More or less everything around us has a certain degree of familiarity with our past and yet we do not eat all the strawberry yogurts that are on the market. The direct signal of a previous olfactory experience (like the playdooh) is just a small element in an intricate net. More readable the sign is more difficult is for the perfumer to avoid the side effect of hyper quotation. The fragrance will end smelling like room sprays or shampoos or food flavors where the "easy" reference is more important (for the moment) that the subtle abstraction. Some signs might have a strong connotation in our western society given their overexposure (incense, coffee, orange, strawberry, etc) but the power of reference is not stable in time. One great example where the inspiration (the signs / references of a culture) gave birth to masterpieces is Serge Lutens. We do not like the perfumes just because of their inspiration. I had no North African cultural experience, nor any close relation to arabian culture, yet when I first met the perfumes in the 90's I was seduced immediately. It is the aesthetic vision behind the perfumes that seduced me and not the "emotional" reasons from a culture I'm little familiar with.
The easiness in the use of very "literal" influences in the perfumes of last decade had many side effects. Perfumes started to disappear from shelves (even when they had a small launch success) because they were just a "reference" and not so much else for the consumer. The chocolate licorice candy of your childhood might evoke pleasant moments but it's hard to believe that somebody would live for ever in this type of obvious sensations. The licorice in Lolita Lempicka is not just that candy note. There is much more around. But many Escada perfumes were just cocktails of flavors while some clean fragrances are just a detergent scent put in alcoholic solution.
Those multiple layers of perception / understanding make a perfume great and enduring over the years when a certain easiness in the "lecture" of fragrance is followed by complexity.
A perfume can be descriptive, evocative and even pictorial with the accuracy of a photo. It can also be a pure abstraction with little reference to anything.
I made a selection of some good fragrances to explain the differences between an obvious note and a subtle element (no positive/negative connotation). In the first case the note - reference is the main "content" of the perfume while in the second - the essence of this reference is deconstructed and then reconstructed by the perfumer. It is not just a secondary note but the result of a complex network of facets.
Easy to read of a reference sign
Fruitiness - Nina - Nina Ricci
Melon - Emotionelle (Del Rae)
Strawberry - Miss Dior Chérie
Tiaré - monoi - Bronze Godess (Estée Lauder)
Cedar - Cèdre (Serge Lutens)
Clean - Miracle (Lancôme)
Amber - Ambre Ylang (Estée Lauder)
Caramel - Aquolina Sugar
Soft leather - Cuir Amethyste (Armani Privé)
Complex reading of a reference sign
Fruitiness - Cartier X - l'Heure Folle
Melon - Le Parfum de Thérèse (Edmond Roudnitska)
Strawberry - Diorama
Tiaré - monoi - Manoumalia (LesNez - Sandrine Videault)
Cedar - Terre d'Hermès
Clean - Prada l'Eau Ambrée (the cashmere effect)
Amber - Eau de Merveilles (Hermès)
Caramel - Angel La Part des Anges
Soft leather - Cartier XIII - trezième heure
This constant opposition between an obvious element and its more subtle interpretation can appear also in the same perfume. Here we have several great examples
Vent Vert (Balmain) starts with an unmistakable green galbanum note, but it evolves into a very harmonious floral green note. Green becomes the essence of green, from pure figuration to a subtle representation
Féminité du Bois (Serge Lutens) the obvious cedar pencil note vs. the essence of woodiness decomposed in all the facets.
Declaration (Cartier) does the same with cumin and woody notes.
It is very easy to represent a sign because there are a lot of raw materials with strong characteristic note. But the way to pure abstraction is to represent the essence of that sign, the content and not the recognizable idea.
- the non descript floral note with no specific quotation (like Farouche and Capricci - Nina Ricci)
- the natural greenness and not the obvious green (Gardénia Petale Van Cleef & Arpels - the scent of nature and fresh flowers)
- the essence of coumarine / Iso E Super / Ambroxan and not their pictorial note
Demeter as a brand is a perfect example of creations that are mainly a pure reference - perfect pictures of a sign with great acuracy.photo: Oedipus and the Sphynx, Gustave Moreau - 1864
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Fragrance is the 8th Art - Octavian Coifan - Le Parfum est le 8ème Art