‘Helping a client to find the perfect scent requires the combined skills of a psychologist, palmist and priest’ James always (half) jokes, and his career has been defined not only by the vast knowledge he’s gleaned over the years he’s worked in retail as a fragrance expert, but his ability to ‘match’ people to their perfect perfume and answer any number of queries.
Truly, what James doesn’t know about perfume could probably be written on the back of a stamp. His advice is gold dust, and so we’re sprinkling some of that here for you (along with many scented spritzes, of course!)
Where should I apply perfume so that it lasts? I know Marilyn Monroe apparently said she sprayed it wherever she wanted to be kissed, but I’m more interested in smelling fabulous all day!
Uncle James says: ‘Crucially, apply to the pulse points of the body: these radiate heat, thus intensifying the expansion of perfume. But also spray on clean hair: being porous, hair is an excellent retainer and diffuser of scent. (If you’re worried about the alcohol in a perfume drying out hair, try one of the many, many hair fragrances which have been launched in the past few years.
Spray on washable natural fibre clothing and dab perfume on the eyebrows and ankles – yes, really! (They certainly do that in France, where they surely know a thing or two about the delights of parfum.) But please also understand that perfume is a poignantly fleeting pleasure : like a lovely piece of music it enchants and then it fades. Reapplication is a gracious and seductive ritual, not a chore. Enjoy it!’
Is it true that fragrances are seasonal and, if so, which styles of fragrance are best for spring?
Uncle James says: It’s certainly understandable that anyone might want to celebrate the emergence from an especially grim winter with a new scent for a ‘new you’. If you want to personify spring in your own aura, then try leafy greens (see the question below), light woody colognes and fresh florals that echo the stirring natural scents outside. You should always wear what excites and pleases you, and the start of a new season is a great time to kickstart exploring new scents, ingredients and fragrance families.’
Do you have a scent query you need solving? Don’t forget to add your questions for James in the form, below, for the next issue…
Nose is a more than a documentary following Dior perfumer François Demachy, it’s a paean to the raw ingredients of perfumery, and the hardworking people who grow and harvest the ingredients around the world.
Having first premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, the film has just been released – watch the trailer, below, read our review and find out where you can watch…
Dior describe it as ‘A true “smell good movie” Nose sheds light on one of the most secret jobs in the world.’ And while we mostly remainly quarantined, what a wonderful way to travel by your nose it is.
‘Perfumes are a language everyone understands, but few people can speak’ Demachy explains as he sits in his office, filled with endless bottles and piles of books, later commenting that ‘For me, a perfume is a land of sharing.’ Fascinatingly, when asked what his first ever perfume was, he reveals ‘The first thing I did was a perfume intended to whet the appetites of bovine, so they would eat the fodder.’ Quite a leap to his life, now, and yet in this film we get to see how he works with the growers of the materials he so loves, eventually whetting all our appetites with their distilled passion.
In Sulawesi, Indonesia, Demachy travels for three days to visit the patchouli plantations, and says for him, it was the most rewarding part of filming Nose.
‘We took a small plane, then a four-wheel drive, followed by a hike through a few isolated villages in the middle of nowhere. That in itself was already an enjoyable adventure, but then there was this magnificent reward at the end, and I finally got to see my favorite ingredient in its natural environment, on these steep slopes… It’s quite moving to see this… This is where it all begins for perfumery.’ François Demachy remarks as he watches the freshly picked patchouli being washed (and having covered his arms in the fragrantly oily residue).
Fragrance writer Eddie Bulliqi makes an apperance at several points during the film, discussing the links between music and fragrance, and the creative process; but again, it’s the growers who are most celebrated in Nose, even more than the often romanticised life of a great perfumer.
From the idyllic fields of jasmine and rose in Grasse, we meet the women who own the land and discover exactly how hard it is to work those so-pretty fields. And we hear from Patrick Lillis, a ‘Celtic ambergris broker’ from County Clare, Ireland. As the wind and rain lash the shore, Patrick and his dog walk beside the broiling sea, and this gruff-voiced, sou’wester-wearing man waxes lyrical on the magic of ambergris in perfumery.
‘It’s a personal taste thing, you know?’ he says, while sniffing a white (and therefore older, stronger) lump of the precious material. ‘It’s quite a profound, animatic smell… Some people say it adds another dimension to perfumery, that a normal perfume is 2D and this is 3D. It’s the best natural fixative for perfume, and it’s oleophilic – it grabs hold of the oils. But it also does another thing which is a little bit magical: it transforms other fragrances.’
