This meme made the rounds in my Facebook feed a few weeks ago, and while it poses some interesting philosophical questions, it also got me thinking about ... fragrances.
There's a reason we should always test perfumes before we wear them - everyone's skin chemistry is different, and what smells good on one person might not work for another.
It's also true that our noses are different, and how you interpret a smell - on yourself or someone else - is probably going to be different than how someone else interprets it.
The moral of the story? When it comes to fragrance, don't try to please anyone but yourself - your experience with a fragrance is the only one you have any control over anyway.
All of this brings me to a set of samples I've been working through lately.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is an artisan perfumer with a wonderfully wild imagination. Her company, DSH Perfumes, operates out of Boulder, Colorado, where I'm sure there's no shortage of natural inspiration.
My favorite of her scents is Wasabi Shiso, a perfume so green it reminds me of having a picnic on a freshly cut field in the Irish countryside, wearing a dress made of banana leaves, dripping in jade and emeralds, while eating a salad made with seaweed and bell peppers and clover.
A few weeks ago I got this new batch of samples from DSH and I've been working through them, testing one every couple of days. She uses some interesting notes in her fragrance designs - and that's exactly what I like about her work. When I interpret those notes through the filter of my own experience, my own nose, I got some even more strange results (strange in a good way - even when I don't love a DSH scent, I always find them interesting to wear).
Without further ado, here are my observations:
The first sniff out of the bottle: My very first impression after uncorking the bottle was that of a good-quality sour beer, like a craft brew, which is absolutely not one of the notes in this fragrance. See what I mean about interpretations being subjective?
Initial impression on skin: Ah, there are the roses, but that little bit of bitterness is still there, like the flowers are dying in a vase in a room where someone is burning Nag Champa incense.
Drydown: After an hour or so, the scent of soft, fresh roses were all that was left, and I wonder if the saltiness that was supposed to be in the top notes were what translated as 'sour' to my nose.
Sniff: This is supposed to be an aquatic, but my first impression was of a light floral with a hint of forest greenery.
On skin: On my skin, the earthiness of this fragrance came out a little more - it was almost musky, but the subtle sweetness of a floral I couldn't identify - maybe orange blossom? - lingered in the background.
Drydown: By the end almost all I could smell was moss, but there was a hint of ocean water, so I think that whatever makes this one an aquatic was mostly lost in my skin chemistry.
Sniff: The geranium in this is so strong from the outset, but there's also a hint of something lemony that had me really intrigued.
On skin: The citrus got a lot stronger, mingling with the floral to create the impression of something like lemon candy, and something about the combination also hinted at gasoline.
Drydown: This stuff is a carnival! Lemon candy, cherry sours, the oil and grease from the old wooden roller coaster. It's so much fun, and really has some staying power - I'll definitely be picking up a bottle.
Sniff: La Plage is another one that's supposed to be all about sand and surf, but I got fresh cut grass right out of the gate.
On skin: This fragrance smelled almost exactly the same once it hit my skin, something that almost never happens. The only addition was a hint of rubber, like new car tires.
Drydown: The hard rubber scent was even stronger in the finish. Maybe there's bergamot that's not playing nicely with the greener notes in this one?
Je Suis La Lune VdP
Sniff: It was hard to get a read on this one at first. Out of the bottle, the fragrance was faint - cinnamon? cardamom? I definitely got the impression of spice, maybe just a hint of vanilla, but the floral was just a suggestion at this point.
On skin: On my skin I definitely picked up on the deeper florals - I got magnolia, jasmine, maybe gardenia. It was a nice mix, but verging on being a little too much.
Drydown: This might have ended up being really pleasant if I'd been able to leave it on for another 30 minutes, but the florals were just so stiflingly heavy, I had to wash it off.
If you really love tropical florals but want something that demands to be taken seriously, this might be the perfume for you. Tread lightly, get a sample first, and don't use too much - this fragrance has such strong sillage, you'll be announcing your arrival minutes ahead of time if you do more than dab it on.
Il Marinaio da Capri VdP
Sniff: This one was also hard to smell out of the bottle - for as much as its composition purports to be very complex, all I got were some mild floral notes - a little rose, maybe some orange blossom - on my first sniff.
On skin: On my skin, it was still subtle, but I finally got the sense of an aquatic, the little bit of salt and seaweed that comes with an ocean breeze.
Drydown: The drydown was interesting. I don't normally love patchouli, but that in combination with the oakmoss and honeysuckle turned into something magical. Anything aquatic completely disappeared in favor of the smell of fresh soap. I really love this one, but it's so subtle, I'm not sure if I'll buy a full bottle (luckily DSH offers every scent in a variety of sizes, so maybe a 10ml roller?).
Paper White EdP
Sniff: This one does open very green, not in an earthy way, but like the leafy foliage in a vase of flowers.
On skin: There's still some green here, but a light white floral starts to appear. There are so many floral notes - narcissus, jonquil, jasmine, iris - that all mingle in a way that ensures no one of them will be distinctive enough to identify. What stands out clearly, though, is the scent of actual paper.
Drydown: Eventually the green and floral notes disappear and leave behind the clear scent of paper. You know that satisfying feeling when you crack open a fresh blank paper notebook? This is that, but in fragrance form. Well, maybe if that notebook had also had a flower pressed in between its leaves.
Paper White is the fragrance I really wanted to try, but it just didn't seem right to place an order for just one small sample vial, which is why I ended up with all these other lovely, complex scents to experiment with. The writer in me is particularly happy with it - I'll almost certainly buy a full bottle - but En Vacances and Il Marinaio are also destined to take up some space on my perfume shelf.