The Importance of Directionality to the Fragrance Aficionado.

The notion of “direction” in the appreciation of these complex olfactory concoctions that interest us so much is something that occurred to me a few years back. I’ll supply an example to give you an idea of this notion, in case you didn’t read my earlier blog post about it. Many scents that feature strong citrus at first feel like they are pointing upward, going right up your nose, so to speak. At least one kind of tobacco note, by contrast, seems to be pointing downward. A recent scientific study found that directionality could be eliminated completely, but at that point the only thing one perceived was a kind of olfactory “white noise:”

They used 86 different odorants diluted to get the same intensity. Then they prepared various mixures containing different components, and offered them to people to smell. When the number of ingredients increased to ~30, people started to lose any difference between mixtures, describing them as totally the same. It’s remarkable that only the number of odorants were the same. Otherwise the odorants were completely different without even one repeating. Individual characteristics of smells are eliminated when we smell many of them at the same time, under the condition of the same intensity.

This passage was taken from an article about this subject and can be found at:

Now comes the obvious question, in what way can this be viewed as important to the aficionado? As I’ve said in at least one other blog post, there seem to be different kinds of fragrance aficionados. Some seek an attention-getting scent, leading them to strong, unique ones, whereas others are interested in their own experience over the course of hours (as I do). This post is meant for the latter kind of person, though others may find useful information here as well. Please leave a comment describing your thoughts about this subject, even if you are a total newbie. The more input the better, is usually my motto !

I’ll also mention that I’m mostly focused on the drydown, not top notes, and on scents that have a drydown that does not change in major ways (as does a scent like Dioressence, for instance, though this one has apparently been through a few radical reformulations and I don’t know which one I sampled). Let’s take another example, the typical “oriental” scent. The drydown of this kind of scent is usually syrupy or powdery. The syrupy quality tends to point it downward, whereas the powdery kind tends to furnish a more dispersed directionality. The entire scent either goes in one direction or it has little directionality. By contrast, many scents marketed to men have strong aromatic quality (herbs and citrus especially), which have upward directionality. These days, fruity florals are popular among young women, apparently, and these seem to stay in the middle of one’s face, perhaps projecting outwards from there a bit.

Now on to more complex scents. These tend to have multifocal directionality. One note or accord may provide an upward sensation whereas another seems to be taking things downward. The interesting thing, to me, is how the overall effect can be very pleasant or quite unpleasant. In Cool Water (Lancaster formulation), it feels like notes are clashing and going off in different directions, and it’s not pleasant at all. The Coty formulation of Cool Water does not have this quality to the same degree and overall I’d describe it as a rather “blah” scent, not aficionado fare. The Lancaster version might indeed be aficionado fare, but not to this aficionado. Green Irish Tweed is often said to be very similar to Cool Water (an opinion I do not share), but in terms of directionality, it keeps things going rather upward, but not as much as many rough/crude “men’s”‘ scent do.

Instead, the powdery iris seems to blunt the upward directionality, leading to a very pleasant experience, though a bit simple in sum. By contrast, a scent like Lapidus Pour Homme (1987, vintage formulation only) goes in at least three different directions, but never goes too far in any direction. It also keeps up this incredible and pleasant dynamism for hours. I’m quite surprised that nobody has mentioned the concept of olfactory directionality before (to my knowledge, of course), because it seems to crucial to scent appreciation. Then again, people have told me that I have a single-minded focus on things that interest me, and I would have to largely agree with them. And let me mention that in no way does this mean I have no ability to appreciate other kinds of scents, because I do like variety.

What led me to write this blog post now is something I read in a thread at in which the original poster claimed that GIT and CW do not smell alike. One person claimed that they do because they have the same “tonality.” When I asked this person what he meant by this word, it sounded very similar to what I mean by directionality:

…the character of a piece as defined by the key it is in. To me, both GIT and CW are played in the same key, if you will.

I don’t doubt that this person has this perception, but my guess is that he is mostly smelling a kind of dihydromyrcenol haze (hence the claim about similar “tonality”). As I learned to detect notes better, my sense of directionality was enhanced, and to me this is why note detection can lead to a richer if not more pleasant olfactory experience. What I would like to say to this person is, how many “masculine” scents have you smelled with a similar amount of dihydromyrcenol in them? Of course, he probably has no idea, but I would be very interested in such an experiment were one ever to be conducted. And it may be the case that most scents (either new releases or reformulations) involve conscious attempts to create a kind of directionless haze that most people think of as “nice,” once the top notes subside. That certainly would explain the Coty formulation of Cool Water (at least to me).


1 Comment

Filed under The basics.

One response to “The Importance of Directionality to the Fragrance Aficionado.

  1. Very interesting post indeed. It made me think of the meaning I give to the word “direction” when it comes to perfume reviews, and I realised I use it as a synonym of “personality.” So, a clear direction, or lack thereof, would mean a definite personality, not necessarily pleasant, but at least clear.

    I hope I’m not making things more confused here, but it seems to me that my concept of direction, yours, and the concept of tonality as described by the BN user, are different but strictly related.

    An example. I’m trying to write a review of Gucci Guilty Pour Homme and PH Black and basically my take is that they lack of a clear direction. That’s my use of the term there, and the reason is that they’re just a haze of spicy clean aromatic notes. At the same time though, their darkness definitely points downward (direction your way), and their tonality is very similar (they’re practically the same, maybe one is a bit more aromatic and the other a bit more spicy), maybe just because they’re so hazy…
    Hope this makes sense

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