What Is That Smell?



One of the trends that I noticed most particularly in 2014 was the increasing inclusion of powerful synthetics in high end perfumes-including niche.  Ouch.  Many materials hurt my nose, many give me headaches, and all of them are horrid when encountered in the subway or worse, a restaurant.

Back in the early Oughts when the trend was for whisper-thin wraith perfumes in the wake of the attack of unsophisticated pudgy gourmand fragrances which had bowed the shelves at Sephora, all you could smell was the retreating tiptoe of L’Eau d’Issey off consumers’ skins. You may not have liked E d I, but at least the stuff was discreet.  The new Power Orientals are not.  Some are fired up by synthetic ouds, and some by other molecules, but they are intrusive.  90’s perfumes didn’t feature sinus buster aroma chemicals du jour, the PO’s do and whoo! What a stench!

Actually, I’m not surprised at the change, because luxury brands have been trying to gain Middle Eastern market share, and often they try to do this with strength of formula.  Maybe this is not the right stratagem.  After all, perfume was an art in the Middle East when the Crusaders were quailing at that newfangled terror: bath time. Some of the POs, however, are so strong you tend to smell like the Crusader before his yearly bath and this is not a good thing.

Offenders?  Well OK, there is something out there that haunts me.  I initially encountered it in several synthetic oud perfumes.  Saks’ New York Oud was the first,  but not, let me hasten to add, the last.  I scrubbed and scrubbed frantically, but the stuff stayed on all day.  Recently I ran into another heavy hitter hidden in the dry down of Naomi Goodsir’s L’Or du



Serail.  Wowsa! The pretty Calvados beginning conceals a powerful synthetic coda  that nearly singed all the hairs out of my nostrils. Flowers? Maybe macerated in the depths of the aforementioned alcohol, but never mind, I could not get past that blast of whatever it was lurking in the tail.

Then there was Knot; a nice enough beginning with another one of the house’s nods to leather underneath a lot of orange blossoms and roses, but the end was torture.  Uck, was my reaction.

Finally, and rather unhappily, I ran into something dark and tarlike in the accord of de Nicolai’s Cuir Cuba.  Before I came to the middle of this, which closely resembled Parfum d’ Empire’s Fougere Bengale, the perfume was the usual well-constructed Nicolai concoction, but something was there making the composition turgid and pungent in a way that I could not abide.  I can understand. The house’s greatest success has been with Patchouli Intense and they wanted another dark



hit. Well, intense, Cuir Cuba certainly is, and dark, too, but if you like this sort of thing I would go with Fougere Bengale instead. Cuir Cuba is just too tarry.

Basically, the trend is for some material  that is way whiffy and if you adore this sort of thing then do apply sparingly.

Regardless, please enjoy responsibly.

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14 thoughts on “What Is That Smell?

  1. I am so unsophisticated nose-wise that I really cannot tell the difference (or I don’t know how to discern the difference)

    Also Knot was given some love from some of the other bloggers.Fortunately I have made myself go through all my old samples before I can purchase any new releases.

    Is there an obvious synthetic v. an obvious non that you can suggest I do a smell test?

  2. Yes Knot was loved by some, not all though, and I feel like a puppy-I know what I smelled. Many of the newer Estee Lauders are mostly synthetic Beyond Paradise, Sensuous, Sensuous Noir, Muse etc. Tried against a Miller Harris should give you a sense of the difference. Synthetics are louder but thinner and flatter smelling.

    Synthetics are everywhere now. A good comparison, one I did for my daughter the other day, is to take anything from Bath and Body Works that is vanilla (easy half the store is vanilla this month) and compare it with either a vanilla bean or real vanilla extract. You should get the comparison loud and clear.
    My other trick here is to buy some essential oils from a good source ( I often use Eden Botanicals but lots of places have them) and just use the EOs. Lavender is great for skin troubles and rose can go straight onto skin too. Check which ones are safe for direct application. You soon recognize the difference 🙂

    1. I can’t always tell synthetic woods from real (and might not care all that much anyway). Synthetic florals are easier to discern, probably because my nose got attuned to Serious Florals early (looking at you, Karl Lagerfeld Chloe!). Was just thinking about tuberose the other day and trying to put into words what it is about synthetic tuberose that makes it so different from the real… the best I could come up with is that the synthetic feels “blocky” like hard plastic. It has edges and planes, where the real stuff doesn’t.

