olfactory 'shape', what does it mean? | Basenotes


Well-known member
May 31, 2008
roudnitska coined this term i think, and it puzzles me. i have given it a lot of thought, came up with several explanations, but none of them seem good enough. i don't think he meant it literate (ie, this smells 'round'), but i am not sure how abstract it really is.
plus, the word shape is translated and has a lot of different meanings (we have a similar word in dutch that shares many of these, but some not) and i am not sure if i know all of the details.

currently, i tend to think i means to describe the overall smell, as opposed to pointing out it's notes using descriptors. (for example: turin does the former a lot in his reviews, but he steers clear of listing notes most of the time)

but i might be wrong, and i would like to know for sure. so please, help me out! :)


Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Oct 27, 2005
Sounds interesting! If you saw this idea of Roudnitska's online, maybe you could post a link or paste some of the text. It might help those of us who haven't seen his remarks understand his point. Thanks!


Well-known member
May 31, 2008

http://anyasgarden.com/roudnitska.htm and http://www.art-et-parfum.com/roudnitska.htm both contain texts that mention it.

i find this section particularly interesting, it is about the evaluation of aroma molecules,
Now the smelling begins. Try topinpoint and make a quick note of the quality and character of the odor (its note, its "shape", what it reminds you of or suggests to you); its intensity, its diffusiveness ("volume"); its stability or instability; the evolution of note and shape with time. This last must be followed through for several days or even weeks to determine lingering quality, All these traits constitute the attributes of the olfactory impression; they give it a personality. They are inseparable and must be seen as a coherent entity-but an entity which interacts in countless ways with the attributes of other odorants when introduced into a mixture.
Write down everything that occurs to you in the words which come naturally--even down-to-earth-ones-if they help to build an image, to define and fix a thought, to pin down the contours of the odor unambiguously. At all costs steer clear of "roughly", "almost" and the like. Seek out and find the words which define your sensory impression unequivocally so that twenty years later the same impression will bring the same words to mind.
(from the dragoco report at anya's site)

he groups note, shape and 'what it reminds you of ...' together, or did he mean the last bit as an explanation of 'shape'? (don't think so)
further down, he talks about 'contours' as well.

i forgot to mention that i remember that turin wrote about this 'shape' thing somewhere in the guide. i have no idea in what review that was though! maybe someone knows?


Well-known member
May 31, 2008
here's some more, christine malcolm about roudnitska,

"One of his greatest contributions to the art of perfumery was the concept of shapes and form in fragrance creation that he began to discuss in 1944. This concept has been widely recognized throughout the fragrance industry. He told me, "what counts is that you think of the form and use the minimum amount of products in the creation of a perfume." In "L'Esthétique en Question" (The Question of Esthetics), he emphasized many times that the survival of perfumery as an art depended upon an educated public."

"The shape of a perfume derives from an aesthetic combination chosen and desired by the perfumer. The fragrance formulation results from an assembly of constituents which gives rise to an overall phenomenon which is anything but simple addition."
- Roudnitska

both http://www.art-et-parfum.com/textes/malcom.htm

and more from the dragoco, roudnitska still talking about aroma molecule evaluation:
"A 10% concentration should be regarded as a standard dilution, applicable for the great majority of substances. It has the advantage of being dilute enough to allow the "shape" of the odorant to express itself. With most substances it runs no risk of insulting or overloading the mucous membrane in a way that would affect judgment. By contrast this concentration is not too far from that of perfumes, so that each substance can be evaluated under evaporating conditions comparable to those of a perfume."

another interesting one,
"This technique has even less to be said for it to the extent that the buildup of a perfume is not a matter of balance. Composing a formulation IS not about "balancing" the various constituents but about marrying them harmoniously in such a way that they combine to create an olfactary shape with such and such a set of characteristics. No matter whether the constituents are "balanced" or not-the more so since one can put dissonances to good use. The thing to look for is not so much the balance of the constituents but the way they act in concert and the effect of the chords they produce-the melodic aspect of the composition. A composition which is nothing more than balanced adds up to a perfume which is static, inhibited and deadpan. A well composed perfume must live and move." (apparently, shape is not something static, but moves)

and the last one,
"Some series of odors contain crystalline substances. Even less than in the case of liquids can the action (olfactory shape, strength, behavior) of these crystals be evaluated in the 100 % state."

well, you get the idea. there's more examples in the links of my second post.
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Well-known member
May 31, 2008
i have found another quote somewhere online, this one comes from mandy aftel's book 'essence and alchemy',
"the role of the top note, then, is both to lend definition to the perfume and to give it a starting point in the imagination of the smeller. from the standpoint of the perfumer, if finishes off the shape of an creation. a dull and powdery base note, for example, needs to be balanced with a sharp and shapely top note. as edmund roudnitksa notes, "it is no mere chance that our forebears called the list of constituents of a perfume and their proportions a 'formula'. they must have felt, as they mixed their ingredients in the set proportions, that they were forming a shape and that this shape raised their mixture to the level of aesthetics."

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