Perfumes versus personal fragrances, drydown versus base, etc.

I thought it might be a reasonable idea to put forth a new classification framework. When speaking of these concoctions, people describe them as perfumes, colognes, scents, fragrances, or personal fragrances (at minimum). I don’t want to delve into how this situation developed but instead propose the following: scents should be the most general term, and should refer to the smell itself. Perfume should refer to a scent that is worn for the sake of others (such as to impress others), whereas fragrance (or personal fragrance) should refer to a scent a person wears for their own enjoyment. Cologne should be used for a specific kind of scent, as fougere, chypre, gourmand, and oriental are.

When a reviewer states that he or she does not like a scent, therefore, it would always be in the context of a perfume or fragrance (possibly both, if the person makes it clear). I for one do not care how others perceive the scent I am wearing, but I do wear more perfume type fragrances when I know that I will be in close proximity with people on a particular day. These are still fragrances because I wear them for myself, but my thought is that I might as well wear more common fragrances under those circumstances. The main point here is that if a reviewer doesn’t tell us why he or she is wearing any scent at all, it’s unclear if that person’s review is of use to me. This seems to be especially true for those who claim they are aficionados (implicitly or explicitly) yet also tell us that they possess small wardrobes (less than a dozen or so). As a personal fragrance person, that would come to bore me within a month’s time.

There is also some ambiguity about terms/phrases such as top notes, opening, base notes, drydown. While some fragrance do have three or more distinct phases of development, many do not of course. These days, the most you usually get is a few minutes of top notes, an hour or two of middle notes (or drydown), and then some light base notes. I prefer to think of an opening that lasts an hour or so because I try to avoid most of the top notes. Generally speaking, I find top notes to be unpleasant, most likely due to their strength, so for me I usually perceive at least an hour or two of an “opening.” After that the dominant notes usually recede to some degree and the base notes either dominate or coexist well with the opening. So again, the terminology should reflect how the reviewer is “oriented”‘ towards the fragrance.

You’ll also read that some people can’t imagine that a scent has been reformulated or that if it has it has been so well done that there is no need to think about it. This too seems to be related to that person’s orientation. Those who wear perfumes and focus on top notes may not mind at all, or even detect any difference. Those, like me, who are seeking a very specific experience for ourselves over the course of several hours are more likely to detect differences. The “take home message” for reviewers is to be as specific as possible. And that brings me to my last point, how is the fragrance being applied.

Some seem to think that five sprays is a “light application,” even for scents like Kouros. I usually use one spray, to the chest, though for a few I like two sprays. For Kouros, I would spray in front of me and then walk through the mist, or I would dilute it with vodka (perfumer’s alcohol is fine, if you have it). I’ve found that some fragrances are just too light, and so two sprays may be too little, but that is true for only a small percentage of the fragrances I own. Again, it would be best if the reviewer mentioned this. I have often said in my Fragrantica.com reviews that I did an initial “dab sampling” only, for example.

I do such dab samplings usually because I already applied another fragrance (such as when I get one in the mail, later in the day) or if I have a feeling I may not like it. This is often done just above the ankle, so that I can then use my hand to waft the scent to my nose, but otherwise not have to deal with it (because I sprayed a different scent to the chest). I check on it every so often to see how it is developing, if it does at all. In some reviews I’ve said that I will have to try it again and apply more, if I think it’s a weak scent. By contrast, many reviewers don’t tell us any of these things and only sample the fragrance one time. We don’t know if they are thinking in terms of perfumes or fragrances or if they focus on top notes or something else, and this sometimes makes things very confusing. I’m not going to assume anyone is going to change any time soon, but I thought I would at least point these things out and hope for the best.

Additional note: I have often mentioned “skin chemistry” in my reviews; this is yet another thing that can be quite important, depending upon the fragrance, and that reviewers should mention.

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Filed under Criticizing the critics.

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