Scents that don’t attract

Not all fashion is designed to attract. Maybe you’re making a statement, trying to blend in, or simply maximising comfort.

The difference in style between Billie Holiday and Billie Eilish, Jane Fonda and Jane Goodall, John Wayne and John Boyega, Jamie Oliver and Jamie Lee Curtis, make it clear that the reasons we have for personal style vary tremendously.

Many people consider perfume to be purely a tool of seduction. But if we thought of fashion like that, imagine how garish and uninspiring the world would be.

Wear something purely for yourself and see how it makes you feel.

Forcing memories

Intentionally or accidentally, do you wear a particular fragrance for a specific place or person?

I like to stick to one perfume when on a holiday so when I pick it up in the months and years afterwards it brings back memories in a strangely automatic way.

But nothing is the same as the unknown or forgotten perfume of another person, or the specific blend of scents that make up the air of a particular corner of a particular city. (The pollution-laden scent of Kathmandu Airport excites the child in me thanks to a few formative years in the city a lifetime ago.)

Isn’t the magic of the past the fact that we can never relive it, but can still grasp onto the hope that occasionally something will remind us of it for a fleeting moment?

Maybe I should stop trying so hard to force scent memories.

Boring cuisine

Your senses of taste and smell are so intricately tied together that a scent can make you salivate, while your favourite dish can taste bland with a blocked nose.

If you’ve been to my home, you’d know I love to add ingredients not just for your tongue but for your nose. An extra dash of cardamom atop a curry, a pink pepper and vodka tincture sprayed before serving a sorbet, or a steaming espresso served alongside a dish can all make a homemade meal extra special.

What’s your favourite food smell?

Picasso’s matchstick

Are an artist’s materials more important than the hand guiding the brush?

In perfumery, much has been said over the decades about quality (and expense) of raw materials – tuberose, orris, oud, and the like – but the artists behind these creations still don’t receive half the recognition of their fine art equivalents. Imagine a gallery where plaques detailed pigments, binders, and varnishes were praised without mention of artists.

Perhaps as the result of decades of perfume advertising, we forget that the mastery of a perfumer is what makes a fragrance special.

Would you prefer the creation of a toddler with a thousand-dollar paint collection, or a Picasso done with a burnt matchstick?

Most days I’m a fragrance nudist

I heard someone years ago say they feel naked leaving the house without perfume on. If that’s how it works, then most days I’m a fragrance nudist.

For the company I work at (a perfume distributor), complimenting or guessing each other’s scent choices is something of a ritual. So not wearing perfume when I walk through the door is a little peculiar.

But I have a good reason for it: I smell so many fragrances every day, including testing them on skin, that interference from whatever I decided to spray that morning could affect my sense of smell (not to mention take up the limited real estate I have on my arms!).

I always wear perfume on weekends, except if I’m in nature and want to immerse myself in the subtleties of the natural environment.

I wonder if nudists wear perfume…

A home perfume gallery

Some people collect fragrances for their artistic merit, and instead of wearing them spray them occasionally in solitude or for guests as a way to ‘display’ these ephemeral works like paintings in time and space.

I have a few in my collection that I love but rarely wear: Guerlain’s Jicky and Hermès’ Épice Marine for the memories they hold, Bond No. 9’s I❤️NY for its weird candied chestnut note, Amouage’s Figment Man for its realistic petrichor (the dusty smell of first rain after dry weather).

Think of perfume like art for a moment – just because someone loves Andy Warhol doesn’t mean a print of Marilyn Diptych would suit their mid-century modern dining room. Just the same, a big, extroverted icon like Calvin Klein’s Obsession or Mugler’s Angel probably doesn’t suit someone with a conservative fashion sense.

It can be nice to think of yourself as a perfume gallerist, curating a collection of diverse and beautiful creations. But if you don’t wear your fragrances at least occasionally, you may find yourself becoming a perfume archivist.

So I started a blog…

Why is finding a fragrance that you like so difficult?

My goal here is to help people navigate the labyrinth of the fragrance world, whether it be choosing fragrances for yourself, learning about how they’re made, scent psychology, or other parts of the industry. It’s an unfortunate truth, but like with any product, much of the information available on fragrances is essentially just marketing masquerading as science. Having spent a few years digging deep into this material and learning a lot through experimentation, formulation, and external research, I’ve gained a solid understanding of the truths behind many of these messages.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve had an interest in scent, and have always been one to take an inquisitive sniff before digging into a meal or buying a book (there was a time when I could approximate the age of old books by smell alone). For the first time in my life, I can say that I have found an industry that fascinates me in its entirety – primarily the perfumery part, but also marketing, chemistry, business, history, legislation, and everything else.

I wish that others thought about smell more, because it’s such a wonderful, ephemeral way to appreciate the world around us (after all, very few people can imagine a smell in their mind). It’s also a vital part of emotional memory. I’m sure most of you can remember times when you smelled something that took you right back to a formative childhood memory with a jolting force that none of your other senses ever has.

It’s my goal to help you to choose your fragrances based on style, science, psychology, and anything else that might be relevant. I’ll do my best to look beyond the marketing, and help you appreciate fragrances for what they truly are – liquid emotion.

We’ll be exploring some big, often subjective, questions such as:

  • What’s the difference between a $50 bottle of perfume and a $500 one (or a $5 can of deodorant, for that matter)?
  • Why do some fragrances smell better on other people than they do on me?
  • What’s the difference between masculine and feminine fragrances?
  • What goes into a bottle of perfume?
  • Why are fragrance ads so confusing?
  • What smells are most attractive?
  • What scent should I wear to work?
  • What are top, middle, and base notes?
  • Are natural fragrances better than synthetic or combination ones?
  • How should I store bottles?
  • What is the point of wearing fragrances?
  • What’s the difference between eau de cologne, eau de toilette, eau de parfum, etc.?
  • How should I apply fragrance?
  • How does the sense of smell work?
  • Why are fragrances so expensive? And how much do they cost to make?
  • How do I make my fragrances last all day?
  • Why do most celebrities seem to have fragrances? Are they all closet perfumers?
  • How do perfumers create new fragrances? What is a perfumer?
  • What brands make the best fragrances?

I’ll also be using this blog to organise my thoughts and fragrant discoveries, share reviews and comparisons, publish interviews with people in the industry, and generally just write things I’d want to read myself. The aim is to publish something new every week – usually an article, but sometimes a gallery or video. I look forward to this exciting journey, leading to a career somewhere in the fragrance industry here in Australia or abroad.

If you’ve got other questions you’d like answered, comment below or send me an email.