Duly Noted

Note lists are hardly the most reliable way to predict how you’ll feel about a perfume (case in point: the various reports trickling in that Lady Gaga’s new perfume, said to have notes of “blood and semen”, is a standard floriental). Still, you can’t buy as much perfume as we do without eventually developing some note preferences. Today I’ll be sharing the five notes that are most likely to make me seek out a perfume, and the five notes that tell me to stay far, far away. What are your favorite and least favorite notes? Please share them with us in the comments!

Favorite Notes

  1. Coffee. Nothing will ever convince me that the aroma of freshly-ground coffee beans is not the best damn smell in the world.
  2. Saffron. Saffron is my favorite spice, and my least favoriteΒ FireflyΒ character. (I don’t even know why! I like Christina Hendricks and everything!) This delightfully tangy note goes perfectly with everything from rose to chocolate.
  3. Vanilla. Call me unsophisticated (how could I be anything else? Do y’all know how much Jersey Shore I watch?), but vanilla is a crowd pleaser for a reason. Its sweetness gives a roundness to the perfume’s other notes.
  4. Violet. I have a major sweet tooth when it comes to perfume, and candied violets are about as sweet as a floral note can get. Bonus points if it smells like Choward’s Violet Mints.
  5. Birch Tar. Birch tar is what adds that deliciously savory edge to perfumes like Cuir de Lancome and Tauer Perfumes Lonestar Memories. It usually smells like barbecue to me. Om nom nom!

Least Favorite Notes

  1. Jasmine. Yep. One of the most important ingredients in perfumery, second only to rose. What can I say? I hate it. I have yet to smell a jasmine note that I didn’t find crude and overwhelming. Please don’t send me hate mail over this.
  2. Raspberry. I like real raspberries just fine, but in perfume, raspberry notes always seem to be too sweet and not fruity enough. A badly-done raspberry note is like nails on a chalkboard for me.
  3. Pepper. I’m allergic to pepper (large amounts make me break out in painful blotches), and that unpleasant association seems to have carried over to my perfume preferences.
  4. Orange. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by an American childhood, which involves endless glasses of orange juice, but I’ve always found oranges to be one of the more boring citrus fruits. I don’t like them much better in perfume, although I will say that I enjoy the orange notes in L de Lolita Lempicka and Anna Pliska.
  5. Sweet Pea. Bath and Body Works Sweet Pea was the perfume of choice for my fellow eighth-graders, and sweet pea notes bring up middle school memories that really ought to stay repressed.

55 thoughts on “Duly Noted

  1. Favorite notes:

    1. Lavender (love how it can be floral and fresh and yet spicy and herby)
    2. Iris (one of the most elegant flowers)
    3. Vanilla (comforting and helps pull all the notes of a perfume together)
    4. Leather (can range from soft and ladylike to complete badass, but always has a don’t mess with me edge)
    5. Bergamot (lends a freshness to scents without veering into Pledge territory)

    honorable mentions: amber, orange blossom, and pine

    Least favorite notes:

    1. Raspberry (does not ever actually smell like raspberry)
    2. Blood orange (turns my stomach, for some reason)
    3. Sweet Pea (B&BW started the hatred, but I have never found a sweet pea perfume that redeems this note)
    4. Chocolate (very rarely actually smells like chocolate. I like a chocolate note if it is more bitter than sweet, though)
    5. Gardenia (Too much of a diva flower for me. Occasionally I like it, but most of the time if I wear a perfume with a strong gardenia note, it’s an instant headache)

    1. It seems like we have very similar tastes, Selina! I love my Kai and Azuree Soleil, but there aren’t many other gardenia perfumes I’m crazy about.

