Fragrant Distractions – Part Two

Guest Post by Anna
Part One is here. This is Part Two.

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The lilies have faded, and I have had time to ponder how to write anything about fragrance.

I have the same intimidations about the world of perfume that others have about the world of color. Both highly subjective, each likely has as many interpreters as there are people on this Earth.

Interestingly, I learned that what sets scents apart from all others is that our olfactory sense is hardwired directly into our hypothalamus, making it one step closer to instinctive than all the other senses. Every other sensory request is routed through, and processed by the thalamus first. How about that for sensory hierarchy? In essence, all other clues and notions play second fiddle to the power of scent – which is probably why fragrances reign supreme in their ability provoke mind-altering time travel! I imagine this has its origins in such archetypal functions as our basic responses to pheromones – the crucial enabler of the various aspects of species survival and procreation – but is fascinating nonetheless!

That said, the task of reviewing perfumes is still difficult for me. I’m in awe of people who, not unlike oenophiles, can dissect the complex scent structures, and identify, sort, and categorize the dominant notes, and elusive top notes and undertones of fragrances. Faced with an abundance of choices, I fail to articulate even to myself what it is I’m looking for. Based on a few general terms like “ spicy, musky, and citrusy”, The Fragrant Man suggested I try the four below. So here I am – a week after receiving my samples, and aspiring to convey my thoughts of these delicious, yet so radically different perfumes.

Unable to make a convincing lyrical connection to those musings, I figured I’d try something different. Instead, I’m going to try to demonstrate the visual translation of my olfactory response by showing you what colors came to mind when I tested and wore them – from initial burst fading through to dry-down.

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First one out was Orange Sanguine by Atelier Cologne. Aptly described by Brie as “liquid laughter” – this is an exuberant, bright, cheerful and carefree perfume! Light and citrusy, it bursts onto my skin like a ray of warm sunshine. Even I can pick out the orange notes in this one! Very energetic and high spirited from the start, it mellows quickly, and rapidly loses that extroverted edge. Soon, it’s a mere memory of its former self – still clean, fresh and yummy, but not as attentive and somewhat distant. A little flighty, like a flower-hopping butterfly, it’s already on to the next thing. Within four hours it is practically gone. Of the four perfumes I tried, this one favors sprint over endurance – at least on my skin. In that regard, it is a little like one of my old favorites – Eau de Rochas. The only time I can recall Eau de Rochas lasting a long time was when my mother broke a bottle of it on our bathroom floor. In a sense, Orange Sanguine seems a suitable metaphor of the whirlwind of modern urban life – like a rare flash of profund inspiration garnered from a brief, onetime encounter with a stranger. The face soon fades, but the memory of the moment lingers. It’s a shame it vanishes so quickly, because I really enjoy wearing it. I wish it stayed present a little longer…

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Rose 31 by Le Labo is the one that had the most staying power – at least on me. In the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, I realized my wrist still smelled vaguely of it. I assure you – it is a delicious scent to wake up to! Reviewers everywhere dispute whether the rose is prevalent, or not. I’ll side with the yeay-sayers as is evident by my color choices – warm, rosy with woody undertones. To me, the rose is squarely planted front and center, but it is definitely not alone. It is the backup chorus of musky, woody and spicy notes that makes me enjoy it as much as I do. Without those, I would probably balk at its sweet, floral overtones. Some mention the presence of something called ISO E Super in this perfume, which, if I understand it correctly, it is to perfume what MSG is to food. Whether it’s there or not, is beyond the capability of my inexperienced nose to detect. Occasionally, Rose 31 feels a tiny bit too dusty for my taste, but the next time I try it, I can’t get enough of it. My kids laugh at me as I walk around sniffing my arm! This ambivalence of perception is interesting. Somehow, it seems dependent on mood and mindset – come to think of it – a bit like color… Could it be the pheromones I emit at the time that decides how it affects me?

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I found the rich history of Arquiste’s Anima Dulcis very intriguing. Imagine a whole new world of ingredients making its debut on the world stage, originating from the mysterious and secretive vaults of a convent in conquistadorian Mexico. After laying dormant and forgotten for hundreds of years, the original recipes were revived by Carlos Huber – a Mexican architect, turned perfume creator. His reinterpretation is deliciously rich, marvelously seductive and glorious enough to appease just about any deity! Using the then recently discovered (by westerners anyway) cocoa, vanilla, tuberose and chili peppers, the nuns concocted a heavenly fragrance, and the world never looked back. Quite honestly – I’m unable to discern the individual ingredients, but for me, the complex fragrance translated into rich reds, dusty purples and a warm, composite light yellow. If anything, it is the vanilla and something dark and earthy, like perhaps patchouli or frankincense, that stand out for me. The recent transformation of this venerable fragrance is a very warm and loving scent, and most definitely worthy of worship. For some reason, it works beautifully on me. Per Kafkaesque, Anima Dulcis is said to mean something like “soul of sweetness”. I can interpret that as proof of mutual compatibility… right?

