How to find your signature scent
In the hunt for my current fragrance, there was a dark time when I found myself in front of that vast wall of bottles at Sephora and thought, Well, maybe I'll throw in the towel and go perfumeless. But after countless attempts, I realized that florals just weren't my thing. What felt the most like me were pared-down, less overtly ladylike scents. Once I grasped that, it was worlds easier to get to that moment when I smelled something that made it all click into place; it was like falling in love. And that's when I found Le Labo Ambrette, a whisper-soft citrusy mix with a hint of musk. So while picking a perfume can be a daunting task, fraught with wrong turns, fragrance jargon, and a dizzying array of white blotters, the end result is worth it. We turned to some of the world's best scent experts (the French, who else?) to answer your questions about the three big categories of fragrance and create a road map to discovering your perfect blend.
You're a Floral Type If...
• You love the polished, refined vibe of Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn.
•You prefer a stroll through a country garden to a walk in the woods.
•You're drawn to powdery lotions and potions-elegant and feminine.
Our expert Francis Kurkdjian is the award-winning nose behind perfumes like Narciso Rodriguez for Her and Burberry My Burberry. "Florals translate to pure femininity," he says. Your questions about this largest category of scents:
Q: I don't like rose perfumes, so I can just avoid them all, right?
Well, don't write off that rose so fast-it's one of the most frequently employed notes out there and doesn't always smell girly-sweet. "Rose combined with musk can be sheer. When paired with dark woods, rose is very sexy," says Kurkdjian. His latest creation, Maison Francis Kurkdjian A la Rose eau de parfum, is his modern riff on a classic Marie Antoinette painting; it plays two very different roses-one honeyed, the other crisp and light-off each other.
Q: I just want a pure, bold floral scent. What should I choose?
Two words: white flowers. These run the gamut from jasmine and gardenia to lilies, and "make big perfumes that you can expect a strong woman to wear," says Kurkdjian. Think Fracas by Robert Piguet, the tuberose powerhouse beloved by such wildly diverse women as Edie Sedgwick, Martha Stewart, and Iman.
Q: I don't want to be too over-the-top girly. How do I find a subtle floral?
Not all flowers evoke that swoony, Valentine's Day feeling; many are understated. Iris and violet both have an elegantly restrained softness; we love them combined in the gently powdery Chanel Les Exclusifs de Chanel Misia, where they meld cleverly with leather-and rose. Or try lily of the valley in Kate Spade New York Walk on Air eau de parfum ($95 for 3.4 oz., nordstrom.com); it "has a green feel to it, like fresh-cut grass," Kurkdjian says.
You're a Fresh Type If...
• You spend your weekends outdoors.
• You don't mind wearing something androgynous.
• You love citrus anything-candles, soaps, laundry detergent, candies.
Our expert Cécile Hua, the Provence native responsible for Atelier Cologne Grand Neroli, Jessica Simpson Fancy, and, most recently, the bracing, effervescent Ralph Lauren Ralph Fresh, of which she was a coperfumer. These bright, sunny mixes-think crisp citrus, cool aquatic elements, and green, grassy notes-telegraph that you're "super comfortable in your own skin, full of positive attitude," she says.
Q: I want something more androgynous, not sweet or floral. Should I check out a men's scent?
If you catch a whiff of something you like in the men's department, says Hua, by all means go for it, but you don't have to travel that far. Try citrus scents; they have a genderless quality, so men and women flock to them with equal fervor. This type of fresh fragrance goes way back: The original eighteenth-century Eau de Cologne-literally "water from Cologne," Germany-was a light, unisex mix of lime, bergamot, and orange blossom. Another example, says Hua, is the nineties phenom CK One: It blends bergamot and lemon into something that appeals to, well, basically everyone.
Q: I love that fresh-from-the-shower smell. No musk or flowers, please. Help!
We understand: You hear musk and you think heavy-or, you know, musky. But Hua explains that today's musks have more in common with laundry detergent than, say, muskrats. The musk rounds out the sharpness of citrus, she adds, and also helps to make light notes last hours. Certain flowers actually have their place here too; neroli, for example, is one of those rare blooms known for its mild, almost soapy nature.
Q: It seems like fresh scents fade after an hour or so. How do I get them to last?
The quick fade, frustratingly, is the top complaint with fresh fragrances. To make your blend last until evening, use an eau de parfum instead of an eau de toilette (eau de parfums contain a higher concentration of pure perfume oil). Or employ Hua's trick of giving her hair a couple of spritzes: "Every time I move my head, I get this aura of the scent around me," she says. "It doesn't get buried under clothing, and sticks with me the whole day."
You're a Warm Type If...
• You're unafraid of siren red lipstick and a smoky eye.
• Your dream vacation is to Marrakech or Istanbul.
• You love intense flavors-decadent spicy or sweet foods like sticky toffee pudding.
Our expert Honorine Blanc, a Lebanon-born, Paris-trained nose, has creations for Estée Lauder, Michael Kors, and YSL to her name. This category of rich, dark perfumes has a sexy, moody appeal that can be incredibly evocative, Blanc says.
Q: The warm, spicy scent category seems complicated. Where do I start?
There are three main directions you can go here, says Blanc. Comforting blends, like Cartier La Panthère eau de parfum légère ($100 for 1.6 oz., sephora.com), may recall the scent of your own skin but better (you may find lots of musk in these). Then there are the seductresses, with amber and heady white flowers, as in Byredo Bal d'Afrique eau de parfum ($220 for 3.4 oz., byredo.com). And finally you have the fruity, sugared blends, including Lancôme La Nuit Trésor.
Q: Oud perfumes are everywhere now. What's the big deal?
Traditionally used in incense, oud-a highly prized resin from a tropical tree native to India-is having a moment in perfumes right now. "Oud has a long-lasting, amber-y scent that combines spicy, leathery notes with a deep woodsy-ness," explains Blanc. Our new favorite version: Diana Vreeland Daringly Different.
Q: I'm not into crazy-intense woods and patchoulis. Got any warm scents that don't take themselves too seriously?
Gourmands, which were introduced with the 1992 launch of Thierry Mugler Angel, exist just for this reason. These mixtures include a lot of dessert-menu ingredients-chocolate, berries, the ever-popular vanilla-yet you won't smell like a fruit cobbler. One of our favorites, YSL Black Opium (crafted by Blanc; above left), keeps the sweetness in check, contrasting pear and rose with an unexpected hit of black coffee for a surprisingly sexy result.
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