What is it that causes one perfume to linger in the mind and another to simply disappear on the next breeze? Author of Bois de Jasmin, Victoria Frolova, writes about what causes a scent to elicit compliments.
Perfumer Sophia Grojsman was returning home one evening when she noticed a man following her. As she quickened her step and clutched her handbag, the man shouted, “Wait, wait, I don’t mean any harm, I just want to know the name of your perfume. It’s amazing!” The fragrance was Calvin Klein Eternity, which Grojsman was designing at the time. Once launched, Eternity rapidly climbed to the top of the charts, and today, this explosive floral is still among the best sellers. Grojsman’s anecdote is an extreme example of a perfume compliment, but the poignant reactions that scents can provoke made me wonder – what is the ultimate head-turning perfume?
“Your fragrance is your message, your scented slogan,” says Symrise perfumer Maurice Roucel, whose Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur garners quite a bit of flattery my way. When I ask Roucel about the bombshell personality of Musc Ravageur, he points out its sillage. Sillage is a term used to describe the scented trail left by the fragrance wearer. It comes from the French word for “wake”, as in the trail left by a passing boat. Opulent blends like Thierry Mugler Angel and Chanel Coco Mademoiselle are examples of perfumes with strong sillage. They announce your presence and remain in the room after you’re gone.
Strong scents will attract attention much like an outrageous outfit might provoke comments; however, it takes more than a noticeable smell to win genuine compliments. As far back as the 1950s, legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska rebelled against heavy, sweet scents that he considered too blunt and loud. In response, he created Christian Dior Diorissimo, a lily-of-the-valley fragrance that was understated, yet so sparkling that it revolutionized perfumery. Roudnitska’s other great masterpiece, Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, went even further in defining radiance, and it continues to inspire creators today.
To achieve unprecedented radiance in his compositions, Roudnitska used the new perfume ingredient hedione, a natural component of jasmine. Smell hedione on a scent strip, and you will surely be disappointed. It hardly has any odour, other than a hint of lemony jasmine. But when this note is used in a perfume, it can give an impressive lift and brilliance. To experience this material, try fragrances like Chanel No. 19, Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, and Estée Lauder Private Collection Jasmine White Moss. Notice how these scents glitter on your skin and leave a noticeable trail, yet they speak without raising their voice.
Fragrances that I’ve complimented on others are always ones that I remember, sometimes for many years. I recall mentioning to a boy in my high school that I liked his choice of scent. Years later I can’t remember his name, but I’ve never forgotten his perfume – Christian Dior Fahrenheit. “Fragrances with quality ingredients and a memorable character are bound to catch your attention,” explains Givaudan perfumer Yann Vasnier. When you try a new perfume, notice if it keeps your interest and then the next day ask yourself if you can remember the scent. It’s impossible to predict what will capture someone else’s attention, but if a fragrance doesn’t leave a trace in your own memory, it’s not likely to become your signature in other people’s minds either.
Finally, an essential element of a head-turning perfume is how a fragrance makes you feel when you wear it. “While a dress, an accessory, or even a face can elicit compliments based on an aesthetic judgment—balance, harmony, originality—we are not trained to judge fragrance the same way,” says Mehdi Lisi, whose job as a fragrance development manager at International Flavors & Fragrances involves gauging our reaction to different scents. “And therefore, in a way, complimenting someone’s fragrance is a more personal kind of compliment.” It’s a comment not only about your perfume, but also about you.
My most remarked-upon perfume is a perfect illustration of this idea. Hermès Hiris is a soft accord of iris and musk, a fragrance that wears like a delicate veil and makes me feel beautiful. Despite its understated presence, I receive a compliment nearly every time it. When you look for a new fragrance, it’s easy to be swayed by the packaging or the sales pitch, but the most important criterion is whether a perfume gives you a rush of pleasure. After that, the compliments will naturally follow.
What perfume gets you the most compliments?