Tainted By Association

Cedarwood Juniperus viginiana from London essential oils

Cedarwood Juniperus viginiana from London essential oils

Some lovely perfumes and time honored scent ingredients go out of commerce for the oddest reasons.  Take for instance the case of cedar wood. That’s a wonderful scent and many perfumers like to work with the essential oil but for a sizeable number of the public cedarwood is inextricably linked to pet shops.

I first realized this after a discussion with one of my Connecticut neighbors who told me that she couldn’t stand the smell of cedarwood in anything, “I just think of hamster cages,” she said.  After that conversation with Susan I began to have a clearer idea of what it is that perfumers are up against all the time: association.You see we can’t help our individual experiences.  This something that is almost arbitrary

Feminite du Bois in the original bottle

Feminite du Bois in the original bottle

in the lives of the public.  We are all unique and we can’t control the associations we each have and they tend to be influenced by the the trends of our times or the place where we grew up.  The person who knew orange groves in California or Florida will have a different feeling about orange blossoms than the person who grew up in New York.  That’s inevitable.  But what about cedarwood?

I knew that cedarwood was already living through a renaissance of sorts because of Feminite du Bois the first properly speaking of the Serge Lutens scents( Nombre Noire having had a smaller success).  It had already been released for some years when I had my talk with my neighbor but I knew better than to try to recommend such a scent to her.  Cedarwood no matter how biblical or precious, was always going to smell like hamster cages to her.  That’s the power of association.

Bicloroed rose in bloom

Bicolored rose in bloom

I never tried and I think that was right.  But another association has always haunted me and that’s the rose=soap or worse rose = toiilet paper one.  I know that the people who say this have two adverse facts in their lives 1) limited experience of living roses and 2) no encounter with actual rose absolute or rose otto.  Both situations are bad to my mind.  We should be able, all of us, to stop once in a while and actually smell real roses rather than downmarket counterfeits.  Smelling Damascenones and other synthetics is emphatically not the same, and anyway anyone who has actually grown roses will tell you that the scent of roses is very eclectic and changes with the variety.  There is no one  “rose scent”.  I have grown roses for twenty years and try to breed them as a hobby and  have smelled everything from cloves to damask rose to lemon and even apricot in their natural perfumes, as well as myrrh.  The range is broad and for people to say that roses “smell like soap to them” tells me of a life spent out of rose gardens.

Rose Absolue

Rose Absolue

Perfumery does not help.  Although some lines like Rose de Rosine have widened the public perception. The first scent to try to rectify the  misapprehension was The Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose, a great hit and followed many years later by Annick Goutal’s Rose Absolue.  That was originally a melange of many sorts of rose oil including the wonderful slightly alcoholic turkish rose.  If you can find a bottle particualry an old one you will smell what I mean.

Other good palate clearing rose scents include CBIHATEPERFUME’s Tea Rose and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s American Beauty.  Stop and smell a rose.

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22 thoughts on “Tainted By Association

  1. I’m just here to cheer you on when it comes to encouraging everyone to smell the roses:-) I cannot help but love them all.

    Shredded paper and cardboard or pine-wood shavings would be used for small pet bedding here in the UK, I think, so cedarwood would seem pretty exotic by comparison. I wonder if cedarwood in perfume fares better here as a result?

    1. Perfume lovers must be better off in the UK if hamsters and gerbils bed down in shredded paper. Cedarwood shavings have been in use for a long time Stateside, probably to drown out L’Eau de Hamster. Not having that association is so much better for everyone.

      As for roses, well of course I wish everyone would grow them and smell them if only to realize that toilet paper smells like toilet paper and roses inimitably smell of roses!

  2. Cedar does smell like pet bedding – and pencils. I just don’t mind. (In all honesty, I haven’t had a gerbil since I was ten. No, eleven. That’s been a long time.) And roses vary so much in their scents! One reason I love Rosine Rose d’Ete so much is that it smells like the yellow roses on a bush we had in our yard when I was a child. I never get “toilet paper” or “soap” out of rose fragrances.

