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Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA

Chypre is the collective term for a group or type of perfumes which get their character through the combination of a fresh Eau de Cologne-like top note and a foundation comprised mainly of oakmoss, labdanum, and patchouli. Pronounced 'sheepra,' French for 'Cyprus' the term is often credited with first use by François Coty, a Mediterranean merchant from Corsica, to describe the aromas he found on that Greek island. He created a woodsy, mossy, citrusy perfume named Chypre, which was launched by his Coty company in 1917. Classic chypre fragrances generally had sparkling citrus, fruit, and floral notes over a dark, earthy base. Modern chypre fragrances usually use less (or no) oakmoss because of regulatory restrictions; sometimes they use synthetic substitutes.

The classical chypre is defined as a combination of three key notes — citrus (often bergamot), floral (classically, rockrose, labdanum, or jasmine), and oakmoss (a tree lichen that grow on oaks, mainly in the Balkans), combined with animalic, woody (often patchouli) tones and amber or musk. Some experts claim that all five elements must be present. The past few years have seen the revival of the family in both men's and women's products. When the market is flooded with many new launches each year, the ability to stand out is important. But at the same time, fragrance companies are afraid that too strong of a character will be a deterrent. Chypre fragrances are often able to strike the middle ground in this respect, which may partially explain the renewed interest in them. While chypres have seen varying popularity in most countries, they have remained a steady favorite in southern Europe. In addition, with fashion trending towards retro, it is not surprising that fragrance families with long histories such as chypre are coming back.

The chypre family actually was not created by François Coty when he launched his Chypre in 1917. In fact, the oldest perfume factory in the world, dating to 4000 years ago, was discovered in Pyrgos Mavrorachi (Greek for 'fortress on the black slope') on Cyprus. And chypre was a common blend of mossy and animalic raw materials during the time of the Roman empire. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Cypriots experimented with 'Cipria,' a cosmetic face powder infused with their local aromatic blends. The vogue for powdered wigs in western Europe in the 17th century made Cipria one of the most widely used cosmetic products, and the name is still referenced in Italian to this day for cosmetic powder. Chypre as a name for an accord is often mentioned in 18th century perfume manuals. In the early 20th century, Guerlain had at least two chypres, Chypre de Paris and Chypre, both pre-1917. Still, Coty must be given credit for solidly establishing chypre as a fragrance family. He took the classical idea and gave it well-defined structure and distinct form. The classical chypre as we know it today is largely due to Coty Chypre establishing this convention. Ironically, its novelty was the reason for an initial brief resistance at the time of its launch – the rather startling, rough beauty of Chypre is mesmerizing, but it often remains too aggressive. However, chypre quickly became widely popular and created a trend for such 'heavy green' perfumes.

In addition to producing a chypre at least 8 years before Coty did, Jacques Guerlain — the great perfumer heading the house with his name – refined the chypre family shortly after Coty's launch of his product. In creating Mitsouko, Guerlain softened the animalic impact of Coty’s Chypre, infused it with the sweetness of ripe peaches, and added a spicy touch against the backdrop of a mossy-woody accord.

The unique combination of accords in chypre creates a sensual and mysterious effect, due to the warm/cool contrast of the materials. While classical chypres are often dark and rich, modern chypres based on experiments with various moss aroma materials and the new family of ambers tend to have a transparency paired with complexity and depth.

Over the years, the family has evolved tremendously and become more varied and complex. Now, as long as the key elements of chypre are present in some form, a fragrance can be called a chypre. Because they smell like perfume, i.e. an 'external fragrance,' chypres project an image of luxury, sophistication, and status. They can be cerebral, cool and aloof or they can be intimate like scents wafting from the boudoir. Because of their variable tones, it is common to confuse the chypres with the heavily woody Orientals or with green woody florals.

Chypres can distributed generally into family subcategories based on their dominant tone:

- Green: grassy, herbal
- Fruity (citrus): singular or blends of bergamot, orange, lemon or neroli, other fruits less often
- Woody (primarily oakmoss): mossy and woody
- Patchouli: camphoraceous and woody
- Animalic or Musk: sweet, powdery, and animalic. (Usually synthetic in modern products.)
- Floral: flowery

On the basic scaffolding of key elements, the perfumer can add accent pieces that make the perfume lean this or that direction, placing it somewhat into one of the subcategories. Add more of the green notes of grasses, herbs, and green-smelling florals (such as hyacinth) and one has 'green chypres.' Emphasize the woodier notes of patchouli, vetiver, and pine needles and one has the 'woody chypres.' Increase the notes of ripe fruits - such as citrus or plum and peach - and one has the historically important 'fruity chypres' (such as Guerlain Mitsouko). Add lots of discernible flowers and the 'floral chypres' are produced. Additional aldehydes on top make for an 'aldehydic chypre.' With the inclusion of copious animal ingredients the 'animalic chypres' appear. Finally, although technically a separate family, according to La Société Française des Parfumeurs, called 'cuir/leather fragrances,' there are a few perfumes that mingle notes reminiscent of leather goods with the general elements of a chypre, such as Chanel Cuir de Russie.

