Generational Snift and How to Avoid It

“It’s an old lady perfume!” is the dreaded judgment frequently handed down by young and (youngish) reviewers.

Generally this classification is given to chypres which the neophyte perfumistas seldom appreciate.  It takes time to cotton to ingredients like oak moss, or patchouli, and some people never do.   Still, they recognize the style with all its clichés, and although they may not recognize the formula as artful or elegant, they know that it is not au courant.

When the sniffer prefers something sugary and infantile to a classic, you know of course that it’s just inexperience talking; but what about actual fashions in scent?  Do perfumes become démodé?

I used, myself, to be cranky about old lady classifications.  The public often does have bad taste, and I just chalked it up to that low standard under the high arch of the bell curve.

But then I began to notice that I myself was not immune to whatever was the trendy note that year.

I was for instance, appalled by the population explosion in vanilla perfumes.  (Those of you who have been paying attention for a decade or so know that the turn of the millennium and immediately before was dominated by the smell of vanilla.  Some perfume houses were dedicated to variations on that one note: Comptoir Sud Pacifique springs to mind.)

Equally I was not charmed by the post-Angel pairings of whatever form of ethyl maltol – the high fructose corn sugar of the fragrance world – with patchouli, which always struck me as fundamentally wrong as  the pairing of Ben Affleck and Gywneth Paltrow.  Unlikeable notes separately, and just about unbearable in combination, a fact even they recognized in the end.

But just as with the then popular high stilettos, or whale tails, you got used to it.  After a while you even liked it, but by then you “had your eye in”, as the fashion editors say.  This means that whatever trend it is has found favor with you on the basis of familiarity alone, and yes, in the 90’s, even I began to appreciate the odd vanilla perfume, or possibly an Angel congener or two.

This does not mean that whatever you’re used to is good. Remember what it is that familiarity ultimately breeds? That explains the short cycle of trends.  It explains why, twenty years down the road and despite photographic evidence to the contrary, it wasn’t us in the bumsters that summer, it was some one else.  Of course it was us, but it wasn’t our fault. We “had our eye in”.

So we continue, some of us for a lifetime, as the serial stooges of marketers.  Our only defense is to develop a sense of style of our own.

The same thing holds true for scents.  There comes a time in a woman’s life – I’m not saying it’s thirty five, or forty five (I’m not opening up any more cans of worms about classifying the formerly young, since that’s a category we all enter in the end) – but there comes a time, I repeat, when it is wise to pick an olfactory style and persist with it.

Now I am not advocating Angel for a lifetime. Far from it. You might find that roses are you and you will wear Patou’s Joy forever.   Or maybe you really are a sweet blonde incense like Chanel No 22, then again you may be Yardley’s Lavender soap come hell or high water, but if you are, then stick to it like glue.  On the whole it is much better than having a closet full of stuff that you don’t wear and never will.

Also, it does allow you to side step the out of fashion issue, because that is a real one in the world of scents.  Let us anticipate the snide comments of future eighteen year olds thirty years from now: “Why does Gramma always smell like old Gummi Bears?”

The take-away?  When something very trendy goes out of fashion, it goes with a vengeance.

Why for instance do you suppose that so many French women wear No. 5?  That’s right.  While we are on the subject what do fashion editors wear?  The answer is generally something very classic.  They wear the Chanels, the Guerlains, the Carons, the Lutens etc, that will never date, and that will never date them.

You don’t have to go with something classic, but do go with something you love on the gut level and make sure it is emphatically original.  It can be the offbeat coffee scent or the one that smells like pot (P.G.’s Coze, anyone? Fresh’s Cannabis Rose?) or that is defiantly oddball (Hermes Elixir des Merveilles). Or pick something evocative of a flower: (Carnal Flower, Frederic Malle, or American Beauty Dawn Spencer Hurwitz perfumes).

Just make certain it bucks the current trend.  Subsequently it becomes “your scent”.  You’ll save money, you’ll have something your children will remember you by, and most importantly, a sense of yourself.  Oh, but that is personal style isn’t it?

Well, what are the odds?  You’ll be wearing the new Kardashian next week, right?

Personal style, please. Don’t make me burst my Spanx.

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4 Responses to Generational Snift and How to Avoid It

  1. Angie Jabine says:

    I don’t mind becoming matronly but I draw the line at “dowager.” When Gramma smells like Gummi Bears, will anybody even know what they smell like?

  2. Bob Pegram says:

    Ah style! I notice this effect in a completely different area – automotive styling. I won’t go into that, but do you notice in perfume this effect: that what you used to love absolutely becomes ‘meh’? I am not talking about reformulations. It’s just that the original no longer holds the sway over you it did when new.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      True. Times change, even personal times change, and when a gal divorces or becomes a mother, or her life style changes in any comprehensive way , then she often needs a new perfume. This may be true of men as well, but men seem less prone to changing external factors because internal ones may have altered. Put it this way, a new partner or a new job may not necessitate a new scent for a guy, for a woman though, the switcheroo is frequently required.
      Blacknall

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