With perfume, as with life, a good first impression does not always guarantee a beautiful friendship. Most of us buy a fragrance based on a quick spritz and sniff from a tester bottle, making the decision within 10 minutes. Knowing this, perfume brands have been cramming all the good stuff up front, which has led to an unfortunate spate of perfumes that give it all up in the first 15 minutes: glorious, heady top notes that collapse into a mess after an hour and which you cannot seem to scrub off your wrists. Like buying a car, you really do need to take a perfume for a proper test drive. Although it lacks instant gratification, in the long run it will save you the disappointment of a sparkling, effervescent, fruity floral wilting down to a limp, anaemic fizz.
Most perfumes are in an alcohol base and are designed by perfumers to develop over time. Once sprayed, the evaporation of the alcohol helps to lift and diffuse the initial, flirty top notes we fall in love with. The heart and base notes, which are heavier molecules, evaporate at a slower rate, so you smell them at different stages as time passes. Your body heat helps with diffusion, creating more of a scent around you (what the French call sillage). So committing to a bottle after only one sniff is just wrong, particularly because a lesser-known subsection of sod’s law states that the part of a fragrance you like the least will be the one that lingers the longest.
It is also a misconception that a longer-lasting fragrance is better quality. The tenacity of a perfume mostly depends on the nature of the aroma chemicals and essences, some of which have glorious but short lives. Citrus notes, like those found in traditional colognes, are particularly brief, disappearing after the initial burst. However, modern technology and ingenious perfumers are finding ways to capture their scent for a little bit longer. Perfume house Atelier Cologne specialises in longer-lasting colognes – its recent Cédrat Enivrant smells deliciously of limes and juniper berries, but will stick around a lot longer than a gin and tonic.
If your favourite fragrance is disappointingly fleeting, try spraying it on your clothes or hair, as they hold on to scents for longer. Frédéric Malle, founder of insiders’ favourite Éditions de Parfums, advocates spraying the back of the neck. “Spraying it there takes advantage of being near your hair,” he says, “which is a fabulous fragrance diffuser.”
Conversely, there may be times when you want your fragrance to whisper rather than shout. In this case you should try the “parfum” strength of a fragrance (sometimes called “extrait de parfum”). Although parfum is the most concentrated form of perfume, with the highest ratio of fragrance oils to alcohol, it is designed to roll rather than roar off the skin, staying close to the wearer rather than populating the airspace around. Parfum is also usually dabbed onto pulse points, like the wrists or neck, rather than sprayed on with abandon. Chanel’s new Coco Noir parfum is richer and more languid than the previously released eau de parfum version of the fruity oriental scent, which has a much more assertive presence.
With the number of fragrance launches reaching silly proportions (over 1,000 a year at the current rate), it may be tempting to stick with your tried-and-trusted scent, but there is a great deal of fun to be had playing the fragrance field. If in doubt, remember to dab rather than spray and leave it to develop. Only then will you know if it really is love.
Text: Bora Kwon