There are quite a few fragrance blogs now that include reviews, often of new or popular ones. Lately, I’ve been posting my reviews at fragrantica.com (my username there is Bigsly). One reason is that it’s easy to edit them (basenotes.net gives you limited edits and it can take many days for the initial review or edits to appear, at least as a “basic” member). However, I also like a couple of other features they have (take a look for yourself and see what you think; I’m not affiliated with them so don’t complain to me if you don’t like something there LOL). I think it’s important to think about fragrances if you want to understand them better, and writing a review is helpful, even if you later decide that you no longer think it is accurate.
Back to the issue. I don’t get samples from fragrance companies (some bloggers get full bottles, apparently), but the main reason is that I want to wear fragrances that I enjoy most of the time. And I am still trying to understand why I enjoy those fragrances and not others. Moreover, I sometimes change my mind about a fragrance, and then I add an update to my fragrantica review. But again, the obvious question is, why do I change my mind? What I’ll try to explain in this post is how I think about a fragrance while I’m reviewing it. Hopefully, it will supply you with some ideas that you may not have considered and that may be helpful.
My first sampling is usually one spray above the ankle (I usually wear crew socks, and try not to get it on the sock directly). I blow on the area a few times, trying not to breathe in the top notes, which usually means getting a mild version of what the perfumer intended. I then wait a few minutes and use one of my hands to waft the scent up to my nose. The idea here is to create an effect similar to walking past someone who recently sprayed themselves with it. At this point, I start to think about the notes that are present. I like to look at note pyramids, but sometimes they are not available, and of course even if one is, it may not be accurate, in my opinion.
I also ask myself about the general idea behind the fragrance. Let’s take an example. I recently used my technique with a sample of Caron Pour Un Homme (it’s a new bottle, not vintage). The first wafting resulted in the perception of an “off” note, “synthetic”‘ buy not “chemical” (as I often find with recent fragrances, especially aquatic ones). My perception here is lavender, something vanillic, and something quite sweet (not exactly a great accomplishment, considering how simple this fragrance is). In perhaps half an hour, I don’t sense it strongly, if at all. The fragrance has “come together” enough for me to get a sense of what the drydown will be like, though of course with some fragrances there is further development.
What I find interesting about the fragrance at this point is the kind of “creamy” quality that is achieved. The notes blend together very well, and it becomes something like a lavender-tinted cupcake or candy. This should be a safe “blind buy,” one might think. I you don’t mind sweet fragrances and you like the idea of a lavender and vanillic blend, how could you go wrong (assuming you give it time to get to the drydown)? One thing some “newbies” do is to smell the fragrance up close on the skin. This is a good technique for fragrances with many notes (because it can help with note identification), especially if it is not strong, but can lead to nausea (at for me) with fragrances like Caron Pour Un Homme. This fragrance is too sweet and lacking in complexity for me, but if it were more interesting, I’d likely try diluting it with vodka to see if that would help.
Not only does vodka or perfumer’s alcohol allow one to weaken a fragrance, but better note separation might result as well. I really should try this with CPUH, just to see if it will work with it. I have tried this with Kouros and One Man Show. It allows me to wear these fragrances, whereas otherwise I find them overwhelming. Another idea is to spray in the air in front of you, then walk through the mist (with your eyes closed). While it might save a little money, I prefer not to do this (which is why I’ve only done in twice, though I’m also considering it with Sung Homme), mainly because I don’t want to experiment with trying to get the dilution correct. Anyway, as time goes by with CPUH, my impression is that it is getting weaker but not changing much.
With more complex fragrances, I try to determine which notes or accords are dominant and what kind of development occurs. If it comes across as “synthetic,” “off,” or “chemical,” I’ll try to figure out why that might be the case. And I ask myself questions, such as is this musky enough to be noteworthy, is this dry enough to be noteworthy, is this sweet enough to be noteworthy. etc.? I try to be highly critical of all fragrances, from “drugstore” to “niche,” no matter who the perfumer is (or if the person is anonymous). I find that it’s easy to “scale it back,” but if you’re not very critical to begin with, you’re more likely to miss something important. I don’t “get personal,” and I try not to make jokes, because almost everyone reading my reviews is likely seeking a “just the facts, ma’am” (from “Dragnet,” if you’re not familiar with that line) kind of review.
One thing that I didn’t perceive at all as a “newbie” is what I call the “blob factor.” With some fragrances, the notes seem to become a mass or blob. The function like one huge accord, and I generally find this very unpleasant. I think Luca Turin said (in his and Sanchez’ “Guide” book) that “luxury” fragrances had a diffuse, “soft focus” quality (and that high-quality ingredients are required to be sure it’s done well). I think of it as a particulate quality, meaning that the fragrance seems like a bunch of tiny particles are floating around in the air. Blob fragrances have the opposite quality.
For me, CPUH is not a total blob, but it does have some of this quality to me. I think this quality is exacerbated if you sit in one spot for a long time and let the fragrance waft up naturally, after spraying to the chest (as I often do). Some may dislike a fragrance due to this quality, even if they don’t realize it (as I didn’t at one time). Over time, CPUH develops an animalic quality, and finally comes a floral/woody accord I dislike (because it just doesn’t smell “natural” to me; I’ve come across the same accord a few times before), though the vanillic/lavender persists to the end. It seems very “old,” and more of a unisex fragrance. If the ingredient quality were higher, perhaps I’d like it, but I think the major problem for me is its “blob”-like quality.
I like to wear a fragrance “normally” (one or two sprays to the chest) at least once before writing a review. Sometimes I think I might just not be well acquainted with one or more notes, and that I have to give myself time to “digest” them, so in those cases I want to wear the fragrance a few times over the course of several weeks (or longer). It’s also important not to “force the fragrance,” meaning that you should not think about the fragrance for a while, and your mind may then get it’s act together, so to speak. I noticed that after learning the major notes, it took about twenty minutes after I applied one to realize what fragrance it most closely resemble (now it’s usually much quicker). Sometimes you’ll run into a “tricky” fragrance, such as one I recently sampled (I think it was a men’s fragrance called Best, by Lomani). This one started out very similar to Pino Silvestre but then dried down to something very similar to Cool Water.