how to wear perfume: 13 posts

Paul Poiret on Selecting a Signature Perfume

Who was the first fashion designer to launch a perfume? It was most certainly not Coco Chanel and her No 5. The first couturier who linked fashion and perfumery was Paul Poiret. His rise in the world of fashion happened at the turn of the 20th century. Although his success was as meteoric as his fall was swift and tragic, he left an indelible imprint on fashion and created a modern sense of couture and dressing, the very road that Chanel and other fashion designers would follow.

Poiret’s autobiography, King of Fashion: The Autobiography of Paul Poiret (V&A, London 2009) reveals him as a complex character that he was. While in its pages he can come across as pretentious and self-congratulating, his passion for art and fashion is moving. So is his openness to taking risks or even bearing opprobrium. “Do not kick up a fuss for something that is not admissible today, because  tomorrow it will be,” he writes. He knew what he was talking about it, since one of his first designs, a kimono coat elicited a vehement rejection from a Russian countess. “What a horror! When there are low fellows who run after our sledges and annoy us, we have their heads cut off, and we put them in sacks just like that,” she said. This kimono-coat was to become one of Poiret’s hits.

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Perfumer’s Advice on How to Choose Perfume : French Elle

How do you select the right perfume? There are lots of articles out there on this topic, including Bois de Jasmin’s perfume wardrobe series and The Art of Seducing Yourself. In February, French Elle published an interview with perfumer Jean-Christophe Hérault, who shared a few tips. Hérault is the author of Balenciaga RosabotanicaComme des Garçons Amazingreen and Chopard Enchanted, and I liked the sensible comments he shared with the magazine. I selected and translated a few excerpts below.

guerlain-bottles

Can you please give us advice on how to select perfume?

The only advice I can give is to take your time. Do not hesitate to try several perfumes to make the right choice. I also suggest you test it on your skin in order to follow the perfume’s progress throughout the day. A perfume should surprise you and develop in a pleasing manner.
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“Don’t Crush The Molecules” : How to Test Perfume

“Don’t crush the molecules!” I turned around, a bottle of perfume in hand, to discover a sales associate approaching me with a look of mild panic. My crime was that I sprayed too much perfume on my wrist and tried to transfer the excess to another arm. “You’re about to crush molecules,” she repeated for emphasis, leaving me to imagine dramatic visions of aldehydes and ionones bursting like overripe grapes on my skin.

two magi

Out of all the nonsensical things I hear at the perfume counter, “don’t crush the molecules” (or its variant “don’t crush the scent”) tops the list of my all time favorites. I never argue with the sales associates, but I once inquired where they’re taught such a concept. What do the perfume sales associates know that still eludes modern science? One counter manager admitted that she heard more senior personnel say it and repeated it herself. Another recalled hearing this molecule business in a perfume training class (in my opinion, she deserves a refund).

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Perfume as a Costume

Today Elisa discusses perfumes that she wears not necessarily because they suit her personality, but the opposite–they become her means to fantasize and play dress up.

As a child, I never wanted to be something scary for Halloween; my costumes were always aspirational. Instead of dressing up as a witch or a ghost, I was a bride or a ballerina. As I got older, I’d pile on my grandmother’s costume jewelry to be a fortune teller; for several years in a row as a teen, I borrowed my mother’s embroidered purple suede platform boots from the ‘70s and called myself a hippie.

Colorful Bracelets

Whether Halloween is approaching or not, I think of everyday fashion as a kind of costuming. I admire those chic women with a well-edited closet and a simple daily uniform, but I can’t resist buying beautiful but impractical items that don’t necessarily go with anything else in my closet, then trying to find ways to mix them in. I haunt consignment shops to find my costume pieces: a tie-print Diane von Furstenberg dress that makes me feel like I’m in a Woody Allen movie; the perfect ‘80s-era ankle boots for walking in SoHo (though my ankles were killing me by the end of the night); the black velvet tuxedo vest that I fantasize about throwing on with everything (but never actually wear). When I approach getting dressed as putting on a costume, I never worry about being overdressed or looking like I’m trying too hard; I’m just having fun with it.

Perfumes too can serve as a kind of costuming. I have my go-to favorites that always feel perfectly “me” whatever the occasion – Donna Karan Gold works in any season, day or night – but I also have scents in my collection that I wear to feel less like me. These are a few of my costume scents, the ones I put on to go clandestine, escape myself, or perform a character.
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How to Remove Unwanted Perfume

Why does it happen that the scents you detest linger the longest? My capacity to tolerate unpleasant odors has increased markedly during my perfumery training–remind me to tell you a story involving a place called “the stinky room”, but even so, I occasionally encounter fragrances that make me wrinkle my nose. Sometimes it can just be an innocuous perfume tried on the wrong day. I know as soon as the liquid dries on my skin that I’ve made the wrong choice. My throat tightens and an oppressive, sickly feeling rises up slowly from the pit of my stomach. At that point, there is nothing to do but remove the offending scent.

removing-perfume

Rubbing wrists raw with soap and water won’t make much difference because fragrances are formulated with ingredients soluble in alcohol, rather than H2O. Following this logic, you can rub your skin with pure alcohol, but this is a harsh solution that would turn sensitive skin into a patchwork of angry red spots. Instead, here are my three favorite methods to get rid of unpleasant perfumes in a gentle and effective way. Some of them even double up as beauty treatments.

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