Perfume Pen Pals: Your Nose is Always Right (Part One)

Katie, I wore Hermès Iris Ukiyoe again today, hoping to be sustained by its mere pleasantness, and while I still don't quite smell "shampoo," certainly not like I smell with several of those Bond No. 9s, and I still insist there's a peat-mossy accord in there (I must take you to my father's nursery some day, which will require some light time-travel, so I'll give you notice), I also understand why you dismiss it. Because it is merely pleasant and somewhat common. But meditating on that today (I was sustained as much by the meditation as I was by the perfume), I thought of a passage I recently read in a music book by Scott Miller (Music: What Happened?), one of my indie-rock heroes in the '80s and '90s. Miller insists that music is better when originality isn't the priority. He writes: "Originality is unmusical. The urge to do music is an admiring emulation of music one loves; the urge toward originality happens under threat that the music that sounds good to you somehow isn't good enough." Couldn't the same point be made about perfume? (I realize I'm not the best one to make it, considering all of my Skarbs, but stay with me here.) One of the most stinging criticisms we perfume lovers can make when we first smell a fragrance is "shampoo," which of course means ordinary, cheap, unimaginative, unoriginal. But think back to some of the smells we liked as kids. Johnson's Baby Shampoo smells good! Or at least it did then. Now? I suppose it depends on the context. A $100 bottle of perfume that smells of baby shampoo might not pass muster because the stakes are higher, we're more sophisticated, demanding, and self-aware. And we care about what others might think. So for us sophisticates, a good-smelling perfume is sometimes not good enough. But back to Miller, talking about the music of his youth: "I force myself not to disown my ears of that period out of embarrassment. Your ears are always right, the embarrassment is always wrong." I'm not suggesting we abandon our adult tastes, go primitive, and start smelling like Jujubes all the time.
Candy cairn.
But if we're being honest with ourselves about what we like (Frédéric Malle's genius surfaces yet again*), can we admit that we sometimes choose not to smell good in order to smell original? That smelling like shampoo is actually not the worst perfume sin in the world? (Smelling like Axe is.) Or, at the very least, that the Archies' "Sugar Sugar" is a really great song? Can we at least admit that? Dan
* More on Frédéric Malle's “be honest about what you like” perfume philosophy here. Read Part 2 of The Nose is Always Right here. Jujubes via


  1. "Candy cairn."
    friggin genius

  2. This is actually a very interesting topic for me, Dan. I don't think I wear perfume for what others think, only for what I think. And I definitely don't wear something I don't like for it's perceived originality, newness or niche value.

    I think I'm honest, in fact too honest (or at least way too overblown) about what I like and don't like. If I abandon a scent, it's just because I've been exposed to something more complex or my tastes are more specific later on? And even then, the fluidity of personal experience will always give me an opportunity to wear it again.

    Perfume IS like music for me in that respect, definitely - ain't no man big enough to tell me that Herman's Hermits isn't great music and always will be. (I even have Peter Noone's autograph!)

  3. I love Juicy Couture "Peace Love And Juicy Couture" BECAUSE it smells like Herbal Essence shampoo!

  4. All right! I was just smelling Peace Love and Juicy Couture yesterday at the store, trying to figure out what was going on there. I'd read on a fume blog where the person found it similar to Chanel Cristalle. What do you think, Datura?

  5. Side by side, the Chanel smells more expensive, (a touch of iris butter or better musk in the base?) but not far off.
    And the bottle is fun.

  6. But, Stefush, even if it's not a matter of self-consciousness or niche value, I wonder if our tastes evolve to the degree that we sometimes lose touch with the pleasures of Herman's Hermits. Or the perfume equivalent. What's the perfume equivalent of "I'm Henry The VIII, I Am"? Probably something from Creed. Don't they claim to have made perfumes for real Henry VIII?

  7. This is a good topic. Five or six years ago, I overdosed on vanilla "soli-gourmands" during a comfort scent binge. Mainly expensive vanillas, (i Profumi di Firenze Vaniglia del Madagascar for example) although there were a few less expensive ones that were pretty good to my nose(the original Laurence Dumont Vanille Orientale).

    I remember going on a sniffing excursion with a group of fragrance aficionados at the time and only one among them would admit to liking vanilla scents. I eventually tired of them. But recently, I saw a post on one of the Facebook fragrance groups about vanilla and a lot of people "un-closeted" themselves. Most of the vanillas that people liked were on the expensive side, but I do believe that quality of material counts. Still, I was happy to see that people weren't too embarrassed to admit to wearing candy on their arms.

  8. Can I turn this into a Vanilla Rant?

    The Vanilla Odor and flavor is *THE* most used element in the United States, bar none. It IS pervasive and in my mind completely INVASIVE. Vanillin and Ethyl Vanillin are almost verboten in my perfumes. (I make perfumes) I'm so stinkin' tired of that damned odor profile. When I was single, I would not even dat a woman who wore anything strongly vanillic, and had to walk away from a store where the vanilla was strong from the candles. And that was even before I started to make perfumes.