In the commonly used Michael Edwards classification system, chypres fall mostly into the 'mossy woods' category, as Edwards doesn't include a chypre family per se, but rather places them between woods and orientals. 'Nouveau chypres,' introduced in the early 2000s, are not technically chypres in the classical sense, but rather 'woody floral musk' fragrances, with a 'clean' patchouli and vetiver base standing in for the reduced ratio of oakmoss allowed by modern industry regulations regarding allergens. (Oakmoss is considered a skin sensitizer.)

Since the mid-1980's, Karl Lagerfeld cologne, simply called 'Lagerfeld,' has been the quintessential modern chypre scent for both men and women, although there are many others. Men's chypre fragrances include Antonio Puig Sybaris; Atkinsons Duke; Avon Class Act and True Force; Basile Uomo; Borsalino for Men; Bronnley English Fern and James Bronnley; Caesars Man; Coty Stetson; Creed Erolfa and Vintage Tabarome; Domenico Caraceni 1913; Floris JF; G.F. Trumper Curzon Cologne; Halston Z; Kappa Nero Man; Lancome Sagamore and Trophee; Lanvin Monsieur; Lentheric Hallmark; Liz Claiborne for Men; Maxim's Pour Homme; Novaya Zarya Chypre and Only You; Penhaligon's Racquets, Quercus, and Douro; Perry Ellis Night; Ralph Lauren Polo Crest; Romeo Gigli for Man; Royal Copenhagen for Men; Shiseido Basala; and Yves Saint Laurent La Collection Pour Homme. And among the most popular have been Aramis 900 and Devin; Guerlain Habit Rouge, Mouchoir de Monsieur, and Shalimar; Knize Ten; Yatagan; Caron Pour Un Homme; Yves Saint Laurent M7; Guerlain Derby; Chanel Pour Monsieur; Gucci Pour Homme; Nicolai New York; Armani Eau Pour Homme; Versace L'Homme; Dior Eau Sauvage; Tom Ford Moss Breches; Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel; and Monsieur de Givenchy. Finally, marketed for both sexes, Guerlain Mitsouko remains the standard for the fragrance family.
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Super Moderator
San Diego, Cal., USA
Another great article, John. Of all the chypres listed in your article, the only one I have is Dior's Eau Sauvage but it is definitely a keeper for me.
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Great article! My three favorite chypres:

Aventus (fruity new style chypre)
Diaghilev (baroque, animalic chypre)
Chypre Palatin (chypre with an oriental twist)

Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA
(This post was last modified: 05-21-2016, 01:21 AM by churchilllafemme.)

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
~Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Earthy is the adjective used to describe the fragrance impression of earth, forest soil, mold, moss, or dust, "the odor of freshly turned earth, musty and rooty." Earthy accents in perfumes usually are subtle, not pronounced. In biochemical terms, earthy tones are often due to phenylacetaldehyde glyceryl acetal, which is also described sometimes as "green and herbal."

Essential oils contributing to an earthy fragrance:

Angelica mentioned in a perfume description usually refers to the essential oil obtained from the dried root of Angelica Archangelica.  It has a musky, green, woody scent with a touch of spice.

Patchouli oil is derived by steam distilling the leaves of a member of the mint family, a perennial bushy shrub originally from Malaysia and India. Often used as base note, especially in chypre, oriental, and powdery fragrances, it has a musty, sweet, spicy scent; in modern products, it is sometimes altered molecularly to remove the musty component. Its earthy tone is very similar to that of vetiver.  It combines especially well with bergamot, lavender, rose, and sandalwood.  The oil sometimes is aged, which adds a fruity note to its other qualities.

Valerian oil comes mainly from Valerian Officinalis, a perennial flowering plant native to Europe, North American, and northern Asia.  Very animalic and musky, it has been described as having an unpleasant smell like a mix of well-matured soft cheese and stinky feet, with its overall stinkiness increasing as it dries.  However, in an appropriate concentration, it adds a desirable edge to a composition, and it blends well with woods.  Paradoxically, the more conentrated it is, the more green - and less stinky - it is.

Vetiver oil is extracted by distillation from the roots of the plant, which is a grass native to India, but now grown in Haiti (the main producer), Indonesia, China, and Java.  The oil has a distinctive damp, earthy scent, with woody, leathery, peppery, dusty, and smoky tones.  Due to its excellent fixative properties, vetiver is used widely in perfume products; it is present in about 90% of all western perfumes.  It is a more common ingredient in masculine fragrances, including Dior Eau Sauvage, Guerlain Vetiver, and Vetiver by L'Occitane.

