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Review: Escentric Molecules ‘Molecule 01’

How things smell is contextual and suggestible. For example, if you give someone a vial of isovaleric and butyric acid and tell them it smells like parmesan cheese, they will believe you. And then if you give them that same vial and say it smells like vomit, they will, again, believe you. See study here.

Today’s perfume is by a brand called Escentric Molecules, and it’s called ‘Molecule 01’. I’m reviewing it because a friend wears it and asked for my thoughts (she is an excellent artist and you should check out her site, emmawestbrook.com, where you can find her medieval/alien artwork and some excellent playlists). The salesperson told me that Molecule 01 doesn’t smell like anything; it just makes you smell more like you.

Disclaimer: this sample I have is very old – like four years old. 

Even at first application, it smells broken-in, like it’s been on the skin for at least an hour. The smell itself is evasive. I think I smell lilies? And pepper? Is it warm or cool? It certainly smells calm. I’m having trouble describing it, but I can tell you two things. One: it smells like opening a Vogue magazine. Two: wearing it, I feel like a glamorous robot.

It strikes me as a rather private fragrance. As in: “I’m wearing perfume, but I don’t want to be interpreted.” It’s the olfactory equivalent of keeping one’s face carefully neutral while waiting for a job interview to begin.

So does this perfume really make each wearer smell more like themselves? I put it on all three of my roommates and smelled them diligently. Yes, they all smell different. But of course they all smell different. And – to return to the way context affects perception – if the salesperson had told me it smelled like roses, would I be telling you that all three of my roommates smelled beautifully of rose? Maybe the marketing helps one pay attention not to the perfume, but to the person. I think that’s nice!

This smell is perfectly named, though. ‘Molecule 01’ – simple, and yet confusing.

P.S. I did some research: this perfume is made of one solitary chemical compound, called Iso E Super. The compound was first made in the 60s and has been used in smaller portions in many fragrances, but this was the first one to use it all by its lonesome. Fragrantica (the Wikipedia of perfume) says Iso E Super smells “dry, woody and cedarlike, with aspects of ambergris, vetiver and patchouli and a slight phenolic nuance. At the same time, it is amazingly transparent and neutral.”

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