You have found a perfume that seems perfect – the first few moments post-application are enjoyable but then, over the course of the day, you find the scent has disappeared. You might as well not have worn anything. Fragrance that doesn’t last is one of the most frustrating occurrences for a perfume lover, and I’m often asked to explain why it happens.
A perfume may have a fleeting presence because it’s based around volatile materials like citrus, leafy notes or pink pepper. It might be a cologne designed to be an instant refresher, like Clarins Eau Dynamisante (£51 for 200ml EDT) or Roger & Gallet Bois d’Orange (£29 for 100ml eau fraiche). Citrus gives a bright opening; however, it fades quickly. If cologne is your preferred genre, then consider finding fragrances that blend citrus with woods. For instance, Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine (€120 for 100ml cologne absolue) is based on the sweet scent of orange, but it uses a base of soft woods to make the hesperidic freshness linger – and it also comes at a higher concentration than a typical cologne. Another option is to keep reapplying the cologne you love, as if hitting replay on a favourite song or switching to a different perfume later in the day.
Another reason a perfume doesn’t last is because of our physiology. To put it another way, your perfume is still present, but you stop smelling it and hence it seems as if it has disappeared. This phenomenon is called olfactory fatigue, or olfactory adaptation, and it happens when odour receptors are saturated with an aroma to the point that they stop sending a signal to the brain about it. If you wear the same perfume every day, such an olfactory adaptation is likely to happen. Also, some materials are more likely to cause an olfactory fatigue, such as ambers, sandalwood and other heavy, enveloping woods.
What you can do in this instance is to temporarily switch fragrances. If I wear a perfume like Frédéric Malle Angéliques sous la Pluie (£155 for 100ml EDP) for several days in a row, I eventually stop noticing it, especially if its remnants saturate my scarf or my coat. The people I meet still comment that I smell good, but I can’t detect my fragrance. This is a signal that I should alternate Angéliques sous la Pluie with another spring favourite like Bottega Veneta Knot (£82 for 50ml EDP) or Balenciaga Le Dix (out of production but vintage samples can be found at 4160 Tuesdays).
A more difficult situation is when you have an olfactory blind spot and can’t detect the main component of a perfume. Due to their molecular structure, musks are often the culprits behind such anosmias, which is why perfumers usually blend several types of these fickle materials. Nevertheless, for some people all types of musks are hard to smell and the only solution is to keep on testing fragrances and paying attention to their longevity.
Think of the fragrance quest as a fun pursuit, rather than as an end goal to acquire a bottle. When you try a new perfume, apply it on clean skin and smell it over the course of several hours. Ideally, you’ll apply it in the morning and trace its development throughout the day. If you stop detecting it, it’s a good idea to ask friends or family if they can still notice the scent on you. The only thing worse than a perfume that you can’t smell is a fragrance that suffocates others.
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.