Scent of a woman
Oct 04 2013
Singapore-based perfumer, Gauri Garodia, was in the national capital for a session on scents and sensibilities. We got her to share fragrance facts in a write-up exclusively for us
Like life, creative perfumery is best approached with wit and whimsy. Whether it is big unexpected twists or subtle contradictions, the formula always has to be interesting, evocative, nuanced and highly wearable. Especially when it comes to fragrances for women, which is the focus here.
Fragrance, after all, is a powerful means of self-expression. Both for the creator and for the wearer. A well-crafted fragrance speaks to us and can affect us in many different ways. It may transform mood, recreate a sense of place or time and allow us to express ourselves in new ways.
How we perceive smell depends on individual mood, conditioning, lifestyle and the ambient environment. Smell is the most primal of all our senses and works on our subconscious in a very subtle manner. It is also most prone to reinforcement and distortion by our other senses such as sight. Hence, for anyone interested in exploring the olfactive space, it is good practice to occasionally shut down the other senses and focus on smell to understand the world around us.
When it comes to perfume, there are really no rules. If a fragrance makes you feel good, that’s the perfect fragrance for you. Our olfactory preferences are constantly evolving and finding the perfect fragrance can be a process of trial and error. It’s a good idea, therefore, to step out of your comfort zone and try new themes. As you experiment, you may be surprised by your preference for the new and the unexpected. While individual tastes dictate how a fragrance will be used, generally it’s a good idea to use a lighter perfume for the day and a heavier one for the evening. Sometimes, just varying the amount of fragrance used can change its impact and give a different feel. Some connoisseurs even change fragrances with seasons — floral, citrusy and fruity for the hot months and warm, woody and heady for the cold.
Just like world dynasties, the world of women’s perfumery too has some classic fragrance families: Cologne, Chypre and Oriental. Historically, fragrances classifications were based on the ingredient story and that made a lot of sense because perfumers’ palettes were small and localised. For instance, colognes originated in Italy and any fragrance that used aromatics derived from the bitter orange tree was called a cologne. Colognes typically feel like a bright summer’s day, but the category has evolved with time. Now, a cologne’s top notes combine well with dark woody bases or chypres. The results are indeed fantastic — the sparkling brightness of a cologne and the refined sophistication of dark woods.
The chypre family is all about a warm-cool contrasts with an unrelenting and mysterious signature. This includes fragrances built on a similar accord consisting of bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli and labdanum. Chypre by Coty enjoyed such success in 1917 that “chypre” is now a generic name for a whole category of classic perfumes. Under this category, Cabochard by Gres has always intrigued me, and it is a fragrance with a big personality, much like it’s name, which roughly translates as ‘stubborn’.
Subgroups under the chypre family are floral and fruity. In the first, floral notes like lily of the valley, rose or jasmine are added to the chypre structure. These are dominated by floral bouquets and usually represent an innocuous and non-threatening femininity. I am partial to florals with a dominant woody base as they have more facets to explore. In the second category, the chypre accord is enriched with fruity notes such as peach, mirabelle plum and exotic fruit. Examples of these are Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, Guerlain Mitsouko and Miss Dior Cherie.
The Orientals, also known as “amber” fragrances, stand out for their unique blend of warmth and sensuality. They draw their richness from heady substances like musk, vanilla and precious woods, often associated with exotic floral and spicy scents. Evoking the exotic Orient, this category was made famous by Gurelain’s Shalimar and Samsara, and of late, the exceedingly popular, Angel, by Thierry Mugler.
All perfumes have layers that are described in the industry as top, middle and base notes. Top notes are the most volatile and will evaporate first on your skin, middle notes are therapeutic and balancing body oils and the base notes are the longest lasting oils. Make sure to keep these factors in mind when purchasing a perfume.
Also, remember to apply the perfume correctly for maximum impact. Apply on all pulse points, wrists, elbows and behind the ear. A vital point to keep in mind is that body heat helps fragrances develop and disperse, so remember to spray judiciously and not slap it on. Err on the lesser side, in fact, for perfumes are, after all, about subtlety and sophistication, and not loud, jarring statements. Fragrances can also be sprayed onto clothing and hair — both are good carriers. Wool and silk are great carriers too and can bind the fragrance longer, allowing for better substantivity. Here, just ensure that you do not spray dark coloured fragrances on light coloured garments and vice versa.
(With over 16 years of perfumery experience, Ms Garodia is the founder-creator of Code Deco brand of perfumes)