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My Little Friends – A Sampling Methodology

by | May 16, 2020

I get up early. Really early. 445a early. These first few hours of the day, that I can have all to myself, sometimes before the sun even comes up, are so satisfying. I actively avoid thinking about politics and job-related challenges – at least for the first hour or two. This is the part of every day that I reserve to guarantee that I have some concentrated time for enjoyment of things.

I get tired in the evening and as the day goes on, my mental energy goes down. So the morning time is my most productive. A lot of people I know have an opposite daily cycle – they stay up late and work and are creative. I have no access to creativity after 4pm.

The morning is also when my nose is also at its best. Refreshed and replenished and rararing to go. This is when I do my fragrance testing.

Since I won’t be getting to try Le Lion de Chanel anytime soon, here’s a different Chanel patchouli.

I have the strongest sense of curiosity for fragrances. I want to know what everything smells like. I struggle to describe the frustration in knowing that a fragrances exists and that I can’t smell it for a while (Chanel and Amouage: Le Lion and Interlude Black Iris – I need to know!). This obsessive desire leads me to order more samples than you can imagine. I have them lined up in my desk drawer and every morning, as I make my way down stairs, I stop and put something on the top of my hand. I try to do this systematically, with a schedule, so that I’m sure to get the chance to actually try every sample that I order.

But, there are only 365 days in the year, so I’d never smell everything if I restricted my sampling to one each morning. I usually do one sample in the morning, wear a fragrance for the day, wear a second fragrance in the late afternoon (sometimes this is a full wearing of a sample that I’m considering buying), then sample some more in the evening (this time period might be an attempt at a few different fragrances at the same time, on different parts of my hands and arms – fragrances that I know I’m not ever going to want to buy), and finally applying from a full bottle for bed time.

The morning sample session is always restricted to only one fragrance. The air is still and I think it’s my best chance to learn, by myself, how much the fragrance projects. I only apply a small amount on the top of my hand. And as I sit and peck away at my iPad, I’ll sometimes stop paying attention to the sample and it’ll hit my nose and I’ll have a bit of biological excitement. That moment is when I know it’s one that I want to look at a bit closer.

This process also gives me quick path to find some of the base notes that I might otherwise never find. I usually take a shower a couple hours after applying the sample, before I start my day in earnest. The shower helps to wash away the top and middle of the sample and I’m left with whatever is super clingy to my skin. It’s often faint, but more often than not, I learn something about the fragrance that could have eluded me. The woods and musks and weird unnatural things at the core of so many fragrances that help to bring the rest of it all together are revealed to me at that moment. I get a deeper understanding of the construction of the fragrance, and am better able to dissect its whole.

I’m not sure that this part of the process actually helps me to judge the fragrance as a fragrance, though I sometimes do find an annoying base note that I am able to realize is the reason why I didn’t really enjoy the fragrance from the start. It’s more about the nerd catharsis that helps me to understand the technical side of perfumery. But it’s part of the experience I’ve come to really enjoy. I think it must be helpful in training my nose to identify more details within perfumes.

I do not have a bottle of En Voyage Durango. So, instead, enjoy this photo of L’Hombre, which I decided I liked by sampling it.

Today I’m giving a test to En Voyage Durango. I was anxious to sample this because of the creosote bush note. My former life as a railroad enthusiast gave me the opportunity to enjoy the smell of morning dew evaporating off of creosote (the chemical, not the plant) soaked railroad ties in the bright morning sun. This smell is so important to me. When I learned that there is a creosote bush (which I discovered by reading Luca Turin’s commentary on La Curie Larrea), named for its similarity to the smell of the chemical, I needed to test things. I fell in love with D. S. & Durga El Cosmico (which will be my scent of the day today). I’m now realizing that I need to get my hands on some creosote bush raw material.

Durango has given me an interesting evolution over the three hours that I’ve been wearing it now. It started with the smell of dirt. Stronger than other dirt fragrances I’ve tried lately. Maybe even to the point of it being a bit harsh – a little hard to handle. That calmed quickly and I found it to be a rather pleasant dirt smell after 20 minutes. Then the dirt subsided. I’ve spent my time, while writing this post, thinking about the emphasis of “salt” in the notes list. I don’t really understand salt accords. Maybe I’m not enough of an artist for that (I’m not an artist at all!). But I think I’m feeling the salt association through this smell of what I think might be some kind of sandalwood replica, or some wood that smells vaguely of sandalwood. Now, three hours in, that over-emphasized sandalwoody sandalwood seems to be everything.

While Durango and I aren’t going to be lovers, I have a good relationship with it now. These three hours we spent together gave me the chance for some high quality bonding. I know its different moods. I know when it’s wearing an emotional mask, and I know a little bit about what that mask is hiding. We’re friends, and if either of us decide to go a little deeper with each other, we’ll be ready to do that next time. We can start right from where we left off.


  1. Vic from Scentbound

    A very well thought-out methodology. I find the same- sampling new scents in the morning when your nose is fresh gives you the most accurate understanding of the fragrance.

    • Charlie

      Thanks, Vic. It’s my favorite part of the day.

  2. Asmita

    Thank you for this post. Its very inspiring.

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