      1. What a compliment! As I was reading through everyone else’s lists, I kept thinking, oh yeah, I love that note but I forgot it (lily, tobacco, anise, etc). It was a fun conversation starter.
        White florals were something that I always thought I liked until I realized that they were the fragrance group that consistently gave me a headache, so now I avoid them. I’m not sure if you have a sensitivity to fragrances, but if you have any suggestions for white florals that you enjoy and are easy on the nose, please let me know!
        Also, since we seem to have similar tastes, what do you think of Chanel no 5 eau premiere? I have been spritzing myself silly with it this last week and am enjoying it very much. It’s similar to the original no 5, but better suited for every day wear. Think chanel no 5 sheer. Have you tried it?

  2. Favorites: Rose, tuberose, amber accord (resins + vanilla), tobacco, real sandalwood. And blackcurrant! Yikes, hard to pick just five. As for least favorites? There are no notes I outright hate, but I’m not a big fan of iris. Too much iris makes me feel like coughing.

    1. I’m not sure that I’ve ever smelled real sandalwood, and I suspect that may be why I usually don’t like sandalwood notes!

  3. Favorite notes:
    1) White floral (I know this is a big grouping, but I love every variation of the scent, even jasmine, of course! (yes, I do! and no hate mail from me b/c see below))
    2) Bergamot / Grapefruit (because I grew up/and live around grapefruit trees it’s got huge scent memory cues for me!)
    3) Mint (for its freshness)
    4) Ethyl Maltol (its sweetness is so delicious a la Angel)
    (I’ll stop there, but I think I could go on for a lot longer!)

    Least Fav notes
    1) Rose (yes, hate rose. makes me feel sick which is why I have no problem with you disliking jasmine! πŸ˜‰

    A side note – What’ve you got against Saffron? πŸ˜‰ I like her, but I think River can be a bit annoying from time to time and I hate that we never learn Shephard Book’s story!

    1. I don’t even know!!! That’s the worst part! I think that Christina Hendricks is a great actress, I just hate the character! I think my issue is that since we only got 14 episodes of Firefly, having 2/14 of them center around a non-main character seems like a waste. But that’s certainly not Saffron’s fault? Do you think she would have become a main character if the show had continued? I note that she wasn’t in Serenity.

      1. I’m not sure she would have become a main character – I am guessing that all her scheming probably would have eventually got her killed! I get your point, though, about the character being in 2/14 episodes. Would have rather had more happen between Mal and Inara, but I guess there was no knowing that the show wasn’t going to get picked up, which is such a bummer!

  4. These lists are fun!
    But if I pretend to be serious I’d say that while there are some notes I love/ hate in a solo performance, it does not matter much: in a complex perfume (I usually prefer “symphonic” fragrances) I might dig my “hate” notes like crazy.
    Or hate my love notes. It depends. Example: I despise vanilla, but am addicted to shalimar, l’heure bleue, chamade, and many vanilla loaded orientals. The same goes with amber – alahine, bois des iles, attrape coeur are faves…
    I hate rose-centered perfumes, but most of the fragrances above feature rose, and let’s not even talk about Joy!Or number 5 parfum! I love the huge powdery rose in my extrait.

    But now, let’s get really serious. What are we gonna do about your jasmine intolerance?

    1. This is so true, Zazie. A great perfume should be able to convert even the people who wouldn’t usually care for its notes! As for my jasmine intolerance, I clearly need greater exposure to good jasmine fragrances! Anyone who would like to convert me with samples is welcome to try πŸ˜‰

    1. Great point, Portia- I always thought that I didn’t like pink pepper, until I read an interview with the founder of Ormonde Jayne. She said that pink pepper was her favorite note, and she has it put in every Ormonde Jayne perfume!

  5. I agree… these lists ARE fun. I wonder if they could be used for some kind of perfume-oriented Myers-Briggs personality test? Or perhaps a bespoke perfumer reading this might spontaneously take it upon themselves to start concocting both our heavens and hells?