Popular earthy aftershaves/perfumes:

Terre d'Hermes
Tom Ford Grey Vetiver
Lalique Encre Noir
Montale Greyland and Patchouli Leaves
Frederic Malle French Lover
Chanel Sycomore
Ouds (various)
Hugo Boss Elements
M2 Black March
Neil Morris Dark Earth
Guerlain Vetiver
Etro Vetiver
Lorenzo Villoresi Sandalo, Vetiver, and Patchouli
Serge Lutens Borneo 1834
Czech & Speake No.88
L'Artisan Voleur de Roses
Givenchy Gentleman
Caron Yatagan
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Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA

FLORAL is the largest generic fragrance category.  Within it there are subcategories such as aldehydic floral or green floral.  Flowery notes like rose, gardenia, or jasmine can be used alone or in combination with one another to produce a “floral bouquet.”  Since some flowers have little or no scent, creative floral accords are often produced chemically to fulfill the need for scents such as daisy or orchid.  Floral tones will generally be found at the heart of a fragrance.

Today, over half of all perfumes are characterized by the adjective "floral."  In fact, nearly all perfumes contain floral notes in some quantity, large or small.

Floral group flowers and common essences:
Acacia, Apple Blossom, Boronia, Broom, Cananga, Carnation, Cassie, Chamomile, Champaca, Chrysanthemum, Everlasting Flower, Freesia, Gardenia, Geranium, Heliotrope, Honeysuckle, Hyacinth, Jasmine, Jonquil, Karounde, Lilac, Lily, Longoza, Magnolia, Marigold, Mimosa, Muguet, Narcissus, Orange Flower, Orris, Osmanthus, Peony, Reseda, Rose, Tuberose, Violet, Ylang Ylang.

Floral scents descriptions:

Ambrette - a slightly sweet musk-floral type odour with underlying cognac notes (Note: This is a floral odour not from a flower, but a seed.)
Benzoate - an intense fruity-floral, somewhere between blackcurrant in diluted form to Ylang Ylang and tuberose when concentrated or slightly diluted
Broom - a sweet floral hay-like odor with bitter undertones
Carnation - powerful yet delicate floral-clove odour
Cassia - complex spicy-citrus orange-violet floral odour
Cyclamen - strong jasmine, lily, lilac, violet floral with green and earthy undertones
Frangipani - a rich tropical violet-like floral
Gardenia - a rich but fresh floral resembling jasmine and tuberose with green and light citrus-orange notes
Geranium - a leafy, rose-like scent with minty undertones
Hawthorn - a diffusive balsamic floral reminiscent of anise and bitter almond
Heliotrope - a delicate, bitter, fruity-almond floral with balsamic vanilla notes
Honeysuckle - a sweet but heavy floral with tuberose, honey, rose, and orange flower notes
Hyacinth - a fresh, diffusive, green, balsamic jasmine-like floral
Jasmine - a powerful honey/heliotrope-like floral
Lilac - a fresh, green, hay-like, jasmine-like floral
Lily - sweet, heavy floral
Lily of the Valley - a fresh, rosy, lemon floral note with green undertones
Lime blossom - a fresh lily, lilac-citrus scent
Magnolia - a sweet, heavy, rosy, violet-like scent with citrus undertones
Mimosa - a powerful, green, almond-like floral with citrus undertones
Narcissus - a complex and delicate, sweet, green, hay-like floral with spicy undertones
Neroli - a sweet, spicy, orange blossom floral (could also be classified as citrus)
Orange flower - a warm, spicy, bitter orange floral
Osmanthus - an exotic floral scent reminiscent of plums and raisins
Reseda - a green, herbaceous floral
Rose - a powerful, sweet, warm, waxy, slightly spicy/balsamic, honey-like floral with very slight cognac undertones
Sweet pea - a delicate, sweet, hyacinth-like, lily-like, orange blossom floral
Tuberose - a heavy, orange-type floral with green and caramel undertones
Violet - an intense, peppery/spicy, green floral with a powdery undertone
Wallflower - a somewhat lilac-like floral with a bitter almond undertone
Ylang ylang - a heavy, sweet, lilac/clove-like floral with fruity undertones

Major Floral Groups

Rose and similar:

Rose has a distinctive honey-sweet character.  Classical tea roses are citrusy and bright, while quintessential modern roses are crisp.  Some modern fragrances feature a fruity rose, with tart grapefruit and passion fruit adding a zesty twist.  And some are playful, light roses that retain a bright quality from top to finish.  Rose can be light or dark in tone.

