Before the late 1800s, scents were linked to real, physical things like basil plants and cedar trees, but modern chemistry transformed that when scientists started producing synthetics that resembled the natural world, or in some cases were abstract and never-before-smelled.
Sfumato fragrances return to the slower, simpler time by taking ingredients, like mandarin orange oil and jasmine flower, from nature instead of a laboratory.
Fragrance has never been more available but old smells are literally disappearing. We prefer to use natural essential oils and find it philosophically pleasing to use products that make up an ecosystem rather than come from a test tube. Natural fragrance notes have a depth and complexity that synthetics lack.
The new-and-old-world notes can be played out with an analogy comparing laser light to a candle’s illumination. Lasers are a high intensity focused light at a single wavelength, similar to synthetic notes that are centered on a single chemical component. In contrast, candles provide lower intensity light spread across a range of wavelengths, similar to a natural essential oil made up of many chemical constituents. Lasers are a wondrous invention and have many uses, but they are not very good for providing lighting during a romantic dinner.
Sfumato is the analog counterpart of the sharp, synthetic smells that have infiltrated daily life.