Everyday Essences – Thoughts on Functional Fragrances

Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific

I spend most of my time reviewing and talking about “fine fragrances”. You know, the fragrances that we choose to wear that often comes in fancy, glimmering bottles. The stuff that influences our emotions and what we perceive as art. I want to start spending some time discussing functional fragrances. The fragrances that are used to scent our laundry detergent, our shampoo, our spray starch, the fragrances that are everyday occurrences in our lives. Do we consider these scents art? Should we?

I’ve always been impressed with “functional fragrances” because these are the source of many of my first scent memories. I can smell a fine fragrance and say, “This smells like Pledge” and everyone knows what I’m talking about. These fragrances are so familiar and usually memory inducing, be it a shampoo your sister used in the 70′s that’s discontinued or the Murphy’s Oil Soap that your mom still uses, these are the scents that induce memories. Nostalgia is the phenomenon that will make somebody pay anything to smell like old-school Breck ;)

I also like functional fragrances because they are cultural. Americans associate home cleaning smells with lemon. I remember in Northern Europe, evergreen scents were popular in home cleaners. It’s sensory ecology.

Another reason why I am fascinated with functional fragrances is because it is perfumery. It’s perfumery for the masses, accessible to everyone. Chemists are designing cheap synthetics. These synthetics must literally take a beating through the washer at scalding temps or smell but not have a taste. Not only are there chemists, but there are trained perfumers (or both) behind these functional fragrances trying to make a dish soap smell good with like a budget of 20¢. It amazes me that any of these final functional fragrances can smell tolerable at all. I can’t imagine what it is like to add fragrance to a base that is meant to remove rust from toilets. That must be very different than using perfumer’s alcohol!

The more that I sniff functional fragrance, the more “fine fragrance” I smell and vice versa. This has been a new epiphany for me. And this is why I want to start reviewing more functional fragrances. These won’t be a review of the effectiveness of a dish soap but the smell of it and similarities between it and fine fragrances. I’m not an expert. I’m not going to offer insider’s information on aromachemicals but I can offer a fragrance lover’s perspective, one that you can “test” and comment on because you may have these items at home. And who doesn’t want to reminisce on the scent of Cashmere Bouquet soap?

Victoria at Bois de Jasmin wrote a wonderful article about functional perfumery and she’s a great resource. This article and her insight “opened” my eyes to this world. I had heard things before that the smell of Downy was based on Oscar perfume, but I didn’t realize that esteemed Noses were also scenting Nair. Wouldn’t it be nifty if you knew that the next deodorant you bought was a Sophia Grosjman?

I’m trying to do this new “segment” on EauMG at least once a month. Stay tuned. The topic will be dish soaps. How exciting! ;)

Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific ad is from Found in Your Mom’s Basement. And yes, this shampoo is still available for purchase.

13 thoughts on “Everyday Essences – Thoughts on Functional Fragrances

  1. “Nostalgia is the phenomenom that will make anyone pay anything to smell like old-school Breck” – Woman, you are speaking an absolute truth!

    Reviews of functional fragrances, what a fantastic idea! I cannot wait to read them.

    Further proving my theory of P-ESP, stay tuned for my next EsteeFest post -functional fragrance makes an appearance!

    • Oh, the anticipation! I think I may know which Estee you are talking about, one of my favorites too and the 1st perfume I bought with my own money at 11 or 12.

  2. This is a great idea; I just went back and re-read Victoria’s article and it is definitely thought-provoking.

    • In my mind, I always thought that fine fragrance perfumers and functional fragrance perfumers were separate. But, it seems that isn’t always the case.

      So, when I say some “niche” persume smells like Suave shampoo, it probably is done by the same person :S That’s an odd thought.

  3. I imagine functional perfumers have a hard challenge. Having to blend purpose with pleasantness can’t be an easy task. It’s fine perfumery with function added on isn’t it, cause you know fine perfume does’t have a purpose per se. So on top of budget, safety checks, group testing etc, it’s probably harder than I can imagine.

    I love the smell of fresh laundry. Whatever they’re doing to fabric softner, especially ones for baby clothes, aw they’re just so lovely to bury yourself in :)

    • Yes, all of that and of course, a small budget. Functional perfumery reminds me of Streamline Moderne (US) or Functionalism (European) styles. Both are art for consumers, making a toaster look glamorous. I miss that. Wish more everyday consumer products were better designed and thought of as art for the home.

      Ahh, laundry, I think everyone loves the smell of fresh laundry. And that must be difficult for a perfumer. One must use aromachemicals that can withstand heat and a beating. It must smell good in the bottle, on wet clothes, and on dry clothes.

      And this reminds me of Dreft! Forgot about that stuff, now want to go out and buy it just to smell it!

  4. Ah, nostalgia…just seeing that “Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific” ad makes me want to smell that shampoo again. It was quite spicy, as I recall, which was rather unique for a shampoo. :)

    Functional perfumery is a fascinating subject, and there are endless things you could review. Will look forward to checking out your “dish soap” post! It probably doesn’t smell the same anymore, but I used to love the smell of Lemon Fresh Joy dish detergent when I was a kid. It was a very natural lemon-y smell, refreshing and light.

    • You can still get “Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific”. I remember it being like incense spicy. I want to order it.

      So, I sniffed Joy Lemon this morning (will share that story). It still smells how I remember it. It may not be, but I register it the same. Boy, are there some weird dish soap scents out there now. They are competing with B&BW.

  5. One of my all time favorite smells is that of Ivory soap. It’s so fresh and clean and reminds me of being a kid. My mom would hug me and I would smell it on her hands.

  6. It will be very interesting to read your new topic (even though I prefer not to have any scents, if possible, in my detergents, dishwashing supplies and hand/body creams.

    • I’m exactly the same way. I prefer to use unscented home and body products. But…it’s a big industry and I find it interesting. There are a few products that I still purchase occasionally for the smell memories: Old Spice Body Wash, Irish Springs, Murphy’s Oil Soap…

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