How To Give Perfume as Gift–Or Not

What kind of perfume do you give as a gift? In my experience, selecting the right perfume for a gift is tricky, because guessing someone’s taste is difficult. Even if your gift recipient likes roses, there are no guarantees that the rose fragrance you’ll select will appeal to them. For this reason, I generally advise against giving perfume as a gift, unless you have the other person’s wishlist.

Scented gifts, on the other hand, are my favorite kind of presents to prepare. For instance, scented soaps, candles, incense or interesting home fragrances are always welcome. Likewise, I enjoy giving and receiving food gifts, and here the limit is your imagination–tea sets, jams, honeys, spices. My favorite recent gift was a package from my Iranian friend filled with saffron, cumin, cardamom and sweet-sour dried plums. Every time I use cardamom in my coffee or sizzle cumin in oil to top a vegetable dish, I think of her.

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Carnations, Cloves, Eugenol : A Short History

Carnation is not the trendiest of floral notes, and yet modern perfumery would be unthinkable without it–or specifically, the carnation effect. One of the principal aroma-molecules in the essence of carnation is eugenol, and its discovery was revolutionary. In 1834, eugenol was synthesized by Carl Jacob Ettling. In 1858, it was studied and named by August André Thomas Cahours, another brilliant chemist, whose contributions to organic chemistry are numerous. If you wish to know what eugenol smells like, sniff a pot of cloves. There is a reason why Ettling turned to this spice to obtain eugenol–clove essence contains up to 90% eugenol, depending on the variety.

Eugenol was and remains important not only in perfumery, but also in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, the food industry, and above all, dentistry. It’s known as an effective pain reliever, and to this day, it’s mixed into zinc-oxide-rosin cements for certain types of fillings. For this reason, those who have had the misfortune of experiencing root canal work associate the scent of cloves and carnations with the dentist’s office.

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6 Luminous Musk Perfumes

Why should summer be all about colognes and fresh florals? Why not don a plush tuberose or a bittersweet chypre? Why not explore how our dark and glamorous favorites behave when the weather grows warmer and days longer? None of the “perfume wearing rules” annoy me more than the set-in-stone seasonal suggestions. I suspect that most of them are designed to make people buy more product, rather than enjoy what they already have. The only rule in perfume is to wear what smells good to you (in quantities appropriate for the occasion, of course). A new season is a new chance to experiment, and there is nothing better than experimenting with your favorites and discovering new facets in them.

Musk perfumes, for instance, are among the most versatile. They can be modulated by the type of application. They linger. They range from heavy and warm to radiant and bright. With this in mind here is my list of summer musks–although I wear them all year round.

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How to Smell Peaches in Guerlain Mitsouko

When I wrote my article about lactones, I explained that Guerlain Mitsouko was one of the first perfumes to use these compounds redolent of peach skin and cream. Many of you then commented that you found it difficult to detect lactones in Mitsouko. This difficulty is not surprising, since the peach skin note in Mitsouko is not intended to be a dominant one. Instead, it offsets the darkness of moss and woods and harmonizes the warm drydown and the floral heart of the perfume.

In general, none of the Guerlain classics are easy to take apart note by note; this is not like modern niche perfumery where you can tell the percentage of Iso E Super at first sniff. The idea of the grand parfums like Mitsouko wasn’t to recreate a smell of peach or moss, but to evoke a mood, to tell a story and to tease the senses. I like the streamlined modern perfumes for other reasons, but if I want baroque complexity, Guerlain classics are my first port of call.

Like other perfumers, I spent months of my training recreating important classics without recourse to gas chromatography–with only my nose to guide me. So here I propose a technique that will help you identify the peach note in Mitsouko.

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Recommend Me a Perfume : June 2020

Our “Recommend Me a Perfume” thread is open this week. You can use this space to find perfume recommendations, to share your discoveries and favorite scents, and to ask any questions about scents, aromas and flavors.

How does it work: 1. Please post your requests or questions as comments here. You can also use this space to ask any fragrance related questions. To receive recommendations that are better tailored to your tastes, you can include details on what you like and don’t like, your signature perfumes, and your budget. And please let us know what you end up sampling. 2. Then please check the thread to see if there are other requests you can answer. Your responses are really valuable for navigating the big and sometimes confusing world of perfume, so let’s help each other!

To make this thread easier to read, when you reply to someone, please click on the blue “reply” link under their comment.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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Latest Comments

  • Peter in How To Give Perfume as Gift–Or Not: Wow Rakasa! You folks are amazing. What a great way to keep learning. I just looked up Joaquin Sorrolla, an artist that I’m not familiar with. I will enjoy discovering… July 11, 2020 at 7:33pm

  • Rakasa in How To Give Perfume as Gift–Or Not: Yes, absolutely, Peter. Food recipe and cultural overview books/pamphlets come often, but over time we all began to add authored short stories/lists. I loved the one about that included history… July 11, 2020 at 2:16pm

  • Aurora in How To Give Perfume as Gift–Or Not: I love your personal story Victoria, I hope it didn’t discourage it from ever giving perfume to other people. However, I agree it’s a little bit difficult but some colognes… July 11, 2020 at 12:10pm

  • Tami in How To Give Perfume as Gift–Or Not: I think so, too! A simple but thoughtful gift that just takes a bit of forethought. July 11, 2020 at 12:08pm

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