Perfume 101: 370 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.

Myrrh and Almonds : The Secret of Serge Lutens La Myrrhe

As a complement to my article about Autumnal Fragrances, I recorded a video about the fragrance that scented my fall this year, Serge Lutens La Myrrhe. Early into the spring lockdown, I decided to devote more attention to studying, wearing and enjoying my old favorites, rather than seeking out anything else. Partly, it was a matter of necessity–I transferred my studio to my home and I didn’t want to bring all of the fragrance samples from the office. Partly, it was influenced by my desire to pare things down to the essentials. It was a much needed antidote to the persistent commercial message of buying things.

So I would sometimes spend days analyzing a fragrance, finding its nuances and decoding the stories hidden within its accords. It reminded me of the time I was a perfumery student and would spend weeks studying a single fragrance. I can tell you that I didn’t miss anything. On the contrary, I’ve learned a great deal about fragrance over these past few months.

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Autumnal Perfumes in the Spirit of the Season

One of the most interesting principles in Japanese garden design is the idea of borrowed scenery, shakkei. Using existing landscape elements—distant mountains, ponds, and neighboring structures, a creator would plan the garden in such a way as to incorporate the surroundings into her composition and create her personal vision of nature. Perfumery is generally more about artifice and fantasy, but as summer fades, I too become inspired to borrow autumnal scenery for my fragrant accompaniment. My perfume choices become led by the scents of fall.

Even in the deodorized urban environment, autumn is a fragrant season. The moment that leaves start to fall, the air is filled with a mellow sweetness reminiscent of walnut shelves and faded leather. On my walks, I take a roundabout way through a park, kicking the golden leaves and glossy chestnuts with the tip of my boots. On my scarf I carry Serge Lutens La Myrrhe, a perfume that smells of dark licorice, myrrh and dried roses. Or I might select the delicate Chypre Rouge, also from Serge Lutens, a dark potion of amber, moss and honey.

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A Promise of Spring in Every Autumn

Autumn. Sonbahar in Turkish. Son means last. Bahar means spring. Bahar, a Persian loanword بهار, means also blossom, blossoming. And so, sonbahar, autumn, is literally the last blossoming. Turkish, one of the most elegantly structured languages I know, has its opposite counterpart— ilkbahar, which means spring. İlk means “first.” İlkbahar and sonbahar, spring and autumn. The first blossoms and the last. 

So in every autumnal leaf lies a promise of another spring. 

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

The Idea of Radiance and What It Means in Perfumery

Radiance in perfume is an elusive quality. The best way of understanding it is to envision a candle burning in a dark room, its glow lifting the dark shadows. A radiant fragrance is not necessarily a strong smell—it follows the wearer at a few paces, but it’s neither heavy nor overpowering. Capturing this duality seems impossible, but perfumers are adept at creating illusions.

Calice Becker is one such creator, and her fragrances illustrate the idea of radiance. Her Tommy Girl contains a green tea accord so luminous that it seems fluorescent. Another trendsetter is Becker’s Christian Dior J’Adore, a layer of flower notes as tightly woven as the millefiori ornaments of Murano glass. Perfumery students learn the craft much like artists, by copying the work of the masters, and when I was trying to achieve the variegated radiance of J’Adore, its complexity and nuances mesmerized—and confounded—me. Despite the conventional saying that too much knowledge kills the mystery, the experience made me appreciate both Becker’s craft and J’Adore’s lingering glow.

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Perfumes That Make You Feel Dressed Up

In the beginning of the lockdown, my friends and colleagues reveled in casual dress, especially those of us who have worked together for years and no longer felt embarrassed to take a Skype call in pajamas. Eventually, the Groundhog Day feeling of working from home settled in and whenever we would meet for a virtual happy hour, I’d see plenty of cocktail dresses and button-down shirts. Feeling dressed up is a terrific mood booster, and even if you lack an occasion to sport a beautiful outfit, why not put on a favorite dress to lounge around the house? My solution is different–and easier. I pick a perfume that makes me feel dressed up.

Certain fragrances make you feel like you need a ball gown to pull them off, but others feel like you’re dressed for a party, even if you’re wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt (my favorite outfit for working at home.) The choice of such fragrances is personal, linked more to your personal associations than with a specific scent, but the perfumes that make me feel dressed up have a few characteristics in common.

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