Fragrance Perception: Is Everything Relative?


There are many fragrance lovers—this author included—who focus on the essential truth of perfume, caring little that it “smells different” on everyone. Such fragrance lovers are annoyed by the cult of subjectivity suggesting that a scent may actually smell different to Jim than it does to Jane. For such people, a recent paper by Manuel Zarzo and David Stanton reveals good news: Everything is not relative. Perhaps a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

Driven by a desire to better understand the relationships among odor descriptors most frequently used in perfumery, the scientists published a landmark study of fragrance perception. Their conclusions: A standard map of odor descriptors is possible; perfume materials can be presented nicely in two-dimensional space. Despite minor discrepancies, historical and contemporary sensory maps of scent descriptors display a remarkable accord. There is a consistent basis for perfume perception and description despite variations in the way individuals experience scent.

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