Ramp up your fragrance wardrobe with expert advice
We all recognize how scent is evocative of a memory. Freshly cut grass conjures up carefree summers of childhood. The early spring blooms of hyacinth herald long, sunny days ahead. More than memory cues, scent can give us a sense of wellbeing, be it warmth and comfort or a boost in mood or confidence. It’s an invisible fashion accessory that wordlessly announces your presence.
“Fragrances throughout history have changed so much. If you go back to the 1800s, fragrances were to protect us. It was the Purell of today,” says Sylvie Makoukji, Clarins’ National Training Director. “Today … we are wearing fragrance to identify ourselves. We’re wearing fragrance so that when I come in the room, you know who I am. It is your unique olfactive scent.” Applying scent, for many people, is an integral part of their daily morning ritual in preparing to face the day. “I have many, many fragrances and I choose my fragrances on a daily basis: complementing what I’m wearing, what I’d like to project into the world,” explains Julie Davis, Valmont’s Fragrance Business Manager for North America.
Davis, who studied the science and art of perfumery at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in France, freely admits that fragrance is a personal passion which is not only reflected in her work but in her more than 200-bottle collection of scents. Davis views wearing scent as an invisible tool that can give you a psychological boost — something like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. You can use fragrance to help you get into a certain mindset and smell it on your skin throughout the day to reinforce it. “It’s a little bit like setting the tone for the day: depending on what you’re doing, who you’re seeing and what you want to be projecting for the day,” she says. And as a fashion accessory, it makes sense to have more than one fragrance to wear—think of it as creating a fragrance wardrobe. For most of us, having 200 plus perfumes would perhaps be excessive but what would constitute a basic wardrobe of scent?
“It’s always good to have at least three fragrances,” suggests Makoukji. “One fragrance that you will wear to work, for every day. One fragrance for special occasions if you’re going to go out [in the evening]. And one fragrance for the weekend.”
There are multiple options for how one can expand their fragrance collection. Is it about looking for change direction of scent or is it about a variety of methods of application: think rollerball versus a spray versus a perfume brush. Even with sprays, there are a range of concentrations that serve different purposes (the higher the concentration of scent—as in parfum versus eau de toilette— the higher the price). Woodlot, a Vancouver-based natural home fragrance and skincare brand, created three scented mists for their collection. Formulated with essential oils, they’re meant to be multi-purpose: two can be sprayed on the face, body and surroundings and the third on just body and environment.
“The mists were really inspired to be these really lightweight body sprays that you can take around with you though out the day. Whether it’s at the gym or you’re at your desk and you’re looking for a boost of creativity or something to calm you down or a different headspace,” says Sonia Chhinji, who co-founded Woodlot five years ago with her husband, Fouad Farraj.
The mists’ fragrances are formulated to serve a holistic purpose: to be calming, energizing or purifying. Chhinji was inspired by the Calgon bath oil commercials of the past, which she and her friends watched growing up, that promised to ‘take you away’ from everyday stresses.
“There really wasn’t something available that was comparable for a woman looking for something that is nice and lightly scented but not overwhelming but still all natural,” Chhinji recalls. “That’s what the mists were inspired by: Just a really beautiful simple blend that we used working with floral waters and essential oils and an alcohol-free witch hazel.”
How a fragrance is applied affects how it’s going to wear and smell. Rollerballs are popular because they bring down the price point on luxury brands. However, the fragrance often doesn’t smell the same as when it’s sprayed in a different concentration. That also goes for the gel perfume brush application.
If you’re looking to expand but aren’t certain which fragrant direction to take, Makoukji recommends trying a new one within a brand that you already know you like. It’s likely all the fragrances will be a part of the same olfactory family.
“Coach has three fragrances. They’re all in the same olfactory family. One will be more woody and the other one will be more fruity. So, if you just want something slightly different, I would stay within the brand,” she advises. There are seven primary olfactive families: citrus, floral—which Makoukji says is the most popular olfactory family on the market for women, fougère or fern, wood, oriental, chypre (a combination patchouli, bergamot, rock rose and oakmoss) and leather.
Davis says she prefers woody fragrances because they’re grounded in the earth. She says they’re comforting and strengthening and give her a sense of bringing her feet back to the ground. “You tend to think of citrus as being bright and vivacious, but the combination of the citrus and the woods together create a gorgeous harmony,” Davis observes. “Bright Poppy (one of the fragrances in Valmont’s new Palazzo Nobile collection) would illustrate this: it opens with a bergamot note. Bergamot is considered a modern citrus ingredient. It has the characteristics of a citrus note meaning that’s sparkling. It’s fresh and energizing.” Davis says people often think it’s the one ingredient that is used throughout the fragrance that attracts them, but more likely it’s the personality of the fragrance. She thinks people miss out by being loyal to a specific ingredient rather than looking at similar fragrance personalities.
“Are you someone drawn to darker, richer fragrances? Or are you someone who likes lighter, sparkling fragrances? Are you typically interested in fragrances that are aquatic or marine or ozonic—which means airy or watery?” Trying a scent on your skin, before you decide to purchase it, is imperative.
“Before you buy a fragrance, you must try it on your skin,” Makoukji insists. “Give it at least 15 minutes and you will see how it develops on your skin. You have to let the fragrance breathe.” Davis concurs saying that you have to live with a fragrance, spending some time with it to see how it develops.
“Each person’s skin reacts differently to a perfume which is fun and exciting but can be disappointing. Sometimes you have a friend whose perfume smells amazing on her and you want to get it and then you realize it doesn’t smell the same on you as it does on her,” Davis explains.
The upside to that is that two people can wear the same fragrance, but it can smell different but lovely on both of them. “If you wear a Jimmy choo fragrance and I wear the fragrance, it won’t smell the same. We have our own DNA and when you put a fragrance on it, it creates a whole new meaning,” Makoukji says.
When you do apply the scent for a test run, don’t rub your wrists together. Let it absorb into your skin. Otherwise, you’ll lose its essence by breaking the scent’s molecules and you won’t experience the true depth of the fragrance. So where should you spray or dab, your fragrance? The experts like the cloud effect that you walk through but that can be met with admonishment from the anti-perfume brigade. Davis suggests that if you want to be discreet with scent, follow the romantic advice of spritzing it where you’d like to be kissed.
To ensure the longevity of your investment, fragrances need to be stored properly. This means keeping them away from humidity, heat and direct sunlight. Makoukji recommends keeping them in a drawer and rotating them out as you use them. Davis says there is a guaranteed shelf life of two years.
“In my experience, fragrances last longer,” she says. “Well-made fragrances that are well cared for will last longer than two years. It depends on the ingredients as well because naturals tend to change more quickly and tend to be unstable. Top notes are where you’ll usually have the change happen first.”
When expanding your fragrance collection, keep in mind that fragrance is an emotion, advises Makoukji. And that’s how we respond to it—from somewhere deep inside us—whether it’s something newly discovered or one that sparks a memory. When you wear it, it envelops you creating a mindset, an invisible personal style statement.
“It’s like your second skin or like you’re putting on a trench coat” Makoukji observes. “Burberry used to talk about how each fragrance is a trench coat because it wraps around you.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A lifestyle journalist, Michele Marko is the former Arts & Life editor at the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers. While writing about beauty, fashion, design, food and travel, she’s written on a variety subjects ranging from ethical beauty to couture fashion designers to discovering the best pizza in the world. Hint: It’s in Italy.