Do You Smell Rich or Poor?

perfume rockwellThis may be an irrelevant question for perfume enthusiasts, since we tend to like what we like defiantly*, no matter how odd or old or inexpensive it is, but for the rest of the world, a gap is opening up and getting wider between what most of us smell of and what the very rich can, and sometimes do, waft.

The concept came home to me last week when the water company sent a man over to fix our water meter. He was an affable Jersey guy who went right down cellar and got on with it. But his scent, that was a different matter.

It was omnipresent, it stayed on the main floor with me, while simultaneously laying down a serpentine trail behind him every time he surfaced to get something out of his van.  In was powerful, it was pervasive, it had monster sillage, and boy, did it last!  It was a combination of sweat and Bounce.

The cat hid. 

Not from the man, who she came to greet in her usual friendly fashion, but from his smell. She didn’t reemerge until I’d aired out the house for two hours, and even then she high tailed it out the door, and I still caught a whiff of Eau de Water Co. Technician at intervals.  This is what it is to smell like a working guy: the smell of Industrial perfumery, alongside whatever natural odor the person has already working inside their personal atmosphere.

Industrial perfumery isn’t easy, and it’s been pointed out  that the big oil supply companies make more money off of scenting a product like dish-washing liquid or Tide, than they ever will off of the next Calvin Klein perfume.  It’s a matter of the bulk sale for the Tide, as opposed to the smaller sale for the Calvin.  Volume counts for a lot even in the fragrance industry.

And it’s not that industrial perfumery is necessarily uncomplicated either.  “Our base in fine fragrance is alcohol,” Thierry Wasser Guerlain’s in house perfumer has said, “It’s easy to work with. Their base is stink-ammonia, soap powder, bleach.  Imagine how you have to think about the life of your fragrance. If you do a detergent, it has to smell good in the box, in the washing machine, after the dryer, when you iron, and in the closet.”**

Does any of this perfumery successfully cross the line into fine fragrance?  There have been ads recently suggesting that you could just ditch that expensive bottle of Parvenu and use…deodorant instead?  Degree makes Sexy Intrigue, or Delicious Bliss, or even Classic Romance, all for the price of your roll-on.  It doesn’t end there, either. Fab makes a detergent that smells so good, they’ve run an ad in which a model washes her dress in lieu of spritzing before an evening out.  Price, well, bound to be a lot less than anything niche.

There is even Francis Kurkdjian’s Acqua Universalis in detergent form with matching fabric softener, if you want to apply the same tactic at a more elevated price point.

Increasingly this is the perfumery you really smell around you: fabric softener, sun block, detergent, deodorant. Which makes me wonder just how much difference will there be between how people smell in the future?  Will it smell democratic, ie industrial perfumery, or will luxury a la Amouage, change the rules, and open up an olfactory gulf between the classes?  Will we give up aspiration or respiration?

Me? I use Free and Clear myself.

Just sayin’.


*Including self with my JR Watkins in Lemon Crème fetish

** Quoted from Perfume, by Cathy Newman

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12 thoughts on “Do You Smell Rich or Poor?

  1. Oh, this is soooo one of my pet peeves… a year or so back I loaned some t-shirts to a few friends who were helping me do some work at my house on a hot summer day. Like the good friends they are, they washed the shirts before returning them to me.

    And that was the problem. Those shirts must have been washed in mega-scented detergent and then tossed in the dryer with about a pound and a half of dryer sheets. I could smell them two rooms away! It took four washings (in a row) to get the t-shirts to the point where I could go near them without gagging.

    And yes, I’ve used some type of unscented laundry soap for years (and I don’t use dryer sheets at all).

    I think that quantity vs. quality also plays a role here; quantity for its own sake is one of the great middle-class American virtues (more is always better). The best laundry detergents/dryer sheets must be the ones that “smell” the most!

    One of the few scented household-type products I use is a brand of organic liquid hand soap; it’s from Oregon and has some wonderful all-natural fragrances like Clary Sage and Fir, Ginger and Grapefruit, and Oregon Double Mint. I keep a bottle by the kitchen sink because the soap smells wonderful and is a great pick-me-up whenever I wash my hands.

    But again, it’s not exactly a mainstream product (there’s that snob thing again). Is there such a thing as niche industrial perfumery??

    1. Feel for you on the T shirts.Everyone tries to be nice, and your friends were just being responsible, but if you have a nose like a bloodhound (and frankly a lot of us who love perfume do) synth laundry stuff can smell really bad.

