On Scent, Part II
Although perfume is ideally meant to last a long time, there is such a thing as too long. This isn’t so much a matter of the consumer’s concession to the limitations of perfume making or some other standard; to me it actually seems to reflect a sort of universal observation that we all make in day-to-day life, and our concurrent desire to adhere to the letter of that law: that naturally occurring smells last only a certain amount of time.
Fresh bread keeps its smell for a few hours.
A picked rose gives off smell for a day or two.
Notice here that I’m only counting the smells of objects once they are removed from the context which produced or gave them their smell. We’re not talking about the pine forest and the continuous smell that it gives off. We are talking about the spray of needles that we break off of the tree and bring back to our kitchen table. Those pine needles on the table are disembodied objects, cut off from their natural source, and perfume is the same type of object – you can hold it in your hand.
The vast majority of smells have a lastingness between several minutes to about a day. What’s interesting is that although technology has the ability to make perfumes last much longer than a day, we don’t prefer that. What’s more annoying, cloying, or, crucially, “artificial-seeming” than a perfume that never seems to come off or fade? Compare it to height in humans. There is such a thing as our general “ideal window” which basically has to do with the attributes of what we perceive to be average. If you pass beyond or fall short of a certain point, things get weird (i.e., when we talk about people that are “freakishly” tall or short).
Why do we agree on this? Is it just that we love the world and want to imitate its standards? Is it a fear of the hubris involved in trying to make things that defy the “laws” of nature? Is it simply that we like to feel at home? I think it may remind us of our ultimate preference, and appreciation, for reality – for things that seem real.
Jacqueline is a Los Angeles-based perfumer & the owner of unisex fragrance house Goest Perfumes.