A Whisper to A Scream


For as long as I have been writing reviews of perfume I have included a sentence about how long the perfume lasts on my skin and my estimation of its projection, or sillage. Even when including that bit of information one of the most common questions in my e-mail box is exactly how long does it last and does it really project? There are a group of readers who have also asked me to stop including the information because they don’t care; they are the minority. For most who read about perfume the length of time a perfume lasts on their skin and whether you can smell it a few feet away has become some indication of overall quality, but should it be?

The persistence issue is a particularly perplexing one to me how that has become correlated with quality. I think the hypothesis goes if it lasts overnight on my skin then the amount of perfume oil must be higher and so it is better. There are some lines for whom that thinking is sort of correct. If you are smelling patchouli or natural sandalwood in elevated concentrations which can last for quite a while. Those materials can be expensive to use in a concentration that lasts. When you think about it though some of the most persistent notes in all of perfume are the woody aromachemicals like Ambrox, Iso E Super, or Norlimbanol. These are among some of the cheapest ingredients in perfume but last longer than even the most precious natural oils. Those are what many people are smelling the next day even after a shower.

rose petal enfleurageRose Petal Enfleurage

A perfume which is employing a number of special ingredients that have been produced by labor-intensive procedures like enfleurage or tincturing are worth their weight in gold. When a perfumer uses these kind of ingredients it adds nuance that simple aromachemicals can’t imitate. This is why when a perfume containing large amounts of natural ingredients which might not last as long has much more appeal to me than a perfume that just finishes on a base of woody aromachemicals that last overnight. I would also venture to say that the perfume containing the natural raw materials is more expensive to produce.

When it comes to projection I am just baffled at the concept that it is an indicator of quality in any way. I have a number of extraits which are among my favorite perfumes. They wear so close to my skin you can’t smell those unless you are me, or my wife. They are true skin scents and they are incredibly compelling in their ability to convey beauty without filling the room up with a vapor trail. There are plenty of perfumes I love which fill a room up with their extroverted sillage but I have never seen it as something which means it is better. It really is like a chorus of voices and you need all levels from Bass to Soprano but if it is done well it is done well whether everyone around you can smell it, or not.

Don’t worry I understand longevity and sillage is important to many readers and I will continue to add the information. Just keep in mind a whisper can often be as compelling as a scream.

Mark Behnke

6 thoughts on “A Whisper to A Scream

  1. A fabulous editorial Mark! Axe deodorant spray has nuclear projection. This does not make it a quality scent. Thanks for sharing. I mean you Mark, not the guy three streets away wafting “Hot Fever” Axe cologne. p.s. this is the REAL name of one of the Axe colognes.

    • Charna,

      Axe is a fantastic example of something with incredible longevity and projection that I imagine any reader of this blog would classify as cheap. Thanks I wish I thought of it to use in the editorial.


  2. I think these obsessions are contributing to the nearly universal hatred of perfume in public these days. I tend to smell nothing at all, or WAY too much of something someone bought just because of its sillage and lasting power (mostly, as you say, composed of those molecules which are simplest to our perception – not a particularly great sniffing experience for the passerby).

    People who really love perfume: we’d all be allowed to wear more of it in public if you’d let go of these two obsessions.

    • Judith,

      I hope you are somewhat incorrect in the concept of “universal hatred” for fragrance. Your point is well taken that those who wear too much of it make perfume wearing a too easy target. A little more understanding on both sides would go a long way I think.


  3. I personally prefer fragrance to whisper..that is very sexy when getting close to your confidant, lover, partner and smelling their fragrance…intimately.

    What I cannot tolerate is Axe and cheap frags that scream across the room or fill the elevator and it sits in there for a while. In theaters I have been known to change seats as I cannot tolerate 2 hours of a cheap perfume in my air space. I get headaches. I love fragrances just higher quality oils …and leave the iso e super out please.

    • Joanne,

      I agree with you for the most part although I have a few which project like crazy and I love them, too. I just use a little restraint when wearing it so I don’t have to have someone change their seat in the theatre.


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