Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An Interview with Marian Bendeth: Psychology of Perfume, Part I

"For me, the basis of fragrance selection has a lot to do with self-esteem and introvert/extravert tendencies. " --Marian Bendeth, Global Fragrance Expert, Sixth Scents

Recently, on a whim, I sought Global Fragrance Expert Marian Bendeth's fragrance advice, curious about her career description as a "fragrance profiler". Well, I was lucky and able to receive her exclusive services, and what can I say but that her assessment of my scent character--who I feel I am inside--was amazingly "on". Not only had she visualized the colors I resonate to and places where I feel most comfortable, she was able to describe my personality accurately in a nutshell: simultaneously soft and intense, a protected, sensitive artist. It still blows my mind that the language of perfume can say so much about a person, whether we want people to know these things about us or not.

Marian Bendeth, whose company is called Sixth Scents, is a true professional in the world of perfumery with vast knowledge and understanding of perfume to support her unique field of expertise. She can connect scents and personalities together as only someone with a "sixth sense" could accomplish. She is my friend, a truly fascinating person to correspond with--in my eyes the embodiment of joie de vivre, and it's always a pleasure to listen to her speak, as she has many pearls of wisdom to share.

Sali: Marian, regarding your assessment of my fragrance personality based on just a couple of my favorite perfumes (and the perfumes I've created which you've smelled and kindly reviewed): How are you able to read characters and is it an innate trait or something learned?

Marian: My knowledge on personality profiles is predominantly based on conducting thousands of consultations with perfume lovers from all over the world. It fascinates me that someone from say, Kingston, Jamaica and Oslo, Norway might have many things in common based on their fragrance tastes and classifications. I have been able to sew a common thread through multiple ethnicities, cultures, religions, ages and lifestyles. The rest is, well, yes, a certain “Sixth Sense” on my part, gut intuition hence the name of my company, Sixth Scents. I like to say Fragrance is your walking biography. I think most subliminally assess others on their fragrance tastes. I have just made it an art form.

Re: your scents and personality: Sali, I also recall about your tastes that you are a big picture kind of woman who loves to walk in the door from another angle. You seek out new ideas and love to take risks. Your innate creativity and rich imagination pave the way for a rich and industrious career in the arts. You love moody atmospheres – most likely more of a night person and lighting, background music and textures inspire you. You prefer to work alone when it comes to creation forecasting things and then realizing them in real time.

S: Thank you so very much for an extended assessment of my scent personality! How can people who are interested in getting an assessment receive your services?

M: At present, fragrance profiling is only available to Fragrance companies and vendors. I do some profiling for media fragrance stories from time to time which is available online. My title is Fragrance Expert and that covers a multitude of services that I provide for consumers; retailers, fragrance vendors, perfumers and the media.

S: Is your system connected to any other psychological or cultural fragrance classification systems out there, or is it a unique system of analysis?

M: My system is totally unique which makes my journey one of a pioneer. Most marketing companies will bring in fragrance consumers to sniff new launches and tick off boxes to say whether they think they are too sweet, too spicy, weak etc. These controlled environments may attract a particular age group who are paid to fill out the questionaires. Of course, they are a wonderful resource for statistics and valuable information but it does not cover the many key areas such as spending habits and brand loyalty on things other than fragrances. Other interesting subjects include: cultural upbringing and familiar childhood aromas; fashion and interior decorating tastes and of course, how one perceives themselves or how they wish to be perceived. For me, the basis of fragrance selection has a lot to do with self-esteem and introvert/extravert tendencies.

With private clients, I make house calls and I am also featured in retail environments and perfumeries and department stores consulting with over 126 nationalities and differing fragrance tastes. I also work with over 1,000 + prestige fragrances for women and men and have to have a working knowledge of past, present and future perfumes and what they contain and how they should smell on the body.

"...race and ethnicity have nothing to do with body chemistry; that said, body chemistry on individuals does and the aromas of familiar cultural odours will affect tastes and selections."

S: How do you decide what someone can wear or not? Can some skins wear Chypre better than others? Is there a guidebook or a rule? Do you just trust your own nose? This is the part I wish to clarify, and I think what most people will want to know. Inevitably what it boils down to is, does race have anything to do with classifications and what genres suit which skins at all?

M: First of all, race and ethnicity have nothing to do with body chemistry; that said, body chemistry on individuals does and the aromas of familiar cultural odours will affect tastes and selections. Each body is individual and might pick up individual or whole accords and I can ascertain the differences. Unless the wearer has a great nose, ask others and loved ones for their opinions.

S: You were a prominent music critic once in the jazz genre. I also know you are an avid listener of Brazilian jazz. Do you feel that there are parallels between the world of fragrance and music, or are they very different fields to be involved in?

M: I love the idea of fragrance being motivational, inspirational not unlike music that can transform and carry us somewhere else in mere seconds! For me, it is all about rhythm! I do find many similarities between the concepts of music and fragrance analogy but for me, smelling a fragrance can also be likened to a multitude of images. When I smell something new for the first time, my mind can go into a myriad of directions. For me, it is a journey and how smooth or bumpy that journey is from beginning to end and will impact my overall decision.

