Understanding Fragrance {Ask Marie-Helene}

understanding-fragrance.jpg© Novic, Licensed to TSS

One of the hallmarks of my approach to perfume as a perfume critic, writer and social and cultural historian of perfume is trying to understand fragrance even before critiquing the scents. It is a fundamental movement within me that I have tried to develop on the blog from the start when it was more common to see fragrances easily dismissed. Here in April 2008, a reader Zeram 1 picking on my style of approach (I am trying to really "understand" Tease by Paris Hilton now) asked me a fundamental question,

"How many times would you say would one have to try a new fragrance in order to "understand" it?"....

Here was my answer, which I still consider to be a good starting point, in practical terms.


This is a tricky question. It depends on the amount of work you have put in before since obviously if you smell a lot of scents, you'll be able to place the fragrance, intellectually at least, more quickly.

Personally, I cherish my first impressions, which I try to get in a favorable environment, i.e., quiet and no olfactory disturbance.

I think that smelling a perfume requires quite a bit of focus.

It also depends if you want to understand it for yourself or for writing about or discussing it, say.

I think you should reapply each time you are not sure you can answer a question about the perfume.

Dismissing a perfume after having smelled it on a blotter only or in a department store after a few sniffages is probably not a good idea. Same thing for deciding it's great.

For a perfume containing a number of natural ingredients, sensations can be more unstable as the materials are more multifaceted, so you'd probably need more tests.

Otherwise, from an existentialist point of view, in as much as a perfume can bring meaning to your life, you might need to wear it for several years to understand what it can do for you and the people you know:)

However, for deciding if a perfume is for you, a reasonable practical recommendation would be, I think, to wear a scent (alone) for a full day, sleep with it, see how you feel about it the next day. Let it live with you for 24 hours."

Excerpted from here

Stay tuned for another excerpt tomorrow from the archives about what it is to understand fragrance and why I may have become less understanding overtime due to rampant copycatting and plagiarism.

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