WHAT DOES THE WORD “PERFUME” MEAN?
The word “perfume” comes from the Latin per fumum, which means “through smoke”. In ancient Roman temples, crushed flowers, leaves, wood chips, spices and aromatic resins were placed on burning coals as offerings to the gods. Their fragrances were released per fumum – “through the smoke”.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “PERFUME” AND “FRAGRANCE” IN ENGLISH?
To most people, the two words mean more or less the same thing. They are interchangeable. The usage varies from country to country: in the United States, fragrance is most often used; in Australia, perfume dominates; in England, scent is used. And in France, parfum!
In perfumery, we tend to use the term perfume to designate the highest concentration of a scent, as opposed to, for example, eau de toilette or eau de Cologne, which are less concentrated. Perfumers, on the other hand, use the term perfume to describe their own olfactory creation.
HOW MANY INGREDIENTS DOES A PERFUME USUALLY CONTAIN?
It depends. A perfume may contain 10, 50, 100 or 500 different raw materials, but just because a perfume contains 300 ingredients doesn’t mean it’s superior to a perfume containing 80. What really matters is how the different ingredients are combined to produce an effect.
“I don’t like overly complex formulas,” says perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain. “It’s not the number of ingredients that makes a perfume exceptional. Mitsouko, created in 1919 by my grandfather Jacques, is based on a concise and simple, yet refined formula, and it remains a beautiful chypre. Nahema, which I consider one of my finest creations, contains only 12 ingredients.”
WHY ARE THE MOST REFINED FRAGRANCES SO EXPENSIVE?
The main reason is the price of the most refined essential oils. Take jasmine oil, for example. The highest quality one comes from Grasse and costs nearly twice as much as gold, because it takes six to seven million jasmine flowers to produce a single kilo of jasmine absolute. The flowers must be hand-picked at dawn, when their scent is most intense. The oil is extracted using the ancient method of enfleurage, a time-consuming and costly process in which the fragile petals are placed by hand on glass trays coated with cold purified fat, which slowly absorbs the precious oil.
Tuberose absolute is even more expensive. As for rose oil, I’ll let you calculate its price given that a rose bush blooms only 25 days a year on average, from mid-May to mid-June, and that it takes about 2,500 hand-picked roses to produce a single gram of rose oil. Add to that the time it takes to launch a new, truly different fragrance! Not to mention that you can’t overproduce to keep costs down, as the fragrance would spoil too quickly…. No wonder the final product is very expensive.
ARE NATURAL PERFUME ESSENCES BETTER THAN ARTIFICIAL ONES?
Absolutely not. Modern perfumery is based on the synergy between natural ingredients and man-made substances. Both are equally important to the perfumer. Technically, a perfumer distinguishes between natural essences, extracted from flowers, woods, leaves, spices and resins, semi-synthetic essences, derived from natural products, and fully synthetic essences or aromatic notes, created to enhance natural essences, to make them vibrate with almost new notes.
Synthetic aromatic notes can be considered the perfumer’s notes since they are created in laboratories to add originality, character and tenacity to natural notes.
Coco Chanel was the first designer to encourage perfumers to give a major role to synthetic notes: “I wanted to give women an artificial perfume, that is, a manufactured one,” she said. “I’m a couture artisan. I don’t want rose, lily of the valley. I want a perfume that is a compound.”
The result: Chanel No. 5, the first aldehyde floral fragrance, a bouquet dominated by the sparkling notes of synthetic aldehydes tightly blended with Grasse’s most expensive jasmine and rose de mai.
“Some natural essences are very cheap while other chemical aromatic notes are very expensive,” perfumer Edmond Roudnitska pointed out. “The use of chemical products for the composition of haute couture perfumes is not a matter of economy. If we resort to it, it is simply because we do not want to do without the glorious nuances of a scent simply because it does not exist in nature and only chemistry can provide it. Often, a synthetic scent is far more majestic than a natural scent. Think of a flower: once you pick it, it only smells good for a day or two, then it starts to smell foul. Synthetic notes allow us to achieve the same smell, while leaving most flowers to nature.”
WHAT ARE THE “NOTES” OF A FRAGRANCE?
The notes are the different phases of evolution of the scent of a perfume when you spray it on your skin. Each of these phases, or group of “notes,” has a different degree of volatility.
The top notes give the first impression of a fragrance. These are the lightest, most volatile notes, which burst on the skin when you spray the perfume, or the fresh scent that comes out when you open a bottle. Very volatile, top notes usually disappear after 10 to 15 minutes.
Typical top notes: bergamot, citrus oils, aldehydes
When the top notes disappear, it is the heart notes of the perfume that bloom on your skin, and last on average 3 to 4 hours. These are scents of medium volatility, which give personality and character to the composition and create the aura that gives the fragrance its dominant theme.
Typical middle notes: rose, jasmine, tuberose and most flowers
This theme is accentuated and fixed by the base note, which contains the soul of the perfume. Heavier and less volatile, these notes form the base of the fragrance and give it depth and tenacity. The base notes are what make the fragrance memorable and help it stay on the skin.
Typical base notes: musk, amber, oakmoss, vanilla, wood
WHY CAN’T I SMELL THE SCENT I’M WEARING AFTER A WHILE?
Many of our senses become saturated when they are constantly stimulated. The sense of smell usually switches off after a few minutes. Since you can’t walk away from your fragrance, you get used to it. You may think it’s gone, but its scent is still noticeable to others.
CAN I REFRESH MY SENSE OF SMELL IF MY NOSE GETS SATURATED WHEN I TRY ON FRAGRANCES?
Yes, try sniffing coffee beans or the inside of your elbow. It seems to clear the nose.