    Vanillin Vanilla makes me run for the hills screaming, NO! NO! NO!

    I just bought a vial of real vanilla absolute, which smells much more like the Breyers vanilla Ice cream. I may find some use for that vanilla, in time, if and when I can get over this vanillic phobia.


  9. Round 2

    And Vanilla is what's put me off of many of Andy Tauer's fumes, I CAN"T STAND IT!!!

    and sorry, about dating a woman, it's be more appropriate to Date a woman I suppose than to dat her.

    I talked to a sales associate for Joe Malone, (who I was astounded to figure out had no less than FOUR retail outlets inside of South Coast Plaza, - Joe Malone) This SA mentioned that Perfumes had been putting more comfort odors in perfumes since 9/11, that's why many frags had so much vanilla. (like Flowerbomb, et al)

    maybe this rant is over... we'll see what continues to bubble out though...

  10. I agree with you, Dan... originality and complexity don't always mean "it smells good". I don't think smelling like shampoo is a bad thing. If I could find something that smelled like the original Johnson's shampoo, I would buy without blinking. But I also appreciate more "original" scents, as long as they smell good (at least to my nose).

    And Melisand61, I am an un-closeted vanilla lover... what I can't stand is fruity florals, but that's a matter of taste. I admit there are a few good ones out there and wouldn't be embarrassed to admit I was wearing one of them, if it suited me.



  11. Strong feelings being stirred by vanilla, here! Since we won't be smelling arm candy on you any time soon, Paul, is there another kind of "unsophisticated" fragrance that makes you go "ahhhhh"? You might need to set aside your perfume-making hat for this one.

    melisand61, I've not gone full arm candy yet with my perfume wearing, but vanilla has been inexorably creeping into my collection: mostly via ambers.

    In a related coink, I did try Vaniglia del Madagascar recently, and wrinkled up my nose at myself, thinking I smelled like vanilla infused Windex. And then a young fellow at Radio Shack spontaneously volunteered how great I smelled.

  12. Hmm. How about we agree that there is a time and a place for "respected" fragrances and embarrassing ones? Shampoo is fine, but I'm not paying $100 for a bottle of it. It's like food. There's nothing embarrassing about occasionally enjoying something like a Little Debbie snack cake, if you truly like them. But you shouldn't *only* eat Little Debbie snack cakes.

    Also, is it just me, or does Fracas smell kinda like hairspray from the 80s? The kind that I loved smelling as a kid? Anyone? No one?


    Well, then. I suppose I am a Philistine.

    Also, Dan, you may be on to something there. Secretions Magnifique is original, isn't it? Is it good? Um....

  13. Sabrina, I feel like there is a specific Johnson's Baby Shampoo fragrance out there that I've come across in the niche world. It will come to me....

    In the years that I've been following through on review requests from my YouTube audience, I've developed a tolerance, nay appreciation, sometimes even affection for fruity florals! And one of my very favorite perfumes is a fruity floral - one that Dan tipped me off to: By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses. Does the fact that it's niche disqualify it as a "real" fruity floral?

  14. Hi, Paul--

    You make perfume? That's interesting.

    melisa--I didn't realize that vanilla is something that people are embarrassed to like. Honestly, I don't think any one smell should be written off totally. Unless it's that nasty red punch of death that we always had to drink as kids at church functions. I think a lot of Victoria's Secret perfumes smell that way.

  15. Nora, Fracas doesn't smell like 80s hairspray to me (at least not the Aqua-Net in the pump bottle I had an intimate acquaintance with), but I believe hairsprays did (do?) take their cue from popular perfumes. All well and dandy for the hairspray, but once you go back to the original perfume, the experience is ruined. Thank goodness I don't use hairspray any more!

  16. Nora, my mind is now racing with the possibilities of a link between a church's red punch of death and Victoria's Secret Sexy Little Things...through an unholy occult ceremony, perhaps?

  17. "Nora, my mind is now racing with the possibilities of a link between a church's red punch of death and Victoria's Secret Sexy Little Things...through an unholy occult ceremony, perhaps?"

    Yeah. Church was rad.

  18. I wear Jean Nate often, so I feel like I am walking around with the musical equivilent of Good Vibrations on my body. But I wear it proudly, because I like the way it smells, and I like the Beach Boys, dang it!

  19. Vaniglia del Madagascar = vanilla and Windex. Perfect. Actually, the last time I smelled it, I just thought it was sticky vanilla overdose, which is what I think of most of the "straight" vanilla perfumes now. I tend to like that note only as an underplayed base note these days.

