Fieldnotes ~ Sisley Eau de Campagne

Choosing your Signature Scent


I adore perfume and I always have. By the time that I was 17, I'd amassed a collection of such enormous proportions that I needed a separate shelf in my bathroom closet for all of the bottles.    When I began to write, it came as no surprise that I started hanging out on perfume blogs, writing for them and eventually becoming Senior Editor of The Perfume Magazine;  a beautiful online magazine that I still write for today. Because of this I quite frequently get requests to do one of my favorite things which is to help someone pick a signature fragrance for themselves.  It's amazing to me still how a new fragrance can delight and enhance your mood in so many unexpected ways. What's always surprising to me though is how difficult it is for most people to do this. I think that this is because  glossy  pictures in magazines do their job so well. We've all been there looking at the beautiful woman draped in an evening gown with a beautiful man looking hungrily after her and proclaiming her his "Obsession". Then we buy it , wear it and wonder why it doesn't make us feel the way that we thought that it would. Perfume is not one size fits all. We each have a different body chemistry, but more importantly we all have a different emotional chemistry,a fragrance template which I can discover fairly easily when working with a client by asking them a series of questions and then taking them shopping.  I really love my job!

For example, there are some types of fragrances that I always love, regardless of how many different variations of them appear over the years. Yves St. Laurent's fairly irrepressible scent "Paris" is one of them and Christian Dior's classic perfume "Diorissimo" and Robert Piguet's "Fracas" are the others. All  three of these perfumes are warm sunny fragrances filled with fleshy white flowers, woods, enhanced with a bit of spice and herbal notes. All three are very appropriate fragrances for a lot of different occasions, whether they be a wedding or an afternoon tea, or even a casual morning strolling down 5th Avenue or along a sunny California beach with my husband. All three of these perfumes  can be worn with cashmere and pearls or a very bohemian bit of velvet, denim or lace. None of them are officious or overbearing, just fun and sweet enough to be extraordinarily flirtatious and yet without pretense. These scents completely fit my personal fragrance profile, but I had to sniff through quite a lot of different perfumes to discover them which of course was very pleasurable!  I'm a woman who loves to have fun, but wants to keep it simple. My idea of a perfect date with my husband is a tandem bike ride along the towpath in the Cuyahoga valley in the spring when the wild violets are blooming. Bring a picnic, a jam-box  wireless speaker and the iPhone with my favorite Debussy in the mix and I'm one very happy wife. I love wonderful fresh food and gorgeous things but I don't want to feel uncomfortable at the table so instead of a really fancy restaurant I'd always prefer a convivial bistro atmosphere with great wine, flowers and plenty of good conversation. I'd much rather sit on the lawn with a picnic at Blossom than the pavilion. My favorite colors are earthy herbal greens, brownish pinks, soft lavenders and cream mixed with a splash of warm corals and turquoise. If I had to choose a favorite painter it would be a toss-up between Monet and Gauguin. I'm completely captivated by the seasons of spring and autumn . I think that it's easy to see how the three fragrances that I've mentioned can fit within this profile and because I've discovered what really works for me, I've stopped making expensive mistakes based upon a visual response to a bottle or an advertisement.  

Know that when you are shopping for a new perfume, the two biggest mistakes that most people will make is to pay attention to the cost of the perfume and what we call the fragrance pyramid, which is the list of ingredients from the opening notes, through the middle or "the heart" and then on to the base.  Most of the sales associates who sell perfume rely on the pyramids  too much . It's a bit like reading a recipe but not allowing for alchemy…that bit of magic that happens when the scent meets the skin or a glorious white truffle meets the skill of a very fine chef! When I take a client scent shopping, we spend a lot of time talking about all of the things that I've mentioned and then we begin; first by smelling certain families of fragrance on the paper sticks so I can see their subtle (or sometimes not so subtle!) responses and then we begin to slowly narrow it down, eventually getting to one or two choices that bring smiles and a resounding " Oh my god..that's exactly what I wanted and I wouldn't have chosen this on my own! " It's akin to placing your hair in the hands of a very skilled colorist who looks at your coloring, lifestyle and the way that you dress and then gives you a result that everyone thinks is your natural color! You don't notice that you're wearing perfume and no one else should either. The right scent enhances  and it should whisper  "come hither"  but not scream "HEY LOOK AT ME !"  A perfumes silage or more simply put, the trail that a too strong or completely wrong scent leaves in its wake is more than a little unnerving because our sense of smell is the most primal way that we know someone. It's instantaneous without you being truly aware of it. We make snap decisions about someone without knowing it and this is usually why.

With that thought in mind, I'd encourage you to notice how a fragrance makes you feel and the descriptives that come into your mind when you smell it. One of the most famous and notorious perfumes of the 80's "Opium" by Yves St. Laurent smelled absolutely wonderful on me at the time and now it has no place in my life because I'm just not that woman anymore. We outgrow fragrance, just like we outgrow certain friends or fashions. Perfume is one of the most  intimate of  fashion statements and it goes without saying that it should please you personally and if it doesn't provoke an inner giggle every time you put it on then give it a good home with someone else who will love it. If you wear a fragrance for the sake of simply wearing the newest or most expensive you're cheating yourself of one of life's loveliest experiences. Expensive doesn't always equal beautiful. One of my springtime "go tos" is a lovely little twenty dollar bottle of perfume by Pacifica; a soliflore (single flower) called "French Lilac".  It smells just like an old fashioned bouquet of lilacs. I love it and because it is so reasonably priced I can blow through the bottle with frivolous abandon. It totally fits my profile. 

You'll know when you've gotten it right because the scent will seem to become almost  a part of you. It will blend beautifully with your energy and you will wear it , instead of allowing it to wear you. Please note that the same goes for home scents and often when  I'm helping someone select a perfume, we choose the home fragrances, candles and reed diffusers that can compliment  the perfume that we end up with. I have many candles around my house that pull out different components of the perfumes that I love so that I always have a symphony of fragrance, almost like a beautifully layered wardrobe where many pieces compliment each other when worn together in many different ways. Herbal scents in the kitchen, tuberose and jasmine in the bathroom, gardenia and lily in the bedrooms and a tobacco and vanillin scent in the living room.  They blend beautifully without being overbearing. 

So don't be nervous and instead have fun selecting a fragrance that's just right for you, making sure to take plenty of time to sniff outside of the box because that's where the fun begins! When you're wearing the right perfume/s they will make sense to you and everyone around you. This is where the old dictum "To thine own self be true" should seriously come into play. There's a whole huge world of gorgeous fragrance to explore so have fun with them all, listen to your nose as well as your heart and I promise that you'll find just the right one for you! 


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