After writing for Now Smell This for a decade, some things about perfume remain the same for me. I still get a thrill cracking open a sample of a promising fragrance. I still buy the occasional unsniffed or unsniffed-enough bottle (but rarely!). I still love tuberose, and it still obliterates me.
However, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way, too, things I bet most perfume enthusiasts will encounter eventually. Here they are. In the comments, I hope you’ll share your own hard-earned truths about fragrance.
Don’t write off a perfume without a giving it a fair chance
I entered my romance with fragrance with some ill-formed biases. “Department stores fragrances are inferior.” “Fruity florals are crass.” “Patchouli is for hippies and perfume naïfs.” “Chanel No. 5 is overplayed and ho hum.” What a dummy I was. Good perfume can be found in drugstores and the mall, not just in pricey designer boutiques and bohemian labs in Berlin. Sometimes only a fruity floral can scratch the itch for a delicious, juicy fragrance (hello, Byredo Pulp). Aged, woody patchouli is as complex as cognac. And Chanel No. 5? I’ve written about my 180 on that one.
Don’t write off a perfume right away
I can’t tell you how many fragrances I tested once and dismissed, then rediscovered and adored later. Sometimes the fragrance was too subtle for my developing ability to make out its charm. (Hey, I didn’t get Mozart on my first listen at grade school, either.) Sometimes my taste hadn’t broadened yet to encompass it. Sometimes I just wasn’t in the mood. I love it when I resample something I’d rejected and discover that I’ve grown my ability to appreciate enough to uncover its beauty.
Use it or lose it
Use samples and decants in plastic quickly. Also, vintage perfume in bottles with atomizers spoils more quickly: All perfume isn’t packaged equally. If it’s in plastic or has an atomizer, it has a higher chance of going “off.” Use it up.
Use perfume with abandon (corollary: don’t save that special perfume)
Why are you saving that sample vial of vintage Dioressence Parfum for a special day? Won’t your day be a lot more special if you wear it? Sad as it is, some things get used up and pass into memory. That’s all right, as long as you enjoy it while you wear it. When you wear perfume that you might be tempted to hoard, you’re converting scented alcohol into joy. Putting more joy into the world is always good.
Some people are going to think you’re nuts
Many people won’t understand our love of perfume. Maybe they even think perfume stinks. If a few drops of glamour run through their souls, they may show some interest and ask to smell a few samples. But chances are that most people will think having more than two or three bottles of perfume is, at best, eccentric and, at worst, stupid. It's a shame that they've shut themselves off from a whole dimension of art. Just remember, these may be the same people who fetishize California cult cabernet, travel internationally to golf, breed Scottish Fold cats, or have other hobbies I’ll never understand.1
Perfume people are the best
Perfume people are kind. In ten years of weekly posts, I can count on one hand the number of nasty comments I’ve encountered. Perfume people are fascinating. Among our readers are medieval historians, artists, auto mechanics, garden designers, cable technicians, and oncologists. Honestly, NST’s readers must have more PhDs per capita than any other blog outside academia. Perfume people are generous. Thanks to the perfume crowd, I’ve visited Paris, received solid advice on stain removal, discovered some of my favorite authors, and, of course, tried fragrances I’d never have been able to otherwise.
Thank you, everyone! What have you learned as you’ve embraced fragrance?
1. Not to knock cats. I have one in my lap right now.