On the dark and seductive end of the rose spectrum, fragrances have a dramatic, smoldering character, earthy and dense.  Dark roses, such as Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady, work well for men as well as women.

Carnation is a dark, spicy floral.  Perfumery carnation is a rose laced with jasmine-like notes, pepper, and clove.  Unlike rose, it tends to be more dry and spicy.  Carnation is generally considered an old-fashioned flower, and it rarely is the main floral note in compositions.  The leather composition Knize Ten has a solid carnation note at its heart.

Peony is a very light rose variant.  It is often moist and fresh, with fruity accent notes like rhubarb and pomegranate.  Modern bright and fruity peonies have been replacing the heavier and more opulent rose notes in recent years.

Lilac, with a character combining the freshness of rose with the richness of almonds, has been one of the most important floral notes in classical perfumery.  It now is mostly associated with air fresheners and bathroom cleaners, but it finds its way into some modern fragrances.

Green notes transform a rose into a hyacinth, and its character changes dramatically.  Hyacinth combines the opulence of flower petals with a green, watery freshness and a cool undertone of wet soil.  The mixed dissonance of hyacinth is found in recent Chanel and Annick Goutal preparations.

Jasmine and white florals:

Jasmine has a combination of fruity brightness and velvety softness.  It has an alluring note that can be emphasized to be sensual and dark, giving even delicate jasmine compositions a seductive character.  It is central to Guerlain classics like L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, and Samsara. The beautiful green jasmine note is very prominent in Jean Patou Joy, Christian Dior, Donna Karan, and Serge Lutens jasmine products.  The jasmine touch is seen in such masculine fragrances as Christian Dior Eau Sauvage and Arsène Lupin Dandy.

Orange blossom/Neroli
The duality of orange blossom pairs a fresh, zesty top with a dark animalic base.  Like jasmine, it is a common important note in modern perfumery, allowing for a remarkable diversity of compositions.  The classical floral oriental genre is based on this note.  Guerlain L’Heure Bleue and Oscar de la Renta Oscar are classical variants, while Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger and Hermès 24 Faubourg are more modern.

Orange blossom absolute (from solvent extraction) and neroli essential oil (from steam distillation) are made using flowers of the same tree, but they do not smell the same at all.  Neroli is a top note, thinner and sharper, closer to petitgrain and smelling more of stems and leaves than of flowers.  Orange blossom absolute is deep and sultry, and its scent persists longer when applied.  Orange blossom and neroli are indispensable in masculine perfumery, whether in fresh blends like Penhaligon’s Sartorial and Chanel Pour Monsieur or in rich orientals such as Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male and Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men.

Creamy coconut notes lend tuberose a completely different character than other jasmine-like accords, and it also has a salty, animalic accent that makes it particularly sensual.  Giorgio and Christian Dior Poison exemplify the 1980s boom of voluptuous tuberose, but it has been an especially popular note the past few years in a more toned down form.  It can be presented as bright and vibrant or dark and heady.

Gardenia has a crisp green rhubarb note and a touch of peach.  Most fragrances on the market today that call themselves gardenia smell nothing at all like the flower, with the exception of the now discontinued Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia.

Tiaré, Frangipani, Plumeria
In perfumery, these notes are placed between tuberose and gardenia, although true frangipani has a pronounced distinctive peach skin note.  Modern accords give these tropical, plush notes prominence, some setting them into oriental incense and vanilla frameworks.

All white florals are alike in containing indole, an aromatic heterocyclic organic compound producing musky and humid tones.  Besides the floral notes mentioned above, the jasmine-like white floral family also includes ylang-ylang, magnolia, honeysuckle, and datura.

Well-known examples: Fracas, Marc Jacobs, Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, Michael Kors, Jo Malone Tuberose & Jo Malone Vintage Gardenia, Monyette Paris.

Floral Blends

Floral bouquets

Classical floral bouquet typically are opulent.  Jean Patou Joy, for example, is a rich blend of jasmine, rose and ylang-ylang.  Somewhat more understated and austere is Chanel No 22, where rose, iris and jasmine are accented with resinous incense.  Modern products present rich mixes such as blends of rose, peony, tuberose and violet, with a sandalwood-musk backdrop, a dose of amber, or a harmony of woods.

Soft florals or aldehydic florals

Aldehydes are aroma materials with a broad olfactory profile that includes snuffed out candles and citrus peel.  In strong concentrations, aldehydes smell sharp and unpleasant, but minute quantities add an intriguing, hazy glow to notes like jasmine and ylang ylang.  Aldehydic florals, also called soft florals in some classifications, are a distinctive group of fragrances that have a tender, caressing character and a retro glamor.

Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche is a classical soft floral, but with some metallic-starchy notes.  The Body Shop White Musk is an airy aldehydic floral blend with surrounding layers of musk.

