I sum the whole thing up here.
People have a holy grail idea about having one perfect scent that sums them up in a sniff. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that, because for me it would be like wearing the same clothes every day, eating the same food for every meal, or listening to the same song over and over again.
However, there is something compelling about the notion of perfume as a calling card, or of your fragrance lingering on a beloved’s fingertips to remind them of you.
To find a new favorite, I suggest two approaches. The first: give yourself some time at the fragrance counter. Narrow down the selection by spraying options on blotter strips. Pay attention to which aspects you’re drawn to: fresh and crisp? Deep and dramatic? Soft and subtle? Fruity? Floral? Musky?
Once you have your short list, try on four of your favorites: a spritz on either wrist and inside both elbows. Live with them for a day, and you’ll experience that perfume voodoo of being emotionally drawn to one over all the others. And if none of them tickle your pickle -- lather, rinse and repeat the process with more fragrances.
My second method kicks off with letting your fingers do the sniffing: go online and check out sites like MakeUp Alley, Basenotes, Now Smell This, Perfume Posse, Perfume of Life, Perfume Smellin' Things -- and Katie Puckrik Smells, of course! Read fellow fumeheads’ comments on the fragrances you already know and love, and you’re guaranteed to stumble across recommendations for others with a similar personality. From there, either order samples online, or pay a call on your future signature scent at the perfume counter.
You always hear, “fragrance goes on pulse points”: wrists, elbows, behind ears. The science behind the pulse point method is that that blood vessels close to the surface heat the scent and lift it off the skin. Sounds like it makes sense, but what are we, cadavers? I don’t know about you, but my whole body is warm! I spray fragrance wherever I damn well please.
Where you apply fragrance depends on how much or little you want to smell it. If it’s a private scent treat, then apply inside the arms, and around the ankles and backs of knees so effect is subtle by the time it reaches nose level. If you’re in the mood to broadcast your perfume, also spritz the outside of your arms and around your neck and chest.
But there really are no “rules.” Spraying it on your hair, or on the nape of your neck, is a nifty way to allow your scent to subtly diffuse in a halo around you. And some fragrances smell just as nice sprayed on fabric -- and in cases of lighter, softer scents, last a lot longer that way.
I do find that humidity makes a huge difference in how much fragrance you need to wear, so apply cautiously in muggy climates. I live in a desert climate, and I’ve gassed myself out when I’ve spritzed my usual amount in humid places like London or Washington D.C.
Terms such as “eau de toilette” and “eau de parfum” refer to the concentration of perfume oil in the fragrance. The higher the concentration, the more intense and long-lasting the scent is, generally speaking.
Perfumes listed as “parfum” or “extrait” have the highest amount of perfume oil (about 25% or higher). Eau de parfum is the next highest (15-18%), followed by eau de toilette (around 10%), eau de cologne (around 5%), and at the lowest concentration, body spray and after-shave (1-3%).
A fragrance develops from the moment it hits your skin. First, the alcohol carrying the perfume oils burns off, which is why you should ideally wait a few minutes before assessing a new fragrance. Next, you’ll be treated to the scent’s top notes, which are typically fleeting light florals and citrus.
After 15 minutes or so, you’ll experience the heart notes, which provide the main character of the scent. Depending on the fragrance, the anchoring base notes -- usually heavier components like resins and woods -- will linger for hours and sometimes even a day later.
Having said that, some fragrances are deliberately constructed to be linear, with no discernable difference between beginning, middle and end. In those cases, it’s just a lovely fade to finish.
You can add perfume endurance to the long list of things we have no control over in life. A fragrance is either built to last or it isn’t. If you prefer light florals or citruses, just accept that you’ll be reapplying more regularly than someone who enjoys wallowing in Mata Hari oriental-style excess. It’s not necessarily a failing of the fragrance, because certain wispy scents are constructed of equally wispy molecules that float away the first chance they get.
If you want to try to “catch a cloud and pin it down”, you can spray your fragrance over moisturized skin. If you don’t have the lotion version of the fragrance, use an unscented moisturizer, so it doesn’t clash with the perfume. Fragrance can also last longer on fabric, so try lightly spritzing your clothes.
One of the most annoying side effects of marinating in your favorite fragrance is that you gradually lose the ability to smell it on yourself. What’s happening is that your nose just gets used to the scent and tunes it out. It’s similar to the way your brain phases out background noise so you're not constantly bombarded by a high level of stimulus.
It's probably part of our built-in survival skills: we need to be aware of changes and fluctuations in our environment to stay safe, and once the nose/brain determines that a certain smell is a non-hostile part of our surroundings, it phases it out.
My advice: pull a fast one on your nose -- and change up your fragrance! A regular rotation of your favorites will allow you to fully appreciate your own scented cloud.
