first of all, you can thank dom for the title of this post, because i was about to call it "making smells" until he convinced me that that had some unpleasant connotations. of course, the world of scent isn't necessarily connected to the world of cosmetics, which is normally what "making faces" posts are about, but since they're often conflated in terms of marketing, i'm just going to moosh them together under this heading.
i find that talking about perfume is a lot like talking about wine: i rather enjoy doing it, but after about three sentences, i know i'm out of my depth. basically, everything that comes out after that is along the line of "i like spices" and nothing more. it actually took me a long time to figure out not just what i liked in a scent, but what worked on my skin. i think that's true for all of us- ladies and gents- who are drawn to fragrance; it seems like we should just instinctively know what works, but that's not the case. many's the time when i've spritzed myself with something that smelled fetching, only to spend the next two hours wondering how to get it off me.
the first perfume i ever bought for myself was christian dior's poison. i was about fourteen and the effect was ridiculous. such a heavy, voluptuous scent needed to be worn by someone older and more experienced with the world than i was. this was all the more true because the perfume didn't blend with my own scent, but rather just sat there, being itself. that's not what should happen.
one of the reasons why it's so hard to talk about perfume is because something that really works on you is a matter of chemistry: perfume oil, captured in a solution of alcohol in water, is spritzed over your skin. immediately, it starts to bond with the oils that are in your skin naturally, and this changes it. it keeps changing over hours and the way it changes on me will be completely different than the way it changes on you. which means that, even if it smells the same on us to begin with, it'll likely get farther apart as time wears on. such is the nature of chemistry.
[side note :: the dilution of the perfume oil in an alcohol solution isn't something that's done because the parfumeur is greedy. pure perfume oils are heavy, think, prone to staining, irritating to the skin, and strong enough to knock you out if you put a little too much on. the alcohol solution makes the oil lighter, and allows it to vaporise and land on you in a lovely mist. even products advertised as "perfume oils" aren't pure oils, with the exception of some that are used for things like aromatherapy. and in case you've ever wondered, but not googled, here is a convenient chart to help explain the difference between perfume, cologne, eau de parfum, etc. it's all about concentration.]
when i hit high school, it was when the body shop was starting to appear in halifax. all my friends were wearing tea rose, but when i tried it on me, it just seemed to disappear. i absolutely loved the scent, but my skin swallowed it. so instead, i picked up a bottle of their rose musk perfume. it was a rose of a different colour, with a sexy, musky and woody base under a rich floral overcoat. that was my scent for years, but it was sadly discontinued in the mid nineties. unlike my back-up favourites from the body shop, japanese musk and juba, rose musk has never returned. [hangs head in a moment of silent regret.]
in more recent years, i've expanded beyond perfume oils, to different brands of perfume. that's made me engage with more complex scents, but it's also made me aware of how scent can go terribly wrong. there's nothing i can do about my mistakes, but i thought that, while i might not be able to tell you what perfumes to buy, i could at least share some of the things i've learned.
1. know what you're getting into. don't be satisfied with just spritzing something on your skin, or, even worse, on a piece of paper and deciding it's perfect. wear that bugger and make it prove its worth. for many people, perfume will be the most expensive personal care/ cosmetic purchase you make, so it should damn well make you feel [and smell] incredible.
i will often spray on a perfume on multiple visits to a store before deciding to purchase, and i recommend others do the same. furthermore, samples are your friends. don't be afraid to ask for them. any retailer who refuses to give you a sample isn't interested in your business anyway. [associates at sephora will make a sample from the tester bottle if they don't have samples on hand, which is a fantastic idea and something that other retailers should pick up on.]
