I was just wondering: what exactly makes a fragrance smell "cheap"?
I just purchased a little bottle of Lady Stetson (Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's advice has seldom led me astray), and...in spite of my excitement over embracing something that is dismissed by "snobs", I have to admit that I do think it smells cheap. But...why? Maybe I'll change my mind later, but right now I'm thinking Walgreen's Clearance.
Nora, I just reread Tania Sanchez's praise of Lady Stetson in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, and no wonder you were curious about it -- she makes it sound unmissable! Sanchez compares Lady Stetson favorably to Chanel No. 22 (in fact she prefers it to the Chanel), calling LS:
“a well-balanced structure with just enough amber, just enough floral, just enough peach, just enough soapy citrus to pull up a smile each time it comes to your attention.”
I've not yet tried Lady Stetson, but I shall bear both Ladies Sanchez and Bradshaw's findings in mind when I do. In answer to your general question, though, there are a few different reasons why a perfume might smell cheap.
Sometimes the juice is technically sound, but suffers from smelling common or from its association with a tawdry sector of society. (You know, like teenagers. Or hookers. Or teenage hookers.)
Other times, it's the juice itself that's at fault. The budget is meager for the perfume, and the raw ingredients are cut-rate, or there aren't enough them, and the resulting scent is skeletal.
And more frequently than we'd prefer, a scent is unlucky enough to smell cheap every which way that's possible.
That's what I figure, anyway. But I thought I'd ask sensory psychologist Avery Gilbert to check my work. (Read his fine book, What the Nose Knows, and his edutaining blog First Nerve to awaken you to wide world of smells in perfume and beyond.) Here's what Avery had to say:
Which gets us into formulation: cheap scents quickly "fall apart" as perfumers say. The accords unravel and you're left with a couple of notes sticking out like sore thumbs. There is little gradation in the transition from top to heart to drydown; after the top note blows off, you're typically left with a lingering, linear monotone. And when there are multiple notes in an accord, they don't blend well; they're a random handful of flowers rather than a pleasingly composed bouquet.
Another technical aspect of the problem is a lack of fixative materials, which while not thematic in themselves, hold the whole together and keep it developing on the skin. Also: cheap means a lack of high quality naturals which bring a lot of complex nuances into the mix."
So now you've got it straight from the Smell Doctor. All that remains is for me to track down a sniff of Lady Stetson. Nora, I understand you've got a bottle to unload...?
Image: Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver