Perfumes: Art for the nose


Why I Am Crazy About Perfumes


By Karen Chin


MY MOTHER LOVES PERFUMES. Her bedroom drawer (it evolved from a shelf area dedicated to her bottles to now a huge drawer with individual baskets for compartmentalising the different scents) is always well-stocked with various fragrances in beautiful designer bottles adorned with brands that I only recognise because of the fashion magazines I used to read like a bible.


When I was younger, during those quiet home-alone afternoons when my parents were at work, I would explore each bottle and scent. My mother used to have Chanel No.5 and I hated it! Every time she sat in the car, we would all roll down the windows a tiny bit and I kid you not, my child nose used to hurt! Must have been an adult thing since Marilyn Monroe once said that she went to bed wearing nothing else but Chanel No.5, upping its reputation.




My father also has too many bottles of perfume for one lifetime, but I wouldn’t call him a perfume-fanatic. The abundance of fragrances he has in his life has definitely got something to do with the women in his life.
My sister and I love perfumes too. Since she has a job with the sort of pay that can sustain this sort of expensive obsession, she now has her own overflowing collection which is the only difference between me and her when it comes to perfumes. I have a lot of perfumes for a broke person, having mostly hand-me-downs, cheaper brands or those I purchased on stock clearances (and eBay).


These glamorous concoctions in designer bottles called perfumes are not just products to me. It is art. Instead of enjoying the sights or sounds of paintings or music – this is art of the olfactory; beauty, self-expression and creativity through scents.


Why I Wear Perfume


Contrary to popular belief, perfumes are not for masking body odour or because you stink. If you smell bad, go for deodorant.


Perfumes, to me are like your final accessory before you leave the house. I would pick a scent appropriate to the situation I would be putting myself in – who I will meet, where I will go, what I will be doing. My perfume symbolises the image I want to portray, influences how I feel and how I want to make others feel. I have certain perfumes for certain looks; a floral perfume to match the nice feminine style I’m going for that day, or a more powerful, strong scent if I were wearing a more androgynous style. On more creative days, I would dress really girly and wear manly perfume or wear a quirky scent with a quirky outfit.


Sometimes it is just about having a signature scent – whenever someone smells that perfume, they think of you. It becomes a scent that is exclusively you.




Back To Basics


It is cool to know what perfumes are made of and understand the basics, for example, the differences between eau de toilette and eau de parfum. The art of making perfumes is extremely old and is believed to have started in Egypt. Ever since its existence, perfumes have always been tagged with the status of luxury.


Perfumes are basically made of aromatic compounds (perfume oils, essences, etc. which can be natural or synthetic) and solvents (usually alcohol and sometimes water, too). Fake or cheap perfumes usually cut back on aromatic compounds or replace the solvents to cheaper alternatives which make the perfume smell bad or not last at all.


Eau de toilette (EDT) usually contains about 10% of aromatic compounds and the rest solvent. Depending on the different perfume houses, some EDTs have a higher percentage of aromatic compounds compared to others, depending on their brand policy and preferences.


EDTs are usually suitable for day wear, and some of you may have noticed that some perfumes have two versions of itself, the EDT and the EDP. On the same note, the EDP (eau de parfum) would have a higher percentage of aromatic compounds, typically making up about 15% of the perfume, and the rest, solvent. Just to add on a little more to the education, perfume mist have about 5% aromatic compounds and the solvent usually non-alcohol.


Usually, one would have to worry about this only if a scent is too strong or too light, and adjust accordingly. The best way to know for sure is to test-run the perfume, which brings me to my next topic.




How to Buy Perfume


Perfumes are divided into three notes. If you are serious about purchasing perfumes from a shop, don’t rush. First of all, research.


When you are at the shop, have little sniffs from the bottles, if you think it smells good, have the sales person write the name of the perfume on a strip of tester paper and spray. Do this for a few scents until you find two you like. In between, you can smell some coffee beans provided to neutralise your sense of smell and sniffing power. Once you have narrowed down to your two favourite scents, get them to spray some on each wrist respectively.


Perfumes react differently to different skins. Something that smells good on someone else may not smell good on you. Something that smells good from the bottle or on the tester strip may not smell good once applied to your skin. Your body chemistry can modify the scent.


Do not rub the perfume on your skin, you are allowed to dab to allow the alcohol to evaporate faster. The first scent you smell is the components of the top note or opening note. You should wait for about half an hour to access the perfume on whether it still smells good, whether it lasts on your skin (longevity), whether it is an intimate perfume that stays close to your skin or something that people can smell from a ‘mile’ away (sillage) and whether you still do like it or not after a while.


If a scent doesn’t last on you, you may ask if they have an EDP version of the same scent. If not, it is best to continue searching for a scent that will last on you. Having a good knowledge on perfume notes will help you hunt down other perfumes with similar notes to find something you would like.




Rule of Thumb


It is not generally known that you should have different perfumes for different times of the day.


Day perfumes are generally lighter or gentler on the nose. There are two reasons for this. First of all, generally people are at work in the daytime. At the workplace, it is always better to not overwhelm the people around you with a strong perfume.


Another reason is that in the day time, it is usually warmer. Higher body temperature amplifies scents. That is why with ‘summer’ edition perfumes, designers usually lighten up the scent by either making it in an EDT form if previously was EDP or add on some components that soften the original scents.


Night perfumes are the ones that are stronger or provocative in scent. Similarly, designers have come up with ‘night’ versions of their favourite scents, making it into EDPs or adding on stronger scents like musk or leather.


It still depends though. If you are having a nice family dinner at a relative’s house filled with old people and children, it is still preferable to wear a light and clean scent. If you are headed to a pub or a function, go for a stronger scent, but still be careful not to over apply.


I have a nice technique of applying strong perfumes: instead of directly spritzing it onto your pulse points, spray it into the air once or twice and walk through the mist. You can achieve a nice thin layer of scent spread out nicely all over yourself.




Types of Scents and How To Find Your Signature Scent


It is helpful to know that perfume scents come in a few categories, among them are florals, fruity, oceanic, gourmand, citrus, green, oriental, spicy, woody, etc. After exploring scents, I noticed that my preferences change very often, and I am definitely not one to have a signature scent. Most florals make me sneeze, strong gourmand and spicy scents give me migraine, and I love oceanic scents. However, I still love some florals and some gourmands.


I came really close to owning a scent, but after my third bottle, it was sadly discontinued and all those last few bottles in the world are now sold at ridiculously high prices. Another time I came close to owning a scent, I realised as I came close to finishing the second bottle that my olfactory palette had changed and it didn’t smell good anymore.


It is a huge world of perfumes out there to explore, and trust me, it is so fun to try and find a scent that lifts your spirits and make you feel good. After all, it is scientifically proven that scents trigger memories, so find that happiness in a bottle.


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