Summer Series Part 3: Staying “true to family” proves a winning formula when choosing fragrance

Karatta Beach, Robe

Karatta Beach, Robe

Welcome to Perfume Polytechnic’s Summer Series. I’m taking a break over part of the summer from writing new posts, but instead of stopping publishing altogether, I want to share with you some of my favourite posts from previous years. I hope you enjoy reading them; you may even come across something you missed the first time round!

Today I’m sharing a post from last year that – if I may be so bold – I think deserves a bit more attention. Sometimes some of my more interesting posts seem to slip under the radar, and this is one of them. In this post, I discuss an article by researcher and fragrance consultant Laura Donna, published in Perfumer & Flavorist Magazine in February 2012. Donna’s research shows that Michael Edwards’ (Fragrances of the World) method of selecting/suggesting scent for a customer, based on choosing fragrances from similar categories to the shopper’s favourite scents, results in more successful outcomes than when suggesting scents based on the latest fragrance advertising.

Also relevant to this discussion of perfume advertising and its merits and failings is the scathingly hilarious article by Ashley Davies, Smells Like Pure Bullshit. It’s a funny read if you’re as embarrassed by fragrance advertising as I am. Ashley quips:

Whenever I watch a perfume ad I get thoroughly lost. Not in an intoxicating reverie of romance, passion and fantasy, but puzzling over what the jolly old heck the people behind these commercials think about women.

The briefing sessions between the clients and the ad agencies must go something like this:

Agency guy: “So, what are you hoping to achieve here?”

Client: “I don’t really care, as long as a stunning woman looks like she’s been lobotomised – or at the very least has been sprinkling horse meds in the Nutribullet.”

Agency guy, nodding, steepling fingers: “Yar, yar. I hear you, yar. You’ll be wanting her to behave like a spoilt little girl who craves all the drama, yar, despite this being a product targeted at adults, yar?”

Client makes a gun shape with his finger: “Correctamundo.”

Also good for laughs is Fry and Laurie’s mock fragrance advertisement “Pretension”. If you haven’t seen it, do have a watch. It’s a great send-up of modern perfume ads.

Without any further ado or additional discussion, here’s the article…

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Staying “true to family” proves a winning formula when choosing fragrance


Advertisement for Guerlain’s Shalimar featuring Natalia Vodianova

When it comes to commercial fragrance marketing, I like to think of myself as impervious to it (haha), and hope that I wouldn’t allow it to influence my decision to buy a fragrance. Commercial perfume marketing, to me, panders to the most clichéd and stereotyped notions of gender, race, age, class and sexuality, and most of the time puts me off trying a fragrance, rather than attracting me towards it! I find myself having to ignore such marketing, whether it’s the writhing of model Natalia Vodianova in a warm pool of water, almost naked, in a publicity video for my beloved Shalimar, or a celebrity like Kim Kardashian, who I have little respect for, advertising her latest “celebuscent”. I find such marketing embarrassing, and I’m no prude. The one advertisement that did capture my attention was the Brad Pitt campaign for Chanel no. 5. I was fascinated that a man (albeit a rather pretty one) was advertising one of the most famous women’s scents, and this intrigued me; the ad played with notions of gender and gained a lot of attention for it. Nevertheless, generally speaking, I dislike commercial fragrance advertising, while at the same time also understanding that I am probably unusual in my dislike of it and inability to be swayed by all the lifestyle promises contained within such advertisements.

Brad Pitt advertising Chanel no. 5

Brad Pitt advertising Chanel no. 5

And yet it seems that purveyors of fragrances still use such marketing, with its suggestiveness of a perfect lifestyle, with its dramatic moodiness and emoting, with its pretty imagery and lovely bottles, as the main tool to sell fragrances. However, contrary to this belief that such marketing results in great sales and more importantly, lasting satisfaction with the perfume purchased, researcher and fragrance consultant Laura Donna has proven that women actually prefer to purchase and wear fragrances based on previous favourites regardless of marketing, and that these fragrances usually fall within the same fragrance categories. Donna’s research (published in Perfumer & Flavorist Magazine, February 2012) suggests that perfume retailers would be best to ignore lifestyle marketing and trends, as well as in-store gadgets sometimes used to guide fragrance purchases, and instead rely on suggesting new fragrances based on preferences and the fragrance families that customers’ favourites come from. Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of The World, a publication that is produced yearly, and which includes most commercial fragrance releases, sorting them by scent family (Chypre, Oriental, Floral, etc.) and into sub-families, is the perfect tool to help retailers guide buyers towards satisfactory purchases. Laura Donna argues that there is no substitute for smelling a fragrance and that no amount of marketing or gadgetry can replace the olfactory experience of actually trying a fragrance in store or at home.

