Base notes

I adore perfume. And given my passion for aromatherapy, sometimes I think I was a perfumer in a past life.

I’ve written before about how difficult it is for me to find one scent and stick to it. I just can’t. I love shopping for them. I love the process of researching my next purchase, which includes reading reviews and descriptions of a perfume’s top, middle, and base notes. I find these descriptions beautiful and poetic, and can lose hours reading about different ones.

Take this, for example, which describes something I bought last weekend.

On first application, I smell aldehydes, rose, carnation and powder. The aldehydes are mild, and have the effect of brightening the composition. The rose is dry and boozy at the same time. It is like a rose bouquet–some roses smell dusty, but sweet and powdery. Others smell like a fine rose liquor, complete with raisiny, spicy, sweet and tart qualities. The carnation is fresh and spicy, like a mixture of garden pinks which smell like cloves, and florists’ carnations which have a sort of frosted rose petal effect.

As the aldehydes burn off, the rose and carnation come forward even more, and the sweet base of amber and vanilla start to deepen the impression of these two floral notes. The rose and carnation seem dark and mysterious. The boozy, preserved fruit quality of the rose is very penetrating, and taking deep inhalations, it feels like it goes straight into my heart.  As the rose begins to fade, the sweet base seamlessly absorbs the rose and becomes more prominent. It is amazing that the spicy carnation keeps going strong through this phase, and is instrumental in the transition from top to middle to base.

The powder comes out again in the drydown, along with the spicy carnation, the dried fruit aspect of the rose, amber and resins. The vanilla and tonka are not dominant, but typically notes like this are very important in amber, and the amber accord is what I smell more than anything.  The overall effect in the drydown is floral spice with sweet, powder and delicately resinous amber. I find it to be gorgeous at every stage–even the drydown is amazing in its beauty.

Or this one, which I’ve owned for quite a few years. Just reading this makes me want to go home and spritz it on my wrists right now.

The opening is a heady and clean, crisp mélange of rosewood, lavender and apple martini. The apple martini note is brilliant. It really adds an unusually vivid, effervescent quality to the opening and thankfully lacks the mustiness that some other apple scents uphold.* It’s boozy only in an elegant way – like sipping on the cocktail to appreciate the flavour, without getting drunk.

The heart notes are abstract florals – orchids and paper whites. Paper whites are not fancy silken paper sheets as I was almost lead to believe, but rather refer to a flower from the narcissi family – Narcissus tazetta. I can’t say that I smell narcissus in there, but there is a light floral impression that is hard to describe. As I said – abstract.

These soft, ethereal florals bridge into an even more abstract base of highly processed patchouli (dry and clean rather than earthy and musty), amber and musk – together resulting in an effect that is very close to the skin. An original, clean musk skin scent, subtly surrounding the wearer with a mystifying aura that is clean and pleasant.

Breaking all of this down is such an intriguing process . I love that you can pick out some notes on some days, and some notes on others. I love that a scent changes throughout the day, and that each scent is different depending on the skin it is on. I love that some work better in summer, some better in winter. I love that some scents evoke memories, some specific imagery, and nearly all evoke colors for me.

It strikes me that these descriptions aren’t unlike descriptions of wine–another passion.


(Artwork courtesy of The Graphics Fairy)
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