      There’s a synthetic jasmine material that seems to show up in all the El Cheapo drugstore stuff, too. That one is screechy, like it’s been tuned just a hair too high, and it pops out to biff me in the nose. The Jennifer Aniston scent is full of it, and the current version of J’Adore is as well.

      I know I don’t mind Cashmeran. But whatever is in Une Rose gives me the creepin’ willies – Karanal, is that it? Ugh.

      1. Unh huh, Karanal, and that rose is a powerhouse. They could probably light up Pittsburgh with it.

        I actually like Casheran too, and aldehydes for the most part. I’ve smelled too much Hedione and Calone, and too much of that stuff in Cool Water… dihydro mercenal? Probably have misspelled that.
        The fake jasmine is also in Jasmine et Cigarette which otherwise I would like and in a lot of the Estee Lauders possibly even the Aerin Lauder line. I guess they figure the public can’t tell the difference.

      1. Forgot to mention that lavender essential oil can be used on bruises, cuts etc after you clean them. I do and at least the scrapes smell nice!

  3. I can have a really hard time with fragrances that are really strong and a lot of fragrances give me headaches. I’m still fairly new in my perfume exploration (been at it since October or so), but I’ve noticed that a lot of the Tom Ford’s are just way too much for me. I have had a hard time with some naturals too though, so I’m not sure what my problem is, haha. Anyhow – I am sad to read that Or du Serail was on your list because I just ordered a sample of that! I’m hoping that my experience fares slightly differently than yours. Cheers!

  4. I hope you don’t have any trouble with Or du Serail either, and my experience was that the problem was definitely at the finish. I ended up putting the test blotter in my garbage and the whole bag smelled of O d S! So at least you know the perfume lasts.

    I too have troubles with Tom Fords and have even have some trouble with strong naturals (Vetiver!). My experience is that you have to try and find which houses are good for you and always apply sparingly. Good luck with your sample 🙂

    1. Well the verdict is in – Or du Serail is NOT for me… For me, the drydown was alright – pleasant even – but the opening was singeing my nose hairs and giving me a headache. It was SO sweet and overwhelming, I could feel it in my throat and my eyes were watering. Ah well – it’s best not to love too much for it would never be affordable! 🙂

  5. I have detected a trend towards quite powerful, almost bombastic niche scents, and yes, sometimes I can get the synthetic aspect quite clearly. I must disagree with you about L’Eau d’Issey though – I think that is a diva scent in disguise. I get a huge melon note only slightly tempered by its general ambience of freshly exited shower cubicle. Can’t abide it on my friend, who wears a great cloud at all times!

  6. Maybe the spritzers of L’Eau d’Issey I ran into were more conservative than your friend, but I know that melon note + Calone= nothing good.

    I had to wrestle down my gorge when first smelling le Parfum de Therese because what could I smell? Melon, people, I smelled melon, and even real melons can get overly whiffy in my bio-positive kitchen in summer.

    The new Power Orientals is what I call those niche scents, and they can be a problem riding on subways or New Jersey Transit. I’m getting nostalgic for the good old days of Cartier Must worn full blast at eight a.m. on Metro North trains. Those were the days.

  7. I noticed that tendency too. And I was surprised with my reaction to many perfumes recently (it was something like “Eww… it smells so synthetic!”). Surprised because I definitely do not like all-natural perfumes.
    For me perfume has to have a good combination of natural oils and man-made molecules. Also, while paying per ml the price that covers perfume cost for the bottle, I don’t want to have a feeling that somebody’s selling me a bridge.

  8. Too often they’re selling us the Brooklyn Bridge 🙂

    I agree that a really good perfume is often a combination of naturals and synthetics, and although I like naturals, they don’t have a long lasting time on skin-for me anyway. Also you can get heavy hitter naturals too.

    I blame the synthetic ouds. They got so fashionable and they are so loud. The only one I liked was Mandy Aftel’s OUd Luban which wasn’t synthetic.

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