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Fragrant Findings

Picking a new scent? With the right deliberation and tools, your scent selection can be very rewarding…
 
By Adriana Ermter
 
Does this scene sound familiar? You’ve decided you want a new fragrance to wear, possibly even as your signature eau. You booked time in your crazed schedule to hit the mall, drove there and, after 20 minutes of circling around the packed lot, you found a spot, parked and walked inside. Now you’re standing in the middle of the beauty and grooming section surrounded by what looks like at least 50 shiny white counters covered in hundreds of bottles of perfume. And you’re supposed to pick just one?
 
You’d think that having all those people offering to spritz you with a sample scent or giving you the little stick of paper they call a blotter to smell would help with your purchasing decision…but it doesn’t. There are too many options, too many salespeople with too many opinions and too many smells to breathe in. With each season bringing more than 100 new bottles to drugstore shelves, Sephora’s and Ulta’s walls, and department store countertops – all in an industry that Future Market Insights predicts will reach a value of over US$70 billion by the end of 2026 – the scent overload can be, well, overwhelming.
 
Know who you are
Michael Edwards, publisher of the global perfume database Fragrances of the World, and the man who’s been referred to as “the perfume expert’s expert” by industry bigwigs since 1983, knows that scent selection requires a little more deliberation than playing eeny meeny miny moe. He recommends breaking your decision-making into three categories: knowing what aromas you naturally gravitate to (be it baked goods, the woodsy outdoors, a hint of the tropics, or barely-there fresh and clean scents); choosing a scent within this go-to zone that’s easy to wear; and making sure that, once on your skin, it exudes nothing less than the olfactory sensation that you are special.
 
Justin C. Welch, director of marketing of fine fragrances for Firmenich in New York City, agrees. When it comes to buying your next fragrance, ask yourself, “How are you living your life?” Welch suggests. “What brings you happiness? What are your wants and needs? Does the fragrance fit your life and make you feel special?” Figure that out and you can move on to the process of elimination and selection.
 
Start online
Categorically speaking, fragrance is broken down into scent groups shared by both men and women. While perfumers have been using and adding to these groupings for decades, Edwards breaks them down into what he calls the “Fragrance Wheel,” featuring the 14 dominant fragrance families (see “Fragrant Families” for a full description). “It explains the relationship between innate fragrance preferences and the fragrance families,” says Edwards, whose wheel can be found online by Googling the words ‘fragrance wheel.’
 
It’s an ideal place to start your scent search, complete with the added bonus of never needing to leave the comfort of your own couch and laptop. Users can give Edwards’ wheel a virtual spin, read about whichever perfume family the wheel’s arrow lands on, and then, should they like the written description, check out the featured bottle of fragrance listed adjacent to it, which represents that scent category. Each highlighted bottle is one of Edwards’ personal picks.
 
If you already have a favourite eau and want a new one within the same scent family, Edwards’ site also features a search section directly below the wheel. Browsers can enter their favoured perfume’s name, click on it and then browse the subsequent listing of bottles that pop up. “It’s a unique online tool that allows individuals to match a favourite fragrance from over 30,000 fragrances in our database,” notes Edwards on his site, “so that we can recommend a new scent from a retailer’s in-stock inventory.”
 
Get a second opinion
Take note of the bottles recommended on Edwards’ site, and also write down any brand and the perfume’s names that you may see in an existing advertisement or smell on a friend – and then start digging. Instagram and top perfume blogs such as Reddit, TheWhaleandTheRose, EauMG and Eticket Insider are the best places to start. “I am a voracious reader and am constantly absorbing articles or looking at blogs and Instagrams,” says Welch. “I keep my eyes open at all points, whether on the subway, walking down the street, looking at store windows…. Pay attention to people. Look at yourself, your friends or even the kids you see on the street. Listen to what they have to say.”
 
Once you’ve determined your top two to five scents, you can hit the mall, head to the appropriate shelves or counters, and spritz a little onto your wrist. But don’t rub your wrists together, as you’ll bruise the eau and it won’t smell exactly the way it’s intended to. As well, only spray on a maximum of two scents at a time, one on each wrist. Then leave and walk around, get a coffee, and see how the juice wears on your skin. If neither of the perfumes is doing it for you, wash off the fragrances, go back and repeat. Do your due diligence and you’re sure to walk away with a winner, maybe two.
 
It’s worth the work. “Fragrance is such a special thing, as it causes people to dream,” says Welch. “People want to feel good, and fragrance helps them feel that way.”
 

GENDER-FREE FRAGRANT DEFINITIONS
 
Parfum contains the highest concentration (from 15% to 40% of fragrance), and is the longest lasting on your skin (typically six to eight hours).
Eau de Parfum has a fragrance concentration of 15% to 20% and will last approximately four to five hours.
Eau de Cologne is a much lower concentration at 2% to 4%, with a high alcohol concentration, so lasts for about two hours.
Eau Fraiche is the lowest concentration at 1% to 3% of fragrance, yet with very little alcohol, a high amount of water and a two-hour window.
Notes: These are the chemical and/or natural ingredients of the perfume, which are mix-mastered together in three layers:
Top note: what you smell when you first spray the fragrance. Typically, it’s the strongest-smelling part of the perfume.
Heart or middle note: what you smell approximately 15-20 minutes after you’ve smelled the top note. It’s the soul of the scent and will stay with you for hours.
The base note: the eau’s finale, the last lingering part of the scent.
 

FRAGRANT FAMILIES
 
While Michael Edward’s Fragrance Wheel defines 14 categories used in perfumery, some are fragments of their parents. These are the industry’s most-used families of scent:
 
Aromatic: typically an infusion of grassy-spicy notes of sage, rosemary, cumin, lavender and other plants. Try: By Kilian, Moonlight in Heaven for Women and Men, or Calvin Klein Reveal for Men.
Chypre: a blend that always contains oak moss, labdanum, patchouli and bergamot. Try: Chanel, Paris Deauville for Women and Men, or Givenchy Chypre Caresse for Women and Men.
Citrus: it grows on a tree, has a rind, and once peeled can be squeezed into a juice glass. Try: Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue for Women (also a version for Men) or Acqua di Parma Sakura Eau de Parfum for Women and Men.
Floral: just like it sounds, a big assorted bouquet of fresh flowers. Try Estée Lauder Beautiful or Yves Saint Laurent Paris.
Fruity: sweet, juicy fruits including pear, peaches, apples, cherries and berries. Try: Marc Jacobs Daisy Dream Sunshine or Ralph Lauren Red Rush for Men.
Gourmand: good enough to eat with scrumptious decadent food-based notes like caramel and pralines. Try: Prada Candy Night or Paco Rabanne Pure XS Night for Men.
Oriental: clearly not the PC family of perfume names, these are defined as spicy, opulent, sweet and warm. Try: YSL Opium or Bond No. 9 Governors Island for Women and Men.
Woods: trees, trees and more trees. Try: B Balenciaga for Women or Guerlain L’Homme Idéal L’Intense for Men.
 

 
ADRIANA ERMTER is a Toronto-based, lifestyle-magazine pro who has travelled the globe writing about must-spritz fragrances, child poverty, beauty and grooming.
 

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