Sonia Radic has worked in the fragrance hall of Myer in Melbourne for more than 20 years and in her vast experience she’s served more male customers buying fragrance for their partners than women purchasing for themselves.
Shocking? Not really. Too often perfume is put in the “gift” basket.
Your current fragrance might be a Christmas pressie from your partner, or a duty-free score from Mum’s trip to Fiji. But while it’s fun to receive fragrance tied with a shiny bow, you could miss out on your perfect match. That’s because your personal odour affects your appreciation of a perfume, according to researchers at Charles University in Prague.
To help you out, we investigated the power of perfume, and found easy tips for finding one you’ll love. After all, if you’re going to spend your own money, you want to get it right. A lifelong commitment is but a shopping trip away…
It’s simple, really. Your scent can elicit a powerful emotional and physical response from those around you. On a very primitive level if you smell good, people perceive you as good – if you smell bad, people perceive you badly, says Dr Alan Hirsch, founder and neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, US.
When shopping for perfume, this primal urge leads you to make a modern-day marketing decision – certain scents will evoke images of how you want to be perceived by others, adds Dr Hirsch.
Add a spritz of transcendent longing… because fragrance can take you back in time. A scarf smelling of Youth Dew by Estée Lauder can transport you back to childhood – to your mum standing at the mirror putting on her make-up, kissing your forehead as she walks out the door. Just as a stranger on the bus wearing Chloé can squish your face right back up against Gran’s boobs, wrapping you in the powdery floral pillow of her hugs. It’s called olfactory-evoked nostalgia, says Dr Hirsch, whose research has found 84 per cent of people associate scent to memories this way.
This science behind why you like certain smells is intriguing, but can add pressure when it comes to buying perfume – subconsciously you’re choosing a fragrance to make those memories with, to be as memorable for.
“Investing any decision with this much significance is likely to induce stress. This is especially true when there really is no ‘right’ decision,” says psychologist Dr Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice.
Maybe that’s why it’s easier to let the people you want to smell good for choose for you. “I once had a bride-to-be come in and buy Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb to wear on her wedding day. She told me she didn’t even like it, but her fiancé absolutely loved it, and so that’s what she wore,” says Radic.
Your signature searchThose white paper blotters breeding in front of you may seem daunting, but logic is your friend at the fragrance counter. You’re not starting from scratch here – you already know what smells you like.
A few tips on unlocking your preferences: before shopping, take a look at scents you’ve loved and worn in the past, says Erica Moore, Fragrance Evaluator at Fragrances of the World. Also look at the other products you use – the candles you burn, your body wash and lotions – these can all point towards a preference for a certain fragrance family, such as floral or citrus. You can share this information with the sales assistant, who can show you some fragrances within that family, says Moore.
Then, spray blotters and accumulate them, and write down the name of the scent on each. Now, here’s the key to avoiding odour fatigue, or over-smelling. Take your blotters and head somewhere quiet and well-ventilated, or pop outside in the fresh air.
“Smell one compared to another, eliminating the one you like least. Continue this process until you have only two left,” says London-based bespoke perfumer Roja Dove.
Elimination semis are done, it’s time to head back inside and try the grand finalists on your skin.
A different fragrance on each wrist is the most you should ever try at once, says Moore. Head home and allow the fragrances to fully develop or “dry down”.
Perfumes have top, middle and base notes. Five seconds after spritzing you’ll get the top notes, the lighter notes such as citruses or light florals. But it can take about five hours to get to a fragrance’s heart, according to Chandler Burr, New York Times perfume critic and author of The Emperor of Scent.
What’s with the coffee beans?Seen dishes of coffee beans in your local fragrance department? If you take a whiff between sampling fragrances, the caffeine will cleanse your olfactory palate, allowing better appreciation of perfume than unscented air*.
Allow us a gratuitous sex metaphor, if you will…you only truly know if a love affair with a perfume will work and last by spending the night together, says Dove.
Still can’t commit? Hey, it’s OK. “Look for ‘good enough’ and give up on finding the ‘best’,” says Schwartz.
You may not find your signature scent this time, but you might find the perfect fragrance for a hot summer day, or a sexy juice for date nights. In his book, The Diary of a Nose, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena sums it up nicely:
“I like the idea that a man or woman can choose a perfume at 20 and is still able to buy it when he or she is 60, having indulged in a few infidelities.”
Another sex metaphor… eau la la!
When in doubt, ask your iphone…Download iPerfumer by Givaudan . Input the names of your favourite notes and get a list of fragrance suggestions to take to the department store. Or take The Scent Selector, an app by Roja Dove, shopping with you. When you scan the barcode you can read Dove’s description of the fragrance. Clever.
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- Source: Assistant Professor Noam Sobel, University of California, Berkeley, US