Making Scents: An eternal lingering is far from desirable

When you wear a fragrance, it makes you feel beautiful. Some say complete – that you’ve considered the highest form of accessory, appropriate to the ­occasion, echoing your personal style and your character. A light subtle fruity pink floral like the new ­Burberry reflects whimsy and ­femininity, whereas choosing Shalimar exhibits expertise and complex intellectuality.

A long lasting fragrance 

Often, when people find out that I compose fragrances, they ask how I make my fragrance last. Dutifully, I run through solutions such as ensuring your skin is moisturised for the scent to cling to or layering your fragrance with body milk. I ­extrapolate on environmental and composition factors, such as summer conditions, when scent will evaporate quicker, or that selecting an eau de toilette means a scent lower than in an eau de parfum. But I question the question: Why would you want your fragrance to last until the day after tomorrow? Scent on skin ages – we call it “decay”. Do you really want that to register in your nose, and in those of the people around you? 

The Scandinavians are currently enamoured of a fragrance collection called Escenric Molecules, which adapts to your pheromones to create your own personal unique smell. My Italian-German hairdresser here in South Africa has ordered a precious bottle from a friend travelling overseas. I tried the scents from a boutique in Copenhagen, selecting the original Molecule 01 for my left arm and the apparently most popular Molecule 02 for my right. The sales assistant had insisted that it was “impossible” to try it on a blotter card because the perfumes “work with your own body chemistry to create a unique scent just on you”.

A fragrance must change

I gave in and tried it. At first, I thought I was smelling wood varnish or nail polish remover. Thankfully, this head note dissipated and I waited in anticipation for the promise of alchemy to abound and to transmute my skin into what I personally smell like. Apparently I smell like sandalwood. Both fragrances are quite masculine, with Molecule 01 being the stronger of the two, but I can see why Molecule 02 is more popular. Denmark’s autumnal weather is sharp, but the scents remained rounded. Molecule 01 (2005) is composed of 100% Iso E Super (in dilution). This is a synthetic ketone ­fragrance, designed to evoke sandalwood or cedar wood, and is used in products from fabric fresheners and antiperspirants to tobacco ­flavouring.

The ever-popular men’s fragrance Fahrenheit is 25% Iso E Super and Calvin Klein’s Eternity boasts 11.7%. It’s also used in Kenzo and Hermes fragrances. Molecule 02 is a single chemical called nature identical ambroxan, a synthesised substitute for ambergris (which is produced in the digestive system of sperm whales), with its mineral smell. Ambroxa is also a fixative used in perfumery as a base note. The Molecule’s raison d’être is that it is a “single molecule”, but using a fixative as the whole fragrance means it is going to last. And last.

Now, I love sandalwood – the natural real sandalwood essential oil with its milky, salty, spicy, white wood and lactonic notes muddled on my skin. But, as much as I love the start of a perfume, I also love the finish of a scent. A fragrance must change. It must move and live on breathing skin for while. But it must also at some point leave you.

This is the problem with scents like Molecule. They never seem to go and, as with everything that is tired, the fatigue of a smell is a miasma that is sweaty, pungent and unpleasant.

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