    Most favoritest….
    Fresh Note: Sea Salt
    Fruit Note: Lime/Plum (tie)
    Wood Note: Cedar/Birch Tar (tie)
    Herbal Note: Absinthe
    Spice Note: Clove
    Resin Note: Myrrh
    Gourmand Note: Steamed Rice
    Floral Note: Honeysuckle
    Animalic Note: Ambergris
    Synthetic Note: Coumarin
    Green Note: Reseda/Oakmoss/Pine (three-way tie. I love evergreen.)

    Least favoritest…
    Fresh Note: Calone
    Fruit Note: Cassis
    Wood Note: Oak Bark
    Herbal Note: Lavender
    Spice Note: Cumin
    Resin Note: Benzoin
    Gourmand Note: Buttercream Frosting
    Floral Note: Rose
    Animalic Note: White Musk
    Synthetic Note: Gardenia
    Green Note: the unspecified ones that keep cropping up in scent descriptions as “greens” or “leaves”. What kind? Where from?

    1. This is an amazingly detailed list, Meg! I would love to see a generous bespoke perfumer take it on. Calling all generous bespoke perfumers…

      1. I’m not writing bready notes off forever. I just haven’t yet found a fragrance where that note works well for me. I haven’t tried Bois Farine. It’s going on my test list.

  6. *picks out the prettiest stationery, writes, licks the envelope and puts the hate mail in the box*
    Dear Ari,
    here’s the hate mail I send to you. It’s hate mail because I am going to write about what I hate. I hate when people are not being themselves because it is super inconvenient to communicate with them. It makes me try to remember which parts of themselves they accept and which parts of themselves they do not want to acknowledge. And I do not like keeping that in my memory. So I usually stay away from people like that and gravitate to people like you. Please accept my utmost respect. You are always being none other but your wonderful funny witty self, delightfully nerdy, dangerously subversive and prolific. I always comment on your blog posts, even when I have no time, because your posts always make me truly want to say something. So I do. And dear Ari, I believe that the world is big enough and wide enough and strong enough and refreshing enough to hold safely both of us.

    Warum, the jasmine lover who is not fond of vanilla and is yet to find coffee, violet or saffron perfume that does not make her yawn.

    Tee hee! I bet this is the only hate mail you’re even gonna get!
    Just in case, my love notes are jasmine, rose, benzoin, aldehydes, hyacinths.
    And I dislike raspberry, and I will wave that one on a flag! πŸ˜‰

    1. I was holding my breathe for the first half of this adorable hate mail, and was sooo relieved to realize that it was actually going in a very positive direction! πŸ˜€ And I love what you said about having to walk on eggshells around people who don’t accept themselves. It can really get very uncomfortable. Thank you so much for the hate mail- I feel sure that it is the nicest hate mail any blogger has ever received!

      1. Yup. I’ve had multiple walking on eggshells experiences, so now I sniff a possibility of such experience as soon as I sniff a good a-bit-heady but not-quite sweaty jasmine! πŸ˜‰

        And reading your blog is always the most wonderful experience!

  7. I think I have to get in on this list. πŸ™‚ I just hope I can remember them all.

    Favorite scents:
    Iris- Ahh, it’s just fantastic. My mom (and grandma) always grew them. They have that sweet
    and almost powdery scent, and some smell like a candy necklace.
    Lilacs- So feminine.
    Vanilla- Just a given. It’s so universal, and I like when it’s used in an unusual perfume.
    Sandalwood- I think this one can get dirty, but I like it.
    Tonka Bean- After checking the notes of several of my favorite perfumes, they have this in common.
    Amber- I always go back to it in the winter. Like a soft sweater.
    Leather/Rubber- Probably why I like Bulgari Black in small amounts.

    Least favorite:
    Vetiver- Eh.
    Patchouli- When it’s strong.
    Rose- Synthetic or with a harsh green scent.
    Caviar- Seems to be popping up in perfumes lately. I don’t dig it in perfume.
    Aldehydes- I don’t care for most of these.
    Carnation: It’s my birth flower, but I don’t like it in perfume.
    Baby powder
    Pink pepper

    1. Wait, “birth flowers” are a thing??? I knew about birth stones, but…

      … okay, Wikipedia tells me that my birth flower is the magnolia! Huh. I love the smell of magnolia trees in the spring, but haven’t tried many perfumes with magnolia notes. Maybe I should try more!

