What is an “aficionado fragrance” ?

On another blog this notion was ridiculed, and of course everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. What I’ve found is that there is at least some truth value to any statement that is not clearly ridiculous on its surface, and so here I’d like to discuss some ways that this notion might be useful to a lot of people. One thing that should be obvious is that there are more than a few people who take commercially-available scents seriously and who can appreciate the differences between ‘drug store” fare and the latest Lutens. You can call them “snobs” if you like, but if you question the concept of aficionado in here, the only conclusion I can draw is that you just don’t accept the concept of aficionado in any context. If you disagree, please leave a comment and explain why a wine aficionado (or any other that is often mentioned) is any different.

With that out of the way, we can then address what I consider the key question, which is that assuming the scent is not “drug store dreck,” is there at least one way of distinguishing scents so that some get classified as more likely to be of interest to the aficionado? I can only speak for my own experiences here, and I welcome polite comments if you feel that you have another way of thinking about this notion. This brings me to an earlier post of mine, the one in which I put forth the idea of a new classification for these items. “Scent” would be used to describe a commercially-available olfactory concoction that is meant to be more than the smell of something known, such as green apples. “Perfumes” would be scents that are mainly designed to impress others. “Personal fragrances” (or fragrances, for short) are mainly for those who wear scents for their own edification, and thus “aficionado fragrance” would be apt in the context of this post.

Thus, one could argue that there are “aficionado perfumes” and “aficionado fragrances.” I am not interested in aficionado perfume, and I again ask readers to chime in her with their ideas on this subject. For a scent to be an aficionado fragrance, to me it first must be wearable for several hours. I have seen some “experts,” such as Chandler Burr, spray his body all over with different scents, then smell them up close on the skin. From what I saw (in a BBC documentary, he sprayed each arm with at least two different scents then began spraying his legs. I have no issue with this and in fact often spray on the lower leg to do a “skin sampling.” If I didn’t do this I would have to wear the scent normally (one or two sprays to the chest), and because I dislike quite a few upon first wearing, this would turn my “hobby” into an unpleasant chore.

If the scent passes the lower leg, skin sampling, I do a normal wearing. Interestingly, I’ve found that the sweet/ambery aspects of a scent often seem stronger with the leg sampling, so I have to keep that in mind (and not dismiss the scent as too sweet, if it seems that way). Chandler Burr, however, seems to be more interested in top notes and how the scent smells close up to the skin for a short period of time. Therefore, we can say that some who consider themselves aficionados may not be interested in how the scent smells five or more hours later, and if that’s the case then you may not have much use for the rest of this post, because I focus on the drydown, or how the scent smells after it “settles in.” I am generally not as interested in scents that change significantly after an hour or so of the opening, but here again there may be those who are mostly interested in ones that change at least twice after the first twenty minutes or so.

I’ve come to think of scents with “sharp edges” or “spikes” to be “perfumes.” I can spray these on the back of my coat if I want others to smell it but if it’s sharp, harsh, or terribly unbalanced in the drydown, I don’t’ consider it for the fragrance aficionado, except of course if used for social effects. One thing that often makes a scent feel harsh is a lack of naturalness. Cheap citrus notes can smell metallic (and sharp), for example. Drug store dreck scents are especially likely to suffer in this context, and from what I’ve experienced (which is limited here), recent ones often have a strong “laundry musk” quality, which strikes me as both “unnatural” as well as unbalanced. Thus, very expensive and very cheap scents may both share this same quality, which could confuse the newbie.

A while back I wrote up a blog post about the various elements of a scent, which are balance, dynamism, naturalness, depth, richness, note separation, and technical soundness (that is, at least good longevity and projection). Of course, when you get to the drydown, oriental scents tend to be richer than traditional eau de cologne ones, even they are of lower quality in every way. On the other hand, orientals and gourmands tend to have drydowns with less note separation than other types. For the most part, IMO of course, a scent is to be taken seriously if all of these elements are present to a reasonable degree. One example where this is not the case is Burberry’s Sport Ice for Men. And let me make clear that I do like this scent; it undeniably smells pleasant and has uniqueness, which most scents do not, even great vintage ones.

The problem is that it lacks depth and feels “two dimensional.” Think of a famous portrait by Rembrandt as you see it in person in a museum, and then as a poster of that painting (both the same size, let’s say). Now it may be that I can get some depth from it by spraying on cloth or by layering with another scent (another idea is spraying into the air then walking through it), but as I usually wear scents, with one or two sprays to the chest, its lack of depth is so obvious that it’s distracting. Thus, an aficionado may want to have this scent in his rotation (as I do), but it cannot be called an aficionado scent. The makers simply didn’t care to provide it with something essential, though I can’t say if they did this on purpose (I doubt it). Whatever the case, there is an important distinction to be made here between aficionado scents and ones “for the masses,” but I suggest that you never let anyone else tell you what you are smelling, and that includes me. There’s no substitute for your own experience; I’m just providing one way of thinking about your olfactory encounters. I can only hope that these posts helpful to some readers. Note that in contrast to Sport Ice, I consider Acqua di Gio to be an aficionado scent because it has no flaws; however, to some people, if a designer scent becomes too popular it can not be considered an aficionado scent.

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