The red wine tastes like plums and raspberries, with tobacco or cherry cola. The white is all green apples and apricots with hint of a pineapple buzz that’s reminiscent of grapefruit soda on the backend, or it’s smoke, oak, and quartz, with an acidic finish. A perfume smells like old roses and lime leaves—or maybe it’s more like lilacs and lemongrass?
Writing descriptions of aromas and tastes is tricky because our individual perceptions vary widely. Pour two glasses of white wine from the same bottle and one person will say it tastes like granny smith apples and the other will insist that it tastes like kumquats and unripe strawberries. They are BOTH right. What we taste and smell—and how we describe those sensations—are entirely individual. The same exact chemical combinations, glasses from the same bottle of wine, or whiffs from the same atomizer of perfume, will provoke us to describe things in our own way. But how can wine taste like kumquats AND green apples? Because we don’t taste kumquats or green apples the same way either—we experience them via our own aromatic “lens.”
In fiction, descriptions of tastes and smells can be character short cuts. An older lady wearing a sweet, flowery perfume is a cliché. It’s familiar and immediately brings to mind old-fashioned clothing and outdated ideas. If you are old enough to remember the late 1960s and early 1970s you might connect patchouli with hippies and musk with the growth of scents for men. Between the aromas added to soaps, shampoos, body lotions, and laundry detergents, it was a smelly era.
Periodically, NEW perfumes become breakout stars and change the aromatic landscape. CHARLIE was a big deal in the early 70s, but I was too young to tell you if the scent was the big departure or if it was the image projected in the advertising campaign that made it the next big thing. Super models appeared in the commercials wearing pantsuits (a big departure), and the message was clear. Charlie was the perfume of beautiful, liberated women, even as Bobby Short crooned the snappy jingle.
If I were to create a character with Charlie as her signature scent, she’d be a fan of Lauren Hutton, Cindy Crawford, Shelley Hack, Naomi Sims, and Ralph Lauren. That would make her somewhere between 65 and 75 years old.
I think I speak for most regular perfume wearers when I say that over the course of your lifetime taste in perfume evolves and changes. Still, the idea of a signature scent is wonderful. It lingers in the air and on the page.