Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Perfume
A couple of weeks ago, following in the footsteps of Shabir, I did a fun-tastic Facebook Live with Trinny Woodall. Formerly one-half of ‘& Susannah’, she is now a Grade A beauty expert, bringing that same famous critical eye to all the beauty products she reviews – often HILARIOUSLY, by the way, but always informatively. What is less well-known is that she adores perfume, so we’d been workshopping the idea of me sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years – which have led me down the path of founding The Perfume Society – with Trinny’s audience.
Boy, did we have a blast. (You can watch it on her YouTube channel – IN MY BATHROOM… with Jo Fairley.) I spent a lot of the hour-long chatathon answering the sort of questions that I hear time and again, about fragrance. So I thought for this month’s editorial, I’d address some of the things that people consistently seem to find most baffling, about scent.
What’s the difference between parfum, eau de parfum, etc.?
As Chanel’s Jacques Polge explains: ‘”Extrait”, also known as perfume/parfum, is the highest concentration and can last from 6-8 hours. An eau de parfum is more diluted, and will last from three to four hours, while an eau de toilette may last for two hours. A “voile” – the name sometimes given to an alcohol-free mist for wearing in the sun – will last for around an hour.’ (That’s also pretty much the longevity of an eau de Cologne.) But here’s the thing: interms of staying power, I find that although parfum is pricier, the fact it lasts so much longer on the skin than other concentrations actually makes it the best investment – certainly my choice for after-dark, if not for day.
Applying scent to pulse-points makes it diffuse better
That’s because the veins are closer to the skin, and warm the fragrance. So: where should you put it? Your pulse-points are not just below the ears – they’re either side of the ankles, backs of knees, cleavage, inside elbows, wrists and temples.
A great way to wear fragrance is on your clothes
I love, love, love to spray my clothes with fragrance. Scarves, shirts, dresses – and the linings of jackets are always good. Fabric holds onto scent for ages – so you get wonderful wafts when you get your clothes out of the wardrobe again. The one caveat is that you need to check, first, that the fragrance won’t stain the fabric (some can). To be safe, spray a tissue – and if there’s no change in colour at all, it’s safe to spray on your clothes.
The worst place to keep your fragrance is in the bathroom
Scent has two enemies: UV light and heat. So a bright, airy bathroom – where the temperature fluctuates wildly – is perfume’s worst enemy, and will ultimately affect how your scent smells. Similarly, scents look really pretty on dressing tables with the light shining through them – but that will damage the fragrance. The ideal place to keep your fragrance is in the dark, well away from a radiator – a shaded shelf, at the back of the bedroom is fine. Experts like James Craven of Les Senteurs, the Pimlico fragrance mecca, recommend that it should always be kept in the box, too. I’m the worst culprit on that front – but there is one fragrance that I’ve always kept in the dark, in its box, which is my wedding fragrance (Schiaparelli Shocking, if you’re interested, bought by my husband 28 years ago on a very romantic trip to Paris). I’ve kept it in the box, in a drawer; the other day, I went to sniff it – and it was as good as the day I wore it for our wedding, 26 years ago! But ultimately it’s your call – which is more important, the ‘juice’ inside, or having a display of pretty scent bottles?
And the worst place to buy fragrance is Duty Free
Well, it’s absolutely fine if you’re topping up your supplies of a fragrance you wear and love – but if you’re shopping for something new, it’s not ideal. Fragrances only reveal themselves fully over a timespan of several hours. The ‘top notes’ are what you get immediately, and the heart notes can appear after anything from 15 minutes to two hours. It’s what’s called the ‘dry-down’ of a fragrance that you’ll really live with, though – the base notes which stay on your skin for up to 48 hours. Those aren’t generally apparent when you first smell a fragrance – but they’re the most important stage of a perfume. So the key is not to make snap decisions, but to shop for fragrance at leisure, rather than speed-smelling en route to your departure gate.
Most of us have a favourite ‘family’ of fragrances
In the same way as we may have a more sweet tooth than salty, or a favourite colour, we tend to have quite narrow preferences in perfume. The Perfume Society website has a section on FRAGRANCE FAMILIES, where you can explore the different fragrance families – keep clicking and you’ll see quintessential examples of the different families; armed with the knowledge of which family/families push your buttons, you can become a much more informed perfume-shopper, able to tell a sales consultant which families you’re drawn to– so they can help you find something new and different, but which (on the basis of your existing likes), you’re probably going to enjoy. At The Perfume Society we can also help you find a new fragrance – or a replacement for a ‘lost love’ (we’ve all had the heartbreak of a fave scent being discontinued) – in the FIND YOUR NEXT FRAGRANCE section. We do this via a clever on-line tool (we like to call him ‘FR.eD’, short for Fragrance Editor), which will – when you key in what you like/wear/want to replace – suggest six new options to try. (I’ve heard FR.eD described as ‘psychic’ more times than I can count!)
Nothing beats trying a fragrance on the skin
Take your time. Go scent-shopping when you’ve got quite a window in your day. Where do you start…? If you haven’t got a sales consultant helping you, the first step in the process of elimination, I always recommend, is to sniff the caps of the scents on display. The volatiles oils in the fragrance collect there and it’s a pretty good way to decide whether or not you might want to try a fragrance on a blotter – which is your next step in the process of elimination.
Spray no more than half a dozen blotters with fragrances you like. Be sure to label them with a pen (even professional sniffers like me can’t ever remember what we’ve sprayed on which blotter!) Then take yourself off and have a cup of coffee. Smell the blotters one by one – by now, the heart notes will be coming through. Choose no more than three that you want to try on the skin. (You may not even have that many, but certainly no more than three.) Go back to the counter and spray your two wrists and the crook of an elbow, each with a different scent. (Again, take a note of what you have sprayed where – we all think we’ll know which is which, but it’s almost impossible.) Leave the store! Allow them to unfurl on your skin, to develop and mellow and change. Keep smelling – but don’t make up your mind for several hours (perhaps even overnight, if you’re not having a bath or shower…!) Then – and only then – decide which one you might want to live with, get ready to flex that credit card – and fall in love with a new perfume…
Jo Fairley is Co-Founder of The Perfume Society, which offers Discovery Boxes and an online V.I.P. Club membership with six downloadable issues a year of the award-winning magazine The Scented Letter, discounts on Discovery Boxes, exclusive online competitions and special discounts from leading perfume websites.