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M’ by Puredistance is a beautifully seductive and elegant fragrance, evoking visions of the likes of Cary Grant hovering over swooning Aubrey Hepburns. It is definitely swoon-worthy! I can’t really discern any of the alledged citrus and floral notes until about half an hour into it. Instead, on my skin, it instantly reads as very masculine, woody, and “dark”, yet somewhat smokey and sweet. The patchouli is present from the very beginning, but there are endless complexities beyond that. As you can see, this fragrance commanded a higher number of colors in its visual interpretation – all more subdued that those representing the other three. Like Rose 31, this perfume lingers a long time on me. Although it never quite seems to relax into a natural fit with my chemistry (it feels too masculine), I absolutely love how it smells.  Given the reference to the Aston Martin, I can’t help wondering if ‘M’ pays homage to the eccentric, gearhead boss of James Bond fame. It certainly feels both expensive, tailored, and exclusive enough. Kafka calls this one a ‘Molten Marvel‘.

M‘ too, is a very good scent to wake up to – I imagine especially so if I could only have it served emanating from my beloved! “It’s unisex, you know”, I tell him, sticking my arm or neck under his nose, hoping to entice him to try it. By now, he is tired of hearing that phrase, after more than a week of testing, sniffing, and sharing observations. “You say that every time”, he sighs. It would be interesting to see his response to either of these reportedly unisex perfumes – but for my particular purposes, especially to that of ‘M‘. So very enticing… At present, that delicious notion remains a dream, and I’m afraid realizing it might take a while. For now, a big thank you to The Fragrant Man for picking four wonderful and intriguing new scents for me, based on such vagaries as “ spicy, musky, and citrusy”. You did well, Fragrant Man!


Anna Kullgren
The Creative Flux

Further Reading
Fragrant Distractions – Part One
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The Magical Mystery Rose
Anna previously wrote The Magical Mystery Rose in response to the Mohur review.
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11 responses to “Fragrant Distractions – Part Two

  1. Fear not, Anna, there’s a lot of us who aren’t that good at picking apart perfumes note by note. I really like your approach with the colors. I also like overall impressions of a scent as much as intricate dissections. I hope you’ll continue to do more reviews. I’m pretty sure I have a sample of M. I’m going to have to dig it out and see what colors come to mind.

    • Anna trained as a color specialist at the Scandinavian Colour Institute in Stockholm (and as an architect at the University of Cincinnati). Yes this is an interesting approach. I know some people ‘see’ a colour when they smell some things.

  2. Thanks Lucasai! I guess I resorted to whatever tools I had available! I hope it serves to illustrate my interpretation. I tried to capture how the morning light that shone through the glass cast a shadow of the ‘Atelier’ logo on the color samples. Orange Sanguine was the only photo where that approach worked – which makes sense considering what a fun and sunny fragrance it is!

  3. Reblogged this on The Creative Flux and commented:
    Equipped with a comparatively blunt nose, and lacking any real knowledge of, and vocabulary to describe something as subjective and elusive as fragrance – what’s a girl to do? Drifting about in a storming Sea of Scents, I clamored for the nearest point of safety – which for me was color. Here is my first attempt at a fragrance review ever – seen through Kodachrome lenses!

  4. I very much enjoyed your fresh take on reviewing perfumes. I am also not able to identify each note as it unfolds when I experience fragrance. I constantly read reviews by those people who have not only the super noses, but also the terrific vocabulary to label their impressions. But I really liked the way you approached each smell. I think the color palettes are brilliant and in my estimate, so accurate to the scents they identified with. I really liked the comment about OS that stated that it “favors sprinting over endurance…. a metaphor of the whirlwind of modern urban life.” that is so right on, Anna! Please keep on writing for us!!! This is GOOD stuff.

    • Thank you so much Tora! I’m so happy the colors spoke to you! I think it would be really interesting to see if there were any consensus if, say, ten different people were to review the same perfumes, and express their color interpretations of the scents. It would be a fun experiment, wouldn’t it? I enjoyed writing this review, wouldn’t mind writing another one soon. Thanks for the encouragement!🙂

  5. Odors really are the gateway to time travel. I always find it interesting how just the right mix of crayons, paper and asphalt makes me re-live moments in my early school years during the mid 70s.

    • Greg – they really are. My nephew told me he re-visited his old elementary school, and almost cried – he was so touched. It is amazing how powerful scent memories are!

  6. Pingback: Fragrant Questions | The Fragrant Man·

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