Other examples: Vera Wang The Fragrance, Diptyque Do son, Tocca Beauty, Serge Lutens Louve, Miller Harris Coeur de ete, Coco Mademoiselle, Susanne Lang Lotus Blossom, Filles des Iles Sensuel

Green florals

Green florals have added notes of crushed leaves and grass, thus lending a fresh, bright accent to classical bouquets.  Balmain Vent Vert introduced this new genre.  Although green florals are not nearly as popular now as other florals, some are quite memorable.  Chanel No 19 is the essence of elegance with its exquisite floral motif decorated with green galbanum and iris.  Softer,warmer, and more complex are Annick Goutal Heure Exquise and Hermès Hiris.  Gucci Envy is one of the edgier green florals.  A retro favorite is Ivoire de Balmain, which layers its rose and carnation bouquet in moss and patchouli.

Fruity florals

Fruity florals are the most ubiquitous of all florals, and some believe them to be over-used.  These are perfumes that have a noticeably fruity element, especially in the top note.  The fruity tones act as an accessory to the main theme, which is always floral.

Other subgroups sometimes discussed include spicy florals, anisic florals (reminiscent of aniseed, such as mimosa and cassie), and yellow florals (characterized by ionones, which are produced by degradation of carotenoids).

Well known floral fragrances for men:

Hermès Hiris
Chanel No. 19
Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady
Alexander McQueen Kingdom
Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle
Agent Provocateur
Gucci Rush
Robert Piguet Fracas
Rosine Rose d'Homme and Rossisimo
Paco Rabanne
Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel
Houbigant Fougère Royale
Ex Nihilo Rose Hubris
Jo Malone Tudor Rose & Amber
Etat Libre d’Orange Rossy de Palma
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Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA
Sense of Smell - "Nature" vs. "Nurture"

The nature vs. nurture argument is prominent in any discussion of scent preferences. Each of us has unique preferences regarding perfume smells, and it is clear that multiple factors play a role in determining them. One major view asserts that we are born with some intact predispositions toward odors, and it is clear that gender and genetic identity help to determine what scents we like, although proponents admit that preferences can change over time. The other prominent view maintains that odor preferences are for the most learned, and that we learn to like and dislike various smells based on the emotional associations we have when we first encounter them. Scientific research seems to support both view to some degree, the "nurture" view most strongly. And finally, preference differences are present in various cultures, affecting individuals in the population.


Odors are represented by volatile molecules which float in the air, entering our nasal passages and settling on the mucous membrane, triggering receptors on the tips of cilia. In humans, the types of receptors appear to number between 300 and 400. Different odorants produce different patterns of receptor activity in the epithelium. These different patterns in turn produce stimulation of different ring arrays of neurons in the olfactory bulb further up the neurologic pathway. A unique signal then is sent via olfactory neurons to the primary olfactory cortex in an area the brain connected to the limbic system, which is responsible for the experience of emotions and associative memory. This seems to account for why associations between odors and emotions are readily formed. From the limbic system, olfactory information moves to the orbitofrontal cortex, where flavor also is interpreted, and then higher in the neocortex for cognitive processing.

Complicating this picture is the fact that individuals can have specific anosmias (lack of a particular smell sense), one of the most common, and the most extensively studied, being anosmia to the hormone androstenone, an inability to smell that is present in half the population. In addition, most smells have a distinct "feel," such as menthol feeling cool and ammonia feeling like burning, a dimension perceived through the trigeminal nerve. This nerve also mediates the production of tears when we slice onions and sneezes when we smell pepper. Almost all odors have a trigeminal nerve component, varying from mild to intense. Odors that do not stimulate this nerve are rare but include vanilla and hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg smell). The presence of a very strong trimeginal stimulation may explain why some odors are disliked immediately, without previous exposure.
While a certain perfume may have given fragrance notes in it, the individual body chemistries of wearers, as well as hormones, can strongly influence how it reacts on the skin. And a perfume may smell differently on the same person on different days or in different weeks, because our body chemistry is variable with time. In addition, diet can influence how a perfume is expressed on the skin and how strongly its fragrance lingers after application.


As organisms evolved from single-cell creatures to being multicellular, they developed the ability to communicate information about what was good or bad in the outside world (e.g. food vs. nonfood or prey vs. predator) to other cells in the body. This is thought to be how the senses of smell and taste evolved: the ability of an organism to be hardwired for detecting these differences is an adaptive advantage. Those organisms that are adapted to a small, specifically defined habitat are called specialists. Animals who are specialists are able to recognize predators, sometimes through subtle olfactory clues, without prior experience; this is true of a variety of vertebrate species, including birds, rodents, and fish. Those with the genetic structure to learn how to respond appropriately to a wider range of stimuli when they are encountered, without a strictly predetermined set of responses, are called generalists. Humans are generalists, able to survive by identifying and eating available foods in nearly any habitat. Both specialists and generalists exhibit, to varying degrees, olfactory neophobia, a response of caution to novel odors. Infants and young children, for example, generally react with dislike to novel smells, regardless of the emotional tone that adults use in offering them. It is only after these smells become familiar or attractive, sometimes through modeling by the adults, that children have more positive responses.

