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polish & prime (& perfume)

I walked into a café on Monday morning, and the girl at the counter instantly said to me, ‘You changed your perfume!’

I feel like I should reiterate right here: I don’t bathe myself in my perfume, but I stop by this café Monday through to Friday on my walk to work.  And I wear the same perfume practically everyday.

It’s Stella by Stella McCartney, and I’ve worn it since its 2003 release.  I’ve always had another one on hand, but it’s normally reserved for those moments (such as this day) when my Stella bottle is buried in an overnight or gym bag and I’m too tired to remember this.

I feel a little boring when I admit to my continuous use of Stella. There are so many gorgeous perfumes. And I love perfume. I get excited whenever a magazine has a perfume strip, I can easily lose hours in the perfume sections of department stores, and I’m forever asking friends what scent they are wearing (and sniffing them). There’s some romance, beauty, and strange familiarity that comes with perfume, and I think that’s what I love about it: that a particular scent can remind you of someone, someplace, or a specific time.

I don’t know exactly why I return to Stella, all I know is – as crazy as it sounds, I feel like more of myself when I wear it.  I have some friends who feel the same way and stick to one scent. Others go between a few. Another has over 20 scents and matches them to her mood.  But one scent or 20 (and one way isn’t any more right than the other) there are a few things you should know.

What exactly is perfume?

The pre-school version is this: a perfume is a mixture of essential oils and synthetic chemicals, which are mixed with water and alcohol. The ratio of the aromatic compounds to the water and alcohol is what determines the intensity, staying power, and sometimes price of the product.

What are the different types of perfumes?

There is a lot of information out there on this, and it can be quite extensive (and in some of my research, a little contradictory). But, all you need to know on a very basic level is the two perfumes commonly found in department stores, chemists, and perfume stores, are Eau de Parfum (EDP) and Eau de Toliette (EDT). EDTs tend to be lighter versions (meaning they have a smaller amount of aromatic compounds) than EDPs. This can be because some people prefer a more subtle scent, but also because heat intensifies the fragrance. For this reason, it can be best to wear EDP during Winter and EDT during Summer. You may notice that EDTs are slightly cheaper than EDPs – this is because as they are more diluted, the scent doesn’t last as long as EDPs.

What are the different notes of perfume?

Perfumes have three “notes”. The top, the middle, and the base. I’ll use the delicious perfume Nina Fantasy by Nina Ricci as an example (mostly because I may have sprayed three tester cards with it and left them in my handbag, and it still smells delightful. It makes me want to wear a pale pink lace dress, and go have a picnic by a lake with fairy floss and champagne. And then maybe go ride the prettiest horse on the carousel).

Top: These are the notes that are smelt when you first apply a product. If you’re shopping for a new perfume that you haven’t worn before, repeat after me:  DON’T BUY RIGHT AWAY. Too many people buy based on the top note, and don’t allow the perfume to settle (Freya, you might be saying, I’ve smelt it on my friend/colleague/waitress AND I LOVE IT AND WANT IT NOW. And to that I’ll say – STILL NOT ALLOWED. But I’ll come back to that). The top notes are very strong and gorgeous, but they evaporate quickly. These notes last for 5-30 minutes. In the case of Nina Fantasy, these notes are bergamot, pear, mandarin essence.

Middle: These are also sometimes referred to as the “heart notes” and are the main ones of the perfume. You’ll start smelling these 10-30 minutes after you apply the perfume, and are generally delicate. In Nina Fantasy these are Bulgarian rose, cherry blossom and helitrope.

Base: These are the notes that hold the perfume together, and last the longest. In Nina Fantasy, these are vanilla, holly, and brown sugar.

And as the name suggests, these components of perfumes are referred to as “notes” because all together, they make a (hopefully!) gorgeous melody of aroma that will invoke a feeling in its wearer and smeller (if someone can let me know a more dignified word to replace “smeller”, that would be wonderful. And I’m pretty sure “smeller” isn’t a word).

My perfume doesn’t smell as good on me as it does on my friend. Why is that?

When I first started wearing Stella, a friend loved it and bought a bottle based on that. She gave it to me after having it for a month, telling me it didn’t smell on her like it did on me. Everyone’s body chemistry is different, and this affects how the scent interacts. For this reason, if you’re thinking of buying a perfume a friend has worn (or one an enthusiastic perfume sales rep has sprayed into the air for you), apply it (the crook of the elbow is a good spot), and then wait for at least two hours. By this time the perfume should have fully developed and would have settled with your own natural scent, and you’ll have a better understanding on how the scent works on you.

Where should I spray my perfume? And how much should I use?

We’ve all been in that situation where we’ve gotten a headache because someone sitting close to us has been wearing too much perfume. Less is definitely more when it comes to perfume, and generally, two sprays are enough.

Coco Chanel once cheekily said a girl should spray perfume where she wants to be kissed. Pulse points (anywhere you feel a heartbeat) are the best place to spray perfume because they give off more heat. So, you may be thinking, there’s a pulse point on my neck, and one on the base of my throat, and both places are quite lovely to be kissed, so I should definitely spray there, right? WRONG. Well, not if you’re spraying at night. Or someplace super cold. Or going from your house to your garage to office. But if you’re spending time in the sun, remember that perfume contains alcohol, and this makes the spots you spray it on little beacons for the sun to come and burn you. So, if you’re spending time in the sun (including a 20 minute walk to the train station), it’ll be safer to spray points like the insides of your wrists, which are easier to turn away from the sun.

Hints and Tips

  •  Every time you you spray perfume to your wrist and then rub it to your other wrist, a perfumer dies (Okay, I’m being melodramatic. They just tear out their hair).  Rubbing or pressing perfume bruises the notes and it will alter the scent and development. If you rub your wrists together because your wrist feels wet or you can see a droplet, you’re spraying your perfume too close. It should be about 20cm away from the point you’re spraying.
  •  After a few minutes, you shouldn’t be able to easily smell your perfume on yourself. This is because you become used to the smell. Others will notice it still, so it’s definitely not a sign you should be wearing more. In fact, if you can smell your own perfume after about 20 minutes (without sniffing the spot you applied it), you’re probably wearing too much, and should tone it down.
  • Perfumes generally are best used within 6-18 months of being opened, and are best kept away from heat sources (be it sunlight or a heater). Sometimes they last longer than that. You’ll know if a perfume has gone off because it’ll start smelling slightly sour (and if you can see in the bottle, it may be cloudy).

S0, what about you, Lipsters? Do you have any handy hints about perfume? Or a favourite type? Or even –  since I ran out of words to cover it in this piece – an alternative to perfume?

 (Image Credit)


One thought on “polish & prime (& perfume)

  1. This was a useful reminder to me! I love that there are so many options for perfume that never used to be around – I particularly like ZOMG Smells! ( for the zany interesting scents, descriptions and names. In particular I *lovelovelove* ‘Snooty Baroque Drawing Room’ and ‘The Chieftans Wife’. I also love a perfume by a Western Australian company Tinderbox called ‘Aphrodisi’ that is beautiful with the pachouli and ylang ylang – but quite deep and dark smelling. And as far as department store perfumes go, I love Dior’s ‘Midnight Poison’ (and also their ‘Pure Poison’).

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