The subtle art of selecting a scent

Go on a “perfume quest” with the help of sound advice from an expert fragrance blogger

Clockwise from top left: Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, £170 for 75ml EDP. L’Artisan Parfumeur Mimosa Pour Moi, £105 for 100ml EDT. Diptyque Tam Dao, £92 for 100ml EDT
Clockwise from top left: Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, £170 for 75ml EDP. L’Artisan Parfumeur Mimosa Pour Moi, £105 for 100ml EDT. Diptyque Tam Dao, £92 for 100ml EDT

Marie Kondo, author of the bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, famously suggests that only items that spark joy should be kept around the house. Of course, Kondo’s “spark joy” philosophy is more nuanced, as she applies it to various aspects of cleaning and decluttering, but the idea of surrounding oneself with objects that are meaningful and special makes perfect sense. It can also be applied successfully to selecting a scent.

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 (£170 for 75ml EDP). 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.

If a perfume inspires a daydream, it’s guaranteed to lift the spirits anytime. When sampling a fragrance, pay attention to what it evokes. Does it merely smell nice or does it elicit a sense of place or an emotion? Sometimes a perfume speaks to you instantly; others take time to reveal all of their layers. Try a perfume several times; notice how it evolves and what images it paints. I find it helpful to write down my impressions, especially if I’m testing several fragrances.

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A perfume that makes you feel good is the one with pleasant associations; such a fragrance can become a personal talisman. One of my favourite flowers is mimosa. Merely seeing its blossoms – clusters of yellow puffballs – makes me smile. Its scent of violets and cucumber peel is equally exhilarating, and I often keep a small vial of L’Artisan Parfumeur Mimosa Pour Moi (£105 for 100ml EDT) in my bag. It’s a spring breeze in a bottle, and when I put it on, I feel uplifted.

Another way to select a perfume is to envision a favourite place and to look for a composition inspired by it. I sometimes buy fragrances on my travels, but often I wait and start on a perfume quest once I return home – an enjoyable creative pursuit. After one of my trips to India, where I kept encountering sandalwood in temple offerings, face creams and hand soaps, I became determined to find a fragrance that captured its lush aroma. The closest match turned out to be a cedarwood perfume inspired by Vietnam from the French house Diptyque. Yet, Tam Dao (£92 for 100ml EDT), with its musky floral accents and polished woods, reminded me so vividly of the temples of Mysore and the incense markets of Delhi that years later it continues to satisfy my wanderlust… and spark joy.

Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.

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