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MAKING SCENTS: a perfume guide for beginners

perfume guide

Scent of a Woman

Have you ever caught a whiff of scent which triggered childhood memories or a strong emotional reaction? The nose knows. Why is that? Is it because the olfactory bulb is located next to the memory-creation centre in the brain? Is it because most scents are discovered in childhood? Whatever the scientific, technical reason for the power of scent, you can use scent to enhance your presence, just as you would using clothes and accessories.

There are a wide variety of perfumes available today. From soaps to lotions to deodorants to aftershaves to high-dollar colognes and perfumes, smelling nice is . . . nice. It’s also provocative and, if used incorrectly, annoying.

Which fragrance do you prefer? Let’s take a quick look at perfume and discover what we’re missing out on and how to use fragrance to our advantage.  ag

Perfume Guide – Origins of Perfume

Along with the long-standing pyramids, Egyptians are credited with another long-lasting creation: making perfume. Perfume comes extracted oils from flowers, spices, herbs, and animals (ever heard of musk?). Moving from East to West through the spice trade, perfumes spread through Europe during the Middle Ages. Perfume was used by the wealthy during the Renaissance to mask body odor, since frequent bathing hadn’t caught on. King Louis XV of France liked perfume so much that he demanded new scents every day. From the 14th through 18th centuries, the demand for perfume continued to grow. France, Sicily, and Italy responded by growing aromatic plants to keep up with the demand. Today, France and Italy remain Europe’s home base for perfume.


Perfume Guide – You Say You Want a Revolution

Besides revolutionizing women’s fashions, Coco Chanel pioneered the modern perfume industry with none other than Chanel No. 5. Before No. 5 came along, perfume fell into two categories:

  • floral perfume with one essence of a flower, typically worn by middle or upper class women
  • musky scents or jasmine favored by courtesans and prostitutes

Chanel No. 5 broke with convention, offering “respectable” women a new, daring scent which matched Chanel’s liberating styles and the changing times.


Perfume Guide – The ABCs

This part of our perfume guide will consider the different classes of perfume. There are 5 classes of perfumes, each with their own strengths and longevity. Knowing their differences will help you choose the right fragrance for your lifestyle:

  • Splash Cologne/Aftershave: Contains 1 to 3% aromatic compound which doesn’t last long.
  • Eau de Cologne: Contains 3-5% aromatic compound in an alcohol/water base. Lasts between 1-2 hours.
  • Eau de Toilette: Contains 4-8% aromatic compound in an alcohol base. Lasts between 4-6 hours.
  • Eau de Parfum: Contains 15-18% aromatic compound in an alcohol base. Lasts between 8–12 hours.
  • Perfume: Contains 15-40% of pure perfume oil in an alcohol base. Lasts up to 24 hours. It is the most expensive per ml. Also called extract or parfum.


Perfume Guide – Notes on Perfume

Notes are the different odor elements within a perfume. A perfume is created so the top note is what you instantly smell, while the middle and base notes emerge after wearing it for a while.

  • Top: Or ‘head notes’ are the first scent when a perfume is sprayed.
  • Heart/Middle: Appear 2-60 minutes after application. Lavender and rose are popular middle notes.
  • Base: After the middle notes fade, the base or low notes rise. They are there all along but are masked by the other notes. They help make the perfume last.


Perfume Guide – Family Scents

There are four predominant scent families in women’s fragrances. A single fragrance is made up of a mix of scents from a family:


Essence: Fresh, delicate, sweet, and calming with a hint of oriental.

This is the largest of the perfume families and covers the widest range of fragrances. It can be the note of a single flower or a combination of essences enriched with amber, woods, etc.

Examples: Gardenia Elizabeth Taylor, Mac Jacob Daisy, Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, Romance, L’Air Du Temps, 5th Avenue, Tuberose Gardenia, Anna Sui Flight of Fancy, Paul Smith Rose, Gucci Rush.


Essence: Energetic and light, often with notes of limes and lemons.
Examples: Happy by Clinique, Burberry Weekend for women, Jo Malone Grapefruit, CK One by Calvin Klein, Close for Women by The Gap.


Essence: Sandalwood, amber, vanilla, tonka bean, musk.

If you want to be seductive, you’ll warm to the rich perfumes and exotic notes of Orientals.

Examples: Youth Dew by Estee Lauder, Black Orchid by Tom Ford, Opium by Yves Saint Laurent, Angel by Thierry Mugler, The One By Dolce & Gabbana, Shalimar by Guerlain, Poeme by Lancome, Dior Addict by Dior.


Essence: Earthy, woody, with bergamot, patchouli.

These sensual, memorable scents take their name from the French chypre, which means cypress.

Example: Thierry Mugler Womanity, Tom Ford Sahara Noir, Estee Lauder Amber Mystique, Burberry Body, Givenchy Play for Her Intense, Guerlain Jicky, Yves Saint Laurent Elle Intense, and Gucci by Gucci.