According to those who maintain that evolution has played a part in determining what smells people like and dislike, our predispositions are explained by our history as a species. We like fruity or floral smells, for instance, because plants make fruit aromas to attract seed dispersers, and we once mainly ate fruit. Flowers appeal to us, says this theory, because plants use the same molecular building blocks to make chemicals that attract pollinators and seed dispersers. And we dislike fecal, urinous, fish, and rotten odors because at some time in the distant past, such odors on an individual meant that he or she was staying in one sleeping area too long, increasing the presence of pathological bacteria and viruses. Therefore, it is claimed, an ancestor who was averse to these smells was more likely to survive and pass on their genetic alleles.


Evolutionary biologists have found that a set of genes called the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), a primary factor in immune system responses, helps to determine which people are attracted to each other's scents. It has been shown that two people with dissimilar MHC genes generally like each other's smells more than do two people with similar genes, which appears to be an evolutionary adaptation that discourages mating of closely-related animals. The MHC structure is a disassortative mating trait (i.e. people choose individuals who are maximally different from them in this trait, as a means of providing the greatest immunological defenses for their prospective offspring). The famous "sweaty T-shirt experiment" of Claus Wedekind in 1995, in which college-age women smelled T-shirts worn for 3 days by men without deodorant or cologne, showed that women preferred the T-shirts worn by men with MHC genes differing most from theirs.

Researchers have hypothesized that the same genes might determine partially a person's preference for certain perfumes as well, and this has been corroborated by studies. In this research, some fragrance elements, such as those related to vanilla, were preferred by a majority of study participants, while others such as vetiver were rated the lowest, but the relative preferences were neavily influenced by MHC gene pattern. The speculation is that the fragrance that people like somehow mirrors or enhances the natural body smells of others, therefore enabling the identification of a potential mate. This means that certain perfumes are preferred because they are most likely to augment an individual's body odors as a way of "advertising" his or her MHC signature. (The research is too early to assist in formulation of new fragrances, but it may be possible, after more data is available, to create scents based on genetics.)

Although there is some clear evidence of gender differences in scent preferences, there is less information on sexual orientation differences. In one study in which participants identified scent preferences for themselves and their romantic/sexual partners, analysis identified two major groups of preferred scents, musky-spicy and floral-sweet. It was shown that heterosexual men preferred musky-spicy scents for themselves and floral-sweet scents for their female partners; and in a complementary pattern, heterosexual women preferred floral-sweet scents for themselves and musky-spicy ones for their partners. Gay men and lesbians showed a mixed pattern of gender-conforming and gender-nonconforming preferences. Gay men preferred musky-spicy scents for both themselves and their partners, with these preferences stronger than those of heterosexual men. Lesbians preferred musky-spicy scents for themselves and floral-sweet scents for their partners, but less strongly than did heterosexual men.


A second major school of thought proposes that our responses to odors are learned, that our specific personal history with specific smells gives them meaning and makes them pleasant or unpleasant to us. We experience every smell in a context (semantic, social, and physical), and that context always has some emotional content, whether weak or strong. The meaning and emotional "feel" of the context attach in our memory to the specific odor, which thereafter is interpreted according to this experience. As noted, of all our senses, olfaction is especially predisposed to association with emotional meaning because of its neuroanatomical relationships.

Studies have shown that we begin to learn the meaning of odors early in infancy (and possibly while still in the womb), due in part to the foods a mother eats during pregnancy influencing the chemical composition of her breast milk (and amniotic fluid). In utero exposure to volatile substances such as garlic and alcohol, via maternal use - but surprisingly also from paternal use, has been demonstrated to increase preferences of a child for those odors after birth. Research with newborns has shown that there is no initial preference for the smell of their own mother's breast and that a preference builds with time as the infant feeds. In the same manner, infants learn to prefer perfume smells if those smells are paired with cuddling.

If they have had no prior exposure, infants do not differentiate between odors that adults typically find pleasant or unpleasant. The typical response to most new odors was avoidance. Some research has even shown that infants can have initial responses opposite to those of adults, for example liking the smells of synthetic sweat and feces. However, it has been demonstrated that significant olfactory learning takes place early, much of it by age 3 years; and by around age eight years, most children's responses correspond to those of adults in their family or culture. It appears that first olfactory experiences are pivotal, and first associations made to an odor are difficult to undo.

