Add to that the fact that finding a scent is much more of a process – we can see lipsticks, eyeshadows and mascaras on our favourite beauty sites and our mates’ Instagrams, but we can’t smell the perfumes they’re wearing. Nope.
That involves getting up close and personal. Short of sniffing our way through every scent in the beauty hall, how can we skip the searching and head straight to ‘The One’?
Perfume is such a personal thing. Much like finding a pair of jeans that fit exactly to your body, it can be a bit of a slog to find our scent soulmate. What makes things trickier, is what works for someone else, may not work for you, thanks to our body’s natural pheromones which mean scents play out differently on each person’s skin.
We spoke to some of the world’s best perfumers to ask their advice.
For anyone not sure where to start, what is the first thing you’d recommend to help them find a scent?
Just like our makeup and our clothes, our perfumes can act as an extension of our personality, so it’s important the scent we choose reflects this. “When searching for a new, or signature scent, I would always encourage shoppers to think about three things,” says Adam Anderson, Chief Commercial Officer at The Fragrance Shop.
“First, what is your everyday aesthetic? Are you sophisticated, bold, modern, boho, glam for example? Next, what kind of smells are you drawn to in everyday life? Do you love flowers, citrus, sweets, vanilla, musk, wood? Then think about the purpose of the fragrance, is it for every day, for evenings out, for special occasions, for work? Take these three pieces of information to a fragrance expert on your local high street, and they will be able to give recommendations based on this profile,” he says. “Most people are attracted to either woody, citrus or floral scents so that’s a good starting point, advises Jo Malone, MBE, founder of Jo Loves.
What advice would you give for discovering the notes we like best?
If you’re not in any rush to find a scent you love, rather than setting a specific mission to find your ideal scent, weave it into existing shopping trips. “Take your time and decide over a period of time, spray no more than two fragrances per shopping trip, as the scents will merge into one,” says Adam. You’re best off testing the fragrance on your skin (rather than the paper testers) to see how it works with your natural scent and to get an accurate idea of how it will develop on you over time. You may love the initial top notes, but as the fragrance develops, it will take on a different scent which you may not like as much,” adds Adam.
Next, do your research. Like learning anything else – research and discuss. There are a million online sites discussing perfume, says David Seth Moltz, co-founder and perfumer at D.S Durga. “Also, good notes to start with that most people like – vetiver, sandalwood, bergamot, neroli/orange blossom.
Finally, don’t rule anything in or out since notes you may think you’re not keen on can take on a new dimension when combined with other fragrances and vice versa. “Even if you love the smell of rose, it doesn’t necessarily mean that rose would work on your skin,” says Azzi Glasser, leading perfumer and founder of The Perfumer’s Story. Or, many people who do not like the floral notes can find that they love it when it’s combined with other notes, “for example my Amber Molecule perfume has rose in the heart and the softness of the amber crystals and woody undertone helps to really mellow it,” adds Azzi.
What are the crowd-pleasers when it comes to top notes, heart notes and base notes?
“Top notes are the first notes you smell when trying a fragrance, so they are the ones that shape your first impressions of a scent. These are usually light, fresh, fruity scents that burst on your skin as you spray, fading about 10-15 minutes after applying,” explains The Perfume Shop’s expert, Emily Hewitt. Notes like bergamot, orange, grapefruit, lemon, basil, tend to be the most popular according to the experts.
“When the top notes mellow, the heart note comes through, and this becomes the most dominant scent in your fragrance,” says Adam. “These are usually floral, full-bodied notes that are more long-lasting than the top notes but less so than the base notes and form the core of the fragrance,” agrees Emily. Popular notes include jasmine, lavender, rose, black pepper, ylang ylang and neroli.
“Your base notes are the longest lasting, and they remain once the top and heart notes have completely dissipated. This means that they are almost always rich, deep and full bodied,” says Adam. “It is these notes that you remember most and which help create a memory in your mind. Most fragrances have the same base notes because there’s only a small amount that will last long enough on the skin to be used as a base,” adds Emily. These include sandalwood, patchouli, musk, vanilla, ambergris and cedarwood.
For some extra spice, “a fragrance that has pheromones is a guaranteed crowd pleaser,” says Azzi. “They smell different on everyone as they react to your own DNA and the temperature of your skin, they can literally attract people to you,” she insists.
Which unusual scents have you found to be extremely popular?
“Guaiac wood is a really interesting note. It comes from a small tree and is one of the hardest and most resilient woods in the world. It is an exotic smoky note and when blended, it gives fragrances a beautiful richness, amplifying the top and heart fragrance,” says Jo, who blended it into her Jo Loves Grapefruit Body Spray. Evocative scents are taking off, also. “Out of my range of fragrances, one of the most popular ones is called Old Books. It smells warm and sexy with a cool cutting edge to it that has an eccentric quality,” says Azzi.
Tastes change continually, how do you think they’ve changed over the last five years and where do you think they’ll go next?
Consumers are getting savvier and more creative themselves,” says Azzi. “They want to be noticed in a more expensive, luxurious, edgy and unique way. The trend is moving towards smelling unique and sensual but in a non-commercial with a more original perspective. The younger generation from 16-29-year olds, are really interesting as they are the ones that are leading this trend,” she adds.
What’s more, unisex fragrances are booming. “Consumers are moving to a more gender fluid approach to their signature scent,” says Adam. Simplicity is also having a moment. “Transparent fragrances, signified by short, minimal formulas are a real thing,” says David, “our I Don’t Know What scent has become our best-seller,” though he adds, “I think we’ll see a return for more classically constructed fragrances that seem bold right now. The pendulum will swing and people will be less afraid to wear something loud (but well constructed) again.”
