Picking a signature scent isn't a task to sniff at: To avoid getting stuck with a stink bomb, take these perfumers' advice on how to come away from the fragrance counter smelling like a rose.
Thu Nov 1 2007
From left: Guéros, Garnuch-Mentzel and Jelk
“More than 300 perfumes are released each month,” says scents wizard Pierre-Constantin Guéros. How does he know? “I try to smell each one.” As one of a trio of Tribeca-based noses for Drom, a multinational to-the-trade fragrance house, Guéros and fellow French natives Valérie Garnuch-Mentzel and Delphine Jelk keep tabs on their competition. Trained by elite fragrance academy IPSICA in Versailles (each graduating class has only 12 to 20 people), the Drom team tinker with more than 100-plus raw materials to make a big-budget eau de toilette. Below, they offer some tips on selecting—and caring for—your next perfume.
Don’t be seduced by sexy bottles Though you might think you’re unaffected by labels, who wouldn’t pick a flacon of Prada over Paris Hilton? But according to Garnuch-Mentzel and Guéros—who don both upscale and mass-market scents alike (Garnuch-Mentzel wears Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens, while Guéros switches between Chanel Pour Monsieur and Abercrombie & Fitch, none of which are their own creations)—you should look beyond pretty packaging and follow your nose. Even though a cologne might hail from a posh brand, a sky-high price tag doesn’t guarantee that more money is spent on the formula. “You’d be surprised to know that a lot of drugstore perfume companies spend more on the juice,” says Guéros. If you’re truly embarrassed by a vial of Beckham perching on your dresser, you can decant its liquid into a more appealing container such as a crystal flask from replacements.com.
Know where to go Pick a place to shop depending on your mood and level of desired assistance. If you want to be left alone to ponder woodsy top notes, hit grab-it-and-go chains like Sephora, which offer dozens of brands categorized by type of scent for DIY testing. If you want a bit more help, don’t be intimidated by department stores’ massive beauty floors. “The people who work at perfume counters are usually trained by the company and will know a particular fragrance house very well,” says Garnuch-Mentzel. Niche boutiques like luxe Aedes de Venustas (9 Christopher St between Sixth Ave and Waverly Pl, 212-206-8674) also provide a more intimate milieu for whiffing.
Know what you like As G.I. Joe said, “Knowing is half the battle.” And to prevail at a shop like Barneys, come armed with your smelling preferences or the name of at least one favorite fragrance. For instance, if you’re a fan of heavy florals and amber, the duo suggests Prada, Diesel’s Fuel for Life, Euphoria by Calvin Klein, Paco Rabanne’s Black XS and Estée Lauder’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia (Drom didn’t make any of these).
Your musk don’t matterPheromones may unconsciously attract your next date, but they don’t affect how Axe body spray smells when you fog it on your chest. “Unless you eat very spicy food all the time, your body chemistry won’t change a fragrance,” explains Guéros. “That’s a bit of a myth—you’d have to have a trained nose to be able to distinguish how a scent smells differently on two people.”
Keep it coolBecause they’re more chemically volatile, citrus scents don’t last as long as muskier options. A perfume should stay good for a few years, but you can extend its life by storing your bottles in the fridge. “A bathroom is really the worst place for fragrance to live,” Jelk explains. It thrives in cool, dark spots, away from sunlight and humidity.
Wait for itThere’s nothing worse than a migraine induced by a heady mix of J. Lo’s Glow and Versace’s Bright Crystal. (And, oh yeah, according to Guéros, you can also skip the jars of coffee beans since “they don’t clear your nose—they just fill it with another smell.”) To prevent olfactory meltdown, the pair suggests trying a handful of options via testers before winnowing it down to three or four and spritzing a small amount of each on different parts of your arm. Then leave. Top notes—usually citrus, spices or fruit—are what you smell initially, but aren’t a good way to judge a perfume’s character. “You need to get the heart of the perfume,” says Guéros. “There are raw materials—jasmine, rose and gardenia for women, and aromatic herbs such as lavender and sage for men—that come later because they are heavier. If you want to know if a perfume will be the right one for you, wear it for a whole day before you buy it.”
Don’t air it outYou won’t crush precious scent molecules by rubbing in a scent, nor will you empower a fragrance by applying it to your pulse points. “It’s a waste to walk into a cloud of perfume,” Jelk laughs. “You should just spray it on—if you really want it to last, spray it on your hair, even though the alcohol is drying.”