In some instances, what we think an odor is shapes our response to it. In lab studies, presenting exactly the same odor stimulus, but with two different labels, one good and one bad (for example, Parmesan cheese vs. vomit), can create an olfactory illusion. The stimulus in one case is perceived as very pleasant, while in the alternate case as very unpleasant. Moreover, not only is the odor believed to be what it has been labeled, but people do not believe that the stimulus is the same when it is labeled differently, showing the power of suggestion and context in odor perception. Correspondingly, when we smell something we have never smelled before, without any labels or obvious source, we can have an imediate emotional response because what we are experiencing smells similar to previously encountered scents that we consider pleasant or unpleasant.

Examples of personal reactions to particular scents are the positive perception of perfumes with notes like vanilla or cinammon in people with good childhood meories of baking cookies with loved ones, or immediate dislike of a perfume with hints of tobacco by someone with asthma who is reminded of past episodes of breathing difficulty when exposed to smoke.


Culture also plays a role in development of odor preferences. It has been claimed that there are no universally appealing or repelling odors, and there is some cross-cultural evidence for this assertion. For example, the U.S. military attempted to create a stink bomb as a crowd dispersion tool, but when their researchers tested in countries around the world a series of foul odors, including a dirty toilet smell, no odor was consistently evaluated as repelling.

The claim that differences in cultural experience of odors result in different perception of smells has been termed the "mnemonic theory of odor perception." Differences in perceived pleasantness caused by cultural influences have been studied extensively. Among odors examined in studies in the United Kingdom and in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s, methyl salicylate (wintergreen) was given the lowest pleasantness ratings in the U.K., while it was given the highest rating in the U.S. The most likely explanation for this is that in the U.K., the smell of wintergreen was associated with medicine, especially with rub-on analgesics that were popular during and shortly after World War II, a time when the test subjects were children. Conversely, in the U.S. the smell of wintergreen is almost exclusively the smell of candies. A similar difference has been reported for the smell of sarsparilla, which in the U.K. is a disliked medicinal odor and in the U.S. is the smell of root beer. In other studies, Germans liked the smell of marzipan, while Japanese judged it as smelling unpleasant like oil, sawdust, or bees wax. In Sherpa populations of Nepal who have never encountered seafood, fish odors are not grouped together, while in a control group of Japanese fishermen the odors were clearly grouped with each other.

We often describe a smell as sweet, but sweetness is actually a taste that we have learned to associate with the smell of sugary food. Examples of this include vanilla, strawberry, and caramel. Similarly, a sweet smell may not be associated directly with a sweet food but with a related odor compount, as demonstrated by the rose. The rose is perceived as sweet because it is related botanically to raspberries and strawberries, and the odor compounds in roses are quite similar to those in the fruits. These associations have been found in bitter, sour, and fatty tastes as well. Since different cultures experience tastes based on their regional cuisine, associations vary depending upon where one travels or lives or grows up.

And just as people have different taste palates, perfume perception and use differs between cultures that have varying historical backgrounds, geographical environments, ancestries, and other significant influences. Europeans and Americans generally have quite different fragrance preferences, with Americans wearing ones that send a message of freshness and cleanliness (as if the person has come right out of the shower and is free of body odors, the concept of "cleanliness next to godliness") and Europeans wearing ones connoting sexiness. In American ideology dating to Puritan times, those with pure bodies are thought to have pure hearts and minds. In order to maintain the image of self-control and wholesome virtue, Americans not only focus on diet and exercise, but also monitor and limit the smell of their bodies by bathing obsessively and attempting to stop perspiration. The Age of Enlightenment represented a turning point in Western olfactory culture, and it has especially influenced American culture ever since, causing a general discreditation of the sense of smell relative to the other senses. However, commercialization and social media have more recently influenced cultural odor perception, with Americans now more inclined at any given time towards the "in thing," the most popular grooming factor of the moment, with the current trend generally being one of fruitiness and sweetness. Sometimes the most popular one is the one most heavily endorsed by personalities such as models, actors, musicians, and athletes: Forbes reported that the top 10 celebrity perfumes of 2010 eaarned over $215 million in sales, reflecting their influence.

Asians have been shown to prefer even lighter, fruitier, and "cleaner" fragrance notes when compared to Americans, and Asians have tended to avoid strong, dominant, or edgy notes, including those that are animalic or woody. Another example is the Dassanetch people of Ethiopia, for whom the main source of income and living is cattle raising. For them the most appealing scent is that of cows; the women the women there rub butter into their breasts, shoulders, and heads, and the men coat themselves with cattle manure and wash their hands with cattle urine. In Mali, where onions are a major economic factor for the Dogons, young men and women of that group rub onions onto their bodies as perfume.