      Your mother’s (and grandma’s!) irises sound just amazing!

  8. Oh, yippee!

    Pretty much love, no matter what: tuberose, rose, galbanum, narcissus, myrrh, aldehydes. But there are exceptions. I love carnation, but only when it’s done well.

    Usually enjoy: lily, jasmine sambac, pink pepper (Yeah, go ahead, send all your hate mail to me!), woody notes, spices, benzoin, tonka, musk.

    Ehhhhh, could take it or leave it: citrus notes, leather, vanilla, berries.

    Usually dislike, unless present only in small amounts as an accent: patchouli, vetiver, and lavender.

    But as Zazie says, it all depends on the treatment!

    1. Ahhh, no wonder Serge Lutens La Myrrhe is so perfect for you! Everyone describes it as myrrh-aldehyde heaven. And I’ll know soon enough- a sample is coming with my Surrender to Chance birthday order! πŸ˜‰

      1. Yep. Yep. Also, although it’s not in the notes list, I’d swear there’s some very pretty rose in it. I hope your review is forthcoming at some point… to be honest, I will be surprised if you love it, and surprised if you hate it.

  9. Love:
    -The passionfruit and cumin in Rubj edp (haven’t tried in other perfumes but I assume I would like elsewhere)
    -Most white florals
    -Ginger lilies
    -Lily of the Valley
    -Sea salt/saltwater

    -Licorice, anise, etc.

    1. OMG, passionfruit is such an amazing smell. They’re impossible to find in the U.S. outside of California, so no one else shares my passion (see what I did there??) for them. I get soooo sad when perfumes claim to have a passionfruit note and then only have a vague fruity blur.

      1. Hee! Hey, did you get my email with my address for the Illuminium draw? I’ve never tasted a passionfruit but I need to now! It is sooooo good in Rubj!

        1. Yes!! I found it in my spam box, and responded approximately 10 hours ago to your Dartmouth email! Did you get my response?

  10. I love tuberose, peach, jasmine, vanilla, and vetiver.
    I dislike melon, honey, lavender, anything aquatic, and some kinds of patchouli.

    1. So with you on the aquatic notes. All the men in my apartment building wear these awful aquatic colognes, and it is truly unpleasant to have to ride in the elevator with them.

  11. Notes I love:
    Citrus (all of it – oranges, lemons, limes, even grapefruit which I hate in real life)

    Notes I detest:
    Powder (especially baby powder. I don’t know how anyone who has changed a diaper can like this smell – I don’t even have kids, but I did my share of babysitting)
    White florals (unless they are in teeny tiny doses – jasmine is actually the one I like the most)
    Leather/Rubber/Gasoline – there is something in the aromachemicals for these that give me an instant headache

    1. I’ve done my share of babysitting, too, but only for kids 4 and up! So the smell of baby powder remains unspoiled for me πŸ˜€ I also once read a great article that said that in France, baby products are lemon-scented, not powdery, so powdery scents don’t have that same connotation for them!

  12. Love:
    Every part of the orange from the blossom to the peel. Each and every citrus note. Lavender, vetiver, hyacinth, almond/heliotrope, ylang ylang, peach, aldehydes, sandalwood, lush rose, honey, vanilla, tea notes, violet, vanilla, amber and powder.
    Tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, malty sweetness, melon, sweet pea, lily of the valley, vinegary rose, any renditions of “bluebell” , incense, saffron, clove, coffee and chocolate

    BTW as a long term fan of Lush I find the indolic jasmine which hangs round their stores (and neighbourhoods) and is in a lot of their perfumes quite unbearable. What say you?

