Perfume 101: 341 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.

15 Years of Bois de Jasmin : The Essentials

What is the place of art in difficult times? The world has changed within a matter of weeks in a way that most of us couldn’t have envisioned as we celebrated the start of 2020, and it’s right that we recalibrate our priorities and ask complex questions. Most of my work these days involves research into health and science topics, but as a writer, I grapple with the same dilemmas that my fellow writers whose topics cover art and culture are facing. Where does it all fall on the priority scale?

Last year I traveled to India to research a story about Kashmiri shawl weaving. I knew about the situation in the region that has been under a lockdown since August 2019, and I had no illusions that my research would be easy. Truth be told, I wondered whether I should have written about something other than the making of pretty shawls. I could have written about Kashmir’s turbulent history, military conflict, economic problems or societal changes.

What I didn’t anticipate was how thrilled artisans would be that I was writing about their culture and their crafts. They insisted again and again on the paramount value of arts and crafts, despite the severity of the situation in the Kashmir Valley. “If we don’t preserve our culture, what is the point of anything?” Asaf Ali, the founder of a small artisan venture, Kashmir Loom, told me during our interview. When I finally wrote my story, I realized that it was about art, but also about Kashmir’s turbulent history, military conflict, economic problems and societal changes.

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Putting Scents Into Words : Smelling Exercises

Describing aromas can be difficult. We’re used to associating a scent with something concrete–an orange, a rose, a steaming bowl of pasta, so when we encounter even a familiar smell disconnected from its source, we are lost for words. Orange smells like an orange, right? Yet, the more one smells, the more one tries to put scents into words, the easier it becomes. In this post, I would like to put together the videos I’ve recorded of basic smelling exercises that teach how to sharpen one’s sense of smell and to put scents into words. I’d like to have everything in one place for reference and also to add extra notes to each demo.

Why does putting scents into words matter? First, by describing a smell to yourself, you memorize it more easily. This scent memory bank, or olfactory vocabulary, if you will, will help you to recognize scents faster and to recall them at will. Second, any sensory experience is enriched when more than one sense is stimulated, and the ability to describe smells will make your olfactory perceptions richer and will heighten your enjoyment overall, be it the enjoyment that comes from savoring a glass of wine, a piece of cake or from taking a walk in the park. So, let’s start!

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My Three Classics : Introduction to Classical Perfumery

Who is afraid of perfume classics? Classical perfumery often elicits two different reactions. There are those who worship at the altar of Guerlain Mitsouko and define the tastes of others by their reactions to Jean Patou Joy or Chanel No 5. Frankly, if Joy were the last perfume available in this world, I wouldn’t wear it, and I enjoy No 5 more on others than on myself. But this is not the point. Classics weren’t created the way perfumes are today–they weren’t meant to be crowd pleasers, they weren’t tested on groups of women from New Jersey* to determine their appeal. They reflect their time and place, and it’s perfectly fine to decide that one doesn’t care for Mitsouko or Hermès Calèche.

And then there are those who think that classics are old-fashioned, outdated or simply too difficult to wear. I agree that classics mirror their time and fashion bubble, but that can be their very appeal to some. Dismissing classics altogether is also a mistake, because this style of fragrance is still current and exploring it can be enjoyable. For instance, expensive niche lines like Tom Ford are known to be inspired–and strongly at that–by classics.  So, one could pay  niche prices or find a similar perfume among the more affordably priced lines.

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Contemplating a Peony : 5 Perfumes for the Peony Viewing

Cherry blossoms may be the flowers most strongly associated with Japan, but the peony is another beloved bloom. If you visit Tokyo in late spring, you can spend your days wandering the most beautiful peony gardens. The most striking peonies are the ones called botan in Japanese, or tree peony. They indeed appear as if they’re growing on trees, and their flowers are much larger than the more familiar stem peonies known as shakuyaku. Their colors, textures and, of course, scents vary dramatically.

So I’ve selected several fragrances that use peony in different ways, ranging from fresh and light to dark and warm. I also would like to share several favorite spots in Tokyo where peonies are displayed in all of their splendor. While going there is not possible for most of us, we can still admire the photos on line and dream up our perfect peony perfume.

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Why Enjoying Scent is Important

“Is there any point in wearing perfume these days?” asked one of my readers, arguing that in our socially distant reality, perfume is becoming an irrelevant accessory. My first thought was that since we wear perfume for ourselves, being alone or in a crowd doesn’t change the pleasure it gives us. (I also wanted to point out that right now is the best time to wear perfume, since fewer people might complain about it.) Yet, the question had another layer to it, and it was about the order of priorities. How important is the enjoyment of scents now when we face a crisis?

First, let me separate perfume as a luxury product from the idea of enjoying scents. Anyone can spend a moment of their day smelling something beautiful–blooming flowers, a cup of coffee, their baby’s hair, and doing so consciously is what makes these pleasures more intense. The reason I started recording videos teaching smelling techniques is because paying more attention to our sense of smell is vital for our physical and mental health. A large fraction of our genetic makeup is devoted to olfaction. Our sense of smell is neither “primitive” nor “dispensable.” As anyone suffering from anosmia, the loss of the sense of smell, can testify, food and intimacy become bland when the scent component is gone.

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From the Archives

Latest Comments

  • John in Recommend Me a Perfume : May 2020: Thank you, Lainey, for all that perspective! Yes, only in our current moment would we find a fragrance called a cologne that is, incidentally, an eau de toilette! Honestly, I’m… May 30, 2020 at 12:09pm

  • Lainey in Recommend Me a Perfume : May 2020: Lolo, look above for my comments to John re: the Shalimar flanker known as “Shalimar Cologne.” It is lemon-heaven at the top, some light florals in the heart, and the… May 30, 2020 at 12:02pm

  • Lainey in Recommend Me a Perfume : May 2020: (Aaaack! I’m failing Webform 101 here…) This is for John with 17 year old daughter & Shalimar flankers: Okay, I stand corrected: the Thierry Wasser version of Shalimar Cologne IS… May 30, 2020 at 11:51am

  • Lainey in Recommend Me a Perfume : May 2020: Okay, I stand corrected: the Thierry Wasser version of Shalimar Cologne IS billed as an “Eau de Toilette.” Sorry for the confusion, John. (And my comment of Lush vs. typo… May 30, 2020 at 11:48am

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