In Arab countries, perceptions and therfore perfumes are the most complex, partially because different scents are applied to different parts of the body. In the U.A.E., for example, sesame or walnut oil, with jasmine or ambergris, is applied to the hair, while narcissus and ambergris are put on the neck. Aloewood and rose are put behind the ears and on the nostrils, and sandalwood goes in the armpits. Arab men, as well as women, wear perfumes, applying them also to the palms of their hands and in their beards. However, women generally apply perfume only for special occasions and private situations, because wearing perfume in public is thought to be a sign of adultery.

Despite these population generalizations, there are regional patterns in scent preferences within countries. Studies in the U.S. have shown that when women are in the presence of a preferred scent, they are more likely to project positive feelings onto those around them, leading to attraction. AXE, the men's grooming brand, commissioned research about odor favorites among young women in 10 of the top American cities for social interaction of singles. It was found that in Chicago, which has nearly 700 bakeries and patisseries, more than any of the other cities, women preferred the sweet smell of vanilla, whereas in San Diego they favored the scents of suntan lotion and salty ocen air. Other preferences by city included:

New York - coffee
Los Angeles - lavender
Houston - barbecue
Atlanta - cherry
Phoenix - eucalyptus
Philadelphia - clean laundry
Dallas - fireplace smoke
Minneapolis/Saint Paul - cut grass


It is clear that like a lot of other things that make each of us who we are, the sense of smell is multifactorial and very complex, with genetic, experiential, and cultural components. And while perfume manufacturers no doubt are investing heavily in research looking at which factors are most important and which of them can be manipulated most successfully and cost-effectively, for the time being there is still a lot of room for individual exploration and experimentation.

Remember, guys, it has been known for a very long time that regardless of cultural variations, how a guy smells is the number one thing that determines whether or not a woman will find him attractive.
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I really enjoy your posts, John. Are you in the fragrance business?

Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA
(06-08-2016, 11:30 PM)CCity Wrote: I really enjoy your posts, John. Are you in the fragrance business?

No, never have been. I'm a retired allergist and used to test patients for reactions to various perfume components, but that's the closest I've ever come to the business.

Good for you, John. (Retirement, I mean.) I'm 60 now, and have begun thinking about retirement, in part so I can focus on frolics and detours like fragrances.

There's a small group of us Seattleites who gather from time to time for wings and/or beers. PM me if you want to join us. There's often PIFing going on!

Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA

Green is the general term for the fragrance family whose odor is that of fresh-cut grass, leaves, stems, or vines, or a warm, moist forest. It is a lighter and more modern interpretation of the Chypre type. There are many different nuances of green fragrances, and they tend toward the unisex category. They add brightness, lift, and energy to a composition and are used to give accents to top notes. When too strong or concentrated, they become raspy and sharp, and they often are laced with other notes such as pepper, mint, moss, or citruses to tame them. Green fragrances are most suited for daytime use, especially for casual or outdoor gatherings.

The green family is very prominent in today's perfume market, with its high demand for products based on "natural themes." The green group's natural sources include cucumber, galbanum, melon rind, string beans, hyacinth, Styrax, tomato leaf, violet leaves, cress, and watercress. Galbanum is particular is a traditional ingredient that is frequently used to give a natural green effect to floral accords such as gardenia, narcissus, iris, and violet.

Green fragrances are a difficult group to accomplish with all natural essences, because they are either very hard to dose in a composition without overpowering the blend or else are so subtle that they vanish quickly. Modern synthetic materials such as cis-3-hexenol (reminiscent of cut grass) are sometimes used now by brands willing to move away from being all natural.

The chemistry of green notes: bromstyrol, gricerin acetal, cis-3-hexenol, cis-3-hexenyl acetate, cis-3-hexenyl benzoate, cis-3-hexenyl salicylate, hydratropic aldehyde, Ligustral, methyl heptin carbonate, methyl octin carbonate, 2,6-nonadienal, 2,6-nonadienol, phenyl acetaldehyde, phenylacetaldehydedimethylacetal, phenyl ethyl dimethyl carbinol, phenyl propyl alcohol, phenyl propyl aldehyde, Stemone, and styrallyl acetate.

Men's fragrances that have prominent green tones include Paco Rabanne Invictus, Davidoff Cool Water, Jimmy Choo MAN, Joop Go, Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio, Calvin Klein CKIN2U for Him, Akabir for Men Abdul Samad Al Qurashi, Antonio Puig Boston Man, Jeanne Arthes Mixte Homme, Axe Essence, Gabdriela Sabatini Wild Wind for Men, Calvin Klein CK One, Adidas Adrenaline, Kenzo Homme Fresh Kenzo, Marbert Man No. 2, Cuba Cactus for Men, True Religion Men, Perry Ellis Portfolio Green, and Jacomo Paradox Green for Men.
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