    What troubles me a great deal is smelling some scent that is supposed to be an ethereal floral with linden flower and getting… ugh… harsh toilet cleanser, the powdered kind like Comet or Bon Ami. It’s AWFUL. And what’s worse is everyone else saying, “Oh, this is wonderful, such a lovely floral,” while I’m thinking about toilet brushes.

    Or my usual orange blossom = soap dilemma. Was it my mother’s choice of soap? (It ranged: Dial, Ivory, sometimes Dove if it was on sale.) Mind you, orange blossom smells like quality soap, not the nasty stuff they have in the soap dispensers in, say, gas station restrooms. But it is SOAP so often that I just can’t shake the association. (A very few orange blossom scents do smell floral to me, and those I really enjoy.)

    1. Toilet Cleanser Florals, I sort of like that and I’m certain I’ve smelled it somewhere recently :-D.

      Orange blossoms are best natural BUT neroli costs so much that few houses will actually spring for the oil. Good old methyl anthranilate (baby aspirin! You remember baby aspirin? Maybe you belong to the Tylenol generation) was the most frequent substitution. Nowadays they use other aromachemicals but those do seem soapy to me (not that I mind soap per se. I’ve got something called Castile that Penhaligon’s makes and that’s all soap all the time but surprisingly nice) How do you feel about orange blossoms on the tree? If those smell like soap this really is a bad scent association.

      1. Orange blossoms on the tree – which I’ve only smelled a few times, mind you – smell like flowers. Really wonderful, too.

        I thought methyl anthranilate was the grapey stuff (naturally occurring in a number of white florals, from OB to tuberose and jasmine) that gets added to grape jam and grape Kool-Aid, leading a stunning number of Americans to conclude that tuberose soliflores smell like grape bubble gum. I get that reference, though it doesn’t really taint anything for me – and it *doesn’t* smell like soap!

        Oh, and yes, I remember baby aspirin. The Reye’s Syndrome warnings started popping up about the time that my mother stopped giving me the baby stuff anyway.

  3. In Australia it’s not common for toilet paper to be scented. In fact I’ve never encountered it. Same with sanitary products, and for ages when I saw drier sheets mentioned on perfume blogs I just thought people meant the scent of bed sheets out of the drier, and I was very puzzled. I’ve noticed a trend towards bin liners being scented, but on the whole it seems to be less common here for domestic products to be scented, and that’s a good thing I think. Less environmental impact and, and fewer, um, tainted associations.

    1. Industrial perfumery in the States appears to be much more invasive/pervasive than you have in Australia. Good for you frankly.

      Here we have the plague of everything being scented and you have to buy “unscented” in order to avoid all that, which means reading labels carefully. So you probably do have fewer unfortunate associations. Here what you call bin liners and we call garbage bags are seriously smelly. I never thought i’d have to specify “unscented” when dealing with garbage!

    2. Oh, it’s awful. I use plastic grocery bags instead of trashcan liners, and I always always buy unscented toilet paper (and sanitary products, for that matter).

      Funny thing, though, I don’t mind my laundry smelling like dryer sheets.

      1. It’s always a worry when you have to search gard to find the unscented products. It never used to be like this. 🙁

      2. The other day I threw out a sample which was so powerful (one small piece of blotting paper I/2 ml at most) the whole kitchen smelled. So scented garbage anything would amount to olfactory anarchy chez us.

        I feel your pain about unscented products. You really do have to look for them these days. We live in the Age of Glade.

  4. BTW Mals I think methyl anthranilate is the grapey stuff. but used to be in the aspirin to hide that sour chalky taste. I got the methy anthranilate reference for orange blossoms and white florals from JC Ellena’s book on perfume. According to JCE they used to use it for white florals along with indoles. Actually I thought that orange blossoms smelled like methyl anthranilate until one day my Mom’s Calmondin orange bloomed. Then the penny dropped.

  5. For a long time I couldn’t dissociate the smell of cedarwood from that of being ‘trapped in a tea chest’, not that I ever have been. A sort of spiky, sauna-esque plankiness. Much prefer the creamier sandalwood, it must be said.