CAN A FRAGRANCE CHANGE MY MOOD?
Yes, one of the most remarkable characteristics of fragrance is its ability to influence our emotions almost instantly. Studies have shown that fragrances can stimulate or calm us, promote good or bad moods, evoke positive or negative memories and bring about sweet dreams. Aromatherapy, the art of healing with aromatic essential oils, is based on the principle that the aroma of essential oils has the power to influence mood.
Fragrance has long been recognized as a powerful and subtle tool for rebalancing the body and mind. An ancient Chinese proverb states that “a perfume is always a medicine”.
Ann Gottlieb, a perfume consultant who helped develop Calvin Klein fragrances, says, “Most of the substances used in aromatic products with supposed therapeutic properties are actually based more on tradition and folklore than on science. However, a growing body of research shows that we can influence mood through fragrance. Soon, fragrances will not only make you smell good, they will also have a real psychological effect.
Studies show that the smell of peppermint or lily of the valley increases alertness at work. In Tokyo, one company diffuses a light peppermint scent in its offices to improve productivity. Another company sprays different scents through the air conditioning system for the same purpose. A whiff of citrus helps start the day on the right foot. A subdued floral scent promotes concentration mid-morning and mid-afternoon. A touch of cedar seems to relieve fatigue at lunch and late afternoon.
Since the limbic system controls both the sense of smell and the emotions, it makes sense that certain scents have the power to stimulate or relax the senses.
WHERE SHOULD YOU APPLY A FRAGRANCE?
“Where you want to be kissed”, said Coco Chanel … or where the skin is warmer, because heat helps to diffuse and amplify the aromas of a perfume. The “pulse points” (see below), warmed by the good circulation of the blood, close to the surface of the skin, are perfect activators for the perfume.
Spray the perfume about 20 cm from your skin. The fragrance will last longer if it is sprayed evenly over a large area rather than generously over a small area.
Should I rub my wrists together to dry the fragrance? No – this damages the notes and dulls their development.
Perfumes move upward – so apply them to several pulse points, not just the base of the throat for example. A spray on the back of the knee is particularly effective. As you move, body heat causes the scent to rise to your nose.
WHERE ARE MY PULSE POINTS?
On the inside of the wrists, in the elbow, on the temples, under the earlobe (not behind it), in the hollow of the neck, nice and warm, at the base of the throat, on the back of the knees, and anywhere you feel your heartbeat.
IF I PUT ON PERFUME IN THE MORNING, WILL IT LAST ALL DAY?
No. One spray in the morning is not enough to last all day. You’ll probably have to reapply perfume three or four times throughout the day. Also keep in mind that fragrance evaporates faster at higher altitudes or in cold weather, but lasts longer on hot or sultry days.
As for how much fragrance to apply, it depends on your skin. Some skin types retain fragrance better than others. Experiment. Apply up to seven sprays at a time: one on each side of the neck, on the back of the knees, on the wrists and one in the middle of the chest.
I APPLY MY PERFUME VERY LIBERALLY BUT AFTER AN HOUR, NO ONE NOTICES IT ANYMORE. WHY DOESN’T THE PERFUME STAY ON ME?
Unfortunately, your body chemistry is responsible for the rapid evaporation of fragrance from your skin. Perfumers say that your skin “washes away” the fragrance.
An eau de toilette that is supposed to last 3 to 4 hours disappears in an hour or less. Why does this happen? The acidity of your skin may be to blame. Lick your wrist. Does it taste strong, like lemon juice? This is a sure sign of acidity. The more acidic your skin is, the more likely it is to reject the fragrance.
Medications also alter body chemistry. Low-fat diets, spicy food and fast food affect your body temperature and make your skin reject fragrance. Add dry skin and pregnancy to the list and you can see why so many women complain that their fragrance disappears too quickly.
What’s the solution? Put an emollient layer between your skin and the perfume. This will prolong its life. You can use a body cream or lotion from the same line as your perfume to create an emollient base for the eau de toilette. This will slow down evaporation and double the hold of your perfume.
Second solution: why not use the bath oils of your favorite line as a perfume? After your bath or shower, when your skin is dry but still warm, spread the scented bath oil on your pulse points. Finish with a light spray of perfume.
HOW CAN I MAKE MY PERFUME LAST LONGER, WITHOUT IT BECOMING OVERPOWERING?
The secret to long-lasting fragrance is layering. Create multiple layers of fragrance by using different forms of the same scent – a scented soap, bath oil or gel, body cream or milk, face powder and eau de toilette. All the elements reinforce each other and quadruple the staying power of your favorite fragrance. This layering of fragrances is also a smart way to wear an overly dominant scent for the day.
DOES THE WEATHER AFFECT THE SCENT WE WEAR?
Summer heat reinforces the impact of a scent. The hotter it is, the more the “notes” of a deserted
“notes” of a fragrance desert the skin. To counteract this, apply a lighter fragrance more often. Winter reduces scents. In cold weather, the molecules of the fragrance rise less quickly and the top, middle and bottom notes develop more gradually. That’s why you can wear a stronger fragrance in cold weather.
WHY DOES A FRAGRANCE SMELL WONDERFUL ON A FRIEND, BUT NOT AT ALL ON ME?
Because each of us has our own “olfactory fingerprint”, which influences the evolution of a fragrance. This olfactory identity is defined by our genes, body chemistry, diet, medication, stress level and, probably the most important factor, our skin temperature.
To say that fragrances react differently on each individual based on their “body chemistry” would be reductive. The warmth of our skin plays a critical role. Some people have more pores per inch than others, or skin with more layers of fat. These and other factors influence skin temperature, which in turn affects the scent of a fragrance.
We are all born equal… and remain so until we spray a fragrance on our skin.