How To Guides: 41 posts

The Allure of Extrait de Parfum

If you were a medieval caliph and desired a fragrance to delight your senses, your royal perfumers would have mixed Tibetan musk with an equal amount of Yemeni ambergris and steeped the mixture in ben tree oil over a weak fire. They would have stirred it with a gold spoon and used a silver vessel to refine it further until the liquid itself turned golden and smelled like paradise itself. If you were the wife of the caliph Harun al-Rashid, the one of One Thousand and One Nights fame, then you would have asked for a touch of jasmine oil to remind you of Persian gardens in bloom. According to the 14th century Egyptian scholar Al-Nuwayri, such were indeed the refined tastes of his time.

The luxurious, oil-based perfumes Al-Nuwayri describes in his book are the distant ancestors of the modern extrait de parfum. Today, the extrait de parfum is usually diluted in alcohol, but the proportion of fragrant oils in its formula is still sumptuously high. In my recent FT magazine column, The Allure of Extrait de Parfum, I describe what makes extrait de parfum different and why it still has a place in our perfume wardrobe.

As I’ve noted in my article about perfume concentrations, the proportion of oil alone doesn’t matter as much as the ingredients themselves. However, the parfum, along with the Eau de Cologne, is the oldest way of enjoying fragrance. It was meant to be applied directly on skin, allowing it to envelop the wearer in a soft cloud of scent. For instance, the great classics like Chanel No 5, Guerlain Jicky or Caron Tabac Blond were created as such concentrated blends. Their lighter variations appeared later in the second half of the 20th century when atomizers became popular. To continue reading, please click here.

What are some of your favorite extrait de parfums?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Crisp Summer Fragrances : Not Colognes

As much as I love colognes and find them refreshing on a hot day, sometimes I want to mix things up. After all, citrus is not the only thing that feels cool and uplifting. This is the topic of my recent FT magazine article, Summer scents that are crisp, cool – and rather unexpected.

Even more unusual, however, is the coolness suggested by myrrh, a rich and complex ingredient hinting at liquorice, driftwood and green sap. In ancient times, it was burned as incense, added to wine as a digestive or blended into perfumes to give them a lingering, suave finish. The latter is the reason I seek out myrrh-based fragrances; they are at once velvety and cool – the most intriguing of contrasts. One of the best examples is Serge Lutens’ La Myrrhe (£170 for 70ml EDP), a languid rose, smothered in myrrh and bitter almond. The champagne-like effervescence of aldehydes, the aromatic compounds found in rose petals and orange peel, lights up the composition. To continue reading, please click here.

What perfumes are you currently wearing and what is your fragrance today?

Image via FT

Why Perfume Doesn’t Last and what to do about it

You have found a perfume that seems perfect – the first few moments post-application are enjoyable but then, over the course of the day, you find the scent has disappeared. You might as well not have worn anything. Fragrance that doesn’t last is one of the most frustrating occurrences for a perfume lover, and I’m often asked to explain why it happens. And that’s what I do in my FT column, The Long and The Short of It: making perfume last.

I explain why some fragrances have a fleeting presence, how to test for it, how to correct for it and give examples of perfumes with different types of presence. You can also read my article, One Perfume, Four Ways to Wear It, with other tips on making perfumes last.

One of the reasons a perfume doesn’t last is because of our physiology. To put it another way, your perfume is still present, but you stop smelling it and hence it seems as if it has disappeared. This phenomenon is called olfactory fatigue, or olfactory adaptation, and it happens when odour receptors are saturated with an aroma to the point that they stop sending a signal to the brain about it. If you wear the same perfume every day, such an olfactory adaptation is likely to happen. Also, some materials are more likely to cause an olfactory fatigue, such as ambers, sandalwood and other heavy, enveloping woods. To continue reading, please click here.

As I was writing the article, I became curious to find out from you if longevity is the most important characteristic in a perfume? If you find a perfume you love but that doesn’t last, will you still buy it?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

What to Look for When Selecting a Perfume

Selecting a perfume remains an ever popular topic among the questions you send me, and in my recent FT Magazine column, The Subtle Art of Selecting a Perfume, I offer a few recommendations for finding the right fragrance. As always, the right fragrance is not the one recommended by sales staff or the one that smells good on someone else. It’s not even the one that has a pleasant scent. Rather, the perfume that you’ll enjoy wearing for a long time is the one that triggers an emotion, unlocks something in your memories and makes you feel uplifted.

As such, the quest for a perfume is an intimate one, and my number one piece of advice is not to rush it. Also, don’t be swayed by the opinion of others as you test.

Whenever I’m asked by friends and readers for recommendations, instead of simply listing fragrances I begin by trying to determine which scents make them feel good. Or, to use Kondo’s phrase, which perfumes spark joy for them. One such composition for me is Serge Lutens’ Iris Silver Mist. It’s a cool, polished fragrance based around the scent of iris root, and when I wear it, I feel as if I’ve stepped into a secret garden filled with pearly light and the soft rustle of leaves. To continue reading The Subtle Art of Selecting a Perfume, please click here.

What fragrances spark joy for you these days? For me, it’s Guerlain’s Chamade. Of course, if you have your own tips on selecting a perfume, please share. 

What Does Orange Blossom Smell Like?

Orange blossom is one of the most popular floral notes in perfumery. It can star in any family and add its special twist to almost any accord. If you like delicate and fresh, you might enjoy orange blossom in Annick Goutal Néroli and Jo Malone Orange Blossom. If dark and somber is more of your mood, then Caron Narcisse Noir and Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger will fit the theme.

Orange blossom in perfumery comes from the bitter orange tree, and it’s called neroli if it’s steam-distilled and absolute if it’s extracted with solvents. (You can read my article for more detailed comparisons and examples of fragrances with these two materials). Both of these materials are expensive, although not as much as rose or jasmine essences. Neroli has a green accent that makes it perfect for colognes, mossy blends and fresh marine compositions, while the smoky twists of orange blossom absolute lend it complexity and drama that unfolds well in the similarly spiced, incense-embellished perfumes.

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