Simply put, Nose is a feast for the senses, and a much-needed way for us to feed the wanderlust we’re all experiencing. Gorgeous, swooping shots of landscape and sumptuous close-ups of dew-speckled flowers accompany this portrait, that goes beyond the work of Demachy, and invites the viewer to fall as passionately in love with the world of perfumery as he and all the people behind the scenes so obviously are…
Well firstly, ‘hate’ is a very strong word. If you’ve been landed with the favourite fragrance of your current partner’s ex, we’re not going to pretend to make you suddenly adore it, so maybe re-gift that one – see tip #7 – and treat yourself to one of our Discovery Boxes of fragrant delights, and perhaps a new partner, instead?
But there are things you can try before you completely ditch a scent – we can’t tell you how many fragrance experts (ourselves included!) and even perfumers have drastically changed their minds about a fragrance by trying some of these top tips…
#1 – Seasonal changes
Did you know that the weather, your mood and even what you ate up to *two weeks ago* can dramatically alter how scent smells on your skin? Skin and climate temperature are vital to a perfume’s performance, so even your favourite fragrance will smell different based on the time of year. When perfumers test the scents they’re creating they often use climate-controlled booths to check how they smell in hot and colder conditions (depending what countries they’ll be selling in). Don’t re-gift until you’ve tried the perfume again later in the year, or even on holiday (remember those?)
– Similarly, strongly spiced foods can change how a perfume smells on your skin, and when testing fragrances under lab conditions, the ‘skin model’ volunteers they use are often specifically asked to refrain from eating such foods up to two weeks prior to testing, so the perfumers can smell a ‘true’ representation of the scent. Though sometimes the reverse is true: if a fragrance is to be mainly sold in a country where people eat lots of spicy foods, the ‘skin models’ are asked to replicate that diet to ensure the scent works efficiently.
– We now know that mood plays an important part in how we select a fragrance – try a scent when you’re feeling a particular way, and it colours how you feel about the fragrance itself. If you’re feeling stressed or upset, a bit under the weather or just overwhelmed, these are not ideal conditions for testing out something new. Wait until you’re feeling calmer, or simply have more time to really explore what you’re smelling. That’s when you can try to…
#2 – Improve your sense of smell
Absolutely everyone can benefit from this – we’ve had people from normal perfume-lovers, complete novices to industry professionals telling us how trying these techniques have changed the way they smell for the better (for good). This doesn’t mean suddenly gaining the ability of being able to detect every single ingredient within a bottle of perfume, but rather learning to train your nose the way a perfumer does: by deeply exploring the emotions it makes you feel, colours, textures, places and people it reminds you of.
This is why we developed our so-popular How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops, which we have regularly held in London and, sometimes at independent perfumeries around the UK. We’ll be adding new dates as soon as we’re able to hold face-to-face workshops again, and plan to make a video available online.
Meanwhile, here are a few simple tips to try every day:
– Spray a scent on a blotter, preferably; close your eyes and keep sniffing for several seconds, then take the blotter away, inhale deeply, and re-sniff the blotter again. Repeat this for a minute or so, and then begin writing a few words in a notebook. It doesn’t have to be a description, and it shouldn’t ‘list’ notes – try to use words that make you think of other things. For example…
– If this scent were a fabric, what would it be? What colour? If you made someone an outfit from that fabric, who would they be, where would they be going?
– If it were a piece of music, what instruments would be playing? Is it classical, rock music, pop, rap or jazz?
Really attempt to get past thinking ‘I don’t like this’ and focus instead on the mood it’s creating. Is it too deep or too fresh or floral for your personal taste? Give it time and then, if needed, move on to one of the tips, below…
#3 – Layer up!
Layering fragrances used to be seen as a scent sin, but we’ve all gotten over ourselves a bit (well most of us have). You don’t have to do this to a perfume you already love on its own – why would you need to? – but there are brilliant ways of beefing-up a sadly flimsy fragrance, or adding a zing to something that’s a bit too dark or cloying on your skin. Give it a go, because, as we always say: perfume isn’t a tattoo – if you don’t like it, you can wash it off!
– Add power: ramp it up by adding more base notes like patchouli, labdanum, vetiver, woods or musk.
– Add freshness: look for citrus notes like bergamot, neroli, lemon, lime or ‘green’ notes such as galbanum, tomato or violet leaf, green tea, marine/aquatic accords (synthetic recreations of sea-like, watery smells) and aldehydes (often desribed as being like Champagne bubbles).
