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domingo, 14 de fevereiro de 2016

Addicted: The Most Ridiculous Question

by: Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison

Having worked in the fragrance industry in one form or another, practically since I was a child, I have encountered an incredible array of aromas. That's a lot of years, and a lot of aromas.
The author as a child, interacting with a customer.
From year to year I have found that my fragrant tastes have changed; aromas I once loved I soon grew tired of and notes I never imagined liking have become long-term favorites. For example, who knew patchouli could actually smell good?
More importantly, one of the most exciting aspects of perfume is that there is always a new one waiting to be discovered. Just like those who amass a music collection or hunt antiques, we fragrance junkies have similar collecting sensibilities. And sometimes, these collectibles are not just displayed or kept, but worn and loved as if they were old friends ready to tell a thousand scented stories.
That's why when people learn about my addiction to scent it pains me to be asked, "What's your favorite fragrance?"
You know you're a fragrance junkie when you respond by asking:
  • For which season?
  • And which part of the day?
  • And from which family?
  • And containing which note?
  • And at what price point?
  • And from which era?
  • And to evoke what kind of mood?
What's my favorite fragrance? Are you kidding? That has to be one of the most ridiculous questions I'm routinely and frustratingly asked. Maybe you, too, have faced this challenge.
Though at some point in my past I undoubtedly started with a single aroma that felt "just right", it didn't take long before exploration lead me to identify numerous aromas that also felt "just right". It seems that trying to identify a favorite fragrance can be akin to identifying the original image in a recursive fractal where every image contains infinitely more images of itself. The more I discover, the more I learn, and the larger my unknown territory becomes because I realize there is that much more I want to encounter.
How could I ever choose just one?
And with each passing day I discover another fragrance that I love, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then another, and... Why just in the time it took to write this article I likely discovered 137 more fragrances I just had to have. Whew, that was an expensive 15 minutes.
I suppose the origin of this most ridiculous of all questions lies in the ever popular concept of the signature scent. I once suggested during an interview with Forbes that fragrance today is as much of an accessory as a necktie or pair of earrings; the age of the signature scent has ended. To me, wearing the same scent on a daily basis would be like wearing the same clothing day after day. Shouldn't we enjoy variety?
However, the internet offers plenty of advice about finding one's signature. And though I've built a career on writing about and reviewing fragrances, I'm the first to admit that nothing compares to actually wearing a scent. I don't think questionnaires, color preferences, or semantic descriptions can do justice to the effect a fragrance can have on one's mood or in relation to one's personal olfactory landscape.
 
“A woman's perfume tells more about her than her handwriting.”
― Christian Dior.
 
Don't get me wrong, it's perfectly acceptable that YOU may have a signature. I know that for decades, people considered their fragrance a calling card, a signal of their presence in a room or in an embrace. I'm sure many of you will be thinking, "Hey, hey, hey. I DO have a signature scent! My father has a signature scent. And even my grandmother had a signature scent."
The only scent I can remember of my grandmother is this:
I recently visited the home of a friend whose grandfather had just moved in; years of belongings that had been stored in an aging wardrobe along with a packet of naphthalene pellets now scented the entire house. All I could think of was, "Grandma?"
And I'm sure many of you can smell a classic fragrance and immediately conjure images of a loved one. Just think, if he or she hadn't adopted a signature aroma, how might your memories be different?
But I should disclose that I'm the kind of person who has never had a favorite movie, song or color. Variety is definitely the spice of life for me.
I generally feel a betrayal to other fragrances in my collection when I choose one for more than a few repeated wearings. And in fact, I appreciate that I don't have one single aroma attached to years of memories. I like recounting special events in my life as associated with a wide array of scents.
There may have been times in my life where specific fragrances dominated my olfactory landscape, but I always fall prey to new releases or the discovery of unknown classics:
Fahrenheit, or the one that as a high school student I accidentally poured all over myself from a do-it-yourself sample decanter at Lord & Taylor department store. I was probably the reason this invention no longer graces fragrance showcases. It's also the reason I can no longer wear it.
Eternity, or the one that drove me to hoarding scented paper magazine sample strips until my desk drawer overflowed and I finally received my first bottle. Even today I can't be without a bottle.
Sonas, or the one that I drunkenly discovered on my way back from the bathroom while in an Irish pub on vacation. I loved it so much I felt compelled to purchase three bottles on the spot. And then I ordered one more online as a back-up when I got home.
Vol de Nuit, or the very first bottle of pure perfume I ever managed to get a hold of and that later became the scent of my final days living in Japan. I love its grassy iris & vanilla.
If I had a signature scent, which one of these amazing aromas would I never have enjoyed the pleasure of getting to know? If I had a single, favorite fragrance that I wore routinely, could my mind readily organize a thousand different memories all in relation to a single, specific aroma?
Currently, I'm obsessed with a 2 year old blend of oak notes, coffee, vanilla, patchouli and cypress that feels particularly right. But by no means is that my favorite, a signature, or the only aroma I'm currently smitten with. I've also fallen for a number of offerings from a niche Japanese perfumer and have also been drawn to a now discontinued d'Orsay fragrance.
So please don't ask me what my favorite fragrance is. The question is unbearably difficult to answer and you just don't have enough time to sit and listen to me discuss my discovery of the last 300 years of perfumed history. The best I could do is to describe my actual fragrance-wearing behavior, to disclose which scents I most recently wore and enjoyed.
The last few times I attempted to identify favorites for the Fragrantica Best in Show series, I had nightmares about all of the amazing fragrances I didn't list and winced at the idea that I should be known only by those aromas.
A recursive fractal, indeed.

Other articles in this series:

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