5 Cool Things You May Not Know About Perfume

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When I recently got word that Frédéric Malle’s website had been relaunched with a new look courtesy of Patrick Li (founder of Li, Inc. and creative director of The Times’ T Magazine) I knew I had to take a look. The understated, sophisticated, easy-to-browse design came as no surprise, given Li’s reputation. But what I didn’t necessarily expect to find was such a wealth of information—the site covers everything from perfume history to the ins and outs of fragrance formulation as told by perfumers themselves. If you’re interested in fragrance at all, it’s well worth it to spend some time browsing (in particular, the Glossary of Perfume and Q&A sections). As a preview, we’ve narrowed down the five most interesting things we picked up during our reading.

Dries Van Noten & Frédéric Malle

1: Technology can recreate the smell of almost anything.

In the 1980s, scientists developed the technology known as “headspace,”a technique that uses a sensor to detect, analyze, and recreate the scent of most any object. (Of course, perfumers typically focus on plants, flowers, and foods). In short, you put the sensor on an object, it soaks up the scent, which is then analyzed. The data collected—a list of ingredients that evaporate from the object, and their proportion to one another—helps perfumers generate a matching scent composition that they can then use in their formulas.

2: It’s normal to lose the ability to smell your signature fragrance.

Apparently, everybody gets accustomed to their own perfume, in the same way that we get accustomed to other elements of our direct environment. (Think about how you can smell something stinky when you first enter a room, but that over time, your nose sort of adjusts.) According to Malle, once you get accustomed to your fragrance, you’ll only smell it when you spray it, or when consciously trying to pay attention to it. But that doesn’t mean others can’t smell it. Therefore, Malle warns strongly against putting on even more to compensate. “I always suggest to remember how many sprays you applied when you first started to wear that fragrance, and stick to it. Maybe one extra ‘pshitt’ for special occasions but not more!” he writes.

3: Sensitive types can try wearing fragrance on clothes.

If you have sensitive skin, apparently you don’t have many options when it comes to fragrance.  A “natural” option won’t necessarily ward off reactions anymore than a synthetic formula would. However, Malle suggests spraying your clothes instead. Try a light mist on the outside of whatever you’re wearing. Test an inconspicuous area first, and if you’re wearing especially delicate or precious garments, skip the scent!

4: Pulse points aren’t necessarily the best spot for perfume.

According to Malle, the hair is probably the best spot to spray fragrance if you want to make an impression. Because of the slight oiliness, hair keeps the scent longer than skin will. Also, because hair is constantly heated up by the skull, and locks are always in motion, scents diffuse even more. Just one caveat: “Be careful not to spray hair too often, as the alcohol contained in the fragrance might dry it,” writes Malle.

5: More expensive doesn’t mean better.

Even as a purveyor of high-end fragrances, Malle admits that price is often a marketing tool used to “position” perfumes. “Fragrances are like food; they can be delicious and cheap. A talented perfume can make a great fragrance for little money,” he writes. The brand prices its products based on the cost of its raw materials and their concentration (“like a restaurant that sells a dish made with caviar for more than something cooked with eggs and potatoes!”). Also, synthetic-based perfumes can be more expensive than natural ones, which feels counterintuitive given the price of some organic and natural skin care lines on the market. This is because rare, high-tech raw materials are often more expensive than natural oils and essences.

One last thing that’s worth checking out: this questionnaire is designed to help you find your signature scent. Fill it out, and Malle himself will send personal advice about what might best suit you. So cool!