Fragrance wheel

Use this simple fragrance wheel as a guide. The darker scents (oriental and woody) are usually reserved for evening. Lighter scents (floral and citrus/fresh) are more appropriate for daytime use.


Winter & Summer Fragrances

Just like your wardrobe, fragrances should be changed out with the seasons. Why is this? Just as heavier fabrics and darker colours are associated with cooler weather, so “winter” fragrances may be too “heavy” for warmer weather. “Summer” fragrances are designed to work better in hot, humid weather than in cold, dry climates.

Here are some suggestions for changing your perfume with your wardrobe:

  • Winter Fragrances: Use perfumes with deep musky notes like oriental and woody scents. Florals should be full-bodied. Layer the scent so it lasts longer in winter.
  • Summer Fragrance: Use body splashes and colognes with lighter florals, citrus, oceanic, or gourmand (food) scents. Reserve the heavier fragrances for evening parties when the air is cooler.

Perfume Guide – Odor Etiquette

We’ve all experienced it: someone walks into a room and you’re overpowered by the scent of their cologne or perfume. Thankfully, your nose goes into overload after 15 minutes and the scent isn’t noticed, but until then, you’re distracted by this invisible accessory they’re wearing. Just like an odd or inappropriate garment or piece of jewellery, you wonder What are they trying to prove?

As nice as fragrance can be, it’s not always welcome. A little goes a long way, so make sure your fragrance doesn’t invade anyone’s personal space but your own (i.e. an arm’s length away). No one should be aware of your fragrance unless he/she steps into that space. Remember: fragrance should be a subtle, personal message.

Fragrances can also cause allergic reactions. Rashes and dermatitis are two allergic reactions to perfume which can range from mild to severe. Even worse are asthma attacks, migraines, or anaphylactic shock. If you feel nauseous or get a headache after applying perfume, it’s a good chance you’re allergic to it. A lesser strength version of the perfume may alleviate any reaction.

When travelling in confined spaces such as aircraft and cars, go perfume-less. The person sitting next to you may be allergic to perfume.


Perfume Guide – Choosing the Right Perfume

Is there a certain fragrance you associate with someone? Would you like your own “signature scent” which makes you more memorable?

Here’s how to select a signature perfume:

  1. Decide beforehand which scent families you like best so you can ask the perfume counter for only those (this saves time).
  2. Spray it on a piece of cardboard or paper. This allows you to differentiate the individual notes or scent families within the scent. Smelling a perfume’s unaltered scent (i.e. unaffected by your skin’s chemistry) is important.
  3. Smell the paper after a couple of minutes. If you like it, test it on your skin.
  4. Walk around to give the scent time to evaporate. Let it seep into your skin and take a whiff of the final note. It’s the one which lasts the longest, so it’s important that you really love the final note.
  5. Take into consideration your skin type. Oily skin absorbs perfume better, so you can purchase an Eau de Parfum or Eau de Toilette (lasts 4-12 hours). Dry skin makes scents evaporate faster, so a Perfume is a better choice though more expensive (lasts 24 hours).
  6. Ask yourself if the fragrance and its strength express your personality.
  7. Ask yourself if it’s pleasing to you.


 Shopping Tips

  • Shop in the afternoon. The sense of smell is more powerful later in the day.
  • Give your nose a break and take multiple trips to other departments, testing only a couple scents at a time. Make use of the coffee beans found at the fragrance counter. They neutralize and cleanse your sense of smell.
  • If you find a scent you absolutely fall in love with, purchase the same scent for toiletries. This way, different scent notes won’t clash, plus layering similar scents makes your perfume last longer.

Perfume Guide – How to Apply Fragrance

  • Apply scents after showering. Your pores will be open, which allows deeper scent absorption.
  • Apply a little petroleum jelly to the areas where you’ll apply the perfume. This helps the scent last longer.
  • Do not spray perfume on your clothes. It might cause stains.
  • Fragrances rise, so apply fragrance from feet to shoulders. A fragrance applied to the neck rises and disappears. Spray stronger perfumes at the ankles for the fragrance to radiate upward.
  • Less concentrated fragrances should be applied to pulse points, which is where blood vessels give off more heat and act like fragrance pumps.


Perfume Guide – Fragrance Facts

  1. Diet, skin chemistry, medication, and skin pigment alter the way a fragrance smells on a person, so never choose a fragrance just because it smells good on someone else.
  2. Protect fragrances from extreme hot/cold; otherwise, the scent changes. If a fragrance turns dark yellow, it’s usually a sign the scent has changed.
  3. It takes over 2,000 pounds of rose petals to extract 1 pound of rose oil! This can cost $3-4k to process and is why more concentrated Perfumes are expensive.
  4. The brain stops registering a smell after 15 minutes, so just because you can’t smell it after a while doesn’t mean it’s gone away.
  5. Fragrance as a confidence booster? Studies show regular fragrance wearers have a more positive outlook on life and are more skilled socially. How is this possible? Well, if others think you smell nice, it gives you more confidence, so think of perfume as an investment in your self-esteem.








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