– Add beauty: find a scent too ‘harsh’ or clinical? Look to layer it with decadently velvety or lusciously fruity rose oils, the sunshine-bottled scent of orange flower, a heady glamour of tuberose or a luminescent jasmine; try an apricot-like osmanthus flower, the fluffiness of mimosa or the powdery elegance of iris/orris.
– Add sweetness: vanilla and tonka bean can ’round’ a perfume, making it swoon on your skin (and addictive to smell), as can touches of synthetic notes described as ‘caramel’ or ‘dulce de leche’, ripe fruits, chocolate or even candy floss. Try to add less than you think you need, as adding more is always easier than taking away, and a little of these can go a long way!
For layering any of these, you can either try layering over other fragrances you have in which the above notes dominate, with a single-fragranced ‘soliflore’ (one main note) fragrance oil or spray, or try layering the scent you don’t currently like over a differently perfumed body lotion or oil (see below or the added benefits of doing this…)
#4 – Boost the lasting-power
If the reason you don’t like a perfume is because it just seems to ‘disappear’ on your skin, you’re not alone. We often find those with dry skin have this problem, and it’s even thought genetics and things like hair colour may play a part. Scientists are still finding this out, but while they do, there are ways you can make perfume last far longer:
– Try using a body oil, rich body balm or moisturising lotion before you put any fragrance on (and even afterwards, too), as scent takes longer to evaporate on nourished skin. This helps the fragrance ‘cling’ to your skin more easily, and so you get to actually smell if for more than a few minutes without frantically re-spraying.
– Spray pulse-points you might not usually think of. Behind your knees is a good example – it’s a warm spot that, once spritzed, will mean you leave a fragrant trail…
– Spritz the perfume at the nape of your neck, even into your hair and on clothes – BUT do check by spraying a tissue first that it isn’t going to mark your hair or fabric a strange colour, or leave an oily residue! We adore this way of wearing perfume, as hair and fabric are porous without heating up as much as your skin, allowing the perfume to stay all day.
Spraying a fragrance on to a scarf is a particularly good idea if you want…
#5 – A part-time perfume
There are days we feel the need to try something completely different, but perhaps don’t want to be stuck with that scent all day, so what to do?
– Consider spraying a scarf (preferably not silk or a light colour, unless you’ve patch-tested it as above, first!) with this perfume you’re unsure of, that way if it gets a bit ‘too much’ or you want to wear something different, you can simply take the scarf off and you’re not stuck with it on your skin all day.
Nope? Tried all that and still struggling? All is not lost, don’t give up yet…
#6 – Scent up your life
We all have certain scents or fragrant ingredients that, for one reason or another, we might not wish to wear but do like to smell if it’s scenting something else.
– Why not try spraying off-cuts of pretty wrapping paper or tissue paper, and using this to line your lingerie or sweater drawers?
– Or, how about being utterly fabulous by spraying your note paper and insides of envelopes (the fancy ones lined with tissue paper are particularly good for this), and writing a few actual letters or thank you cards to loved-ones you’ve not seen for a while. Everyone loves getting proper post!
– The truly decadent could try scenting table linen – again, PLEASE patch test, as above – for lavish dinner parties to rival Marie Antoinette – spraying on cotton wool and putting inside a deocrative ceramic or pottery vase, on wooden ornaments or ceramic discs you hang over radiators to scent the whole room as they heat.
We so hope you can find a way to try this poor perfume again and give it some love, but if all else fails and you still can’t bring yourself to use it, well at least you tried! Why not…
#7 – Have a perfume-swapping party / re-gift
Um, remembering not to invite the one who gave you that particular perfume… otherwise, major awks. Or, if you’re looking to re-gift, have a look at our brilliant Fragrance Finder.
Simply put the name of the fragrance into the search box, and it’ll suggest six scents that are similar in character and style, or share a number of significant notes – this way you can see if anyone you know already has one of these, and it means they’ll very likely love to receive this one from you.
Have you ever wanted your own personal perfume shopper? Well now, The Merchant of Venice is offering you the experience from the comfort of your own home…
While we’d dearly love to be sauntering through the heart-stoppingly beautiful streets of Venice and sniffing the perfume wares in person – as we did on our magnicent trip to the birthplace of fine perfumery – The merchant of Venice has come up with a cunning way to bring us the luxury of a one-to-one expert scent consultation, but all without having to leave your own sofa.
During these strange days, it can be difficult to know where to begin when searching for a new scent, and so The Merchant of Venice want to offer ‘…a new type of sensory experience’ with which to ‘re-establish a human contact’ with customers, thanks to its highly professional consultants being made available via a virtual online personal shopping experience.