Finally, nostalgic fragrances are making a comeback. “We’ve seen huge demand for classic fragrances such as CK One, Thierry Mugler Angel and Dior Poison,” says Adam. “In the near future, I think we will see more people gravitating towards iconic scents that they wore when they made their first foray into fragrance.” The reason being, they provide much-needed comfort. “As the world around us becomes more hectic, people will use fragrance as a means to spark memories of a simpler time.”
What’s the difference between EDTs, EDPs and cologne and how do we find the right concentration for us?
“Eau de Parfum (EDP) contains a higher concentration of the perfume oils found in your fragrance, thus it hangs around the skin for longer,” explains Adam (around 6-12 hours), “they emit a noticeably stronger scent when applied. This is also why they tend to be at a higher price point,” adds Adam. “Eau de Toilette (EDT) lasts for around four hours, they contain a smaller amount of perfume oils which means the scent is lighter and doesn’t have an overpowering aroma which is great for wearing in hot weather,” says Emily.
“If you want to get longevity in the day from your perfume, I would absolutely recommend EDP. It is also more value for your money too, as it has less alcohol and water concentration then EDT’s and colognes,” says Azzi. But, if you are trying a new fragrance for the first time, a lighter Eau de Toilette or cologne will be more subtle, and light,” says Adam.
Still confused? “I wouldn’t overthink this one,” says David. “If you only like light stuff then the weaker cologne and EDT could work. But, I’d put my trust in the perfumer who releases a scent at specific strength he or she wanted,” he adds.
Where is the best place to test a perfume before committing and buying and how long should we consider it for?
“I would always recommend trying a potential new fragrance on your skin, either behind your ear, or on your wrist. Spraying onto paper testers will smell different to how it settles on your skin, as we each have a very different PH balance, which affects the overall scent,” says Adam.
For extra lasting power, “I like to test on the top of my forearm opposite the wrist,” says David. “The little hairs there trap some fragrance and you can check its dry down better. But pulse points are the rule of thumb,” he adds.
Or, “if you are testing a perfume on in a retail environment then spray one on each wrist. Smell them after one minute and note which is your favourite instantly,” says Azzi. “A perfume can take up to 15 minutes to dry down on the skin to get a true reflection of the final scent so we often recommend customers continue with their shopping and then come back once the scent has developed to make a final decision,” says Emily. “See if you notice any of the perfumes you have just sprayed on yourself, to ascertain which of the perfumes have hit your olfactory spot. Then smell each wrist again, ideally after 30 minutes and choose your favourite instantly again,” says Azzi.
What’s the deal with layering, what combinations work best and how do we get it right?
Fragrance layering (combining two perfumes together) has gained in popularity over the last few years as we’ve explored new ways to make our fragrances more bespoke to us. “Layering scent is a great way to either create something truly unique or to intensify your favourite scent,” says Emily. That said, it takes a bit of finesse. “It’s like playing two songs at the same time, it can become messy and confusing,” says Azzi. “A fragrance formulation already has layers of different notes and accords within it,” so this technique only tends to work with simple fragrances containing only a few notes.
Light fragrances and EDTs work best. “If unsure I would recommend layering perfumes from the same family so you can be sure the notes will complement each other and avoid layering any very strong or distinctive scents as this will likely be overpowering,” agrees Jo. But, “the world is your oyster,” says David. “Adding a drop of something you like – vetiver or patchouli – is like adding salt to food at a restaurant – i.e. totally up to your own discretion,” he adds.
Another way to layer your fragrance,”is to use a scented fragrance lotion after your shower,” says Adam. “It doesn’t have to match the original fragrance, why not try another design house to create a new, subtle scent. Or, apply them to two different areas of the body. For example, one fragrance on your wrists, and one behind the ears. The notes you choose to layer are totally up to yo, and what you like – have fun,” he adds.
How can layering transform a perfume or make them more versatile, how can it help take an existing fragrance from summer to winter and vice versa?
“Layering works great in transforming your signature scent, as it can add depth, and ensures your fragrance is a true one off. If you have a favourite summer fragrance, say a floral, transform it to an Autumnal must-have by layering it with a woody or smoky scent,” says Adam. “I would also recommend trying to layer lighter, softer scents with masculine fragrances as it creates a more dynamic, unisex scent. There is no exact science to layering fragrance – you need to find what you like by experimenting.”
Where is the best place to spritz our perfume to make the most of it and what are the things to avoid?
“My top tips for making perfume last all day is to spray on all pulse points, and anywhere that emits heat, as this intensifies the scent – your wrists, your neck, ankles, behind your ear, your collarbone and the back of your knees are great starting points. Fragrance latches to fibres, so always make sure you spray onto your hair for long-lasting fragrance. I would suggest misting fragrance onto your hairbrush and combing it through the hair straight after drying,” says Adam.
“Another top tip to make you perfume last even longer is to apply a fragrance-free moisturiser,” says Emily. “Moisturiser acts as a great tool for making perfume stick. Showering hydrates the skin, which helps boost the scent and once you’ve moisturised, it creates a great base for your fragrance, similar to the same way a primer creates a great base for your foundation.”
Application-wise, “I really never advise anyone to spray perfume in the air and walk through the cloud, as perfume is not an air freshener and it is not healthy to walk through a cloud of perfume either for the obvious reasons,” says Azzi.
As for whether or not to rub your wrists together, this is a topic of debate among the experts, if you opt for a lighter concentration like an EDT or cologne, don’t rub your wrists together. “Let it dry freely on the skin as friction can break down the fragrance molecules and dull the scent,” says Jo. If you’ve opted for something stronger, “I always advise rubbing your wrists together as your perfume needs to be a part of you,” says Azzi. “Plus, this releases the alcohol notes quicker so you are then left with the actual perfume oil (juice) which activates the molecules of the perfume on your skin quicker and more effectively.”