8 THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT FRAGRANCE
The weird and wonderful facts that ensure you nose best
1. Our sense of smell isn’t innate.
In fact, it’s linked to the emotional part of our brain. This goes back to primitive times and the need for survival. The Perfume Society’s Suzy Gibson says, “When you take a deep breath and inhale aroma molecules, they’re detected by the olfactory receptors in your nose and immediately stimulate some of the deepest, oldest parts of the brain.” Bestselling brand Memo was built on this premise; each of its captivating scents is designed to evoke a memory of places the founders have visited and loved. “Thankfully, we no longer need to detect sabre-toothed tigers,” Gibson says, “but we do still have emotional responses to everything we smell.”
2. There’s a difference between eau de toilette, cologne and parfum.
It all comes down to percentages and how strong you want your scent to be. Parfum is the most concentrated version (usually 15% or more), while eau de parfum is fresher. This is followed by eau de toilette and – finally – eau de cologne, which typically contains 2% to 5% of the essential scent. Gucci’s The Alchemist’s Garden is one of the first collections to contain a pure oil that lets you build your scent up or down as you wish.
3. A fragrance smells different on different people.
It’s only your mother who believes you’re utterly unique. Your natural aroma is determined by the same set of genes (major histocompatibility complex, MHC) as your immune system. It is part of your body chemistry, and this – amongst many factors, such as your skin type (perfume lasts longest on oilier skins), the weather, and even what you’ve eaten up to two weeks previously – affects how fragrance smells on you. “When perfumers are testing a new fragrance, they have ‘skin models’ instructed not to eat spicy foods,” Gibson says. “Or, if a perfume is for an Indian market, for example, [models] are told to eat lots of spicy foods so they can accurately test how it works.” Escentric Molecules is known for melding to the user’s natural pheromones. While the wearer can’t necessarily even smell the scent, others find it attractive. And, with two bottles sold every 30 minutes, it’s clearly working.
4. A perfume’s smell can change during the course of the day.
We all know that fragrances are made up of top, heart and base notes. But did you know these layers are based on how quickly the ingredients evaporate on skin? “Citrus notes tend to be the most fleeting, often disappearing within 20 minutes, so the heavier ingredients last the longest,” Gibson says. “And a really great fragrance should take you on an olfactory journey as it warms on your skin.” Consider the heady tones of Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Baccarat Rouge.
5. Fragrances have a shelf life.
They might look pretty on that dressing table, but direct sunlight – and heat – can turn fragrances, especially those with a high concentration of essential oils. “We recommend keeping fragrances in the box they came in, or at least in a dark, cooler part of the room, to increase the shelf life,” Gibson advises. “If the scent has gone a much darker colour, it’s a possible indication that it’s ‘turned’. If in doubt, sniff and decide.”
6. Oh, and you’re applying it wrong.
Nothing makes a perfumer shudder more than seeing someone rubbing a fragrance on their wrists. “Put simply, heat makes fragrance evaporate. So if you’re rubbing your wrists, it’s like fast-forwarding a movie – you might miss out on several stages of the perfume’s development,” Gibson says. If you want to make a fragrance last, layer it on top of a fragrant oil, such as The Alchemist’s Garden. “Spraying a scent in your hair or on a scarf will increase the life of the top notes, too, as they don’t heat up as much as skin,” she adds.
7. Gender-neutral fragrances are having their heyday.
We’re seeing scents moving away from categorisation, and fragrance houses like Hermetica opting for terms such as ‘gender fluid’ or ‘gender free’, putting the choice in the wearer’s hands. “Perfumes always used to be shared; it wasn’t until the 1920s that we saw the majority of fragrances directly classified as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’,” Gibson says. “Much later, it was the niche houses that began putting all their scents in identical bottles – generally because they couldn’t afford a different flacon for each fragrance.”
8. There are more astronauts than perfumers in the world.
A perfumer must learn over 2,000 molecules by heart before qualifying as a ‘nose’. To learn those molecules, they have to connect each one to an image or memory that’s personal to them. “They might imagine a colour or type of fabric,” Gibson says. “It could even be a piece of music or place they’ve visited, or a person they love.”
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