    Roses, yes, lots of good and bad examples out there. In real life I find the yellowy or pinky peach coloured ones have the nicest scent. Or of the limited selection in my garden that is true at least!

  6. Some of the apricot colored roses have a fruity smell which is kind of wonderful. The David Austin rose Leander does, but don’t know if that’s one of yours!

    A tea chest seems like a rather nice association with cedarwood, at least I’d have said so, anyway far better than gerbil bedding.

  7. I can rarely tolerate the smell of oranges, or pine, because it reminds me of every oil spill i have ever had to clean. for a long time there were really nasty scents made to “cover up” the smell of oil. Let me tell you, in my opinion, nothing covers up the smell of oil-except for more oil. Those nasty faux orange chemicals were like a bomb going off in my brain.

    For a long time I thought I did not like the smell of lavender, because of Glade room fresheners.

    My favourite roses are the tiny little pale pink things that grow by the sea here- they smell of salt and sea and sand and rose. Just four loose little petals per flower-but they smell glorious!

    1. Hi Carole,
      They sound like glorious roses, I wonder if they’re rugosas?

      I think the synthetic orange smell is pretty bad even without your horrible oil associations. How cheap does orange oil have to become before some companies will put just a bit of the real into formulas? Glade also has a lot to answer for in terms of misleading people on notes, and I’m not surprised to hear that lavender is one of them.

  8. I have a problem with lilac in perfumes: I can’t help remembering that it’s a cheap chemical widely used in many functional products. At the same time I have no problem with cedarwood: most likely, because where/when I grew up it was a luxury to have anything made of it and we had nothing that smelled of cedar if it wasn’t made of it.
    Every time I smell real rose with a scent I’m amazed how great it smells. The Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose was so horrible on me that I gave away my sample (which doesn’t happen to me too often). But there are many rose perfumes that I love though I’m not sure that they smell of real roses to me.

  9. Lilac is too often that chemical substitute you mention and to the best of my knowledge there’s only one real lilac (reputedly) on the market:Highland Lilac of Rochester NY. They claim that they use the real thing being the lilac capital of the world. OK, past the hype there, they do have a lot of lilacs in upstate NY, but I’ve never smelled HL myself.

    I’m glad you missed the “hamster cage ” association with cedar, and as to roses, I think my favorites for smelling real are still IHATEPERFUME’S Tea Rose water perfume. I also like Parfum d’Empire’s Eau Suave for capturing the raspberry bourbon rose scent, though the rumor is they’ve refo’d their line. Did you sample any after they changed the bottles?

    1. I see that I’ve forgotten my own comments in the post on Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose. As time goes on I suspect that was not a rose soliflore but a rose aldehyde…like Rosa Magnifica the Guerlain or else like the Krigler Manhattan Rose which is supposed to be dead ringer for Tea Rose. Maybe the aldehydes and the relatively cheap formula did it in for you.

    2. Important thing first 🙂 I’ve just bought a decant of Ambre Russe. I should get it in a month or so. Since they are splitting a huge 500 ml bottle, I assume it’s a new one so I’ll have a chance to compare (I still have remains of the previous decant). I will be very disappointed if it’s changed.

      I tried Highland Lilac and I think it’s very nice. But I don’t think it has anything to do with real lilac. Cultivating it not such a huge problem and there are many other places, especially in Europe, where there are tons of lilac. So if it were possible to produce actual lilac absolute/otto/etc. others would have been doing it as well. Besides, I read carefully description on the site and it doesn’t actually say that the perfume is made from lilac. The words are very carefully chosen to create an illusion but they do not say it one way or the other – so I suspect it is NOT an actual lilac perfume. But it smells good – as far as lilac perfumes go.

      1. Oh darn, there goes my hope of finding a real lilac perfume made from lilacs. I had hoped they were genuine because the Basenoters thought Highland Lilac the best lilac soliflore with En Passant coming in second. Myself I wear a bouquet (Fleurs de Rocaille) for my lilac hit.
        SSSSSSwe Charcoal was helping with this comment btw and sends greetings to Rusty!.

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