I’ve been in love with perfumes ever since I laid my nose on my first bottle of Bath & Body Works body spray. There are significant eras I remember solely based on the associated perfume. During college, I was in love with Tom Ford Black Orchid and got free samples from Sephora every several months (alas, I outgrew it before I became rich enough to buy my own bottle). When I began working, my horrible boss (who nonetheless had impeccable taste in perfumes) introduced me to a sample bottle of Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, a heady gardenia perfume that haunts me to this day with its mix of seduction and professional anxiety.
I also became more aware of cruelty-free beauty during subsequent years. This meant that I no longer wanted to purchase from Frederic Malle and Tom Ford, both owned by Estée Lauder and available for sale in China, which requires animal testing. After decades of searching for the right perfume, I finally feel like I’ve gotten the hang of it, with two or three perfumes on my vanity that I won’t be embarrassed to talk about ten years down the road. This year, I also realized that not only the perfume itself, but how one approaches the whole thing might be just as important. Here are some things I learned along the way.
- Take a fragrance break. I’m not the genius who figured this trick out on my own! I found it out on French Youtuber Justine Leconte‘s video about French women and their ways of wearing perfume. Evidently, French women don’t always wear perfume (oh la la!) but take occasional breaks from all fragrance to give their nose a break. Otherwise, you become used to the fragrance and don’t end up smelling it very well, so you put more and more on… I found this to be incredibly true in my experience. After taking a break of a few weeks or more, my favorite perfume smells just as wonderful as the day I fell in love with it.
- Have an alternate perfume in your rotation. If I’m taking a fragrance break from my no.1, Pauline Rochas Le Deuxième Parfum, I also like to wear something else in the meantime. This works just as well as taking a complete break, IMO.
- Have another plan for trips. I once made the mistake of wearing my no. 1 perfume on the plane. I thought that it would keep my spirits high, since I love the scent so much… Wrong. The “heady notes of ylang ylang and sandalwood” was all together too heavy for the plane and made me feel queasy. Instead, try a fresh scent like Goest Perfumes Grand Tour to counteract the smell of jet fuel and recycled air (yuck). It has notes of sweet basil, cedar, citrus, and oakmoss.
- How to put it on: Your pulse points (behind ears, neck, inside wrists, inside elbows, and inside knees) are the best bets for a long-lasting experience. Do be aware though not to rub your wrists together! I can vouch from experience that it will destroy the scent molecules and change your perfume.
- Periodically experiment and update your fragrance wardrobe. Like haircuts, clothing, and shoes, your perfume personality and preference will change over time. I scratch my head thinking about how in love I was with Ralph Ralph Lauren eau de toilette in my early twenties or Davidoff Cool Water in my teens, but when young I really liked “fresh” watery or fruity scents that now strike me as way too hyper and synthetic. On the other hand, I hated heady, spicy scents back then that I now embrace as a “mature” 30-something woman. Sniffing Le Deuxième Parfum on my wrist right now, I know that I would have been way too young to wear this complicated beauty with confidence and authenticity ten years ago. Similarly, I’ve found powdery scents like Chanel No°5 (also not cruelty-free! I suggest finding an alternative) really off-putting for decades, but this might change when I enter my forties and fifties. You. Just. Never. Know.
- Stay away from widely available perfumes. As you can tell from above paragraph about Frederic Malle and Tom Ford, many brands are owned by beauty giants like Estée Lauder, which is definitely not cruelty-free. These include houses like Chanel, YSL, and Dior. There are some cruelty-free brands that are widely available at retailers like Sephora, but for me that makes me lose the mystery and excitement of perfume, which is half the fun. My favorite places to discover perfume are independent boutiques while traveling—unsurprisingly, Paris has some of the best perfume boutiques in the world, many of which you won’t find anywhere else.
- It’s really okay to layer your fragrances. I used to think this is too much, but it just ends up happening anyway when you shampoo your hair, put on body oil / sunscreen, and then your perfume. Experiment with what works for you: I love putting on my Olio e Osso Lustero Body Oil (bergamot lisea patchouli cedar) and then my Le Deuxième Parfum, which smells like playing barefoot by the pool and then putting on my best heels for a night out. Yum! Another favorite combination I just discovered is Goest Perfumes Lartigue + Le Deuxième Parfum. For some reason, these two scents bring out the best in each other and last longer on me than each alone. Magique!
What’s your favorite perfume tip or secret?
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Photo: Laura Chouette via Unsplash