Contributor: Jackie Han
I distinctly remember the first time I smelled perfume when I was young. I was immediately transported to a field of grass along with prosperous trees in the vicinity, surrounding me. The scent immediately teleported my nose to a whole new world—beautiful sceneries hid beneath every note of the fragrance. Later I learned that that perfume was called “Terre d’Hermes”. Even now, as someone with a decent-sized fragrance collection, I still get transported to a whole new world once in a while for an amazing scent.
Olfactory memory, amongst the five human senses, is the oldest, the most refined, and the most permanent. There could always be countless sentiments around perfumes— the scent brought by the perfume will also become your "exclusive symbol", bringing a deep impression to others. I also feel the need to mention the fact that you should wear whatever fragrance you like: genders and age are not things that should restrict you from wearing a certain perfume.
In this blog, I would love to give you some insight on how to pick your first fragrance/perfume bottle, and perhaps, use it as your “signature scent”.
Eau de what?
I would like to start with the fact that perfumes come in various concentrations, as most of the perfume is actually cosmetic alcohol to ensure that our skin doesn’t get hurt from fragrance oils. The common concentration types are: Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Eau de Cologne.
Eau de Parfum (edp):
Fragrance oil concentration of 10% to 20%. The fragrance is heavy and long-lasting, but the scent will not project too much, so people may not catch a whiff from a certain distance.
Eau de Toilette (edt):
Fragrance oil concentration of 8%-10%, This is the most common concentration—it has less staying power than edp, but the projection of the scent ensures that people could smell you pretty easily.
Eau de Cologne (edc):
Oil concentration is 5%-7%. Because the fragrance content is very low, the scent doesn’t linger very long. Usually, fragrances labeled edc are citrusy and have extremely fresh scents.
Note that we say “cologne” for men’s fragrances, but that is just a verbal evolution over the years—cologne is simply a concentration.
Types of Scents
Next, I would love to talk about the many scent families/ categories of fragrances, which are roughly divided into these categories: aquatic, citrus, floral, gourmand, woody, chypre, fougere.
Due to the length of this article, I will briefly introduce the characteristics of these categories, and what I have in my collection that I could recommend to you.
This type of fragrance smells watery. In modern-day perfume, chemists use a molecule called “Calone” to elevate the marine and aquatic smell of the fragrance. This type of fragrance tends to lean towards hotter weather. An aquatic fragrance I like in my collection is “Acqua di Gio” by Georgio Armani.
This family is, as the name suggests, the fragrances mainly consisting of citrusy smells. The use of bergamot (a citrus fruit) essential oils is very commonly used in this category, and due to the volatile nature of scent molecules like limonene, the fragrances won’t last too long. A perfume I absolutely love in this category is “Orange Sanguine” by Atelier Cologne, and this fragrance smells like the truest orange juice you could imagine—go smell it, and thank me later!
This fragrance category is probably what we are most familiar with, as we generally associate flowers with perfumes. As the name suggests, these fragrances use various floral notes in their scent profile and evoke the idea of being in a garden. My recommendation in this category would be “Daisy” by Marc Jacob, it is simply a very mass-appealing floral perfume for those wanting a pleasant fragrance. A more advanced floral fragrance would be “Bloom” by Gucci.
Here comes the delicious treats! This category is generally sweet and emulates desserts and bakeries. Oftentimes, gourmands are worn in cooler weather to give off a warm and cozy atmosphere. A suggestion from me would be “Tresor” by Lancolme, which smells like caramel, or “Cloud” by Arianna Grnade, which smells like cotton candies.
These are typically more “masculine” perfumes that smell like wood or the earth. Oftentimes various wood smells are captured in these fragrances, and when combined with other notes like citrus or floral, a woody fragrance can be multifaceted and very alluring. A favourite of mine in this category would be “Terre d’Hermes” mentioned in the introduction.
Now this is a category for the more advanced fragrance enthusiast, and it emulates a mossy forest. A lot of classical perfumes in the 70s and 80s are of this category. A favourite of mine is Chanel no. 19.
The word Fougère in French means “Fern”, and this genre captures the smell of an “old barbershop” with main notes of lavender and sandalwood. This is typically the type of scent we associate with a “gentleman”. An amazing masterpiece would be “Beau de Jour” by Tom Ford.
For all you chemists out there, this website is very cool at listing out aroma molecules in perfumes that produce certain smells: https://fragranceconservatory.com/ingredient-directory
"How do I know what to buy??"
So, after reading about the different concentrations and different scent families, how do you know which perfumes to buy for yourself?
I would say first, you have to try and experience perfumes in person.
Shop the counter: there are many ways to try a particular perfume, for common designer brands, like Chanel, Dior, Hermes, Gucci, etc, you can run to the counters or cosmetic stores and try them, and see which scent you like. You could ask for samples and try them at home until a purchase as well.
For higher-end (what we call “Niche”) brands, my suggestion is to buy samples or decants. Buying a smaller-sized sample online can be a great way to experience a Niche perfume at a cheaper price. When a small sample of 1~5ml is used up, assuming you are not bored and still like its feel, you can safely acquire a larger bottle that you know you will love and enjoy!
Good luck to you guys trying to find a perfume for yourself or your friends/loved ones—wear perfumes that you love, not what others think you should/shouldn’t put on!