This is completely down to personal taste. Common sense dictates that one wears fresh, zesty scents in the heat, and heavy, rich ones in the cold. But who likes to be dictated to -- and by something as boring as common sense?
Personally, I find that certain “winter” fragrances containing incense and amber really bloom in the heat of summer, reaching their full potential. And wearing a gorgeous, tropical floral like Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower can rescue me from winter’s icy grasp.
“Musk” refers to the glandular secretions from musk deer. It’s a traditional component in perfume both as a fixative for lighter, less enduring ingredients, and also because of its own sweet/funky, sensual odor.
Nowadays, synthetic musk is used almost exclusively in perfume, because it’s more stable and avoids animal cruelty. Aroma chemists can endlessly tweak the character of musk, making it range from a sexy, almost leathery skin smell, to a soapy-clean laundry detergent smell.
Well, if you ask me -- all of them. But broadly speaking, a good candidate for a year-round fragrance is one that becomes one with you, a “your skin but better” scent. These ones are usually based on soft musks.
Hitting the “anytime, anywhere” spot for me are Bulgari Black, Narciso Rodriguez For Him Musc Oil, Etro Sandalo and Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely. All of these are “shared” fragrances that work equally well on both men and women.
Attention, fumeheads of the world! I hereby declare complete fragrance freedom for all! Gender distinctions in fragrance come down to marketing and broadly defined clichés of masculine and feminine scents.
Guys often get the short end of the stick, fragrance-wise. Typically, mainstream perfumes created for women are of higher quality with a broader palette of ingredients than those created for men.
Don’t let a label limit your opportunity to smell amazing -- wear what you love! Some tried-and-true “cross-dressing” favorites include:
For guys: Stella McCartney Stella, Hermès Eau des Merveilles, Christian Dior Diorella
For gals: Chanel Égoïste, Guerlain Habit Rouge, Christian Dior Eau Sauvage
Discount stores and membership warehouses can turn up some nice surprises, but the selection can be spotty.
Tracking down bargains online is a sure-fire way to save money. An easy way to get more for your money is to buy testers online. Testers are brand-new, never used bottles of fragrances, but with simpler packaging (often in plain boxes and without caps), because they’re designed to end up on the store counter.
There’s no difference between the juice in a tester and the juice in the cellophane-wrapped bottle you buy at full-price. Three of my favorite fragrances in my collection, Bulgari Black, Guerlain Habit Rouge and Christian Dior Diorella, are tester bottles.
Light, heat and air ruin perfume. Fragrance isn't designed to be hoarded -- it's made to be worn and enjoyed in the first few years of its life. The longer you hold on to a bottle, the more the original composition starts to fade and change.
That said, if properly stored, fragrance can last for years, decades, even longer. Scientists are actually working on reformulating the dregs of a 3,500-year-old flacon of perfume found in Egypt. But to avoid having to call in the fragrance forensics, keep your precious elixirs in a cool, dark place -- away from scent-eating gremlins.
It's true that everyone has different associations with smells, and different ideas about whether or not a scent is appealing. But in terms of identifying an actual odor, people are pretty consistent, whether it’s a rose or an onion, Chanel No. 5 or cK One.
My reviewing method is to explore a fragrance like an alien territory and report back to the Mothership. I bring my experience of a perfume to life by responding to its personality on the skin and discussions of the ingredients. My hope is that my audience will be sparked to try it for themselves -- and make up their own minds.
Ultimately, no. There might be minor variations, but it’s not like perfume is some liquid mood ring that broadcasts a custom scent based on your DNA.
It’s been said that "you plus the perfume equals the fragrance", meaning that your own chemistry (hormones, diet, hygiene, etc) combines with what's in the bottle to result in what people around you smell. And yet, I think that once the scent moves past the top notes, the stuff in the bottle is pretty much what you smell on everyone. If there were too much discrepancy, the fragrance companies wouldn't have a product that was identifiable enough to sell!
And just think of how easy it is to identify a popular fragrance in a crowd of people. Or how you decide to change your scent because all your friends wear the same thing and you’re sick of smelling it on everyone else!
Dan Rolleri is a guy who likes perfume and music and baseball, and most days he sits around the house working on a book that regrettably includes none of these things.
|Dan Rolleri: sitting around the house comes naturally to him.|
The song in my video intro and outro is "Perfume" by Sparks, from their Hello Young Lovers album.
Rodrigo is a Lhasa Apso. Supposedly, Lhasas were traditionally Tibetan temple guard dogs, but the only thing Rodrigo's really motivated to guard is a plate of chicken.
I have a scar on my right eyebrow from running into a rosebush when I was three. I’ve always accepted it as a part of my “facial scenery.” Our scars tell the stories of our lives.