I try to look for the flow of the scent, not unlike a great piece of music where the intro or top notes should offer a pleasant surprise. The duration of those notes in combination with the heart or lyrics and chords should be seamless. They should crescendo in varying degrees and move my imagination to some place magical. The basenotes or percussions should be even and steady and provide the tempo for the piece. Anything too abrupt, non-compatible or affected may affect my judgement. There is a well-known very hot singer who starts off with a great beat but likes to detour into a completely different singing style half-way through the song which sounds uneven and crude. I have smelled scents that do that as well - it feels like you are being jerked off course. To be fair, when testing new scents, I go back to the smelling strip multiple times over twenty-four hours and look for new and innovative feelings upon each return. At the end, it is the journey and longevity that holds my attention.

What is fascinating to me is when I smell a new scent, I may envision anything from graphic lines and shapes, a style of music or composer, artist/ painter; specific colour or pantone shade; environment, personality or fashion style with a lot of texture in 3D – real or imagined. I guess you could say it is part instinctual, part research.

S: Could you tell me a bit about your favorite perfumes and how they may have shaped the way you visualize fragrances as characters?

M: I guess I am all over the map when it comes to my personal preferences but when it comes to my customers, I have to be as open as humanly possible.

I tend to stick to my personal favourite classifications, vintage chypres; aldehydes; floral woody and green scents. I also enjoy wearing some of the fragrances I work with such as “Rumeur” by Lanvin; White Crystal (aka Straight to Heaven) by Kilian; Epice Noir by Michel Roudnitska and Le Baiser du Dragon, Cartier which inspire my sensibilities. I also stand in awe of many fragrances I would not personally wear but admire as works of art. Of course there are thousands to choose from and I may change scents throughout the day, depending on who I am meeting and the mood I am in.

As an Expert I have to seek out as objectively as possible, the many directions a blend can take you. I never dictate to my customers but rather guide the customer in the right direction. It is a marriage, of the nose loving the fragrance and the fragrance loving the skin! If these factors don’t exist, I suggest moving on.

Then there is my personal preference for my own fragrance wardrobe, then my objective view with an evaluated scent, then my impressions with a blotter and then with my customer’s skin and their preferences. One classification becomes another after sitting on the skin which can spin the direction into a completely different classification! I adore this challenge and the findings are always unexpected and informative!

S: Is it fair to say you are a fan of things that are consistent, that whether it be characteristically or genre-wise, when things veer off into different places, they throw you off aesthetically? Would this also connect to how you feel about people who wear different types of scents, say, all over the map? How would you perceive such a person's personality?

M: When I talked about the singer, I was talking about gratuitous notes that were thrown in...because they felt like it, because they could and for no other reason. I can smell this in a blend - instantly. Big turn off because it reflects a laziness or ego that does not work in tandem with the other notes in the blend. Not unlike an amazing fashion style that is cut to the nth degree - Oscar-worthy - and then she wears flip flops on her feet or better yet, a beautiful painting with a mulititude of colours and depth and then the artist decides to paint a fat black line across the canvas obstructing the imagery.

George Gershwin for me, knew how to make those detours, those jerky movements but.....and this is what I mean Sali, always kept those forays within the keeping of the piece. They always blended with the movement and meaning of what he was trying to project - take Rhapsody in Blue - probably one of the first to do this. For me, Rhapsody in Blue was sheer genius - the listener heard a train, detours, art galleries, momentum, a literal roller coaster of sound, crescendoing into the clouds. Same thing with Pat Metheny's Inner Circle or Straight on Red- what a brilliant piece that is. I don't have any personal Brazilian song that reflects perfection for me - they are all wonderful in different ways (not unlike perfume) but so is Albinoni and LeGrand for different reasons as well.

Some adore the kind of jazz which spirals off into total improv, they enjoy the journey of where the musician might go...there are many fragrances that also smell "improvisational"...and hopefully, there is a market for them but the expectation of mass sales for this kind of scent should not be too high. Of course, many actually take the marketing quite literally which can affect their perceptions immeasurably.

Should an individual pick scents from a multitude of classifications, they reveal various slices of their personalities. If all of the scents "sit" well on their body chemistry, they are very fortunate indeed because it is a rarity, pure and simple. The majority of fragrance lovers usually tend to stick within 2 - 3 classifications. Very rarely in my career, have I smelled body chemistries that can pick up evenly in accordance to what the perfumer desired, all the accords, notes, oils from beginning to end in all of the classifications and wear anything and everything. Of course you know the factors that can throw a scent off in another direction which is why the nose says one thing and the body another.

There are many classications and scents I adore but cannot wear. I think a lot of people wear inappropriate scents that either do not sit well on them or are in the wrong setting. I personally don't subscribe to wearing just one classification or fragrance - too boring. It's also how you wear tying a scarf, wearing the right shoes or boots with an you walk, your gait, tone of voice ...all these things speak volumes about you.
(Marian Bendeth will be interviewed on CBC Radio on Jan 31st, co-interviewed with Chandler Burr. The show will air Live on Sirius satellite 137 from 12:00ET. The segment will take place at app. 12:30ET. In Ontario, the show will air on FM 99.1 at 14:00ET, and again at 22:00ET. The following day the podcast is available for download or on demand from the website: Global Fragrance Expert Marian Bendeth of Sixth Scents can be contacted at

We're going to continue with the fascinating dialogue and ask Marian about her perspective on fragrance and marketing trends in the industry and much more. This article is Part I of a two-part series entitled "An Interview With Marian Bendeth: Psychology of Perfume" by Sali Oguri for Pink Manhattan Blog, All Rights Reserved. Read Part II on Marlen Harrison's Perfume Critic.