The Arc of the Fragrance Aficionado.


First, I’ll point out that I don’t consider many of those who comment about scents online to be connoisseurs, the reason being that I think perfumers and perfume school students have the technical knowledge required for that designation. For me, the aficionado is someone who can speak intelligently about his or her preferences, though the person might be incorrect sometimes about details that only “insiders” know. By contrast, the person who writes a fragrance review saying something like, “People, believe me, the hype is real. You’ve got to get this one or else you’re wearing yesterday’s garbage. I’ve tried a lot of colognes and this one is so much better than anything else it’s just ridiculous. Don’t be fooled by the ones that are said to be clones. There is no equal to this one, and you won’t be sorry about spending more money on it. The compliments just keep coming when you wear it!” is likely not an aficionado.

And this kind of non-review, as I like to call them, reminds me of grading essays written by certain kinds of students. They thought that if they wrote enough and kept things general enough, they would get a passing grade in my classes. In any case, notice the lack of anything resembling useful details, and the claims made can’t be verified even if the criteria disclosed was important to you (in this case it’s mostly about getting compliments). I’ve been through the hobbyist cycle with a few other endeavors, and when I began with scents, I knew it would take a while before I accrued a solid understanding (of major notes in particular), though I had no idea how long. I decided to approach things as a student might (or perhaps an “autodidact” would be more precise), and within a few months I began to identify some notes. What I didn’t realize at the time is that some notes and/or aroma chemicals began “spiking out” to me, for whatever reason, which led to a kind of “chemical sensitivity” issue.

It took at least a couple of years to realize that my sensitivities would change, over and over again, both in terms of specific notes, accords, and aroma chemicals, as well as in terms of overall sensitivity. Because of this, I question how useful anyone’s opinion is to anyone else, or even to that same person at a different point in time! That said, online opinions often seem to be used for “blind buying” purposes, even if that means something like a niche sample rather than a “full size” bottle. And in that context, I look for a scent that has more than a few reviews as well as reviews that seem to possess an apparently helpful claim. One, fr example, is that a scent smells like Armani’s Code for Men. To me that suggests a common accord that has a “laundry musk” quality, to my way of thinking. This has in fact been the case with several scents I “blind bought” and now I generally avoid ones with reviews that contain this claim (because I already have a few scents like this but hardly ever wear them).

Now as to the “arc” mentioned in the title of this post, I suggest thinking of a so-called bell curve. If you are smart enough to realize how ignorant you are as a “newbie,” then you should have a good idea of when your understanding and/or appreciation is near the peak of the curve. But can you then pass that peak and descent quite a bit? To be sure, you wouldn’t descend back to newbie-land, but instead have more of a “been there, smelled that” kind of attitude. And that might be exacerbated by having low general sensitivity at the time. This certainly seems to have been the case for at least some of the people I have called “chronic samplers” in the past. Many wrote up a whole bunch of reviews within a short period of time, often of niche scents (especially ones with “hype”), but after a couple years or so, more than a few were never to be heard from again !

By contrast, when I’ve felt this way, I’ve had a large number of scents to choose from, and for one reason or another I’ve wanted to wear one that day, so unless I have the flu or have some major issue that would prevent me from being able to assess a scent, I still persevere with the hobby. What’s interesting about it is that the aficionado might sometimes have the upper, so to speak hand, so to speak, over the perfumers. That is, the aficionado may have studied a large number of certain kinds of scents, something few perfumers would do, or even have the time to do, since they have to use their noses to “make a living.” I tend to doubt that more than a few would even consider doing this kind of thing, because they’d likely just say that determining which compositions of old scents are similar to each other is of little or no interest to them. They know there are quite a few examples of this or that scent, what use would it be for them to spend time doing this?

An aficionado who wants to write a book about template compositions, as one might call these, would need to pursue such a task. Another point about the “arc” involves new acquisitions. As a newbie, you don’t know how much variety exists, but after you’ve studied a large number of scents you begin to realize that discovering a new composition that you really like may not occur very often. And you may already feel that you don’t need a slightly superior version of a particular composition. I’ve pointed this out about Success by MCM. When I read the notes and noticed when it was released, I thought to myself that it sounds like it’s similar to Boss Cologne, which is now Boss Number One. Tenere is another of this type, as is Iquitos. Of course, for one reason or another, some aficionados might want to have several scents with similar compositions, but other than wanting the “best” of a particular type (if it is not too expensive), I can’t remember when I felt that I had to have one scent over another with a very similar composition because of a slight difference.

Again, however, that could change when my sensitivities shift, which makes being an aficionado so difficult at times. I can’t remember a wine “expert” (or whatever they prefer to be called) talking about shifting sensitivity issues, nor of someone in a different hobby where this possibly could be a factor. Perhaps that’s the most important element when one is descending the arc. That is, you realize that not only are you less likely to be pleasantly surprised by a scent you’ve never tried before, but you also realize that even if you do find one you really enjoy, that enjoyment may never be replicated! On the other hand, you may be more open to trying a scent that you didn’t find especially pleasant a couple months earlier because you now realize that a change in sensitivity could lead to really enjoying it the second (or third, or fourth) time around. I’m not sure if there are other hobbies with this quality, but it sure keeps things interesting, at least to me !

I’ll conclude this post by addressing the question, is the fragrance aficionado a “snob?” Certainly some are, but that isn’t saying much, of course. I pride myself on wearing scents that some may regard as “drug store dreck,” and am only concerned with a pleasant olfactory experience, so if someone were to call me a fragrance snob, I’d just laugh at him/her, because it suggests the person is quite ignorant (and for some reason that tends to amuse me in these kinds of contexts). In any case, so what if you are a snob? Live your life the way you like! If you lose friends and generally alienate people, and you don’t like this aspect of it, then become more self-aware as well as more empathetic, and make positive changes in your life. However, I learned an awful lot from professors who to me had some snobby elements to their personalities, back in the 80s and 90s, so I would suggest trying to ignore snobbery and “pick the brains” of such people. Then you can “tell them off,” if you like – that’s been my attitude for decades now, though I don’t really feel the need to tell people off. I tend to simply have less and less contact with them, which has worked out well over the years.

NOTE: For those who want to read more about this subject, I suggest this thread:

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/409014-Thinking-about-slowing-down

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