How I overcame olfactory fatigue and learned to appreciate vintage fragrances.

Since about two years ago, I have come to appreciate what vintage has to offer, especially the complex “men’s” fragrances of the late 70s to early 90s period.  Before that, I wasn’t really able to tell the difference between the recent “synthetic” stuff and what I now consider the great vintage fragrances.  In some cases, a fragrance would cause terrible olfactory fatigue.  I liked the opening, but then couldn’t really smell much of anything after ten or twenty minutes.  At some point, I tried avoiding the top notes as much as possible and blowing on the area I sprayed to make it dry more quickly (breathe through your mouth if you must!).  And then I began to “get it.”

Now, it’s usually the case that there are no “middle notes” for me, or they last so long (and the base is so weak) and blended with the base notes, that the fragrance is just opening and drydown.  Reformulated openings, I’ve found, are usually stronger than the vintage, but it’s difficult to tell since I try to avoid the most powerful aspects of the opening.  The drydowns of the reformulated ones are often stronger, as if to keep the wearer’s mind off of what is missing.  Quantity is not missing, especially amber (with or without a strong vanillic quality) or tonka, and sometimes the new “laundry” musk molecules. In many “men’s” fragrances, the lavender note seems to be stronger as well.

What is missing is what I consider “quality.”  This sometimes means a great wood note (s), especially sandalwood.  Instead, in reformulated versions, I’ve often detected a searing, dry cedar note in new fragrances that is very irritating to me.  I’ve never come across anything like that in a vintage fragrance.  I think of “quality” fragrances as having a kind of delicate yet rich, particulate, balanced, and dynamic drydown.  Once you smell this kind of drydown and realize how different it is from anything else, my guess is that you will either think it is the greatest you’ve ever smelled for hours (other scents, such as when you smell flowers, can be great but are basically like top notes) or that it is not special.  Or it may be that when you recognize it, your mind will perceive it as special (otherwise, you wouldn’t have recognized it as unique in the first place).

When I read posts on sites like, in which someone claims that he or she can’t believe there is any difference in a fragrance between the new and reformulated versions, I’m not sure how to respond.  I don’t want to insult that person, because I was that person a few years ago!  I do want to help people appreciate fragrances the way I now can, and perhaps the best way I can do that is to first help them avoid olfactory fatigue, and then they may come to appreciate fragrances the way I do now.  For those who don’t experience olfactory fatigue or (more likely, I think) apply so much that the opening lasts much longer, the reformulated version may indeed be “just as good” or “better.”  To me, this is the key point, and if you experience fragrances this way, you may never notice that the vintage version has a great sandalwood note that one just doesn’t find in fragrances selling at that “price point,” for whatever reason, these days.


1 Comment

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One response to “How I overcame olfactory fatigue and learned to appreciate vintage fragrances.

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