other Basenoters' acknowledgement or respect.

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazzle77 View Post
    Does this come with time and experience?
    I would say yes - though some people do not develop the ability to distinguish individual notes, and that's fine, too. It's like being able to glory in a symphony, without necessarily identifying each instrument's contribution.

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Experience will help in identifying the main two or three materials in a perfume. But it's really difficult to detect more than that. Perfumes are mostly combinations of dozens of ingredients, few of which stand out. One can often identify the combined effect, not its components. That is, one could identify the style of a perfume (eg say fougere, spicy oriental, woody, etc) not the fact that it contains a,b,c,d.

    Also remember that the notes brands mention in perfume descriptions are mostly advertising. That is, half of them are pure fantasy, or simply synthetics which brands associate to natural materials that sound intriguing.

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    I've been meaning to do the following: pick up a collection of commonly used absolutes, and train my nose with them. I could do the same with popular aromachems. Short of such an exercise, I don't see how one would learn fragrance notes other than over a long period of smelling fragrances more casually. We can't all go study in Grasse…

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by PStoller View Post
    I've been meaning to do the following: pick up a collection of commonly used absolutes, and train my nose with them. I could do the same with popular aromachems.
    Over the years I've talked myself into doing just that many times, and then talked myself out of it. The reason? Some of the best note-identifiers that I know, who learned by that method, have confessed that they sometimes regret doing it, because it prevented them from having that "total immersion" experience that you get if you're not picking out individual notes.

    As Bonnette says...

    Quote Originally Posted by Bonnette View Post
    some people do not develop the ability to distinguish individual notes, and that's fine, too. It's like being able to glory in a symphony, without necessarily identifying each instrument's contribution.
    ...and I like that symphonic experience, the total immersion that lets your brain paint a picture of what the scent evokes for you.

    I can't tell cyclamen from hyacinth, or pick styrax out of a resinous perfume, but I don't care. And I don't think I enjoy perfume any less than a person who can.

    Both methods of perfume enjoyment are completely and totally legitimate.

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by PStoller View Post
    I've been meaning to do the following: pick up a collection of commonly used absolutes, and train my nose with them. I could do the same with popular aromachems. Short of such an exercise, I don't see how one would learn fragrance notes other than over a long period of smelling fragrances more casually. We can't all go study in Grasse…
    Quote Originally Posted by Cook.bot View Post
    Over the years I've talked myself into doing just that many times, and then talked myself out of it. The reason? Some of the best note-identifiers that I know, who learned by that method, have confessed that they sometimes regret doing it, because it prevented them from having that "total immersion" experience that you get if you're not picking out individual notes.

    As Bonnette says...
    Quote Originally Posted by Bonnette View Post
    I would say yes - though some people do not develop the ability to distinguish individual notes, and that's fine, too. It's like being able to glory in a symphony, without necessarily identifying each instrument's contribution.
    ...and I like that symphonic experience, the total immersion that lets your brain paint a picture of what the scent evokes for you.

    I can't tell cyclamen from hyacinth, or pick styrax out of a resinous perfume, but I don't care. And I don't think I enjoy perfume any less than a person who can.

    Both methods of perfume enjoyment are completely and totally legitimate.
    Sure. I enjoy music as relatively educated listener, but it's not a "better" or more legitimate experience than that of a technically nave listener—just different. It does sometimes take me out of the pure emotional experience of music, but only with music I don't enjoy that much, anyway. When I love it, I just love it. When I don't, I analyze why. I go back to analyze music I love if I want to learn from it.

    Conversely, you would no doubt be able to pick out ingredients in a prepared meal at which I could scarcely guess. Not knowing doesn't ruin a meal for me. Does knowing ruin it for you?

    In the case of perfumery, I have two interests that prompt a desire to study. The first is, when I enjoy something, it always makes me want to know more. The second is that I want to be able to share my smelling notes, to which end it would behoove me to expand my functioning objective vocabulary. I don't think I would ever start practicing perfumery myself, but if I run out of other things to do…

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    An art that I am still learning after years of practice.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    That's all reassuring feedback - thanks everyone! I can tell the difference between the different styles, definitely so I'll see where I go from here!

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazzle77 View Post
    Again, apologies if this is another silly question but is there a knack to picking up the different notes in a fragrance?
    Don't apologise! This is the correct forum board for asking what you or anyone may consider to be a 'silly question'. Be welcome and ask away! Everyone else does

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazzle77 View Post
    Does this come with time and experience?
    [...]
    I'm really keen to be able to pick out some of the key notes and understand the process from initial top note to drydown.
    Yes, the more different notes you experience repeatedly, the more your nose will get 'used to' them and be able to detect them in other perfumes.

    Do bear in mind though that 'notes' are the effect or accord that various ingredients in the perfume are making your nose perceive. Over time, you will start to pick out individual ingredients or chemical molecules as well.

