I love perfume. It is such an easy pleasure: practically guilt-free, completely mood altering and indulgent. For pennies a day anyone can slip on this subtle second skin, causing people to lean in and breathe deep. Hardly a day goes by without someone telling me I smell great. I used to hate the smell of perfume, I just didn’t know what I was missing. I told Cindy I’d help her choose perfumes for the new shop, EDEN, and it blasted open a new dimension of perfumes for me. My desk sprouted a forest of tester vials, and for a few weeks I was just swimming in new scents. I would spend quiet evenings at home spritzing my wrists, smelling, taking notes. I wore a different scent every day for a month. I learned a thing or two.
1. There is definitely such a thing as an evening fragrance. I gave the super-sultry ‘a la nuit’ by Serge Lutens a test drive on the PSU campus, and I felt like I’d gone to school in a slip. Which could be awesome, I guess.
2. There are places you really ought not wear highly discernable fragrance. Like, a martial arts dojo on a Saturday morning. One of my favorites is so volatile, so intense that I can’t really wear it out in the world. It’s the perfume equivalent of a black satin ball gown (Samsara by Guerlain).
3. I have no allegiance to one scent or brand or type. Choosing a scent to wear in the morning is all about my mood, the season, what I have to do that day. It’s nice to have a wardrobe of options, BUT there is something to be said for having a signature scent. Once I tried on a perfume and immediately realized I’d made a mistake- it smelled EXACTLY like a friend of mine, and I was going to be seeing her later in the day. Smell is such an intense way to recall events or people. It’s because our olfactory bulbs are strongly linked with parts of the brain associated with memory and emotion. Last time I got hijacked by scent was when I was unpacking a box and my old scented Strawberry Shortcake doll was in there. Oh Hasbro, tugging my heartstrings!
4. “Artificial” chemicals in perfume are ok with me- in fact they can be completely amazing (and use literally tons less natural resources). I wouldn’t trust a lab to make a decent rose or other single note fragrance, but for a complex, 9-layer spice bomb with notes of frankincense, pine needles, thyme, honey and figs, evocative of a campfire on a windswept island… well, that takes a certain amount of alchemical magic; a mixing of essential oils, plant waxes and lab-made ingredients. Yes, please.
Jean-Marie Farina by French perfumers Roger and Gallet is one of the first Eau de Colognes ever made (the formula was perfected in 1806!). Bright and botanical, it’s extremely refreshing and perfect for summer. As crisp and classy as a Bombay gin and tonic. Their other scents are equally compelling (try the Bois d’Orange), and totally unisex. It’s at Flutter.
Matin d’Orage by Annick Goutal is a terrific floral. It was inspired by the smell of a Japanese garden after a storm, broken leaves and gardenia and orange blossoms whipped by the wind. It is beautiful and wearable, and smells especially good in warmer months. Cindy will carry it at the new store, Eden, as well as three more Goutal scents that have enormous reputations. Eau d’Hadrien might be the most popular scent in France.
Cocoa Tamarind by Voluspa never smells wrong, on anyone, ever. It is the most flattering, versatile perfume I have ever smelled, and is such a good deal (oh, Voluspa!). At Flutter.
Dead Sexy by Tokyo Milk. Ok, It was hard to choose, they have such a range of scents, and I love what they do. I don’t know if it’s necessarily my favorite, but it is a standout. One of the biggest perks of working at Flutter is deciding which scent to put on in the morning. We have more than 30 Tokyo Milk perfumes, so I don’t get tired of any one of them. Shout out to Kabuki, Marine Sel, Bittersweet and Marie.
Encens Mystic, a little roll-on solid perfume by a French company called Crazy Libellule. It smells like the Hagia Sophia must have smelled 300 years ago: smoky myrrh, beeswax, straw and pine needles. It kind of takes my breath away. Plus, it’s so portable and affordable. It’s at Flutter.
Sa Majeste La Rose by Serge Lutens. The rose is so maligned. Horrible caricatures of it exist everywhere, in cheap perfumes and all manner of scented products (lemon knows how it feels). A really good rose is so difficult and costly to procure that it seems to only exist in really high-end perfumes. The Lutens version is so lovely, it is the kind of rose you just want to stick your whole face in. It is GORGEOUS. At Eden.
Vanille Sauvage de Madagascar- I put this one here because it’s the one I get the most compliments on (usually from men who would say that they hate perfume). I like it even though it’s not edgy or complicated (maybe the art house perfumes have spoiled me). I am always drawn back to its simplicity and one-note perfection. At Flutter.
Choosing a perfume is so personal. They react with your unique chemistry, so what smells great on your best friend might be just awful on you, or it might be great in a different way. For this reason, you should never buy a scent untested. That means: actually sprayed on your skin. When I go into a store with a lot of options, I’ll sniff the decanters to get an idea, and narrow it down to four (or less) to actually try on. This is something I can’t do often, as it’s a real gamble- I have to go the rest of the day smelling like the combination of these four, and it might be horrible. I’ll put one on each wrist and one on each shoulder, or the bend of my elbow, so they each have an anatomical zone to themselves to work their special magic. I save this kind of experiment for a trip to The Perfume House on Hawthorne. I can’t recommend that place enough.
Most perfumes will have a spectrum of scents, starting with the first spray (heavy on the alcohol until it evaporates, unless it’s a roll on). That’s what they call the “top note”, and they’re typically the brightest, most volatile aspects of the scent. Wait a minute or two, then smell it again… the middle notes are emerging. They are considered the heart of the perfume, and they are most noticeable after the smaller molecules of the top notes evaporate. These components combine with the heavier molecules, typically resinous or powdery smells. They’re the ones that are good at sticking around to create the lasting impression of the perfume, called the dry down. The dry down is the character of the scent after it dries, like maybe a full hour later. It might be a completely different scent. You may love the dry down, or you might decide you need a long shower. I’ve scrubbed and scrubbed my wrists, and there are some tenacious elements that really linger, usually the ones I can’t stand. Luckily, in the morning it’s usually gone and I can start the adventure all over again.