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ISSUE 120 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/23/2007

How to find your perfect scent

By Jean Mullins
Executive Editor

Friday, March 23, 2007

Every time I spritz on Clinique's Happy perfume, I am instantly transported back to my freshman year of high school and the Friday night football games. Football games, the social highlight of the week for any sheltered freshman girl, required a little something extra beyond what I would normally wear to school. The solution, of course, was to smell a little nicer, to leave a luxurious scent in my wake as I walked down the stairs of the bleachers. My perfume was going to be my ultimate feature, one by which I would be remembered long into the night.

Scent is a powerful memory trigger; it seems that, as a vestige from our more primitive days, we often associate smells with people. We know the smells of loved ones, of houses and rooms, of places and of other things, such as grass. But when we choose to replace our own smell with an artificial one, how do we know which one to pick?

Selecting a perfume or scent is a time-consuming process; much thought needs to be given to the type of scent, the vibe that it gives off to those that smell it, how it smells on each individual, and if it is for everyday-wear or special occasion-wear only. There is also the matter of price: When is a perfume worth $50 for three ounces?

My search began online with the Nordstrom website (, which offers a helpful fragrance guide. As Nordstrom sees it, there are four types of scents, which categorize all others: floral, fresh (which includes natural scents such as citrus, green and water), spicy and wood. For men there are similar categories: fresh, spicy and wood, plus aromatic (which is herbs and citruses). The types of scents are mixed together and overlap to create the perfumes on the market. As I browsed the fragrance website, it offered short descriptions about each type of scent.

Floral has three subsections: floral, soft floral and floral oriental. Floral is the most popular of the perfumes and is considered a “fresh flower” smell. Soft floral mixes with aldehydes, which are found in floral oils in minute amounts and have an unpleasant smell that, when mixed with the fresh flower smell, mute the floral smell into something more powdery. A floral would be a perfume like Marc Jacobs’ Cucumber Splash ($62 from Nordstrom) or Lancôme’s Miracle Forever ($52-$68 from Nordstrom); a soft floral perfume would be Clinique’s Happy to Be ($37.50-$49.50) or Chanel No. 5 ($50-$87). If you add some spice to the soft floral, you get floral oriental perfumes, like Allure ($80-$110).

Fresh scents, such as grass and water, are more playful, perhaps even sporty. For a green smell, look for Estée Lauder’s Aliage Sport spray ($33). Water can be a sea breeze smell or a rainwater smell; look for Marc Jacobs’ Rain Spray ($65).

As we travel into the world of spices and woods, be aware of a less universal musk smell. These smells are darker, but may have citrus or floral undertones to lighten them up. The floral scents may be more universal, but these scents can smolder and are more unique than some of the more common scents. Laura Mercier’s Ambre Passion ($65) is a melding of the two, combining an amber incense scent with patchouli, vanilla and geranium undertones, among others.

Now, many of us do not have $50 to invest in our signature scent, or just aren’t ready to commit to one smell. For those looking for less expensive scents, look no further than some of the same clothing stores that you already shop at. Many will remember that Gap often offers sprays and perfumes, as do Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle. However, one should be aware that you get what you pay for: These scents are cheap because they are marketed to high school students with little to no income. So if you don’t mind smelling like your friend’s little sister, then go ahead.

There is a solution, however: One advantage to these is that you can change them slightly by mixing scents with essential oils or other simple scents. Add some vanilla essence to a floral perfume. Add some patchouli undertones to a citrus scent. Mix it up, see what you get. Perfume oils can be purchased through The Body Shop ($3-$14), among other places. But again, a word of warning: There is definitely such a thing as overkill. Whether you mix together too many complex scents to end up smelling like something toxic or if you put on too much so that you are toxic, there is definitely a wrong way to do it.

Never wear too much perfume. I once read a simple rule of thumb: If you can smell yourself, you are killing everyone else. One, maybe two, sprays will do the trick. Any more is unnecessary and may even aggravate the allergies of those around you. If you are wary of even one spritz, try solid perfume. Solid perfume is perfume oil mixed with paraffin or wax and delivers scent without punching anyone in the face. l'Occitane offers vanilla or rose solid perfume compacts for $8, much cheaper than many perfumes you can buy. Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney also offer solid versions of their perfumes.

Try a perfume on before you buy. Nothing is worse than smelling a scent on one of those perfume sample strips, buying it, putting it on and hating the way you smell. We all have scents inherent to us – pheromones, the like – that influence how we smell. If a scent doesn’t mix well with your natural scent, making it so you can’t stand the way you smell, you could possibly be out a good chunk of cash. Furthermore, some scents can induce headaches if worn for too long. Go to a store where you can spritz a little on, walk around for another hour and see if you still like it. Then you will know if it is worth the money.

The key to picking a scent is buying something that you like to smell on you. That way the scent will best fit you and your personality. After all, this is the scent that you want to be remembered by.

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