When the princess Teodora Ducas – daughter of the Emperor of Byzantium – married the Doge Domenico Selvo in 1060, it can be said the grand Venetian tradition of perfumery (and the accompanying products with which the royal court liked to adorn themselves) truly began. So when you experience a fragrance from The Merchant of Venice – it’s a nod to the very history of perfumery itself…
During your navigation of The Merchant of Venice website, they tell us, you will be able to ‘interact with specialists in a sophisticated presentation of the collections’ that will guide you in your choice of the perfect perfumes for you to try. So, from your home, you can ‘take advantage of a private, tailor-made and highly professional service as in The Merchant of Venice boutiques.’
We have had the great privilege of visiting The Merchant of Venice boutiques, and they are beyond expectations – each unique in character and stunningly presented (as are the perfumes, themselves).
During your online personal shopper consultation, you will have each fragrance thoroughly described, using its olfactory notes. But much more than that, your personal shopper will listen to your exact requirements, and give personalised advice ‘…to find the essence that best suits the personality of each person. A dynamic that has been refined over the years also thanks to the experience at the Perfume Museum at Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice’
And oh, when we can travel again, we urge you to visit the Palazzo Mocenigo – it’s the most incredible collection of perfume history we’ve ever seen – from the thousands of historic perfume bottles, to the imaculate reconstruction of a 16th Century perfumer’s workshop.
Back to the present day, meanwhile, the traditions continue. ‘The ability to describe the history and origin of raw materials is the basis and the starting point for communicating the great passion and history that lies behind each creation,’ The Merchant of Venice explains, and the first personal shopper to assist you will be Christian Waas.
‘He comes from a family of perfumers and has collaborated with several international perfumery houses’ they continue, and apart from his fluency in English and German, Christian was chosen for ‘his ability to combine in-depth knowledge of perfume with sales expertise, together with his passion for history and culture,’ and his inate ability to present this to you in an exciting, engaging way.
What on earth would princess Teodora Ducas have made of the fact that, 960 years since her marriage, future fragrance lovers around the world would be booking personal perfume consultations via a little magic screen they can keep in their pockets? It would surely have blown her mind. But the fact we still hanker after the magnificent scents made in Venice? We have a hunch she wouldn’t have been very surprised…
Are your scented candles burning too fast, or creating that dreaded ‘tunnel’ (or ‘core’ to give it the correct name) of doom, where the wax only melts in the middlle and traps the wick? We’ve all exclaimed profanities and desperately dug around with nail-files to try and save them, but we just watched a BRILLIANT Instagram video that solves these woes with ease…
Lesley Sparks (hello, nominative determinism anyone?!) is also known as ‘The Alchemistress‘ – an independent maker and purveyor of the most beautiful perfumed candles. And she has got tips and tricks up her scented sleeve to make sure your candles perform to their best and (most importantly) ultimately to save your hard-earned money.
You can watch the instructive ‘How To’ on her IGTV channel, and afterwards, if you find yourself casting your eye critically over your previous burning performance (and general lazy lack of candle maintenance) then you’re in great company, as that’s exactly what we did, too. For shame!
Looking around The Perfume Society home-office, we suddenly realised that we already owned one The Alchemistress candles, in fact (look, we have quite a few scented candles, okay? It’s not a problem, we can stop any time we like… we just don’t ever want to). It’s called Persian Nights – a smouldering mix of sultry spices, featuring cardamon, black pepper, orange, ginger, coriander, patchouli, cinnamon and cedarwood – and has us dreaming of more exotic climes, and when we can next travel there, every time we light it.
How can you find the perfect scent to suit you? It’s a question we’re asked more than any other, and can be somewhat overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin. And that’s at the best of times – let alone trying to navigate buying a new scent from your sofa, without sniffing beforehand!
You’re simply asked to type in the name of a fragrance you like already, and the so-clever algorithm does all the work for you. This is a computer system that was first set up decades ago, when our Co-Founder Lorna McKay had an idea how to help customers of Liberty’s perfumery seek out their next scents.
That computer program has been fully updated with key words comparing and describing hundreds of thousands of fragrances – not only the fragrance notes, but how the fragrance will make you feel, the atmosphere the perfumer has created.
Just follow these simple steps, and you’ll be off on a fragrant journey of discovery…
1: Start with what you love
Instead of plunging wildly into the dark and trying every random fragrance you see, it’s a good idea to base your sniff list on something you already know you love. Our Fragrance Finder is completely genius at this, and has been recommended by fragrance experts and Fume Chat podcast hosts Nick Gilbert and Thomas Dunkley as the best place to start when looking for a new fragrance to suit you.
