Picking Out The Perfect Perfume With Fumerie Parfumerie's André Gooren
Selecting a trademark perfume is easier said than done. Once in a blue moon, you will happen to stumble upon the scent for you. But why would you leave finding your signature scent up to chance?
In order to help you on your scent-seeking quest, we turned to André Gooren, who is Portland-based perfumery Fumerie Parfumerie's parfumier extraordinaire.
He has plenty of pointers, so get ready to take some mental notes.
What is the first step that someone should take when they are about to embark on a finding-a-perfect-perfume mission?
Spend some time doing a bit of research on the fragrances you like. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way. Learning a bit of fragrance vocabulary will make conveying what you are looking for a lot easier.
One of the most common things I hear from customers is that they feel out of their depth when they are fragrance shopping. The truth is that most people feel the same way. Researchers recently discovered that the human nose is more powerful than we had previously believed, yet our sense of smell continues to be chronically underutilized.
Smell just isn’t a major part of our culture and as a result we don’t typically talk about it. When the topic of smell does come up, it rarely goes beyond describing aromas as either good or bad. It should therefore come as no surprise that people don’t have the vocabulary necessary to communicate what they are looking for.
As a culture we don’t grow up learning to identify and discuss aromas and so when we venture into a world that is all about smells, it’s like traveling to a country where we don’t speak the language.
As a result, a major part of my job is acting as a sort of interpreter. I listen to descriptions of smells and attempt to translate them. People try to convey what they like as best they can. The most common descriptions I hear are musky, floral, woody and sweet.
However, rather than being subjective descriptions, these are all actually well-defined terms used by perfumers to describe very specific aromas.
The problem is, outside of the perfume industry, everyone has their own idea of what musky means. Over the years I have found that the best way to identify exactly what a person is searching for is to ask them to tell me a few of their favorite fragrances.
Coming to the fragrance counter equipped with this information will end up saving you a lot of time, assuming the sales associate is well-trained. We actually have a Find A Fragrance sign-up form on our site for a free online fragrance consultation. Once I get that information from a given customer, I take some time and develop a taste profile for them and send them some recommendations based on scents that have liked in the past.
This classification system was developed by Michael Edwards over the course of the 1980s and his iconic fragrance wheel was introduced in 1992. His classification system is used by perfumers, perfume critics, retailers, and pretty much anyone with an interest in fragrance.
His site Fragrances Of The World has more information on this. It also has an online fragrance finder/recommendation tool.
Most people find that a majority of the fragrances that they have worn fall into one or two of the fourteen families. Once you have this information it makes it much easier to begin your search.
[The fragrance families are as follows: Citrus (citrus fruits, products from the bitter orange tree), Marine (fresh notes evocative of the sea), Green (leafy, grassy notes), Fruity (sweet florals, stone fruits and berries), Floral (floral fragrances), Soft Floral (floral notes, powdery orris, sparkling aldehydes), Floral Oriental (sweet floral notes, spices, amber), Soft Oriental (spices, resins, sweet floral notes, amber), Oriental (resins, amber), Woody Oriental (woody notes, amber), Woods (woody notes), Chypre (woody notes, mossy notes), Leather (dry woody notes, leather), Fougère (aromatic notes, woody notes, amber, mossy notes).]
All that being said, the number one tip that I have for people searching for a new fragrance is to have an open mind. Most people do their fragrance shopping at department stores and, unless you live in a big city, the selection is going to be dominated by floral fragrances for women and aromatic and woody oriental fragrances for men. There are a lot of families that just aren’t represented in larger stores so you may not even now what you’re missing.
Reading fragrance blogs is a great way to discover new fragrances that don’t have the benefit of multi-million dollar advertising campaigns. Most independent fragrance retailers also sell samples of all of their fragrances. I cannot over stress the importance of trying a fragrance before committing to a full bottle. Plus the more fragrances you sample, the more your olfactory knowledge grows!
How does body chemistry impact how a given perfume will smell on a person and are there any ways to predict this pre-purchase?
The body chemistry question comes up a lot. The idea that an individual’s body chemistry will affect the way a fragrance smells is a marketing executive’s dream. It certainly makes the whole process of finding the right fragrance much more romantic—akin to finding one’s soul mate. It also provides a convenient way for the more tactful among us to tell someone that we don’t like their fragrance, “It smells great on you, but it would never work with my chemistry.”
The truth is that body chemistry generally doesn’t have a profound effect on the way a fragrance smells.
That is to say, fragrances are not directly altered by your unique makeup.
