From Harper’s BAZAAR
Most of us have a signature scent, or at the very least, an idea of the kinds of perfumes and colognes we love to wear. But talking about fragrance with other people is tricky, especially when you’re trying to articulate exactly what it is you like and why. The vocabulary of perfume—sillage, accord, heady—can sometimes feel like a secret language spoken only by a handful of experts. But fragrance doesn’t have to be so complicated, especially once you learn how to talk about scents the way a Sommelier talks about wine.
When you know how to speak the secret language of perfumers, you can start to narrow your search for your next signature scent. This is especially important in today’s socially distanced world, given that you can no longer just pop in to any shop and sample a row of new and intriguing scents. Is it even possible to find a new perfume you’ll love and wear over the internet? How do you get started on your search? We reached out to Givaudan perfumer and expert Linda Song via The Fragrance Foundation to help us navigate the new world of fragrance in the video above.
The journey to a new signature scent starts with evaluating the ones currently on your vanity or fragrances you may have loved in the past. Ask yourself: what do they have in common? What notes do they share? If you’re unsure, Google the perfume to learn more about the olfactive family it belongs in and the specific top, middle, and base notes. “What’s both interesting and difficult about fragrance is that you can’t point to something and say, ‘Do you see this apple?’ You’re asking someone to smell with their nose and you can’t pinpoint at which point or what exactly they are smelling,” says Song. “Language is the only unifier in how we can talk about fragrance together.”
All fragrances belong to certain categories, like gourmand (anything with a candied, sugary quality), fruity (apples and berries), floral (rose, jasmine), citrus (lemons and oranges), among others. Once you dig a little deeper, you’ll likely find common notes or accords (a combination of ingredients) that the perfumes you love share. The order of those notes matters as well. Anything added in the top notes—the ones you smell right away at first spritz—are volatile and will evaporate quickly. Middle notes stick around a little longer, and the base notes are the ones that will linger for hours and leave a trail (known as sillage) as you move through the world. That’s why it’s vital you don’t judge a fragrance solely by your immediate impression, but rather the experience of wearing it for a few hours.
But as most perfumers will tell you, not all fragrances smell the same person to person. Song notes that even the physical environment or city you’re in can have an impact on the way a fragrance might smell. “The most important mistake sometimes people make is smelling a fragrance on a blotter and saying, ‘I love it!’ and then walking away. And then on my skin it smells different or maybe I like it better, or maybe over time it changed as well,” adds Song. “Fragrance is a little bit our own living and breathing addition that we wear that changes over time and depending on the elements.”
If you’ve narrowed down your search to a few fragrances online you’d like to try, see if you can order a sample. After all, the most ideal place to trial a new scent is not in a store but in your own home. “We always talk about those coffee beans, but it’s more the idea that you’re trying to reset your nose, you want a neutral space to smell it in. The most neutral space for a person is in their own home, because they are going to notice when something is off,” says Song.
Watch the full video above to learn more about the art and science of perfumery. If you’d like to learn even more, head over to The Fragrance Foundation, an organization dedicated to education, nurturing talent, celebrating the creativity of perfumers, and engaging consumers to increase appreciation for the world of fragrance.
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