    1. I say OH MY GOD YES. That’s their Lust scent, concentrated most strongly in the Lust soap and Lust solid perfume. I’m sure they smell beautiful on the people who love them, but I CANNOT STAND that smell.

      I’m so sad to see saffron and coffee on your hate list! But at least we have some common ground with violet πŸ™‚

  13. Hm… I realized that it wasn’t that easy… I’ll try but I’m not sure.

    I definitely like: iris root, rose, linden, gardenia and amber.

    I mostly dislike: tuberose, agarwood and cumin. I can’t come up with the last two “hates”. Not that I like everything else – I just haven’t formed a definitive negative opinion about some of them.

    1. That just means you’re particularly open-minded, Undina! πŸ˜‰ Now, what is the difference between iris root and iris flower? I don’t think I’ve ever smelled an iris root.

      1. Most perfumes that list iris (orris) as a note contain iris root not a flower. I came across just one or two perfumes that actually have iris flower as a component which isn’t surprising taking into the account that an iris flower has a really vague, almost nonexistent scent.

  14. I pretty much stay on the right side of the fragrance wheel and avoid most of the left side, with a few exceptions: BaV is the only one I can think of right now.

    Favorite notes are: sandalwood, patchouli, incense, leather, amber. Least favorites are: lily of the valley, cade oil, aldehydes,and licorice. Still trying to get my nose around L.L. in that cute bottle.

    One resiny material I have difficulty with is myrrh – smells like public restroom deodorant to me. And it reminds me of licorice. I grew up surrounded by lots of fragrant tropical flowers, and I wonder if that’s why I don’t like them in perfume much – because I’m used to smelling the real thing.

    1. Makes sense to me, Julie! What do you think of my beloved Kai? Is it an accurate rendition of a real gardenia, or just a pale imitation? (Let me down gently!)

      It took me years to come around to Lolita Lempicka. The first time I tried it, I thought it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever smelled!

  15. Oh man what a fun list! Even my “dislikes” are on occasion part of some of my favorite fragrances, so take all this with a grain of salt (which happens to be a note I love, ha)!

    I tend to perk up at the inclusion of:

    1) Vanilla – yah, it got me too. It’s just so good!
    2) Leather – my favorite leathers err on the side of soft suede (Guerlain Cuir Beluga, Bottega Veneta), but I love me a good dusty, manly cow-hide or burnt rubber edge every so often πŸ˜›
    3) Lily – think stargazer lilies, with lots of stem and pollen. As a generally non-floral gal, this is a fave. (Runner-up florals are probs muguet, jasmine and magnolia)
    4) Blood Orange – I’m super sensitive to citrus scents smelling chemical-y (read: like detergent lol). When it’s right, though, it is SO right. Grapefruit, too!
    5) Salt – One of my favorite things in the world is adding sea salt to any sweet foods I can find. Same goes for perfume! Salt notes also often evoke for me fabulously sunned skin.
    6) Wheat/Rice – something about the roundness of this really gets me. Rice, bread, grains, etc.
    7) Tobacco – I love the smokiness of pipe tobacco scents, especially when used as a foil for sweeter notes
    8) Coffee – I’m right with ya on this. Sometimes the highlight of going perfume-sniffing for me is shoving my nose into the oft-present bowls of coffee beans!
    9) Almond/nuts – though I haven’t found a perfume with almond that has captured my heart yet (perhaps because I’m not big on powdery scents, so heliotrope is usually out), I so love the smell of almond pastries and confections that I always get all starry-eyed and hopeful when I read a perfume includes this note.
    10) Sandalwood – mmmmm

    Generally not too big on:

    1) Anise – I actually really love this scent and flavor, incl. black licorice, but anise in perfumes almost always turns into a weirdly empty amplified coke-a-cola clove on me. Tonka does this too, sometimes *weeps*
    2) Iris – I often read powdery and metallic in iris, both qualities I’m not hugely fond of. Can be so beautiful, though.
    3) Aldehydes – I’m not a fan of Chanel No. 5, and I think my distaste for this particular ‘fume has extended to disliking the entire aldehydic genre!
    5) Oud – maybe i’m partially anosmic to oud, but something about it has always just smelled weird and off to me.
    6) Pepper, pink and otherwise – meh on a good day, makes me feel sneezy on a bad day.
    7) Synthetic caramel – a la the horrors of Pink Sugar. I like my sweetness with something to balance it (Vero Profumo Kiki is a great example: Caramel with Lavendar = fabulous and original!), not in a smothering cloud of sugary doom.

