I was recently a guest on the QVC Beauty channel, discussing the merits of niche perfume houses and the difference in fragrance concentrations. This was during a one hour beauty takeover dedicated to The Merchant of Venice, a Venetian niche perfume house celebrating the city’s perfume expertise and traditional craftsmanship. It made me realise with a little surprise that so far I’ve only dedicated one entire blog post to fragrance – Fragrance Review: from rose to tea. Well this is about to change. In my two years working for a fragrance distributor I learnt so much about perfume. From fragrance concentration to signature scents, I discovered something new every week. Here I share with you the highlights from the show, and specifically how to choose a fragrance.
How to choose your fragrance concentration
Perfumes come in various strengths, ranging from the highly concentrated Parfum to the very light Cologne. Choosing which is most suited to you and your lifestyle ultimately comes down to personal preference, however here is an overview of how each variation can be worn:
- Extrait de parfum: typically made up of 20% to 30% fragrance oil, this is the highest concentration you’ll find on the market (although not with mainstream brands or retailers). It benefits from a lower alcohol content than other options and you only need to apply a small amount.
- Parfum: with 15% to 25% concentration, this is a high fragrance oil content and the price will be reflective of that. You won’t need to apply much though and the fragrance will last longer on skin.
- Eau de parfum: with 8% to 15% perfume concentration, you’ll find this is widely available and suitable for everyday wear, or evening wear if you’re used to wearing very light scents.
- Eau de toilette: with 4% to 8% concentration, this is probably the most popular type of fragrance and can be worn during the daytime as it won’t overpower.
- Cologne or Aftershave: with 2% to 4% concentration, this is lightest variant. Packaged in larger bottles as you’ll need to apply more to reveal the scent, cologne tends to be citrussy and last around 2 hours.
How to choose a signature scent
This is one of those occasions when going on a personal recommendation from friends and family can be tricky, as perfume is such a personal choice. Firstly, what is a signature scent? A fragrance that you feel represents you. It helps people around you get a glimpse of who you are and how you want to be portrayed. How do you want the fragrance to make you feel? For years my signature scent was Lolita Lempicka, a gourmand perfume featuring star anise, liquorice and vanilla. It was unlike any scent I’d ever smelled and I was after a feminine fragrance with individuality.
Once you’ve decided what image you wish your fragrance to project to your surroundings, searching for the perfect scent should be fun and about experimenting! If you’re trying out quite a few fragrances, spray on a blotter first, and once you’ve narrowed it down to 2 or 3, spray one at a time onto skin to allow the perfume to settle. This step is important as perfume develops slightly differently on each individual. Step away from an overwhelming fragrance counter and wear the scent for a day before deciding if you’ve found the one. Don’t let the fragrance wear you, it should enhance who you are, not transform you into someone else.
How to build a fragrance wardrobe
If you’re not a signature scent kind of person then a fragrance wardrobe may be more your style. You may have heard of capsule wardrobes when it comes to clothing, where you have a carefully edited selection of clothes that you can mix and match and that cover your everyday needs (the Breton top, the white shirt, the navy blazer). You can create the same with fragrance, choosing scents for different occasions or seasons. One of the benefits of a fragrance wardrobe is that you’re helping to keep your nose tuned in: after a while our brain starts to cancel out smells if you’re constantly surrounded by them, so switching from one to another keeps your nose working. Some tips to help build your collection:
- Who is the nose behind a fragrance you love? Look into their portfolio, chances are you’ll find another favourite.
- What is your favourite fragrance family? Citrus, green, floral, woody, oriental? Look from within the family but beware not to duplicate: add a twist or go for a headier evening version.
- How does each fragrance fit into your life? Each scent in your collection could address a social situation: a classic to wear to work, a fun one for weekends and a sultry option for date nights.
- Or you could follow the seasons – niche perfume house The Merchant of Venice covers all bases with its Murano Collection: a floral spring scent (bestselling Rosa Moceniga), a fruity aromatic summer one (Mandarin Carnival), a spicy autumn one (Byzantium Saffron) and an oriental one for the winter months (Mystic Incense).
How to determine if a fragrance is niche
Niche perfume houses tend to offer a sense of exclusivity, with distinctive and sometimes unconventional scents, ensuring your chosen fragrance helps you to stand out from the crowd. Taking The Merchant of Venice as an example:
- Ingredients: strong attention to detail in the creation of the scent, using high quality ingredients such as the very sought-after Damask Rose in Rosa Moceniga
- Production: small scale, with small batch runs. The emphasis is on craftsmanship where the brand partners with local businesses such as the Murano glass blowers to highlight their Venetian heritage
- Distribution: presence in mainstream retail stores is minimal. You’re unlikely to find niche perfume in large drugstores – seek them out in perfume specialists or high-end fragrance boutiques. The Merchant of Venice is present in the likes of Harrods, Harvey Nichols and select House of Fraser stores
- Marketing: niche fragrance houses have limited marketing spend, meaning there’ll be very little advertising but a strong reliance on editorial coverage and word of mouth
The main advantage of choosing a niche fragrance is that you’ll own a high-quality and unique fragrance that your next-door neighbour is unlikely to be wearing.
If you’ve found this introductory fragrance guide helpful, look out for next week’s second instalment where I’ll be covering fragrance pyramids, how to apply fragrance, storage tips and the art of layering. What is your signature scent? Please leave a comment below to let me know.
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