An anecdote of my most recent perfume purchase supports Donna’s theory that customers tend to buy fragrances that are similar to favourite, previous purchases. Last week I visited one of the most exclusive and best stocked niche fragrance boutiques in Melbourne. I was interested in trying Anima Dulcis by Arquiste, and also in checking out the mid-year sale stock. I expressed an interest in trying Baghari by Robert Piguet, and the store owner suggested I also try a couple of other fragrances that were similar to Baghari at the same time. One in particular caught my attention and really took hold of me: Ligea la Sirena by Italian perfume house Carthusia. It didn’t remind me overtly of Baghari, though it certainly shared a lightness with it and some citrus top notes, but I was very drawn to it nonetheless. Knowing to let a fragrance settle on my skin before purchase, I went for a walk in the area and kept sniffing the fragrance on my wrist. Fifteen minutes later, a lightbulb went off and I worked out why I loved this fragrance at first spray: Ligea la Sirena reminded me of my favourite perfume, Guerlain’s Shalimar, whilst also reminding me of two other favourite Guerlain fragrances: Eau de Shalimar and Jicky, both of which share obvious similarities with Shalimar. Ligea la Sirena’s similarity to these beloved fragrances convinced me to buy a large bottle, as I was certain I would enjoy wearing it, based on my preference for these other very similar fragrances, which get regular wear.

Anecdotes aside, Laura Donna’s research does ring true with my own experience of purchasing fragrances that are similar to one another. I own Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of the World, and am surprised to discover that many of my favourite fragrances do indeed exist in the same categories, and often in the same sub-category. While I do have broad tastes as a perfume collector and blogger, my favourites fall within the families of Oriental and Woody Oriental and are generally “Classical” in character, according to Edwards’ system. If you’re interested in Donna’s theory, or if this matches your experience, you will probably enjoy reading Laura Donna’s article and seeing how her research panned out.

I’m curious to know what you think of Laura Donna’s article and whether it matches your own experience of purchasing perfume. Do you like perfume advertising? Are you swayed by it, or do you find yourself naturally drawn to similar kinds of fragrances from the same (or similar) olfactory groups, over and over again? Tell me your experiences in the comments box below. (If you’re reading this post from the home page, click on the title at the top to go to the full post. The comments box is at the bottom of the page).


Donna, Laura: “The Case for Fragrance Family Loyalty: New Research Uncovers a Clear Method for Connecting Consumers to the Scents they will Love”, in Perfumer & Flavourist Magazine, Vol. 37, February 2012.

Music and Smell: Brian Eno’s Scents and Sensibility

Bitter orange foliage, blossoms and fruit by Franz Eugen Köhler, from Köhler's "Medizinal-Pflanzen". Public Domain.

Bitter orange (neroli) foliage, blossoms and fruit. By Franz Eugen Köhler, from Köhler’s “Medizinal-Pflanzen”. Public Domain.

I’m a composer of more than twenty years, a musician of thirty years, and an accomplished knitter. I sew reasonably well, I write, I love to cook and plant things and once had a tiny business making and selling my own felt and textile jewellery. You could say I like to make things. In fact, creativity is my life force, and it’s the thing that gets me going more than anything. That and sensuality: creativity as it relates to the senses. In order to create in any medium or art form,  I feel that I really need to get to the core of an activity and find out how things work in the background. If there’s a science to it, I try to learn about it, if there are methods and practices that artists use to make their work, I find out about them and practice them. That’s what I intend to do with this blog, to really get into the nitty-gritty of the sense of smell and the art of perfume.

One of the things I wanted to do when I started Perfume Polytechnic a few months back was to investigate the connections and parallels between music and perfume. This is something else I do, and perhaps it’s because I’m a synaesthete as well as a creative person – I like to see and find the connections between things. Or perhaps it’s because I hope to use fragrance or scent or smell in an artwork I create one day. As music is the field I understand best of all, perhaps I strive to understand other creative practices by finding parallels and similarities (and also differences) between other artistic practices and it. I see other art forms through the lens of music, and my understanding of it, as well as looking at each art form as a separate entity.