2. follow the clues. a few months ago, i ordered a perfume called gin from commodity. i thought it would be a good match, because it featured bergamot as a top note, and bergamot is also the predominant top note in guerlain's shalimar, one of my favourite scents of all time. instead, gin made me smell like i drunk a few litres of kool-aid and peed myself. but it smells fresh and invigorating on dom. what the hell?
well, i can explain what the hell. clearly, bergamot is not a "make or break" ingredient in perfumes with me. but, once you look through the various notes in perfumes that you know work on you, you can probably find a common element. for me, it's saffron. it's not a scent that dominates in too many fragrances, but when it is fairly high in the mix, there's a very good chance that i'll be able to wear it well.
one of the only perfumes i've encountered that advertises its saffron-ness is safran troublant, by l'artisan parfumeur. but i've also noticed that tom ford makes use of it a lot, especially in his exclusive collection [goodbye money, i will miss you!]. tuscan leather and white suede are two of my very favourites and, along with their musky, smoky spines, they have saffron woven in.
3. perfume is transgender. one of the most frustrating things about looking for a good perfume for me was that so many of them soon turned into a limp cloud of stale flowers or slightly rancid fruit. then, i discovered that was because a lot of fragrances made for women- even high end ones- were just too sweet on me. there were a few that i quite liked [kenzo amour and flower, guerlain insolence], but even then, they tended not to last more than a few hours on me.
then at some point, i just started trying on men's perfumes [yes, they're still perfumes if boys wear them]. suddenly, a door opened. i've shocked experience fragrance salespeople who've tried to convince me that what i mean is that i just like spicy or woody scents. that's not it. it's just that, about seven times out of ten, a men's scent works better on me than a woman's. and, once i've spritzed one of each on my arms, the salesperson always agrees, with a shocked face.
i'm glad to see that perfume manufacturers are starting to offer more and more unisex scents, but the fact is that most of them are unisex anyway. the aforementioned tuscan leather is the sort of scent that makes people jump when they smell it, because it's so dark and heavy. but when i put it on [assuming i don't overdo it], the reaction with my particular skin tames it a little.
if you look at the notes in men's and women's perfumes, you'll quickly notice that it's the exact same ones used in both. they're just arranged differently. aramis, a men's scent headed by bergamot, works just as well on me as the much more feminine shalimar. [it has a distinctive oak moss note, which is another ingredient that tends to sit well on me.]
4. feel free to change your wardrobe. one of the reasons i absolutely loved rose musk back in the day was because it was something that no one else seemed to wear. [probably why it was discontinued.] after playing around with a few, my signature has become guerlain mitsouko. [oak moss again!] but that doesn't mean that i wear it every single day. some people do have a "one and only" fragrance, which is fine, but i find that, at different times of year, there are different things that just feel right. in spring, lighter, greener scents work really well [i love l'artisan parfumeur coeur de vetiver sacre and fou d'absinthe, both of which i picked up in a gift set of men's fragrances]. in summer, i adore the playful, zesty notes of tom ford neroli portofino, or, for feeling sexy on a sultry summer night, frederic malle carnal flower. [dom's reaction the first time i wore this was "i can smell the carnal."] autumn is when i bust out the tuscan leather and aramis, because they feel so at home with the scent of leaves and smoke that permeate the air. and in winter, i have a special place in my heart of the armani privé unisex perfume bois d'encens. [mr. armani apparently designed it to evoke the memories of attending church with his mother in italy as a child, and boy, did he succeed. it really does smell like aged wooden pews and sacral incense. and it totally smells better on me, dom.]
i'm sharing and linking those, so that you can see that there's quite a variety i shuffle through during the year. you can certainly see where some of them are linked [saffron, oak moss, and, weirdly enough, raspberry all crop up a lot], while others [neroli portofino] are outliers that just happen to work. nevertheless, despite all the scents i like to rotate, i'm willing to bet that if people close to me were to catch a whiff of mitsouko, they'd check to see if i were nearby. and that would work for you too. you don't have to wear your favourite every day for it to be your signature. there may be whole seasons when your preferred perfume seems out of place. [much though i adore it, tuscan leather is the olfactory equivalent of a heavy blanket in summer heat.] play around with things. maybe there's a scent you like better when it rains, or when you're in the city/ country.
so that's about everything that i've learned on the subject of perfume. it's not much, but i figure it might be a little helpful. feel free to share your own personal adventures in smell.