All you need do is type in the name of a scent you already love (or one you know your beloved currently wears) and you’ll be given an immediate list of six scents to seek out, all at various price points and with characteristics you’re extremely likely to swoon for. Honestly, try it – they’re quite spookily accurate!
2: Give yourself time
Now clutching your online-shopping list of scents to try, after purchasing we cannot urge you strongly enough to allow yourself the time to live with them on your skin a while before making a snap decision either way.
– First sniff? That’s the top notes – generally something citrus-y and ephemeral – which can disappear within the first few minutes of spraying because the ingredients evaporate more quickly.
– We find an hour is enough to give you a proper sense of what the perfume smells like on you. And if you don’t want to douse yourself head-to-toe (why on earth not? But each to their own) then spray on a blotter or ‘spill’ (long paper strip) to get an idea.
– Remember – it will only be an idea of the final scent. They were made to be warmed and worn on your skin, not paper, so will often smell very different (and better) on you. And your mood/the weather/food can all drastically alter how a scent smells on you, so ideally, try each one a couple of times.
A lot of fragrance houses are now, thankfully, offering samples of their scents to try before you buy a full size – we stock an incredible selection of Brand Discovery Sets in our shop, as well as our own curated Perfume Society Discovery Boxes for you to try at home.
Two of the questions we’re most frequently asked are: ‘How can I make my perfume last longer?’ and ‘Where should I best apply fragrance?’ And those two answers are certainly connected…
There’s an utterly fabulous fragrance scene in a vintage silent film from 1921 – The Wildcat, by Ernst Lubitsch – in which the heroine sits at her dressing table and douses herself from head to toe in perfume. Starring the wonderfully minx-ish Pola Negri as Rischka, the wildcat of the title and leader of a gang of bandits; the film follows the capture of their latest victim, Alexis, a caddish officer on his way to begin a job at his new post. Rischka falls madly in love with him, obvs, and they embark on a comletely mad courtship, leaving chaos (and perfume!) in their wake.
You can watch the film, below, and the scent-dousing scene begins at 2:46 if you want to skip straight to that… Being of the ‘more is more’ school, we definitely approve Rischka’s perfume application technique – in spirit if not in reality!
But seriously, where are the best places to aplpy your perfume (if you’re not just tipping it straight over your head, like in the film)? And how can it last longer on the skin?
Where should I apply my fragrance?
In her book ‘Fatale: How French Women Do It’, Edith Kunz suggests ‘The artful application of fragrance’ should take ‘about fifteen minutes from bath to blush.’ Going on to list the vital areas that should be dabbed with perfume, and in what order, Kunz suggests the everyday routine French women have employed for centuries – a scented ritual passed down from mother to daughter. Follow this fragrant guide to waft forth a cloud of fragrant femininity…
Heels, arches, and between the toes;
The inner and outer anklebone;
Behind the knees;
The underside of the derrière;
The pubic area and the navel;
Under each breast and between the breasts;
The shoulders and upper arms;
Inside the bend of the elbow;
The pulse points at the inner wrist;
The back of the hand and between the fingers;
The hollow at the bottom of the neck;
All around the collar bone;
Under the chin;
Along the jaw line;
Behind the ears and on the earlobes;
On the temples;
Along the back of the neck to the shoulder blades;
Around the hairline.
And don’t forget the important last step. Kunz says (and these are very much her words, not mine..) ‘The process is completed by tucking an aromatic cotton puff inside the bra between the lady’s two tender treasures.’
Now, if you don’t have time for all that, I suggest: the neck, tops of shoulders and behind the knees are my favourite places to spray. I once read that Jane Birkin liked to leave a fragrant trail by spraying her scent there, so have done this ever since!
How can I make my perfume last longer?
1 Use matching body products, if available, or unscented if not – it’s a beautiful way to ‘layer’ on your fragrance; body creams and body lotions, in particular, add emollients which hold perfume. If these range extensions aren’t available, go for an unscented body cream, butter or lotion which won’t clash with your chosen scent. Think of it as a primer for perfume.
2 Switch to a stronger formulation. Eau de parfum, pure parfum and extrait are highly concentrated formulas that will smell stronger and last longer. They may be more expensive, but you can end up using far less. Win-win!
3 Try spraying your hair as well as your skin – though be careful if the perfume is dark in colour as you may unintentionally dye your hair! (Test on a tissue, first.) Hair is porous and will waft the scent even longer than on your skin in many cases.