I’ve only just started digging into this topic of the connections and differences between music and perfume, and in doing so, I came across a wonderful article by Brian Eno called Scents and Sensibility, published in Details Magazine in 1992. It was news to me that Eno, a well-known musician and creative polymath, is a long time fan of all things smelly, including fragrance. Eno is interested in trying to understand the working innards of perfumery and the science of smell, and in his article muses about the futility of trying to find a classification system for smells that is neat and clear and finite. He also laments the difficulty of finding a direct and clear language to describe smells that doesn’t simply rely on metaphors and similes. Eno draws some wonderful comparisons between the areas of music and scent, and how the two fields are studied and described, but I won’t spoil too many surprises by summarising any further. You can read Brian Eno’s Scents and Sensibility here.

In 1993 Eno released an ambient instrumental album called Neroli, named after the syrupy sweet, floral and heady essential oil produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree (citrus aurantium subspecies amara or bigaradia). The perfume ingredient neroli actually got its name after the popular 17th Century Princess of Nerola (Anne Marie Orsini, aka Marie Anne de la Trémoille) started using the oil to fragrance both her gloves and bath. A lovely name and etymology for such a beautiful fragrance ingredient!

I haven’t listened to Brian Eno’s Neroli yet, but I intend to soon. Did you know that Brian Eno was interested in perfume and the sense of smell? What do you think of comparing one art form to another – can it be done, or should each art form stay clearly defined as a separate entity? Let me know what you think in the comments box below!

Until next time…

Polly Technic


Scent Mapping: Diagrams and Aroma Wheels

Scent mapping tries to make sense of the smells in the world around us by mapping them in a variety of ways. This can take the form of various diagrams, tables, and aroma wheels. Usually such diagrams contain categories that classify and group individual smells, but they can also tell us other things, such as how we relate smells to gender, and also how similar or dissimilar certain smells are to one another. They can also tell us something about how we react – both physically and psychologically – to certain smells. There are a number of famous scent maps, including Paul Jellinek’s odour effects diagram, and Michael Edwards’ fragrance wheel from his Fragrances of World book. In this post I’ll be introducing you to some of these wheels and diagrams, which are fascinating to look at in their own right. In a future post, I will be discussing some of the findings of a study by Manuel Zarzo and David Stanton, in which they compared various odour databases, scent maps and wheels and drew some interesting conclusions about our perceptions of scent. Paul Jellinek’s odour effects diagram (a later version here has been modified by his son Joseph Stephan Jellinek and Robert Calkin) originally dates from 1951. Jellinek’s map proposes various categories or types of smell, and also the various effects that such smells have on us, e.g. stimulating, erogenous, calming or fresh.

Jellinek’s Odour Effects Diagram

Michael Edwards’ fragrance wheel, from his Fragrances of the World book, comprises a number of fragrance categories, showing the relationship between one category and the next. In Fragrances of the World, which is released every year, Edwards groups thousands of commercially available fragrances into these categories. The book is intended for industry use so that sales assistants can recommend new fragrances to customers, based on similarities with a customer’s favourite perfumes.


Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel. c. Michael Edwards

Mandy Aftel’s Aftelier Natural Perfume Wheel consists of categories of scent families, sub-categories within these (like Jellinek’s diagram, labelled with subjective descriptors such as fresh and heavy), and individual notes/ingredients within the sub-categories. The Drom Fragrance Circle is similar to Aftel’s, complete with subjective descriptors, and aligning some scent categories with gender.


Drom Fragrance Wheel

The aromachemically-literate among us might be interested in Givaudan’s very beautiful scent ingredients map, which reminds me of a stylised subway diagram.


Givaudan’s Scent Ingredients Map

There is a well-known connection and cross-sensory interrelationship between the senses of smell and taste, so the following wheels are provided for your interest and comparison with the fragrance-specific diagrams provided above. It’s interesting to me how much overlap there is. First up is Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel, originally devised in the 1980s.


Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel

Below is the Beer Flavour Wheel invented in the 1970s by Dr Morten Meilgaard. wheel

And finally, Niki Segnit’s flavour wheel from her brilliant book The Flavour Thesaurus.


Flavour Wheel from Niki Segnit’s “The Flavour Thesaurus”

What do you think of scent mapping? Do you have a favourite map, diagram or scent wheel that I haven’t included here? Does scent mapping help you to understand smell, fragrance ingredients and fragrance better? I’d love to hear what you think – let me know in the comments below! Until next time, Polly Technic