      The question of niche industrial perfumery is a very interesting one, and I refer you to the Tyler Candle company which makes laundry detergent in their three most popular candle scents: Kathina, Diva, and I kid you not, High Maintenance. But they were the only makers I found.

    2. If you get a moment I’d love to know the name of the Oregon-based liquid hand soap. I live in Oregon but I bought three scents of Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap, out of Minneapolis (“natural” but not oganically grown ingredients). The “lavender” is awful, the “green apple” just tolerable. “Rosemary” is the only one I like.

  2. Degree is? Cheap perfume or nice smelling deodorant? Do nice smelling deodorants exist? Which deodorants smell horrible to the sensitive nose?

    This topic really is amusing as I always heard that the French used perfume to disguise a less than optimal bathing schedule. Sadly, the shower/bath averse are still around, including, too often myself.

    1. Well, I believe Degree is so-so smelling.

      In Europe you can often find a deodorant version of popular perfumes, L’Air du Temps, or Angel or whatever you choose to wear. Here we seem not to follow that rule. It’s a nice way to go actually.

  3. What a refreshing perspective on fragrance in our every day lives! Because I use un scented everything, I forget that most Americans are inundated with commercial fumes that they probably don’t even notice. I Do notice when I go to the dish or laundry soap aisle at the grocery, and I am assaulted with god knows what crazy strong gaggalicious formulas. I can barely stand walking down the scented candle aisle on the way to light bulbs. So it occurs to me, that those of us who have curated a taste for the finer fragrances, maybe we just smell too much? In a good way, I mean. Maybe the receptors in our nose/brain are just more doggy like, as in, much more finely tuned. Anyway, I am off point here, I just wanted to say that in the stacks of perfume blogs I read, it was a breath of fresh air to ponder the question of perfumes for the masses.

    1. Hi Tora,
      Yes I think we the few, we usually happy few, the sniffers of this world do smell things more intensely than the rest of humanity. Well, it comes with the territory, I suppose, like perfect pitch. But I obviously feel the same way you do about some commercial perfumes, and yet, they are the scents that most of us come into contact with everyday.
      And not everything needs to be high falutin’. Still love that JR Watkins hand creme myself, and bet most of us have at least one affordable indulgence.

  4. I’m always interested in this topic too. Victoria has a fantastic post on it: And I think I recall another remark of hers that in developing countries, strongly scented home and personal care products are popular because they may be only scented experience many people can afford.

    I tend to go for low or no scented products, with some carefully selected exceptions. I love fine scented soaps (Crabtree & Evelyn’s Vetiver and Juniperberry soap is superb and my current fave). My morning facial cleanser is unscented but as a makeup remover in the evenings I enjoy Burt’s Bees Facial Cleanser with Orange Oil. LUSH’s Firefox shower gel also gets lots of love. These things brighten up my life, but I can’t tolerate a strong scent in every product I pick up. And it is truly remarkable how many cleaning products most of us own!

    1. A good read on the Bois de Jasmin blog. Thank you, I had no idea that Annie Buzantian started out in industrial scents, still less Sophia Grojsman, just imagine Neet to Paris in one lifetime!

      I’m with you, most of my stuff is unscented, soaps, dishwashing liquid either unscented or lemon, detergent ditto, don’t use dryer sheets, face cream and body moisturizer is unscented too. I’m addicted to Complex 15 which is unscented and has no parabens either. Also blissfully cheap. Well, if you have all these perfumes you just don’t want any competition do you?

  5. I have no idea whether laundry detergents have gotten worse over the years, or whether being a perfumista has simply made me more sensitive, but I just can’t stand the smell of most laundry detergents and dryer sheets. To my nose, it’s a horrid mixture of musk, fruity and ozonic notes that amplifies the smell of their skin in a weird way.

    You’d think, as someone who wears Muscs Koublai Khan, that I would not be so offended, but … I’m not sure why, but these laundry scents drive me nuts.

    1. Blame those macrocylic musks, that’s what I do. A good dirty musk is just fine (and I understand why you like Khoublai Khan completely, and like it too), but get into the “clean” arena and the whole scent can go downhill cheap fast.
      That’s totally counter-intuitive but don’t you find it’s true? Makes me avoid the “I hate perfume but I wear it anyway scents” they often smell like dryer sheets.

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