As for the effect of diet, IPSICA graduate and professional fragrance analyst Pierre-Constantin Guéros notes that, “Unless you eat very spicy food all the time, your body chemistry won’t change a fragrance.”
However, the relative oiliness of your skin and your body temperature do have a noticeable effect on the way a fragrance smells, most profoundly in the first half hour or so.
The reasons for this are complex and occur at the molecular level. Perfumes are constructed out of hundreds of aroma molecules. In the process of creating fragrances, perfumers take advantage of the evaporation curves of the individual components to achieve different effects. Each component in a fragrance has a unique evaporation curve and perfumers use their technical knowledge of evaporation curves when composing fragrances.
The relative oiliness of your skin will affect how quickly components evaporate, as will the temperature of your skin. The components of the fragrance that are most affected by this are known as top notes. They are the fresher more effervescent notes in a fragrance: citruses, light fruits and herbs. Generally speaking, the fresher the aroma, the more volatile the aromamolecule.
These components are very delicate and thus easily affected by subtle differences like skin temperature.
However, once a fragrance progresses into its main theme (the heart notes), these subtle differences have less of an effect as the molecules responsible for the aroma of the heart are larger and less volatile.
Generally speaking, if you spray the same fragrance on two different people, they will smell more or less the same an hour later.
I will add that some fragrances possess certain qualities that seem to become amplified on skin. A good example is Miel de Bois by Serge Lutens. The fragrance revolves around a huge central note of honey, which can take on an ammonia-like aroma.
If you find that you love such a fragrance but don’t want to wear it on skin, spraying it on fabric is a wonderful alternative (provided it doesn’t stain your clothes). This will also make your fragrance last longer. Less direct heat means the fragrance plays out in slow motion.
As for predicting how fragrances will smell on your skin, my advice is to get to know the fragrance the whole way through. I always strongly recommend that people spray a fragrance on a blotter or test strip before spraying it on their skin.
Let it sit for a few hours and revisit it often. If you end up liking it on paper, then try it on skin. A lot of the bigger fragrance brands put most of their budget into the top notes (the first fifteen minutes of the fragrance’s life) to encourage people to buy the fragrance on the spot.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has impulsively sprayed something on their skin only to ask for something to remove it minutes later.
This is less the result of the fragrance changing on their skin than the result of the fragrance progressing as it would on paper. You can love the top notes of a fragrance and hate the heart and the base. A little patience will save you a lot of scrubbing.
On that note, here’s a quick tip for removing a fragrance that you need to get off of your skin: take a cloth and moisten it with alcohol (I typically use isopropyl alcohol but any unscented alcohol will work—vodka included) and rub the area until the fragrance is removed.
This will, of course, dry out your skin so be sure to moisturize afterward!
What are your thoughts for having a perfume for every occasion?
I am a huge proponent of having an extensive fragrance wardrobe. I first discovered fragrance as a hobby and quickly amassed a large fragrance collection.
Back then I was working an office job and the best part of my day was getting dressed in the morning and choosing a fragrance.
I think of every perfume as a conversation partner. They are with you throughout the day and they all have different things to say. As my tastes became more exotic, some of my early favorites just didn’t seem to have enough interesting things to say to keep my attention throughout the day.
After a while you begin to get a feel for what kind of day you want to have and what kind of fragrance is going to complement that day the best.
Of course, this sort of approach precludes having a signature scent and there is something to be said for signature fragrances.
If you are the sort of person who wants a certain fragrance to be identified with your personal brand, then a signature scent is a great approach.
It has always seemed to me that the idea of a signature fragrance seems to benefit others more than it benefits the wearer. Your friends and relatives will certainly recognize your fragrance and come to associate you with it, meanwhile, you have to forsake all other fragrances in favor of one.
I wear fragrance for myself. I really don’t care whether others like what I wear or if they comment on it.
I rarely receive compliments on my fragrance choice, which I view as a good thing. I wouldn’t really want to be wearing something that had such universal appeal.
The sheer volume of new releases these days is just astounding. Back in the 1980s, new fragrances weren’t released at the pace that they are today. In 2015 alone, there were over 1,500 new releases.
There is such a huge world of perfumes out there just waiting to be explored. Working at a fragrance boutique, I am often asked if we make custom fragrances.
My response is always the same. First I explain to people that with all of the fragrance available on the market, whatever they are looking for most certainly already exists. Second, I stress the importance of leaving perfume creation to experts.
Perfumers go through years of training, learning to identify aromamolecules, memorizing evaporation curves, studying the classics. They are artists of the highest caliber.
Most of the people who offer on-the-spot fragrance creation have no such training and won’t be able to match the quality of these creations.
