Perfume 101: 329 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.

On the Spice Route

I spent much of last year traveling and researching the way spices and other aromatics are grown. My pursuit took me to the clove gardens in Indonesia, cumin fields in India, and the cassia cinnamon groves in Vietnam. The word ‘spice’ contains the same root as the word ’special,’ and I wanted to discover how these unique fragrant plants are transformed into essences and used in perfumery.

The journey was full of revelations. I learned, for instance, that processing clove essence involves not the buds of the tree, the familiar cloves of mulled wine and gingerbread, but rather the stems and leaves. All parts of the clove tree contain essential oil with varying scent profiles. The leaves release sweet-smelling essence, but the one derived from the stems has a smoky, woody accent.

Inspired by these travels, I sought up spice dominated perfumes and in my recent FT magazine article, Spice-Laced Scents, I share a few favorites.

In Hermès Epice Marine (£185 for 100ml EDT), toasted cumin adds a savoury twist to the earthy vetiver and citrus cologne. The lemony cardamom (another favourite Indian spice) adds a shimmering top note, while the mellow cedarwood serves as a polished backdrop. All the while, the dark note of cumin glows seductively. To continue reading, please click here.

What are your favorite spiced fragrances?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, nutmeg with mace

Cooking by the Nose

This article appeared as Cooks, Follow Your Nose in Zester Daily in 2011. The great Marcella Hazan complimented me on it, noting that she also cooked using her nose. Unfortunately, the magazine has since been revamped and the article no longer appears online. In tribute to all of the cooks who follow their nose, I’m reprinting it here.

The best way to find a perfectly ripe tomato has little to do with its shape, color or size. It is the unmistakable scent of salty caramel that demonstrates a tomato is at its peak. While green tomatoes can be reddened with ethylene gas, furaneol, the compound that gives tomatoes their distinctive aroma, accumulates only when a fruit is allowed to fully mature on the vine. Strawberries and mangoes share the same compound and other fruits contain analogous aromatic molecules when fully ripe. But how often do cooking shows and magazines describe how produce should smell? Though we learn how to make colorful compositions on the dinner plate, when do we learn how to use our nose to explore food combinations? Understanding the role of aroma and the power of our nose is essential for eating well.

Our sense of smell comprises a comparatively large fraction of our genetic makeup. We use more than 1000 different sensory receptors to analyze a smell, each receptor with its own genetic code. The ability to distinguish subtleties among smells is enormous and was of great importance when our prehistoric ancestors relied on hunting and gathering to survive.

Though supermarkets have obviated the need for daily foraging, scent, closely linked to our sense of taste, is a cornerstone of our food enjoyment. The process of chewing food releases aromatic compounds that are detected by the olfactory receptors in the nasal passages. While we are likely to comment on how food tastes, we are making the judgment based on how it smells. Yet, our supermarkets are deodorized to the point of sterility, our produce is often hermetically sealed in plastic wrap, and our cookbooks read like IKEA design guides. Moving past visual appeal to explore other sensations associated with food opens up new horizons and leads to a richer culinary experience.

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Best of 2019 in Perfume

When it comes to  fragrances, 2019 has been a good year. There have been the usual commercial releases, but innovative launches were also numerous. I particularly liked the collection by L’Officine Universelle Buly 1803 created in collaboration with the Louvre that gave scent to some of the museum’s famous works. Carine Roitfeld’s line was likewise interesting, with a number of memorable perfumes.

As always, my list is personal and idiosyncratic. I didn’t aim to include everything, but rather the perfumes that caught my attention the most this year and the ones I wore. These are the fragrances that will accompany me into 2020. I look forward to hearing about your 2019 favorites.

Carine Roitfeld Parfums George

Carine Roitfeld Parfums was created by the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. The line includes seven unisex fragrances, AurélienGeorgeKar-WaiLawrenceOrsonSebastian and Vladimir, inspired by fictional love stories. I ended up with a travel set, which I found excellent given that the premise of the collection is travel. Each lover takes his paramour to a different city, from Paris to Hong Kong. My choice was George, effervescent but with a suave finish. I also liked Lawrence, who comes bearing jasmine garlands.

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Single Note Perfumes

Simple is rarely a compliment when applied to perfumes. Fragrances compared to symphonies or classic multi-volume novels are thought to be superior. Yet, as any perfumer knows, creating a simple composition is complicated. When the palette is reduced to a few key elements, the selection of each material becomes critical. It is even more difficult to create a fragrance that evokes a single impression, that of a flower, a root, or a leaf.

Composing a perfume that smells realistically of a flower, say, a rose, is part of the challenge, but it’s not the biggest one. The more elusive goal is how to suggest a story and give it character. The purpose of a perfume is not to replicate nature, but to weave a fantasy. All of us have our own idea about how a rose smells, and a successful rose perfume will not try to compete with a summer garden. Instead, it will evoke its own universe.

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Why Is The Scent of Lipstick So Nostalgic?

Do you remember the scent of your mother’s lipstick? Do you enjoy the aroma of Nivea cream? Have you ever wished to have the fragrance of your favorite sunscreen as a perfume? The November 2019 issue of Financial Times’s HTSI Magazine includes my article about the scent of lipstick and other cosmetics. I explore the nostalgia behind these aromas and explain why these scents, though subtle and discrete, can have a powerful effect.

I don’t remember the colour of my first lipstick, but I recall its scent. I was passing through the local department store in Chicago, aged 15, when an array of shiny, black tubes at the Chanel counter drew my attention. They promised the glamour and sophistication that I desperately craved. I was making swatches of the different tones of pinks and reds on the back of my hand when, suddenly, I became aware of the fragrance of roses.

The wave that swept over me was so intense that my eyes welled with tears. The scent reminded me of my great-grandmother, Asya, who adored rose essence; its sweetness enveloped her and always left a rich sillage in her wake. Even her lipstick smelled of roses. When Asya wasn’t around, I furtively sniffed her rouge compact, its fragrance evoking her soft cheeks and melodious laughter.

Update: The article is now available online, The Nostalgic Allure of Lipstick, November 2019.

As always, I’d love to know what scents transport you? Do you have favorite scented lipsticks or other cosmetics?

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