The example I’ll use is pictured above (by Armaf), which has listed notes (according to Fragrantica.com) of:
Top notes are green notes, lemon and bergamot; middle notes are sage, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon; base notes are cedar, oakmoss, tobacco, amber, labdanum and musk.
This sounds like an “old school”/”powerhouse” fragrance, and it might be (I’ll get to that in a moment). The first couple of times I wore it, my perceptions varied, which is not uncommon. Sometimes it takes three or four wearings to really understand what seems to be occurring, but with this scent things were more difficult than usual, and it took me a while to figure out why.
The vast majority of reviews at Fragrantica are positive, with one person saying he feels like he threw his money out the window. Why? I’d guess he didn’t think it was strong enough, because the notes are certainly there and it’s not some sort of “chemical nightmare.” The ratings of potency show that a small number of people think it’s weak, and with one spray on my first wearing I was thinking the same thing. At first, there was a kind of competition between the fruit and “green notes” (I’m guessing galbanum) on the one hand, and a leathery woods/incense (I never got obvious tobacco and the spices seem rather mild), but eventually it settles mostly on the latter.
During my last wearing, I used four sprays to the chest, and I was thinking that while it’s stronger than past wearings, I still wasn’t getting much in the way of spices or tobacco. Even the dominant notes weren’t that strong. However, when I walked around other people, they said it was really strong, and that’s when I knew something odd was at work. My guess is that it’s the kind of musk being used, which one can quickly become anosmic to, but others smell clearly (at least as you walk by them). It did impart a kind of tingly quality, but not much in the way of scent (to me); however, when I used my hand to waft the scent directly into the nose, I could smell the notes much more clearly.
Is this a case of great projection but poor “sillage?” Or vice versa? The point, IMO, is that it seems it was formulated with weak notes that interest me (other than the leathery quality), but strong musk that doesn’t register much one way or the other, and may cause a certain amount of anosmia rather quickly. The longevity seems really good, though, regardless of how much or what note you can detect. Overall, this is an excellent fragrance if this is what you want, but it also may be a frustrating experience for some. If you are used to the vintage greats, like me, you might think that it might work for layering purposes, but it’s best not to wear by itself, because you have the option of wearing a scent that allows you to smell the notes you want to smell clearly and with strength, for hours.