Finally, I want to share a quote by Frédéric Malle, the creative director and curator of one of the finest fragrance lines on the market:
“Custom-designed perfumes have never made sense to me. They didn’t exist between the two world wars, which was a time of infinitely greater extravagance and luxury than now. I see perfume as a matter for professionals, if not artists. The language barrier and the fact that few people are capable of conceptualising a scent, and even fewer of knowing when to stop, have both been obstacles to putting my ideas into practice. Such hurdles probably explain why the greatest perfumers do not produce custom designs.”
With all of the choices on the market, I see no reason why everyone shouldn’t own several bottles of perfume. Just as we have different clothes for different occasions, we should have a range of fragrance options at our disposal.
What’s the most misunderstood aspect of perfumery?
One of the most misunderstood and maligned aspects of modern perfumery has been synthetics.
The name itself sounds scary and conjures up images of scientists in white lab coats. In truth, synthetics are an important part of nearly every fragrance created since 1889.
Despite what eager sales associates may tell you, unless a perfume is explicitly marketed as all-natural, it most certainly contains synthetics—and that’s a great thing.
Synthetics are the reason that what we call modern perfumery even exists. Before synthetics came along, fragrances were simple single floral compositions that strived to replicate the smells that one encounters in nature. Synthetics put the art in perfumery. They are functionally the bone structure of fragrances, with natural components fleshing out the composition.
Now to quickly dispel the major misconceptions about synthetics.
(1) "They are low-quality". In much the same way as there are low-quality and high-quality naturals, synthetics run the gamut. The best synthetics, like the best natural materials, are extremely expensive.
(2) "Synthetics are dangerous or toxic". This could not be further from the truth. First of all, most of the materials listed on IFRA’s list of known allergens are natural ingredients.
Moreover, naturals contain dozens, if not hundreds, of components while synthetics are single molecules.
The likelihood of a reaction is statistically much higher with a natural material. Furthermore, any new materials are subject to rigorous tests in order to make it to market. These tests are overseen by the fragrance industry’s own regulatory body (IFRA) and the European Union.
(3) "Naturals smell better". Just as there are beautiful naturals, so too are there beautiful synthetics. However, this misses the point. An all-natural fragrance lacks the nuances and structure that synthetics can provide and an all-synthetic perfume will lack the depth and character that naturals can provide. The magic happens when they come together.
(4) "Naturals are traditional (French) and synthetics are modern (American)". Actually, synthetics have been in wide use since 1889 when French perfume house Guerlain used vanillin and coumarin in their iconic fragrance Jicky.
Synthetics are an important part of the perfume industry. It is unfortunate that they are so misunderstood. They have been used for over a century and have been the catalyst for every innovation in perfumery. It’s about time they received the attention that they deserve.
What’s the one thing you would change about the way people shop for fragrances?
One of our major principles at Fumerie has been the elimination (or at least the avoidance) of the distinction between men’s and women’s fragrances. We feel that fragrances ought to be appreciated in their own right, independent of arbitrary labels.
Fragrances, after all, have no gender and any argument to the contrary is entirely based on social expectations. Men in the middle east wear rose fragrances. Men in Victorian England favored violet. We think that if you love it, you should wear it and we are not alone. Niche and independent houses have, in recent years, released more and more fragrances as shared scents.
As our expectations and preconceptions about what is masculine and feminine continue to change and evolve, distinguishing between men’s and women’s scents becomes increasingly more difficult and unrewarding.
Look at it this way, there’s a whole half of the fragrance world that remains unexplored if you subscribe to the idea of men’s and women’s fragrances. Who could leave all that on the table?
Just for fun before we wrap up this chat, what are your all-time favorite scents?
I have run down a list of my all-time favorites more times than I would like to admit. My current top 10 list includes:
This is a hauntingly beautiful intersection of orris (the dried rhizome of the iris flower) and leather.
A dusty orange blossom and opoponax in perfect proportions.
Knize's Knize Ten
Polished leather, smokey notes, ambery notes and a beautiful citrus accord to boot.
Éditions de Parfums de Frédéric Malle's Une Fleur de Cassie
Rich animalic notes of cassie and mimosa on a warm woody base.
A mossy citrus fragrance accented with an overripe fruit accord; perfect for summer days.
A mossy-woody structure awash in the soft glow of milky peach.
Leathery and green—the scent of the forest bathed in Mediterranean citrus.
L’Artisan Parfumeur's Dzing!
A circus-themed fragrance; the scent of cedar shavings, the big top and leather saddles.
The scent of the inside of a fine leather handbag.
An outrageously animalic meditation on musk.