4 Spritz a scarf with with scent and the heat of your body will make the fragrance bloom. Also a handy way to try a new fragrance you’re not sure of. Bored of it? Simply take the scarf off and try something else…
5 Remember that your nose can become used to your perfume, particularly if you wear the same one every single day – or you could be anosmic (unable to detect) some musk notes. Although you may not be able to smell it at all after 30-40 minutes, your friends and colleagues may still be able to, so maybe ask a friend if they can still smell it before dousing yourself again (tempting as we find it, having watched The Wildcat film!)
Suddenly our duvets have become irresistible and those opaque tights have made their appearance from the back of the drawer. Along with cashmere cardis and hot toddies replacing the t-shirts and G&Ts (okay, we actually haven’t quite given up G&Ts), so our fragrance tastes tend to swing toward something warmer – a snuggle in a bottle that helps you get out of bed in the morning and comforts you throughout the day.
Sandalwood-rich perfumes are great ones to look for in the autumnal months or colder climates, offering a smooth creaminess that clings to the skin like a cashmere blanket – a poncho made from perfume. Yes we may sometimes wish to be pepped up with a citrus blast every now and again, even on a chilly day; but the majority of us here at TPS Towers are longing for something to snuggle into, and sandalwood as a dominant note definitely fits that bill.
In our just-published Couture edition of The Scented Letter Magazine, my leading feature seeks out ‘The sensational history of sandalwood‘, looking into versatility of this ingredient, and finding out just why perfumers (and perfume-wearers) love it so. But the topic is so vast, I really wanted to give you even more sandalwood-filled snippets, and urge you to swathe yourself in sandalwood scents you already love, or to think about getting seriously cosy with something sandalwood-y and new to you…
Some sandalwood facts:
Sandalwood is used in the base of up to 50% of feminine fragrances.
Supremely versatile, it blends exquisitely with clove, lavender, geranium, jasmine, galbanum, frankincense, black pepper, jasmine and patchouli (among others).
It works as a ‘fixative’, tethering other ingredients and keeping them ‘true’, in a composition.
So many sandalwood trees have been cut down in India, largely for production of perfume and incense – often illegally harvested, because it’s such a valuable commodity – that it’s become endangered.
The good news is that plantations in Australia are now coming on-stream, producing (santalum spicatum) sandalwood oil of high quality – to the relief of ‘noses’ (and conservationists.)
A wide range of synthetic sandalwood-like ingredients are now used in place of this at-risk wood, to give a similarly smooth milkiness (see below for our guide)…
The synthetics now available for perfumer’s to expand their palette is now fairly extensive. With the cost of Mysore (often considered the best quality, and the most endangered) sandalwood increasing approximately 25% per year, you can understand why many fragrance brands are choosing to use these aroma-chemicals, for cost-effective (would you continue to buy a favourite fragrance if it doubled in price every four years?) as well as conservation reasons.
In my magazine feature, indie perfumer, and founder of 4160 Tuesdays, Sarah McCartney, explains why synthetic sandalwood is so vital for perfumers – and how most people asked to compare natural and synthetic sandalwood side-by-side in a blind smelling, will confidently declare those synthetics to ‘definitely be the natural’ wood. So generally, ‘…if you have sandalwood listed in the notes, it will either be accompanied by its synthetic sisters, or replaced entirely.’ Among these synthetics we have:
Beta santalol – considered to be one of the most ‘nature identical’ of sandalwood notes, this imparts the comforting creamy snuggle we expect. Polysantol – formerly trademarked by Firmenich , it has herbal depth with just a touch of filth for the animalic scent lovers out there. Realistic enough in a composition, it also has great lasting power. Levosandol – by Takasago is shot through with tang of dry cedar-like notes for an overall woodiness. Ebanol – a Givaudan trademark, is remarkably rich and surprisingly potent. The snuggle that just keeps going. Fleursandol – by Symrise, this one has a lightly floral character beneath the dominant, life-like sandalwood note.
Try sandalwood in these beauties…
But McCartney also reminds us that many naturals also ‘replace’ or snuggle up to natural sandalwood in fragrances, ‘One good natural substitute is amyris essential oil,’ she continues. ‘Mine is from Haiti and smells closer to aged Mysore oil than my Australian or modern Indian sandalwood. Amyris is known as Hatian sandalwood, but is a different species. Sandalwood has strength and richness but never overpowers or forces its way through a composition.’
