You’re Doing It All Wrong: 8 Signs You Need to Rethink Perfume

Indie perfumer Jessica Hannah working with a custom client in her perfume studio.

Indie perfumer Jessica Hannah working with a custom client in her perfume studio.

perfume-1I would never be so bold to tell anyone that they’re doing anything wrong — unless they say they don’t like perfume.

I’ve been there myself. I grew up where adults all had a signature scent and they drowned me in it — Anais Anais By Cacharel, Christian Dior Poison, Paco Rabanne – Pour Homme. Great scents unto themselves, sure, but a little in-your-face.

I can still smell us all — sitting up there in the top rows of the balcony with our minds wandering and the scents of the 1980s malingering up into the rafters.

But since I decided to come out as a super sniffer and embark on a scent journey a few years ago, I’ve discovered a few things that have completely changed how I feel about perfume. It’s never been a better time to rethink your thoughts about the world of scent.

8 Signs You Need to Rethink Perfume

1. You never even wear perfume.
If you have labeled yourself a perfume hater than you are missing out on an entire new world of scent that’s been fomenting in the past few decades. You might still be attached to where you were twenty years ago — slow dancing with some Justin Timberlake look-alike and inhaling the Drakkar Noir from every boy in the room. But you’re older now, and your sense of olfaction might actually be better. Now is the time to recalibrate.

2. You wear it for somebody other than yourself.
If you only think perfume is something you wear to attract somebody else, you are ignoring the obvious mood-enhancing benefits for yourself. I have found place-based scents to be a surprising and welcome balm for all kinds of maladies, like homesickness and seasonal affective disorder. If you miss summer, just smell some jasmine!

3. You have no idea what you like.
Perfume has a nomenclature and a culture to itself, so if you haven’t taken any time to learn about the basics, you probably haven’t even given yourself a chance to fall in love with something. Kafkaesque has a great guide on where to start if you’re new to scent.

4. You’re turned off by in-your-face scents.
The days are far gone when all perfumes sprayed on a wrist had to take over your life until your next bath. The new generation of perfumers are actually doing something old — using essential oils and natural ingredients that make them more subtle and more of an artistic product. Sure, they don’t last as long, but you can experience how scent changes on the skin. To me, its a more accurate way to experience how scent puts you in the moment.

5. You don’t have a favorite indie perfumer.
If you think perfume is all department stores and makeup counters, let me introduce you to the world of indie perfumers (post forthcoming). These are professed scent obsessives who have decided to work with oils and tinctures as an artistic pursuit and who are coming up with fragrances to rival the big houses in France. And because they are out there in the world telling the stories of their creations, you can be sure to have a more intimate connection with your perfume blender than when you just order something online. To start, try out some of my favorites, Jessica Hannah (pic above), Captain Blankenship and OLO.

6. You’ve never tried naturals.
If the idea of being bathed in a cloud of suffocating air is your idea of perfume, if you’re a natural person with natural inclinations, then you should be exploring the work of perfume artists who work exclusively with natural-based scents. That way, if your goal is to smell like the last favorite forest you walked through (and not some cheap approximation of it), the option is available to you with naturals. Naturals provide sensual luxury from far-off cultures, travel in a bottle. Here, my favorite is Mandy Aftel, America’s grand dame of natural perfuming.

7. You haven’t explored oils and solids.
Not all scent is delivered the same. If you have never responded to scent in an alcohol spray, there are ample other ways to deliver the experience. I’m a huge fan of scents in a jojoba oil, or a solid scent based in jojoba and beeswax that you can carry around in a gorgeous tin (see Mandy Aftel’s recent release Bergamoss).

8. You’ve let somebody else’s imagination sell you on what perfume is.
I don’t know about you, but I look at fragrance ads and see something other than myself. If ads are meant to be aspirational, then there is rarely anything in a perfume ad to inspire me. It’s all just women dolled up to look like girls.  To me, perfume is about stories the way scent is about memories. So when I want to try a perfume a seek out something that will inspire me by the story and the ingredients.

Carry on, Scent Seeker!

I hope this little post has given you some inspiration to go out in the world and seek out the work of individuals who are experimenting and whose products will blow your mind. As a bonus, there are so many options out there that you’ll never have to smell like anyone else ever again!

What’s your take on perfume? Please share your ideas with me — your preconceived notions, the barriers that keep you from jumping full-bodied into this particular pool.

7 thoughts on “You’re Doing It All Wrong: 8 Signs You Need to Rethink Perfume

  1. LifeLoofah says:

    I have to admit, I’m a perfume-hater. This is because they are all “in-my-face” as you say, and I find it offensive to say the least. Honestly I enjoy the simple odour of my freshly washed hair and skin. I have a favourite natural hand soap that I just love the scent of – if I could carry that with me all day I would. Maybe you’re on to something… 🙂


    • Emily Grosvenor says:

      With all due respect, I used to carry a bar of soap around with me to smell when I was a teenager 🙂 So I know about soap fetishes! But I’m starting to be so anti-synthetic fragrances I just can’t shut up about it! There should be a rule against getting on a plane wearing any fragrance.


      • LifeLoofah says:

        Alas my hand soap is liquid… a little more awkward to carry. As for planes, I wholeheartedly agree and would add elevators and doctor offices to the list!
        I didn’t know there were non-synthetic perfumes, perhaps I should give perfume another try after all.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jennifer McCormick says:

    I have to admit that I generally don’t wear scent because of my allergies. But when I want to wear a fragrance I go for an all natural fragrance grounded with vanilla bean (not the cloying sweetness of fake vanilla found in most commercial perfumes). I find that this scent doesn’t affect my allergies and gives me that extra special feeling of wearing something that smells lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

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