We live in an age of superspecialization; it’s been said many times and I’m gonna say it again. My favorite example of this phenomenon is Pandora, the online radio station, which allows one to suggest one’s favorite song, then produces the songs and albums its special generator thinks you might like. If you don’t like the suggestions, give it a thumbs down—it’ll recalibrate and try to find the exact right thing for your tastes and expectations. So far so good, right? You get exactly what you want for your mood, and discover new artists in the process, right?
The problem, in my eyes, lies in the fact that a person could listen to nothing but artists who all have something in common with David Bowie, for example, and never come into contact with any other genres or musical ideas, for the rest of her life. New music is always coming out, and she can just specialize in that niche.
The same trend holds true for perfume. New fragrances are always being launched, in every category and subcategory, and if you want, you can spend your perfume-life sniffing nothing but chypres, if you so please. Connected with this is the quixotic pursuit of the “Holy Grail” fragrances, something that somehow magically encapsulates the essence of you, your tastes and desires. You know where this is going, right…
I have made this mistake—I love oakmoss, vetiver, and everything that smells like dirt. For a while I obsessed over the possibility of finding the ‘right one,’ the scent to end my search, to keep me happy forever. But in the process, I opened the ‘Pandora’s box’ of general scent obsession, of that burning curiosity to know more smells, to satisfy my starved olfactory facility.
My point is, as with other aspects of our lives, we have to be careful of getting in aesthetic ruts—of just sticking with the things which are most pleasing to our still-developing noses and hearts. Searching Makeup Alley and Basenotes, for scents that may contain exactly the right notes might—just might—stunt our development, and keep us from having revelations. The more choices we have, the more specialized the commercial offerings, the more careful we must be to keep our imaginative and aesthetic horizons broad.
Reading this over, I realize this may sound preachy, but think of it as a sermon to myself, a reminder that, in fragrance as well as music, there’s much beyond Bach and Bowie to explore!