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    One thing that helped me in this area, was to research perfumes I liked and learn which notes were consistently mentioned as dominant - then I would focus on recognizing those, without paying attention initially to notes that were not consistently listed. It was most helpful if the dominant notes were ones I already appreciated in nature, like honeysuckle, lilac, hyacinth, gardenia, jasmine, orange blossom, pollen-laden iris - or in the environment generally, like oil and gasoline mingling in the dirt floor of my grandfather's garage, leather, the way the air smells hours before rain or snow. Start from the center and work outward. It's a fun and rewarding exercise that never loses its appeal, whether or not it leads to perfumer-level awareness.

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Interesting thread! Thanks for posting the question, Hazzle77. I think it may all depend on what you hope to achieve.

    Published perfume “notes” often do not resemble anything in nature or ordinary life. In contemporary perfume marketing, notes are released to provide emotional references or tantalizing hints as to what a perfume might offer. The notes are meant to tell a story, one that you can choose to buy into it...or not.

    For example, an ad for a perfume with a “poppy” note may show teenagers gamboling in a field of summer poppies or a junkie slumped in a chair. Since poppy flowers do not have a smell, the “poppy” note can be anything that the perfumer dreamed up.

    Note descriptions also reflect conventional associations between perfume ingredients and certain smells. Isobutyl quinoline, for example, is often associated with “leather” notes. Does it smell any kind of leather that I have ever encountered in my real life? Nope. Aldehyde C-14 (which isn’t an aldehyde, even) is classically associated with a “peachy” note. It really doesn’t smell like peaches at all. Over time, one learns to recognize some perfume ingredients and the “notes” they are supposed to evoke. I think it’s fun to get samples of both natural and synthetic ingredients to explore this aspect of perfumery, but I don’t think it’s essential. I’m not trying to become a perfumer.

    With vintage perfumes, the situation is even more complicated. Notes were not published in vintage perfume ads or in vintage marketing copy. The note lists for vintage perfumes that one finds here on Basenotes or Fragrantica have been reconstructed by a few perfume writers, and they are sometimes of questionable accuracy. Also, many classic perfumes have been so dramatically reformulated that the currently published note lists will often tell you absolutely nothing useful about the original perfume.

    In my opinion, the circular logic of trying to “pick out” every note in a published note list does not lead to many insights. It is interesting to see how often fragrance reviewers will describe their remarkable discovery of each and every published note, often in the exact same sequence as the approved list.

    So what do I suggest? Trust your own nose and your own experience of the perfume—100% of the time. If you are inclined to write it down, take notes on what the perfume smells like to YOU, avoiding generalities and with as many specific references as you can come up with to real things and scent memories. Over time, you will gain a better understanding of your own tastes and perfumery in general. And if you should to choose to share your observations, I would love to read them!
    Currently wearing: la Nuit by Serge Lutens

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazzle77 View Post
    Does this come with time and experience?
    I would think so.

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by grayspoole View Post
    For example, an ad for a perfume with a poppy note may show teenagers gamboling in a field of summer poppies or a junkie slumped in a chair. Since poppy flowers do not have a smell, the poppy note can be anything that the perfumer dreamed up.
    Case in point:

    page_48 2.jpg

  15. #15

    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Some really interesting answers and all make a lot of sense, so thanks for taking the time all of you. It's actually really nice to see the way that people interact on these forums. A world away from social media etc. Just a really pleasant experience to read about something so interesting and very much appreciated during the current madness of lockdown and all it brings!

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by grayspoole View Post
    It is interesting to see how often fragrance reviewers will describe their remarkable discovery of each and every published note, often in the exact same sequence as the approved list.
    This is so reassuring to read, honestly - I'm new to fragrance too and started to think my nose didn't work properly.

    Identifying different flowers has me completely lost - how do all these people know what gardenia or iris or narcissus smell like? I've smelled two different "iris" perfumes that I can't identify a single common note between the two! I'm hoping I get better at this as I go.

    Thanks for starting this thread, Hazzle77! I'm hoping to learn more too.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    In the designer world, notes are in the 90% product of the marketing/PR teams who are trying to fit the little information about the scent they got from the producer to the marketing brief they have in their minds. It often results in listed notes that are completely off.

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    Default Re: Detecting Notes

    Trying, reading and comparing fragrances works very well. Buying a collection of absolutes or “common notes” used can also help a lot. Even this way sometimes you’ll get impressed by noticing a note not listed.
    I dont understand.It is so vast that surpasses all understanding.Understanding is always limited.But not understanding can have no boundaries.I feel like I'm much more complete when I don't understand.Not understanding,like I say,is a gift.Not understanding,but not as a simple-minded.The good thing is to be intelligent and not understand.It's a strange blessing, like having craziness without being crazy.It is a meek disinterest,it is a stupid sweetness.
    Currently wearing: Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford




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