    1. I completely agree on Kiki! Glad to hear that you like it. By the note list, I should dislike it, particularly I’d the EdP, but it is surprising and lovely. It’s a fragrance that’s made me give caramel a chance πŸ˜€

    2. Your list has me DROOLING, Kacey! And I know exactly what you mean about anise and coca-cola- Jo Malone Vanilla & Anise smells exactly like root beer to me. God bless the chef who first came up with the sea salt and sweet food combination. He or she has brought such beauty into my life!

  16. my fave notes in perfume are:
    1. iris
    2. lavender (mild and warm rather than floral)
    3. amber
    4. cedarwood
    5. powdery/soapy ones

    least favourites are:
    1. coffee
    2. caraway
    3. patchouli
    4. dirty/earthy vetiver
    5. dense leather

  17. I love:
    Earth notes
    Ylang ylang
    Violet leaf

    I thought I didn’t like:
    Lavender-Tonka combination but now I have learned to love those too.
    I am still struggling with bitter amber scenta

    1. Bitter amber scents?? I don’t think I’ve ever tried such a thing! They certainly don’t sound pleasant. Can you give me any examples?

  18. Oh, Mrs. Reynolds isn’t all bad, She’s just drawn that way πŸ˜‰ I adore that series!

    It’s fun looking at these lists. Someone’s poison can be my passion and vice versa. It was far easier to come up with the list of notes I dislike, and difficult to shorten the list of likes to just five. Here goes:

    Five notes I love and if listed in a perfume’s description will make me want to try it: incense, orange blossom/neroli, marigold/tagetes, sandalwood, ambergris. Five notes to close my pocketbook: lychee, melon, calone/aquatic notes, raspberry, stewed fruit.

    I’m trying to keep my mind open, and try things with notes I don’t like to expand my horizons. . .but not today. I’m off to find something that has all those notes I love, all at once if possible. Be well.

    1. Ha! Christina Hendricks is definitely the closest we’re going to get to a modern Jessica Rabbit. If you ever do find an incense-orange blossom-marigold-sandalwood-ambergris, please share it with us. It sounds like it would be wonderful!

  19. Personally, as much as I enjoy Christina Hendricks in Mad Men, I didn’t find her convincing as an ingenue in Firefly, which is why I’m not a fan of Saffron. As far as minor characters go, I’ve got a soft spot for Mark Sheppard; he’s also fantastic as Crowley in Supernatural. (Have you watched Supernatural yet? Ohhhh, the eye candy alone…. )

    Notes I love that love me back: 1) incense 2) all the baking spices like clove and ginger 3) orris root – bring on the metal and dirt! 4) cassis 5) sandalwood/hemlock/cedar/wenge….. basically forests in general

    Notes that don’t love me even though I love them: 1) violet 2) lily 3) lily of the valley 4) leather 5) rose without something darker thrown in

    The meh crowd: 1) Calone 2) tobacco 3) herbal stuff like basil 4) melon 5) anise – can’t get past the root beer connotations

  20. Oh man, I’m a jasmine fan! Here’s my list:

    *Tuberose (favorite)
    *Orange Blossom
    *Soapy scents like Ivoire de Balmain

    Less Fond Of: (I wouldn’t say dislike, but I’m not a huge fan of)
    *Aquatic anything
    *Most wood fragrances
    *Most green fragrances

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