What does ‘perfume’ mean?

The word comes from the Latin, meaning “a sweet-smelling fluid containing the essence of flowers and other substances”. But perfume has its origins in ancient Roman ritual. In the temples of Rome, crushed flowers, leaves, wood shavings, spices and aromatic resins were thrown onto burning coals as offerings to the gods. Their scent was released through smoke ( per fumum).

How many different fragrances can I try without confusing my sense of smell?

Three. Although you will find your sense of smell tires more quickly from similar fragrances than fragrances of very different character, you risk confusing your sense if you test more than three different scents at one time.

How can I make my fragrance last longer?

The secret to long-lasting fragrance is ‘fragrance layering’. Build up layers of scent on the skin by using different forms of the same fragrance - perfumed soap, bath oil or gel, body lotion or cream, dusting powder and eau de toilette. Each reinforces the impact of the other to quadruple the life of your favourite scent. Layering, or “fragrance dressing” as it’s sometimes called, is also a clever way to wear a fragrance that’s too overpowering for daytime use.


Why do I hate some fragrances and love others?

Because we all are programmed to like certain smells and dislike others. Our response to odour and fragrance, say scientists, is partly learned and partly genetic. We are born with definite likes and dislikes, as well as sensitivity to certain smells. Very early on, experience starts modifying and adding to them and we build up a complex “smell bank” of memories and associations. All this stored information determines whether or not we like a fragrance.

Will my taste in perfume change as I get older?

Probably. As you grow older and the way you feel about yourself changes, the kind of fragrance you choose will change too. In your teens, you’ll probably wear light, gentle scents. In your late teens and early twenties, you’ll often choose a fragrance because you identify with its image. As your sense of confidence develops, you tend to choose a fragrance that expresses your individual style, your personal taste.

Do I actually form opinions about people based on the fragrance they’re wearing?

Yes, although you may not be conscious of it at the time. According to Anne M. Schell of Occidental College in Los Angeles: “It’s quite possible that we respond emotionally to odours without realising why we’re responding or even what our feelings are.” You may well decide that someone is aggressive and pushy when it is their perfume or aftershave that’s getting on your nerves.


What is the correct way to try a fragrance?

Apply a few drops or the lightest spray to your wrist or the back of your hand. Don’t just sniff a flacon because perfume comes to life only on your skin. Wait a few moments. Give the fragrance time to bloom on your skin, to let the notes ‘talk’ to you.

How should a woman choose a fragrance for a man?

Men’s fragrances are grouped into exactly the same families as women’s. Therefore, try a few men’s fragrances from the same families as your favourite scents. Of course, the man for whom you are choosing needs to be comfortable with the fragrance you select, but if he loves your fragrance, you’re on the right track.

How do I select a fragrance as a gift for a woman?

One sure way is find out which fragrances she especially likes, the names of her favourite perfumes. Once you know those magic names, an informed consultant will be able to help you select another fragrance from the same family or families of fragrance that she especially likes.

If you don’t know the names of her favourite fragrances, ask a consultant for advice. Describe the lady for whom you’re buying the gift - not her hair colour (will it be the same next week?) nor her age (we all know women who’re old at 20, others who are vibrant at 70), but her style of dress, her personality, her activities. Ask the consultant to suggest three fragrances, just three, never more. Test their scents on testing papers. Take your time. Which fragrance ‘talks’ to you? Try not to be logical. Relax. Let your instinct take over. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find that your nose will select the perfect match.

How do I find a new perfume that I’ll really enjoy?

It can be difficult. “Finding the right fragrance is almost as hard as finding the right man,” complained Allure magazine.

You may feel that there can be no logic in your choice of perfumes because your sense of smell is so emotional, but the fragrances you most enjoy will probably belong to just one or two of the fourteen different fragrance families.

Like most good things, it takes a little effort to find a new perfume that is just right.

Start by understanding the difference between the fragrance families. Play with the Fragrance Wheel.

To see other fragrances in the same family, visit one of the department store fragrance finders that Michael has created. Check, for example, Nordstrom.com


Where should I apply my perfume?

Where the skin is especially warm and where there is good blood circulation. This is because heat helps diffuse and magnify the aroma of fragrance. The “pulse points” on the body (see below) are the perfect activators for perfume. Because fragrance rises, it should be applied to several pulse points - not just, for instance, at the base of the throat.

Should I spray or dab on perfume?

Both ways are fine but sometimes you can waste precious drops of perfume when you dab it on. This problem is minimised with a spray that delivers a fine, even application of fragrance. An atomiser also minimises waste but its spray is not as consistent as a natural spray.

What’s the best way to spray on perfume?

Spray about 20cm away from your skin. An even spray over a wider area will help your fragrance last longer than a generous amount in a small area. Should you rub one wrist against the other to dry the fragrance? No, because you’ll bruise the notes, dull their development.

Can I wear two fragrances at once?

Preferably not because each perfume is a balanced, complete creation. If you wear one fragrance on top of another, you may create a scentsation but, more likely, you’ll produce an odour.


Why does a perfume smell wonderful on a friend, yet do nothing for me?

Because each of us has our own “scent print” that will influence the development of a perfume. This odour-identity is the sum total of our genes, our skin chemistry, diet, medication intake, stress level and, probably the most important factor of all, the temperature of our skin.

It’s not as simple as saying that fragrances react differently on different people because of their ‘body chemistry’. The warmth of our skin is critical. Some people have more pores per centimetre than others, or more layers of fat in their skin. These and other factors affect the warmth of skin, which in turn influences the scent of a fragrance.

We are all created equal until we use fragrance.

How does my skin type affect fragrance?

The oils in skin dissolve and retain scent molecules. Therefore, the oilier your skin, the more intense a fragrance will be and the longer it will last.

If I have dry skin, do I need to apply my fragrance more generously?

Yes. Dry skin doesn’t have as much capacity to retain the scent molecules for as long as oily skin, so you’ll need to apply fragrance more often throughout the day.

I’ve been wearing the same fragrance for years, so why does it seem so different now?

Probably because your personal chemistry and body temperature have changed slightly. Perhaps you are on a low-fat diet or taking some new medication. Have you changed your brand of contraceptive pill? Are you pregnant? Are you exercising more frequently? Has your skin become drier? Are you using more moisturiser?

Fragrance formulae rarely change but diet or medication changes produce new chemicals that come through the pores and can change the fragrance balance on your skin.

Will smoking affect the way a fragrance wears on my skin?

Yes. Nicotine is a psychoactive substance that changes your body chemistry and affects the way you smell. If you smoke, not only will fragrances tend not to last as long on your skin but you’ll also find that your sense of smell is duller.

Can dieting affect the amount of fragrance I need to apply?

Yes. If you’re on a low-fat diet, the oil levels in your skin tend to be lower so you may find that your fragrance does not seem to last as long.

Try using a body cream or bath oil that matches your fragrance as an oil perfume to see if it overcomes the problem. If not, change fragrances for a while.

Will eating spicy foods affect the way my perfume smells on me?

Again, the answer is yes. The scent of your fragrance doesn’t change, but the scent of your skin does. Most of us forget that our skin is an excretory organ. Spicy foods spice up the oils secreted through the pores of your skin. So, spicy skin, different fragrance!

How can I tell if factors such as diet or smoking are affecting the way a fragrance smells on my skin?

Test a fragrance on your wrists and also on blotting paper.

Wait ten minutes for the scent to develop and compare the pure sample with your own fragrance ‘odour print’ to see if there are any marked differences.