Infini Vintage Eau de Cologne (Caron)

There's a difference between 'clean' and 'soapy'.

With this quip, my husband summarized his likes and dislikes where perfume is concerned. I'd just spritzed on some '70s vintage Infini EdC prior to an afternoon outing, and I worried that it might not be to his taste. On the contrary: when I gave him my wrist to sniff, he proclaimed Infini 'clean' and therefore acceptable to his nose. I'd already deemed it so myself, but what he said kept me thinking. What really drives the difference between 'clean' and 'soapy'? And why is one preferable to the other?

I theorize that the answer can be found in a fragrance's ratio of lactones to aldehydes. These two aromachemical families are often called upon to work in tandem; when in balance, they create olfactory magic (as in YSL Champagne or Paco Rabanne Calandre). But an overdose of one is vastly different than an overdose of the other.

Lactonic fragrances such as Givenchy L'Interdit seem warm and welcoming, even nourishing, if somewhat blurred around the edges. They offer the wearer that freshly-bathed feeling that my husband and I call "clean". On the other hand, strongly aldehydic fragrances such as Patou Vacances or Evyan White Shoulders come off as chilly and distant, unrelenting in the sharpness of their focus. Rather than clean, aldehydes are "soapy", suggestive of a cleaning agent, inorganic and undiluted. Neither of us prefer this. We are more likely than not to react with alarm to such a fragrance, or to characterize it as unfriendly.

Tania Sanchez borrowed the "cloth mother/wire mother" model from psychologist Harry Harlow's primate deprivation study to characterize this difference in feminine fragrance. I agree with her metaphor, though I'd like to propose one of my own, expressed in quality of light. I would say that lactones are incandescent, causing a perfume to shine softly as if through opal milk glass. Aldehydes, on the other hand, favor a decidedly fluorescent spectrum-- as glittering cold as a winter's day. When tempered with warm animalic and ambery notes (as in Chanel No. 5), there's relief from the frost. But if not, you feel the cold clean down to your bones.

There is no danger of hypothermia in Infini. First appearing in 1912 as an aldehydic jasmine-iris composed by Ernest Daltroff, Infini underwent a makeover in 1970 at the hands of perfumer Gerard Lefortis, who modernized and mellowed the formula with a slug of peach lactones and green coriander. It reminds me of a slightly higher-watt L'Interdit, with a similar milky feel to its florals and an equal measure of buttery sandalwood in the drydown. The more I wear it, the more kicky, lively, and au courant Infini seems to me-- a forward-thinking fragrance that has gracefully stood the test of one hundred years.

In the interest of obtaining a third opinion, I introduced Infini to my pal Nan, a long-term L'Interdit fangirl who shares Scott's aversion to aldehydes. On that day, outdoor temperatures verged on ninety degrees, which you'd think would call for an aldehydic cool-down. Not for us: Infini soothed us in its diffuse alabaster glow, something you could never get from Vacances. For Nan it was an instant hit-- so much so that parting her from her new friend seemed too cruel. I ended up giving her my own decant and making up a matching one for myself.

Lactone lovers, unite!

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, peach, neroli, coriander, rose, jasmine, tuberose, hyacinth, lily-of-the-valley, iris, ylang-ylang, carnation, vetiver, sandalwood, ambrette, tonka, musk, civet.