David Moltz, perfumer and co-founder of cult niche house D.S. & Durga agress on this so-special charcteristic of sandalwood, explaining, ‘Though long-lasting and incredibly umami for a wood, its overall throw is soft. So it’s persistent but never overpowers other oils.’ Personally, he likes to mix the types of sandalwood he uses, depending on what he’s trying to achieve, so he uses ‘…a bunch of different sandalwoods. In the D.S. fragrance, I used top-grade Sri Lankan sandalwood which is the closest we have to the fabled and ethically challenged Mysore varietal from south India.’
Whichever character of sandalwood you choose, it’s just perfect to embrace on chillier, grey days – so do have a look for some of these, and get ready to fully embrace sandalwood’s cosy sensuality…
Molten sandalwood and cedar melds with warm amber, a wispy jasmine that fluffs itself up around ghost lily, waxy magnolia and narcotic ylang ylang. It all dries down to the most glorious pepper speckled honey for a ‘your skin but better’ daily cuddle. Self-care in a bottle. Estée Lauder Sensuous£56 for 50ml eau de parfum theperfumeshop.com
Like burying yourself in a boyfriend’s favourite jumper, textural layers of pink pomelo, ginger and green lemon brush against soft lavender and jasmine whispers. Finally, skin’s wrapped in that comforting sandalwood, with birch, oak, patchouli and musk. Sans boyfriend? I think this amply replaces many. Missoni Parfum Pour Hommefrom £33 for 30ml eau de parfum thefragranceshop.co.uk
Distant recollections of being warm without woollen undergarments evoked with the delectable creaminess of iris butter swirled into sandalwood. It’s all blissfully relaxed limbs slathered in retro-smelling coconut suntan oil and a cool lick of vanilla ice-cream. Thanks for the memories… Juliette Has a Gun Sunny Side Up£110 for 100ml eau de parfum harveynichols.com
A handsome (completely unisex, we think) scent that’s crisp as a tall G&T (told you we were clinging on) at first, then sinks beguilingly to a dandyish clove, cardamom and nutmeg-laden heart and the softness of sandalwood and vanilla muskiness beyond. Floris Santal£80 for 100ml eau de toilette florislondon.com
A sacred signal to the Gods, incense billows through saffron’s golden glow, precious frankincense swirled amidst a plush heart of rose absolute, smooth sandalwood soothing you like a whisper on a breeze of translucent white musk. Wearing it feels like knowing the very soul of perfume – ‘per fumum’ meaning ‘through smoke’. Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire Rêve d’Encens £260 for 125ml eau de parfum harrods.com
Most of the U.K. seems to have spent the last few days with a deluge of rain, and while we cannot help but mourn the last days of summer, for many of us, that smell of rain is actually a reason to rejoice…
‘Petrichor’ is the technical name for that unmistakable (though so-difficult to describe) scent of imminent rain in the air, or the damp earth following a fresh downpour. The chemical reaction of plants, bacteria and soil all combine to create that experience that follows a thunderstorm, a phenomena first discovered by two Austrialian researchers in the 1960s, and published in a scientific paper called Nature of Argillaceous Odour.
One of the books on our scented shelf is The Smell of Fresh Rain, by Barney Shaw. Going in search of the meanings of smells (and how they help shape our lives), author Barney Shaw went on a journey of exploration for this book celebrating ‘The unexpected pleasures of our most elusive sense.’
From describing petrichor to researching the scent of fresh paint, frying bacon and pondering the question of what three o’clock in the morning smells like, it’s a fascinating ride to be part of. And part of it you most definitely are, as merely reading this book expands your mind to the possibilities and scents you take forgranted every single day. We especially loved the observation that ‘Unlike sight, smell does not travel in straight lines, so it is valuable in environments when sight does not serve well…’
Indeed, as Helen Keller once said, smell truly is ‘the fallen angel of the senses.’ We may not use it to seek out a sabre-toothed tiger or find food anymore, but the ability is there, or emotional reactions are built-in, unbidden.
An excellent book for anyone interested in exploring their senses further (for flavour is so interconnected to smell, as we know, and addressed within the book); those who write about perfume or smell in any respect will be especially pleased by the chapter On the Tip of My Nose, which looks at the language of smell, and what we can do to improve our communication skills. Completely fascinating from start to fragrant finish!
Have you found your fragrant armour? There are times we need to reach for something to give us extra backbone, make us stand a little taller and feel able to deflect the slings and arrows slung at us by the world, or the cope with the circumstances we find ourselves in. So don’t worry: we’ve made it our mission to help you find yours…
As I write this, those circumstances are more pertinent than ever, my step father having suffered another stroke. In the unbearable period of sitting and waiting for news, amidst chaos and fear; wearing the right fragrance doesn’t only gives me something to cling to. Judiciously selected, they can climb inside me like a perfumed posession. I’m not quite myself when I wear them. And I like it.
