Saturday Question: Are There Mere-exposure Effect Perfumes in Your Collection?

If you are not familiar with a psychological phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect or familiarity principle, you can read more about it in this Wikipedia article. I am using it rather jokingly, as a conversation starter for this week’s Saturday Question.


Saturday Question on Undina's Looking Glass


Saturday Question #43:

Are There Mere-exposure Effect Perfumes in Your Collection?

The idea behind that phenomenon was: “After repeated exposure, the observing organism will begin to react fondly to the once novel stimulus.”

Do you have any perfumes that you like more now then you liked them when you first bought them or got them as a gift? We’re not talking about the situation when you tested a sample or a small decant, didn’t like it, then tested more, liked and bought perfume. Or didn’t like perfume initially then tested years later and fell in love.

Can you think of any perfume that you liked but didn’t love … until you got used to it?

My Answer

I knew I would buy Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilee as soon as I saw an announcement about its launch: I liked the brand, I was very partial to their old-style colored bottles, and especially I liked that dark blue color. So, once I found it at a store, I bought it. It wasn’t a blind buy, I liked it, but at that time there were so many other great perfumes that Nuit Etoilee seemed somewhat simple and … not challenging (?). It wasn’t a statement perfume (I gravitate to those). And for a while I thought that it reminded me of Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles. I even solicited blind testing experiment from three fellow-parfumistas (if you weren’t around then and curious or want to read objective impressions of this perfume from reviewers who didn’t know what they were testing, take a look: Déjà vu, Episode 4: des pairs, dis-pair, Despair).

Rusty and Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilee

Starry Night? Where?!!

I wore Nuit Etoilee for a while, but then somehow forgot about it and didn’t wear it for at least 4 years. I didn’t change my mind about it. I didn’t dislike it. I just never chose to wear it.

A couple of months into the lockdown, I thought of wearing it – I don’t remember what prompted it. It was almost a shock: I liked it very much. It surprised me. What was that? Have my tastes changed? Does this perfume seem so much better now compared to endless modern concoctions? Or was it a true case of the mere-exposure effect?

[…] analysis found that the effect is strongest when unfamiliar stimuli are presented briefly. Mere exposure typically reaches its maximum effect within 10–20 presentations, and some studies even show that liking may decline after a longer series of exposures. For example, people generally like a song more after they have heard it a few times, but many repetitions can reduce this preference. A delay between exposure and the measurement of liking actually tends to increase the strength of the effect.


Are There Mere-exposure Effect Perfumes in Your Collection?

35 thoughts on “Saturday Question: Are There Mere-exposure Effect Perfumes in Your Collection?

  1. From the title I thought this might be about influencers or seeing a perfume everywhere. I hadn’t heard of the effect before and it’s interesting. I think the best relationships can come from the mere-exposure effect haha.

    Cuir de Rose comes to mind because although I was impressed by it from the start, over time it has gained an addictive quality.

    I’m wondering if Rusty had seen a spider on the ceiling in that pic :)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh yes,
    It’s happened a few times but the one I have noticed most was Elegance Animale by Lalique. The range was super pricey when they launched so I didn’t even really give them a sniff but I really wanted one ofd the bottles. Saw Elegance Animale in a friends Sale Doc on FB and pounced because it was so cheap. When it arrived I liked it but it was a bit too whatever. Then I started wearing it as my “I don’t care but need a spritz to leave the house perfume.” After maybe a couple of months I started to enjoy it much more, the nuance and story goes from fairy floss to a soft leathery amber. Not incredibly ground breaking, and not leathery enough to be gorgeous but very nice, comfortable and easy.
    I wore it a lot for a while and now it gets outings but not so much.
    Portia x

    Liked by 1 person

    • The bottle looks familiar, but I’m not sure I’ve ever tried it.

      I recently started stopping myself from pouncing on “great deals” for perfumes that I thought were “nice” because I won’t wear those in the end. But when you can get something you wanted to get but didn’t because it was a little bit more expensive than you wanted to pay for it, it’s a clear win.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I cannot think of any mere exposure effect perfumes for myself but I can possibly explain your newfound wow for Nuit Etoilee. I assume it’s the EDT we’re talking about as I have the same exact bottle (I also have the EDP in a larger bottle). Anyway, it is possible that your bottle kept maturing over time with the merest evaporation and so your next wearing gave you a little bit more pow 💥.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right, I do have EdT. And you might be onto something with the maturing process. Anyway, it’s much better than the opposite when perfumes we used to love suddenly loose their appeal, and we’re not sure if that our tastes that changed, or if perfumes started spoiling.


  4. Absolutely — mine is SJP’s Stash. When it came out, I tried it in store and didn’t like it. The next time I was in Ulta, I tried it again, and still didn’t like it. But I sprayed some on a paper strip and took that home. I dropped it somewhere in my bedroom when I emptied my pockets. Over the next two weeks, I kept smelling the most intriguing and pleasant fragrance, and I couldn’t figure out what it was or where it was coming from! I finally did a systematic search, and it was the paper strip with Stash on it, still wafting through a largish room after two weeks, and smelling much better than I had thought in the store. I think it was so novel the first couple of times I tried it that my nose said I didn’t like it. Then I got used to it over the two weeks as it dried down on the paper. I went out and bought it when it went on sale!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I had a similar experience with several other perfumes. One of them will hopefully join my collection in the upcoming year (I’m waiting on a smaller bottle release). But with Stash it “clicked” immediately. And I especially enjoy oil that I got in the set: I add a couple of drops to water in the bath when I take a shower in winter.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Mine is probably Atelier Cafe Tuberosa. Tried it it Sephora – nope. Then it showed up in the traveling box of perfume organized by Lukasz/Chemist in the Bottle. Tried again- yep. Kept the travel spray from the box, just thunked it and have since acquired another travel spray . (Don’t think I will seek a large bottle, but that’s just because I have TOO MUCH.). I know it wasn’t universally liked but I find it strangely compelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m safe when it comes to anything tuberose: if I can smell it, I don’t like it, no matter how many times I try. But in general I love that Atelier has those travel sprays: I rarely need more than 10-15 ml of any perfume, so it’s great when I can buy it from the brand or in brand packaging.


