Sunday, 23 May 2010

Don't Go To The Perfume Counter Without Me

When beauty guru Paula Begoun's book, Don't Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me, was released in 2007, it was an immediate success. The very fact of the book's existence, along with the fact that it has consistently sold so well, with new editions coming out every year, is testament to the increasing vastness and complexity of the cosmetics market. With Paula having also previously written Don't Go Shopping For Hair Care Products Without Me in 2004, one does wonder if her next project might be a similar book on the subject of perfume, since this too is a market that can be overwhelming.

Step into any cosmetics store worldwide - whether it be a branch of Boots, Marionnaud or Sephora - and while the cosmetics franchises themselves take centre stage, look beyond them and you will see that the store is often lined wall-to-wall with women's perfume and men's aftershave, as well as spin-off products such as perfumed body lotions and shower gels, deodorants and gift boxes. While these stores are rarely short of someone to jump on you the second you walk in, with a sprightly "Can I help you?", quite often the salespeople will have a hidden agenda (i.e., to make commission on whatever they sell, perhaps even with a point of pushing a specific product), which may not always involve helping you find the right product for you or whoever you're buying for (one can quite easily see briefings of department store staff as having a Lionel Hutz-style dialogue: "The right [product] is the one that's for sale. The right buyer is anyone."). So while people perhaps do want specialist help - especially when it is so difficult to know where to begin - it's often important to the consumer to have some control over the situation.

There are, as I see it, a few ways around the intimidation that can be created by the sheer scale of the industry and the number of available products. One way is to head for smaller stores that are still specialists in perfume, such as The Perfume Superstore, The Perfume Shop, L'Artisan Parfumeur, or Penhaligon's. Smaller shops mean smaller displays, so that you can actually see what you're looking at, and more personalised attention from shop staff (as well as just more attention in general), as well as a more specialist service.

Another way to navigate the sea of scented water is to get clued up at home. Go out as an informed shopper, and you'll have more of an idea of what to look for on your own, without necessarily needing to enlist the help of a sales assistant or wander around the shops in a state of bewilderment. In this series of sponsored articles, I'll be going over the fragrance wheel, recommending different brands and types of perfume and aftershave that you and your man may enjoy, among other things.

The fragrance wheel is basically this:
This is the worldwide framework used to categorise scents, making it easier for everyone, from parfumiers to shoppers, to find their way around.

Starting today with oriental fragrances, and moving later in the series to the other categories, we can see both just how complicated perfumery is, and yet how comfortingly it can also be simplified. One such example of an oriental fragrance is Estée Lauder's Youth Dew, which, with its elements of amber and sandalwood, comes into the subgroups of Soft Oriental (the former) and Woody Oriental (the latter). Oriental fragrances such as this one can initially smell very strong when first sprayed on, but it is worth mentioning at this point that perfumes and aftershaves have three 'notes': the top note, the one you initially smell, later settles down into its base and heart notes, which is dependent not only on how the perfume develops with the minutes and hours but is also dependent on how it reacts with your body, to in a way create its own uniqueness on you. After a few hours, then, the Youth Dew settles down to become a softer and subtler blend that can be worn by all ages. Other examples of oriental fragrances (which typically include notes of orange, vanilla, spices, amber, incense, sandalwood and patchouli) can be found in Chance by Chanel, Fendi by Fendi, and Estée Lauder's Intuition.

Even then, the scents listed above still smell different, so perhaps obviously, the most important thing is still to get out there and smell them. Spray them onto yourself (but no more than 1 perfume on each arm) and walk around with them on for a few hours to see how they turn out. Many perfumeries also leave out little strips of cardboard so that you can spray onto them by way of a sample and write the perfume name on. Perfume can be expensive, and one bottle can last such a long time that it really is like an investment - so take your time before you buy.

Coming soon: finding your way around the rest of the fragrance wheel

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