WE ALL THINK fragrance hunting is an intuitive process. But then we get to the counter and have no idea what the difference is between “eau de cologne” and “eau de toilette”. Then the questions emerge: Why are some vastly more expensive than others? What the heck are base notes and heart notes?
To help you find one that sticks, we summoned the expertise of Yann Vasnier, senior perfumer at Givaudan (the scent developers behind many of your favorite fragrances).
Here, Vasnier offers five fundamental questions a gentleman should ask himself when thinking of investing in a signature scent. Here’s what you need to know before searching for your next fragrance—which will certainly be your most compatible fragrance ever.
1. What’s the end goal?
Before you visit the department store or scent shop, Vasnier suggests first thinking about what you want in a fragrance. Is your personality more serious, and are you trying to lighten up? Maybe a light citrus scent would be more inviting. Alternatively, let’s say you want to maintain that serious edge at the office, since you’re the head honcho or on the rise. In that case, you’d be better off with a deeper scent, perhaps something anchored with spices or woods. If you at least come in knowing what you want to achieve with the scent, then that will help eliminate lots of unnecessary fragrances from consideration.
2. How long do you want the scent to last?
While shopping, you’ll see various classifications; you should know three. From least concentrated to most concentrated, they are: eau de cologne, eau de toilette, and eau de parfum. If you buy an eau de cologne, it’s not going to last as long as an eau de toilette, which won’t last as long as an eau de parfum. If something is straight “perfume,” then it’s the densest of all and might last as long as eight hours. You might notice price increases for this same reason: The more concentrated the ingredients, the higher the cost, the longer it lasts. (Or, as Vasnier puts it: “The higher you go, the longer the fragrance will wear on you.”)
3. What are you willing to pay for?
A range of factors affect a scent’s price. Among them: “[Q]ualities of ingredients used, marketing, packaging, and the fact that retailers often determine the end price,” Vasnier says. Remember: Fragrances are made from ingredients like anything else, and certain fragrance ingredients are more expensive—because of the crop’s value and prominence, or because those ingredients are labor-intensive to prepare. For instance: “Orris, the floral woody note used in both women’s and men’s fragrances, is distilled from a root which is hand-harvested and dried sometimes for multiple years.” So, orris comes with a higher price tag.
4. Which scent “family” is best for you?
In order from lightest to darkest, the main scent families are:
- fougère (meaning “fern”)
- Chypre (meaning “Cyprus” and denoting scents often originating from the Middle East)
The best way to figure out which is best for you? “Keep smelling and experimenting,” Vasnier says. And if you like a few, divide them by occasion or time of the season. “Choose a light, fresh fragrance for the day or summer, or a sexier, darker feel for a winter night.” (We like spicy, musky, and woody scents for winter, from the latter end of that list.) The expert behind the fragrance counter will also help you choose which is best for you, based on your initial identification of what you want the scent to accomplish.
5. What’s the difference between top, middle, and base notes?
“Top notes are the lightest and most volatile ingredients, which you smell when you first spray it,” Vasnier says. “Middle notes”—also called heart notes—“are the main character of the fragrances. They’re often floral, like rose. Base notes are background ingredients that will make the fragrance last longer on skin.”
Pay closest attention to heart notes, Vasnier says: “They contain the signature of the fragrance, and they should get you the most compliments.”
6. How often should you replace your fragrance before it spoils?
Vasnier says this depends upon the character of the scent: “Some citrus fragrances are probably more fragile. Richer fragrances, like oriental and leather, can be kept much longer.” All fragrances should be kept in a cool, dark place to maximize their lifespan, he adds. Translucent bottles will compromise a fragrance faster than opaque ones, since the latter will invite no chemical-changing sunlight.