Free will or determinism in liking perfumes? (Umbra by Ramon Monegal)

A mí me es fácil olvidar (it’s easy for me to forget)

—Gustavo Cerati, “Perdonar Es Divino” (To Forgive Is Divine)

The more I’ve been remembering old perfumes recently, the more I’m starting to wonder how much of my current tastes are driven by lingering subconscious memories of perfumes I used to like. It’s in reading the notes of those bygones—many of which were successful gifts simply because I wasn’t as picky back then—and seeing the overlap with perfumes I gravitate to now that makes me question whether my nose isn’t being lazy sometimes in making its choices.

Do we like certain things simply because we’ve seen/heard/smelled/tasted/touched them before?

Take Emporio Armani White for Her, for example. I’d actually forgotten that I ever had it until recently, after opening the sealed vault of gray matter with a spontaneous bout of almost self-hypnotic focus that led me to identifying Dana California from my early teens (the next step is to try to verify it by smell—TBD). A short-lived favorite that broke many hearts, judging from the plenitude of Fragrantica comments, White for Her was launched in 2001 and lists notes of bergamot, orange, mandarin orange, cassia, and black currant; ginger, iris, fig leaf, mint, and cloves; white musk, and white wood. Now, a crowd-pleasing citrus-fruity-green-woody-musk shouldn’t be surprising at all to like, but I was particularly amused by the black currant and fig leaf because those are notes that I wasn’t distinctly aware of in perfume until I fell down the “rabbit hole” of perfumery, notes to which I’d since developed a distinct attraction.

Coincidence? Probably.

It’s like that with food, artwork, and so many other things, too—hence the success of marketers touting retro designs and “selling our childhoods back to us,” as my other half puts it, while we gladly gulp it all up like a malt vanilla milkshake. (With an optional dash of booze, now that we are quantitatively adults.)

And why companies with long-term foresight go one step further and target Generation Alpha (those born between 2010 and right around now)—to create the basis for their future nostalgia, by which time they will have products to cater for it.

Today, I wore my sample of Umbra from the Ramon Monegal discovery kit I had bought a while ago. I had tried it before, but it didn’t really stand out to me, although it was nice enough. This time, however, the citrus and fresh-spicy opening followed by clean musks (with a powdery coumarin bridge in between) “reminded me of something” in a way that made me think I had something similar or should somehow be emotionally involved. What that was, though, I didn’t know.

Then I read some comments on Fragrantica that it smelled like a more refined version of CK One by Calvin Klein. Another staple of adolescence in the 1990s. I never wore CK One, but I once bought a knock-off of it in a spray can that I used as room spray. So maybe that’s it as far as nostalgia goes.

Top notes of Umbra are listed as bergamot, geranium, and coriander. I definitely get the bergamot and something bitter and aromatic, not your typical “green” but very natural smelling. Within seconds, the fuzzy coumarin takes over, like a fawn ushering the wearer through a brief stretch of mossy forest. The coriander complements the moss quite well in this relatively early stage.

Heart notes are listed as jasmine, lily of the valley, and fir balsam. I don’t perceive the florals strongly, as they are light and flanked by tonka leading into the base notes of vetiver, oakmoss, myrrh, and frankincense. By then I’m enveloped by wafts of the light musk from where I sprayed it around my neck, which is delightful. When my nose interrogates my wrist closely, though, I get a hollow, synthetic reply that seems prevalent in the drydown of Ramon Monegal perfumes that I’ve tried.

(Update: The next day, the soft musk was still wafting delicately from my hair, which had picked it up with none of the “final drydown.”)

Fortunately for the wallet, the familiar effect of the mossy musk can be found in less expensive fragrances.

2 thoughts on “Free will or determinism in liking perfumes? (Umbra by Ramon Monegal)

  1. Since I’m extremely consistent in my “likes” in any area of life, I’m not totally surprised by finding years later that perfumes that I used to like and wear in my pre-perfumista years (back when I haven’t thought of or could read about their notes composition) contained those notes that I consciously now identify as my favorites (black currant and fig are among them too). And still, I still feel slightly amazed every time I realize that about the next perfume.

    I know that I smelled this perfume at some point, but the only RM perfumes that impressed we enough to get into my collection was Impossible Iris. I wouldn’t mind revisiting some of them now, but my local NM stopped carrying the line.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it reassuring to have your consistency validated? 🙂 I find it fascinating to “deconstruct” some of my likes, but also try to keep enough of it a mystery.
      I haven’t smelled Impossible Iris, but will have to give it a try if I get the chance.

      Liked by 1 person

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