As some of you may know I have an interest in perfume and fragrance. So with the Christmas gifting season just behind us I got to thinking about how many of us may have received a little bottle of scent as a gift in our stocking… quite a few I am thinking. With this in mind I got to wondering – how many of us actually know how to wear, or even where to wear, our fragrances. We have all been seduced by the beautiful leading lady in a movie as she delicately tips up her perfume bottle and dabs it seductively behind her ears, but is this really where we should be putting it?
So with a little help from my friends at Perfume Shrine here here are some suggestions that I think many of you will find interesting, and hopefully help to explode a few myths along the way…
Let's start with the most common myth – that perfume smells best on pulse points, specifically the wrists and behind the ears. Though it's a nice spot to bring up to your nose gingerly, you might be doing yourself a disservice. According to renowed perfumer Jean Claude Ellena (current in-house perfumer for Hermès) the pH of the skin on the inside of the wrists can be a bit acidic or sour. Additionally, wrists are the places we often wear a wristwatch, bracelets or other jewellery and use to rest our hand on a mouse pad/handrest. These are materials which can also influence the scent of your perfume. A metallic watch or bracelet interacts subtly, while a leather band lends its own inherent aroma to the mix (sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way). Not to mention that in the case of a mouse pad the transfering of different perfumes ends up in a haphazard mix-up rather than a deliberate olfactory collage.
A better area to use, if you want to be able to lift up your fragranced body part to your nose at any given time to enjoy, is the upper hand or upper forearm. Not only are these areas with a more consistent Ph acidity with the rest of your body, giving you a truer picture, the existence of slight fuzz (or actual hair for the gents) aids the projection of the fragrance to those around, prolongs its lasting power and aids its wake (what the French call "sillage").
Behind the ear, as I mentioned earlier, is a rather bad place for perfume too even if it is very evocative, because at the back of the ears there are glands which produce an oily-smelling substance which distorts your posh perfume. You can judge just how much your own glands produce by rubbing a wet towel behind that spot and sniffing (or giving a long sniff at the sidebands of your spectacles/sunglasses). Heavy consumers of dairy products will notice a curdled milk scent. Those who eat a lot of spice will have a production of sulphurous by-products which can make their fragrance smell rotten, heavy or sour. The best practice is to forsake behind the ears application for the front of the neck (assuming you don't wear neck jewellery,especially pearls which get tarnished by perfumes, Honora fans take note!). Applying to the front of the neck also aids the trailing of your fragrance during social greetings, as the scent rises uniformly when hugging or being given kisses on the cheeks.
Spraying a cloud in front of you and then walking through the scent mist to get just the right amount is a technique which began by the launch of Aromatics Elixir by Clinique in 1971. It is rather wasteful so best used for anything that has a projection and trail as big as a house, so it's perfect for example, for Angel and the like if you're wary of offending but still want to wear such a powerhouse.
Another common myth says you're not supposed to spray on your clothes because that way perfume doesn't get the chance to interact with your skin. Though it is a wonderful, romantic notion, giving every woman the idea that her fragrance is hers alone, because magically the scent is different in accordance with one's skin. However, this is a marketing technique that was specifically conceived for Chanel No.5. To make the iconic Chanel perfume regain a bit of its individual cachet after the mass popularisation of it, following its exhibition in the army shelves market during the 1950s.
The idea of not wearing perfume on your clothing was a marketing plan devised to make No.5 not lose its sense of being a precious commodity even though it had become a bit too accessible. (This was a concern after the infamous days of American GIs photographed standing in a long line to claim a bottle of the classic perfume at the Parisian boutique during Nazi-occupied France). The plan worked – the marketing line was added even into commercials well into the 1970s. Most contemporary fragrances -excluding all-naturals artisanal perfumes and a few with a particularly high ratio of natural ingredients in them- small exactly the same on most skins. Think about it; this is why we're so quick to recognise their trail on a stranger on the street or across the cinema!
Therefore, unless we're talking vividly coloured juice (such as Serge Lutens Sarassins which is deep purple and stains like ink would), you're quite safe with spraying your clothes (apart from silks). If in doubt, a small secret patch test on an inside corner will convince you. Perfume is retained best on cloth, especially natural fibers (linen, cotton, wool) and rich aroma materials such as vanilla, amber, resins and balsams of the oriental & floriental family (hence the concept of "cashmere wrap fragrances" or "scents on a wool scarf").One especially neat idea is spraying the flanks of your body, extra handy when wearing a jacket, as the natural movement of your arms brushing off when walking releases and re-releases fragrant molecules as you go through your day.
Yet another nice spot is under the jacket lapels, or spraying a handerchief and tucking it in your breast pocket. Spraying your clothes also presents the advantage of extending the perfume progression's arc, making the notes appear in slow motion; especially nice with fragrances with complex bouquets and full-bodied character in which you want to savour every phase.
Hair is a particularly good spot for perfume. Try it by spraying your hair brush or doing a quick spritz/dab on the nape, letting hair pick up the scent and release it with every move of your head.
Pop perfume lore handed down by sales assistants tells not to rub your wrists together when you apply perfume "because you'll crush its molecules". Nothing could be further from the truth! Molecules are not that sensitive to physics, otherwise the time-space continuum would have been shattered long ago. The most you're going to do is annihilate the top notes through friction. You're essentially losing the introduction to your personal fragrance.
Given that many modern fragrances are specifically conceived to display a particularly attractive overture so as to catch the attention of potential consumers, it's a shame missing it! On the other hand, this is a quick & practical way to judge the "heart notes" or "core" of a fragrance (the middle stage) you're eager to get into, when pressed for time. It will give you an immediate idea of what it's about beyond the usual 30-minute window frame given for the dissipation of the top notes.
When not wanting to offend with your fragrance in an office setting or in close proximity with other people or in hot weather, you might want to consider other tricks to tone down your perfume's potency. One simple trick is to spray your calves (not the back side of the knees when it's really hot, as these naturally sweat a lot when you bend them to sit down) and let the perfume rise slowly. Since noses are stuck in the place they are, most people will get a small amount of rising perfume and not a full blast coming off the neck and decolletage.
I think that these ideas should certainly help you get the most from your fragrances this year. Don't be afraid to wear them how you want to and remember that a compliment on how you smell can make you feel incredibly special.