Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thinking About Fragrance: Taste Evolution

I'm not sure exactly when I became a perfume aficionado. When I was a child, I knew which fragrances I did *not* like: Estée Lauder Youth Dew, Coty Emeraude, Prince Matchabelli Wind Song, Jean Naté, and just about anything else my mother wore; any of the Tinkerbell floral fragrances I received as a Christmas gift from a cousin; anything Avon except Sweet Honesty. None of those fragrances were "right" to my nose, and I still feel the same way about Youth Dew, a fragrance that I would call an "acquired taste." (I haven't smelled any of the others in decades).

At some point, a cousin gave me a bottle of Anne Klein Blazer, packaged with an address book. Looking back, I realize it was probably a gift-with-purchase item that she had no use for, but to me then it was something special: a real, grown-up perfume. It was somewhat sweet and fruity, if I remember correctly, and nothing like the scents I did not like. Blazer was probably too much for a kid to wear, but I wore it anyway, on "special occasions," and when I felt especially ballsy, to school.

Eventually I put together a small collection of typically safe and boring teenage scents that I wore through high school: Sweet Honesty. Heaven Scent. Love's Baby Soft. Chantilly. In those days, my mom and I were big fans of mail-order catalogs and one of our favorites was from a company that sold heavily-discounted beauty products and fragrances. Once in a while, the description of some perfume or another would intrigue us, and if it was cheap enough, we'd order it. Once I hit college age, my fragrance collection included Bakir and Cinnabar (both spicy orientals) and Maxims de Paris, a heady floral, all quite a bit different and far more sophisticated than my high school favorites.

So what happened? My tastes evolved. And they continue to evolve.

In my 20s and 30s, I was largely attracted to sweet scents, either gourmands--preferably with tons of vanilla--or ambers (Calvin Klein ObsessionCasmir, Thymes Filigree), with occasional forays into something spicy (Lagerfeld KL, Donna Karan Chaos). I was pretty sure I hated florals, particularly shrill old-fashioned ones like Chanel No. 5, and anything with rose. And then I discovered the Perfume of Life forum and a whole world of fragrances beyond the couple dozen available at the local department store.

After that came attendance at Sniffapalooza, a two-day, nose-exhausting, perfume-smelling extravaganza held twice a year in Manhattan. I knew there were lots of interesting things to smell in New York, but before Sniffa, I had only quickly visited the (admittedly quite large) fragrance department at Saks Fifth Avenue. I had no experience with niche fragrances until I visited Bergdorf Goodman, Takashimaya, Bendel's, Barney's, and the fabulous perfume boutique, Aedes de Venustas. Online, I found what I think of as the the mac daddy of niche fragrance purveyors, Lucky Scent.

Over the past four years, after sampling hundreds and hundreds of scents, my tastes have started to change. While I still appreciate a good vanilla (Guerlain's smoky Spiritueuse Double Vanille is my current favorite), I've realized that I do like floral scents, particularly those with osmanthus, peony, gardenia, and tuberose. And that there are many types of rose scents, some of which I like very much (Stella McCartney Stella, Lancome Mille et une Rose, Vivienne Westwood Anglomania). I'll even wear Chanel No. 5, as long as it's the less-aldehydic Eau Premiere. I've also found the joys of salty and savory dry scents (as long as they do not contain the aromachemical calone, which smells like artificial seaweed), like Hermes Eau de Merveilles, Santa Maria Novella Citta di Kyoto, and Hermes Hiris.

Now my collection of fragrances varies in number between 60 and 100, depending on my changing tastes and my most recent purge. Right now, I'm looking forward to an upcoming trip to New York where I plan to spend at least a couple of hours trying out the new fragrances from the past year or so. Maybe I'll add something old and familiar to my collection, or maybe I'll be struck by a completely new scent sensation that I simply must buy. In any case, I'll certainly enjoy the sensory overload.

Are you a fragrance aficionado? What types of fragrances do you favor - today?

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