A perfume wont make everything perfect, of course, but it can offer a kind of shield of protection – a fragrant cloak in which you waft surefootedly and go from clapped-out to kick-ass in just a few spritzes. It’s been proven that some aromas can significantly help calm us, but scientists always seem to foucs research on that scented moment of zen, when fragrance can do so much more than merely steady our nerves.
When I need that fist of steel within a velvet glove, I have consistently been reaching for my trusty travel-size Editions de Parfum Frédéric MallePortrait of a Lady £47 for 10ml eau de parfum refill at fredericmalle.co.uk. A lady? Yes, but this one’s not for swooning. I picture an aristocratic dame in full 18th Century attire, frustrated with watching the antics of knights’ jousting, and deciding to pitch in herself. Swagged with 400 Turkish roses, sharp blackberry spears the skin-warmth of sandalwood, ripe raspberry unappologetically cutting a swathe through an almost chocolate-like patchouli and the base a frankincense trip to the confessional – but only to boast of her sins.
Perhaps you already have an elixir that works like a charm? I don’t mean something that smells nice, or even something you often wear and adore. Fragrant armour needs to go above and beyond. We’re not talking comfy jeans and a clean t-shirt, here. This scent needs to lift you to a higher plain, spark your imagination and leave others trailing (preferably quailing) in your perfumed wake.
There’s a peculiar alchemy in finding which fragrance works for you. It needs to have an element of comfort, but without being so pillowy and soft that it lulls you into a state of hazy languor. It should be familiar enough to fit you like a second skin, yet not so customary that it feels commonplace. And it needs to be recognisably you, but turned up to eleven: that superhero (or, perhaps, villainous?) version of yourself, who can destroy foes with a KAPOW! while wearing a catsuit and a satisfied smirk.
So, how to find yours?
First, have a look through your perfume collection (or samples you’ve tried and loved, recently), and do the Sniff Test. Spray several blotters (use some tissues or strips of thin card, if you don’t have any) and write the names of the fragrances on. Smell after a few minutes, and then return to them all within half an hour.
Secondly, you’re going to narrow down those that make you feel a frisson. Put aside those that make you go ‘OooOOooh!’ when you smell them, and trying them on your skin. No just “Mmm, yes, lovely’ reactions. This has to be an unbidden, visceral noise of satisfaction or surprise. Come back to each and smell them again, an hour after first spraying. Do any still excite you? Good. These are your starting point for the next step.
Now, type the name into our Find a Fragrance page. If you’re not sure of your favourite family, or want wider suggestions, just choose ‘not sure’ from the drop-down list.
It works by decoding one of your favourite perfumes, and suggesting six alternatives to try. It isn’t some pot-luck shot in the dark based on the ingredients and notes alone – we use key emotion-driven words given in the perfumer’s briefing, or the original inspiration behind the launch. And it’s really quite spookily accurate at predicting what you might like, and love…
My suggestions were for some I already tried, really love and must dig out or re-purchase to try again, and something that really caught my eye: BDK French Bouquet £195 for 100m eau de parfum at harrods.com. Now I’ve been meaning to try this, happened to have a sample kicking around, and so immediately sprayed some on. Oh. Oh YES.
Suddenly I’m in Paris (cliché, I know, but let’s go with it) and I’m wearing the kind of elegant suit and clicky heels I could absolutely never dream of without spraining an ankle or spilling soup on in real life. But in my dream I’m imbued with insouciant chicness, glossy hair gleaming in the sunshine of (what I later learn) is aldehyde C12 – a chemical compound found naturally in citrus oils – seamlessly blending bergamot, rose and jasmine alongside classic Chypre notes (my favourite family, hello) with what they describe a a ‘powdery yet potent effect.’ It’s slightly soapy, but very sexy. Not in a ‘come up and see me sometime’ sense, but rather a ‘hot damn I look great, today’ way. And heaven knows, we all need that.
It made me feel instantly pulled together and like I knew what I was doing. Which is far from the truth, and therefore most welcome. I’ll be adding this to my olfactory arsenal to be deployed as required. I suggest aquiring travel-sizes or samples for your armour (or weapons) of choice, to be carried about your person, whenever the need arises.
Think of your fragrant armour as the scented equivalent of the red lipstick, then. But the magic of this olfactory signal is that it’s invisible – and all the more powerful for being so. It’s your secret, a message written to yourself (in that red lipstick, emblazoned on a bathroom mirror) saying: ‘You’ve got this.’
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