    But I really believe that people should wear what they like, whether it's dessert on their arms or a fruity floral. Perhaps just with some attention paid to whether they've sprayed enough on to clear an elevator, or an entire office. I guess in that regard, I agree with Nora, but in a different sense, about time and place. I wouldn't wear some of my more animalic vintage fragrances to work. And I hope that my colleagues wouldn't wear an overdose of Pink Sugar to work either.

  20. Excellent post! I didn't read what everyone else said, so forgive me if I'm repeating...the only problem with "smells like shampoo," to me is, shampoo can be had for five bucks. So don't slap a $150.00 price tag on it. I think you've nailed it on the head regarding different or challenging scents trying to be nothing except different for the sake of it...often these scents are not particularly beautiful (Malle and Lutens, I'm looking at you).

  21. lang -- with you on the pointlessness of spending the big bucks of glorified shampoo. Unless shampoo is your sweet spot, and then you're a bloodhound on the trail of the most perfect shampoo created ever. The Platonic ideal of shampoo, if you will.

    I will agree that there are some weird-oid Lutens, to me, the Malle line generally seems to be striving for that modern classic vibe. Except for that odd Dans Tes Bras.

  22. Maggie, I adore the Beach Boys! Re Jean Nate, does it still resemble its younger self?

    m61, it does help when people observe Office Perfume Etiquette. Then we don't get into those ugly scrapes were fragrance is banned from the workplace altogether because someone who doesn't share your taste gets a bee in their bonnet.

  23. Some very profound philosophical points here, and I agree that the "candy cairn" is a highlight!

    Vanilla is my favourite note, hands down, possibly linked to the fact that my least offensive nickname at school was "Vanilla Mutton". Out and proud. That said, I don't go all the way to the dark side of vanilla, which is that burnt treacly heavy variety you find in the odd Guerlain and also in Ajne Vanille, my most spectacularly ill-judged blind buy. (Offers on a postcard please...)

    My other half - who eschews all scent - recently said unprompted that he liked Le Labo Labdanum 18 on me, adding: "You smell like ice cream", which just about leads me back to one of the topics in this post about keeping it simple and smelling of whatever makes you feel good, however homely and familiar.

    As for the "shampoo" issue, I also see that descriptor as mostly derogatory, with its assumption that you have been a sucker to fork out all that money for something that you could easily acquire in Herbal Essences form.

    I just put together a package of 20 scents for my 90 year old aunt, who is turning to perfume for the very first time. The brief was scents that smell of "talc" or "soap". My friend baited me on FB with a comment along the lines of: "Why doesn't she just stick with talc and soap then, and not complicate things at her time of life?"

  24. Tommy Roe's "Dizzy" is my bubblegum delight. That particular sound -- blithe and carefree, much like "Sugar Sugar" -- never fails to make me happy.

    And while others say vanilla, I say chocolate! It seems to be totally lowbrow of me to love the smell of dark cocoa in a fragrance, but I'm completely unashamed to slather myself in it. Mandy Aftel's chocolate and saffron body oil is freakin' great, and makes me feel as bubbly as "Dizzy" sounds.

  25. Vanessa-

    It's very kind of you to share your scents with your aunt. I hope that she finds something that makes her swoon with delight!

    Nathan--Yes, I too enjoy "Dizzy." And enjoying a chocolate fragrance is nothing to be ashamed of.

  26. Finally getting back to this thread after a weekend in NYC and NJ - visited Enfleurage in the Village and also the Diptyche store for their new one.

    Dan - the Herman's Hermits of perfume? I dunno, I am trying to view it on the Pre-Fab Five axis, something calculated and commercial and produced within an inch of it's life, but still joyous enough to transcend the cynicality. I'm kind of failing, here - I haven't tried any celeb frags that do it for me yet. Maybe if Peter Noone himself came out with a scent, I'd wear it?

  27. EL Pleasures might fit the bill of a female Herman's Hermits? Or a Monkees. Though it is too straight to be The Kinks!

  28. Nora -- Thank you for high-fiving the cocoa rush, and "Dizzy". It's comforting to know that the company I keep has such good taste! ;)

  29. Vanessa, as my sole contribution to this post was sourcing the Jujubes photo and writing the caption, I appreciate the appreciation!

    Wow, it's truly a breakthrough when the perfume-blind spontaneously volunteer that you smell pretty. Come to think of it, Labdanum 18 might be one for your talc-o-philiac aunt. And how wonderful that she's taking an interest in something new at her age!! You just shoo that bear-baiting Facebooker away!

    Nathan, I didn't know you were a body oil kind of guy. I'm never sure what the male position is on body oil, what with all hair.

  30. Katie -- Well, it helps if you're a smoove kind of guy. Though I get less "smoove" as the years scroll past. *sob*

  31. nathan, thanks for the insight. I get inquiries from men wondering about Malle's Musc Ravageur in the oil form (my preferred formulation, both for fragrance and for leg/arm dewiness), and I can't quite stomach the thought of lubing down all hair.