Monday, 22 April 2013

Samples and perfume aging

I find the aging of perfume quite interesting. 

I have quite a few samples of perfumes that have  been stored in various boxes for a number of years now. This weekend I dug out a sample of Montale's Black Oud. There was just enough left in the vial to smear on my wrist and what struck me was how much this sample has changed in the four years I've had it. I used to find Black Oud a too-powerful perfume that simply didn't develop on my skin. Once the medicinal top notes faded, all that was left was a very strong oud-rose combination that lasted for hours and hours, with very little change. When I tried it this weekend, the medicinal top notes had gone. I expect it is the age of the sample and the fact that a vial is probably not the best storage medium for a perfume. Instead, Black Oud presented itself in a much more mellow way. For the first time I detected the more woody base notes and patchouli, with the rose (which I used to find a bit shrill) very much a bit player. It's a shame I've finished the sample because it smelt amazing.

As I write this though, I can't help but feel a nagging doubt, that informs me that perhaps it isn't the perfume that has changed much, but rather it is I who has changed. Perhaps my nose is more sophisticated and developed than it was four years ago. Perhaps this time round I was just in a more perceptive mood. Perhaps my skin chemistry is different. Perhaps I have now been exposed to so many more perfumes, styles and in particular, scores of oud and rose combinations, that I can appreciate this more.

The fact is, who really knows. What I do know is that the perfume definitely smelt different to me and I am fairly convinced that the top notes had gone. 

This is not the only perfume I have experienced such a changed perception with. It's happened with quite a few perfumes where I have samples from about four years ago. Another case in point is Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier's Route de Vetiver, where for some reason the vetiver smells tamer somehow and the fruity top notes more pronounced. In this case I am more inclined to think that this is a change in my ability to detect notes, but I can't be sure.

Are there any perfumes you can think of where over time you have noticed a substantial change (and I'm not talking about reformulations here)?


  1. Michael, I believe it is you that has changed. As you said, your nose has become more fit, more sophisticated and more...tolerant of notes you have found offensive in the past. This has happened to me numerous times, and I think it's a good sign. Hopefully, our noses are always evolving and changing - that's one of the many things that makes perfume so much fun.

  2. I also believe it's more you than the perfume. There may be slight changes with the perfume, but your greater perfume knowledge has got to make a difference and I've definitely had the same experience. (Of course, off the top of my head, I can't come up with any examples - I'll have to get back to you on that.) This kind of thing is what makes it hard for me to decide which perfumes to suggest to perfume novices; I know they're not going to "get" most perfumes on the first go-'round and I don't want to scare them off before they've even started!

  3. I actually think both scenarios are totally possible. For me, personally, I think it feels different, when your opinion of a perfume changes though the smell is the same (more frequent) versus the perfume itself seeming to have changed. I've experienced the latter a few times, and it was usually when I was dealing with stuff from indie producers who a) use a high percentage of naturals and b) might have slight differences between batches and stuff anyway. For example I'm convinced the DSH Tubereuse I have in a purse spray on my dresser is getting denser and sweeter with time, sunlight, evaporation, etc. It's starting to take on a kind of aged rum smell. I always thought it was really good, I just think it smells different now, less fresh and more concentrated, like the difference between wine and port. It's taken on kind of an aged rum cast! So I wouldn't discount the possibility that some of your samples have morphed a little over the course of the years. It's well known that top notes degrade with poor storage.

  4. It's you, and it's the perfumes. Some perfumes don't last long, and a lot of natural top notes, like citrus, don't last more than a few years. Also, we change, so we perceive things differently as time goes by. Heck, every 7 years, practically every molecule in our body has changed! So every few years, you're a new person, and the perfume is a new perfume. Color me confused!

  5. Hi Josephine, Cym, Elisa and Marla. Apologies for lack of individual replies, but am struggling to find time to blog and read posts much at present. Thanks for all the ideas. I think you all have made valid points. I suppose what interests me in a way is that some perfume notes do seem to improve with age. For example I have read that patchouli has this characteristic. Equally, some notes decay or spoil relatively quickly, mostly top notes, eg citrus. I was wondering whether some perfumes could age in a way that some fine wines do?

  6. Michael- as far as I know and from what I have read there really aren't too many perfumes that age gracefully as traditionally the top notes (citrus) always go "off" after 10 or so years...but I suppose if you can endure the initial off putting blast you often find your lovely hidden least this has been my experience when revisiting some of my beloved vintage/classics.

  7. Brie, from what I have read, this is indeed true. I am not particularly seduced by top notes anyway, so while a good opening is important, I always like to wait for the dry down. I haven't been exposed to many true vintage perfumes, but the few I have tried lack any discernible top, generally.



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