  6. I hadn’t heard that term, but the phenomenon is interesting and makes sense. That’s why radio stations would sandwich a new song between familiar and popular songs to get people to accept and eventually like it. Yesterday I thought I felt this effect (now that you’ve mentioned it) when I put on Santal 33 after a long time (months) of not wearing it.
    I think this must have happened with most gift perfumes I got when I was younger, because I wasn’t very picky back then and ended up loving them all, now with nostalgia added.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I started thinking and realized that in my life I was given a bottle of perfume without me already liking it… 7 times. 2 were recently from perfumista friends – cheap thrills based on the note that I like. Those both were pleasant, and I’ll keep wearing them from time to time. Out of the other 5, only 1 was a success, but I liked it from the first time I smelled it (and I think I’d still like it today if it still existed). The rest were re-homed in the end, despite my attempts to like them.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I’ve had some opposite effects. I’ve worn some of my favorites so many times I find I don’t truly appreciate how spectacular they are because I’ve grown accustomed to them. Then when I put them away for a while and wear them again I am totally amazed by their beauty.. It happened this week with Ormonde Jayne’s Ta’if. Hadn’t worn it for a while, then sprayed it on last evening and was blown away by its uniqueness and beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that my most special perfumes (and Ta’if is one of them) I wear only for what I deem “special occasions” just for that reason: I don’t want them to become mundane. Same as some dishes I make only for holidays and celebrations, even though they are not necessarily hard to make or expensive. But I want them to feel special whenever I make them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I am still trying to think of one, sorry! There must be one or two that fit the phenomenon you describe – of which I hadn’t heard in fact, so that was interesting – but my mind is blank for now. I believe it is the principle behind arranged marriages, actually…;)


  9. Oh gosh yes. Neela’s Mohur. I have had it pretty much since it was launched. Am on my second bottle (first I gave to my daughter) and I think I have had at least two travels of it, but it was this year in the first lockdown that I really fell in love with it. Suddenly it was just the most beautiful thing ever. Nearly a year on and into a third lockdown and I still feel the same. Brilliant post. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Third?! Somehow I missed that it was a third time around for you. We got closed for the second time 3 days ago. I hope both of your businesses are surviving.
      Mohur… I need to revisit it. It has always been my least favorite out of all I have and wear, but I still have a half of my travel bottle left, so I should try and see how that mere-exposure effect would work here ;)

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The perfume that first springs to mind which fits your criteria is Molinard’s Habanita. I blind bought the EDT not long after The Guide came out because, of course, I was intensely curious about a scent so lauded.

    However, I thought it was pretty horrible when I first tried it. I don’t think I’d ever come across a perfume so strong and “weird” before. Vetiver, oakmoss and leather with vanilla – maxed up to 11? What is this stuff?

    Nevertheless, I persevered. I even wore it to an evening at a grand theatre (comedy gig). I was simultaneously proud to be wearing something only a true perfumistas would appreciate, yet self-conscious that my sillage was possibly offending ordinary folk seated within a 2-metre radius.

    I showed my bottle to many perfume friends over the years and shared samples (“get a load of this classic!”).

    Years down the track… I LOVE IT! I’ve even collected a few different vintages, including an amazing little bottle of the original essence once used for flavouring tobacco in the early 1900s.

    As well as “mere exposure” to the actual fragrance, I think that another, parallel factor, is at play: our “noses” have developed over time! If, in the interim between testings/wearings of the scent in question, we smell and become familiar with *other* scents featuring the same notes/nuances, we may become more aware of – and appreciative of – those notes. Consequently, with our note preferences having been slightly adjusted, we “see” our earlier purchases in a different light. That’s my take, anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmmm… Should I try finding my sample of Habanita? I also read great things about it, got a sample (I don’t remember, either from a friend or even bought it) – and couldn’t wear it even for testing (other than a dot on my wrist). Maybe now, years ago, I’ll like it? :) It was such a beautiful bottle, I wanted to like this perfume just because of it!


      • Interesting that Habanitia is also one you have had difficulty with! I’m assuming it’s the EDT version (tall, shiny black glass bottle) that pre-dates the current? It’s a “harsher” (more challenging) formulation than those before and after imho. Have another sniff and let us know if your reaction is now any different :-)


        • Hey Narth. Come over sometime and I can introduce you to early versions of Hab which you should find mellower. Knowing a bit about your taste in scents, I’m actually surprised you didn’t like it even a little bit!


  11. I am sure this has happened to me but I can’t actually pinpoint which fragrance it was. I do know though that there are often notes my nose finds harsh or which give me anxiety that suddenly, magically, I can no longer smell at all. Or, they are only small parts of the entire perfume tapestry. Of course it’s worked the other way around too, where I LOVE a note on first try and then my nose gets used to it and I can barely detect it.


    • For me, the only ghost note that I know of, is ISO E-Super: I actually like it, but from time to time I suddenly stop smelling it. Some other notes, particular sweet ones, though I don’t know what those are, I cannot smell at all – so, I imagine, my perception of perfume with those notes could have changed dramatically had I suddenly started smelling those notes :)

      Liked by 1 person

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