Perfume 101: 200 posts

Here you can find how to guides to selecting, testing and enjoying scents. Also includes are the lists of our top favorite perfumes for different occasions and articles covering all range of topics related to fragrance. If you’re curious to step inside a perfume lab (or even become an industry professional), this group of essays will be of interest.

Winter Lists : 5 Books and 2 Perfumes

There is nothing especially winter-like about my list of books (and perfumes). It’s mainly about enjoyment, with a dose of something high-spirited. Some may call it escapism, but I see it as a way to recharge and tune out the world long enough for me to find my balance and plunge back into the routine. Moreover, high-spirited, entertaining and fun, whether in literature, art or perfume, can assume many different forms. Here is my take.

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Jeffrey Steingarten The Man Who Ate Everything

“Whenever I have nothing better to do, I roast a chicken,” writes Jeffrey Steingarten. The food critic at Vogue magazine since 1989, Steingarten is also the author of two of my favorite books about cooking and eating, The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must’ve Been Something I Ate. Steingarten is witty, irreverent and passionate, an irresistible combination. His essays are full of interesting tidbits and recipes, but the main reason I enjoy them is because of Steingarten’s dry sense of humor. I don’t know how many times I’ve read “Kyoto Cuisine,” but the scene in which he tries to pry off the lid from a bowl of soup leaves me laughing out loud every single time. In the same essay, he also describes the exquisite flavors of Japanese cuisine, reminding his reader that as a bumbling tourist he may have missed many nuances. With Steingarten you can visit the Nishikidori market in Kyoto, run a scientific test of ketchups, grill sardines with Marcella Hazan in Venice, perfect fries, or try cooking from the back of the box.

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Cartier L’Envol : Perfume Review

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Despite dire prognoses that perfumery is dying and that “there is nothing good anymore”, this year brought a number of fragrances I was happy to discover, namely, Azzedine Alaia, Galop d’Hermès and L‘Envol de Cartier. I point out these three perfumes in particular, because I not only liked them, I wore them so much that they now can be called staples. That all three are easily available from the department store is a bonus point. I’ve reviewed Alaia and Galop here, while my discussion of L’Envol de Cartier appears in my FT column, Fragrance Inspired by Flight.

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“The idea of a fragrance inspired by flight has two iconic precedents, both from the 1930s. Caron’s marvellous orange chypre En Avion was dedicated to the first women pilots such as Hélène Boucher and Amelia Earhart, while Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit paid homage to the writer and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. These are fitting associations because flight is key to understanding fragrance – perfume takes off in the air the moment the liquid touches the skin. Perfumers control the effects of their compositions by using materials of different volatilities – citrus and green notes soar in an instant; musks and woods are slower to become airborne.

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ELLE Portraits : Perfume, Writing and Dance

Elle Belgium has an article about my work, writing and perfume–and ballet–in its November issue. Journalist Grete Simkuté visited me in my Brussels’ studio and home and the result is her article “Message in a Bottle,” p. 112-116.

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Grete and I talked about why perfume was able to sway this political scientist to leave academia and join the lab. Fragrance is about things that smell good, but at its core, it’s also about science, fashion, art, and changing trends in society. It’s not a coincidence that some of the most interesting junctures in perfume history were accompanied by breakthrough developments in chemistry and experiments in art and couture.

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10 Virtues of Incense

Incense is the most democratic of all scent enjoyments, writes Kiyoko Morita in her short but comprehensive work titled The Book of Incense: Enjoying the Traditional Art of Japanese Scents. While distilling roses or gathering ambergris was as expensive in antiquity as it is now, blending spices and aromatic woods was much more accessible even to those with small budgets. Certainly, incense made with the finest grades of agarwood can cost its weight in gold, but even the inexpensive varieties are excellent and comparable to the best perfumes in terms of complexity, elegance and balance.

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Although incense for most European and American scent lovers is associated with the heavy sweetness of Indian nag champa, the world of combustible aromatics and their artisans is vast and diverse. My personal favorites come from Japan, and instead of sweetness, they place their accents on licorice and moss like notes. Sandalwood or various types of cedar provide the woody backdrop, and the rest is up to the blender’s imagination and your tastes. You can find Japanese incense with floral motifs, intertwining violets with woods, or edging towards mellow spices and ambers. Shoyeido is one of the most readily accessible Japanese brands in the US, and their website offers lots of choice (Autumn Leaves is especially recommended).

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Explaining Oud and Middle Eastern Perfume Trends

I get lots of requests to talk about perfume trends–what themes are promising to remain popular, why white florals are perennial favorites, what we might see in the upcoming season, and other questions along these lines. Answering them is a bit like reading a crystal ball, and some marketing agencies earn a nice profit doing just that. On the other hand, what people wear in different countries and why they enjoy what they do is something I find fascinating. This is the topic of my recent FT column, Perfumes with Middle Eastern panache. Based on my travels and interviews, the article explains why fragrance is such an integral part of Middle Eastern culture and how European perfume houses are taking note of it.

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Latest Comments

  • Tijana in Top 10 Perfumes for Reading by Candlelight: Hi Notturno7 – I am Serbian by background so chances are we do! 😀 Small world, thank you for your lovely words, happy to hear we share the same passion… January 21, 2017 at 5:52am

  • Notturno7 in Top 10 Perfumes for Reading by Candlelight: Hi Tijana, I love your pairings for both and I can see why that nostalgic sweetness and ‘kindness’ of L’ Heure Bleue could match Hadley. There’s a gentle sadness and… January 21, 2017 at 5:32am

  • Mia in Recommend Me a Perfume : January 2017: Hi Joy! I recommend you the same scent as Cas above, Molinard Habanita. It answers to at least your sandalwood, nutmeg, vanilla, amber and vetiver cravings – all in the… January 21, 2017 at 3:45am

  • Jacquie in Yves Saint Laurent Opium (New) : Perfume Review: I LOVE Obsession! Both vintage and new, once that initial sharp green blast dried off….it was my ultimate scent back in the late 80s and early 90s. I had Opium… January 21, 2017 at 3:03am

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