Holding the power to flash memories from the past, ignite feelings you were hoping to forget and poking nostalgia through the mere sense of smell, a whiff from a perfume strip is mightier than anticipated.

A spritz on the wrist was traditionally done to camouflage bad smell from the body, but over time, it’s become a symbol of status and personality.

We wear perfume to complement our own odour, rather than to mask the natural essence of our skin. But what is the smell that we want to leave behind? Do we want perfume to add character to our existing self or are we looking to recreate a new individual? Almost, like an alter ego.

choosing a signature scent

History of perfumes

Egyptians get a big chink of credit for making perfumes part of their lifestyle around the 6th century. They used real flower petals, food spices and cooking oil to create various scents that were applied by both men and women on their body, pre and post bath.

Then Cleopatra came into the picture and gave perfumes an equation of pure luxury and class, by laying in the bathtub and soaking herself in aromatic essential oils.

This craze for a splash of liquid spread to Syria, Lebanon, Italy, England and, of course, France where Marie Antoinette took serious notes on what she wanted her signature scent to be.

About 200 years ago, inspired by the flower garden of Palace of Versailles, Marie Antoinette got Parisian perfume-house Lubin to put together a custom-made scent for her and keep it a top-secret (now back on the market as Black Jade).

But in the world of fashion, it all commercially started in the 1920s, when Ernest Beaux created Chanel No.5 for Coco Chanel. Coco was famously quoted saying that a woman should wear perfume whenever she hoped to be kissed.

Truly so, perfumes are a tool of allurement; a scent ignites the fire of sex and sensuality – both in men and women. A perfume should entail a scent that makes you feel sexy and wanted. Its initial inhalation needs to levitate to a cloud of pleasure and contentment, a place where the mental metaphors go wild. A perfume should make you want to daydream two seasons ahead, the crispness of spring needs to come alive on your skin, while you should also be embraced by the dead warmth of autumn.

Rise of celebrity perfumes

So, this brings us to how to choose a scent: your signature scent, so to speak.

Do you stick with classics from the rulebook or let a celebrity dictate your senses?

Elizabeth Taylor launched the celebrity-fragrance phenomenon in 1991 with White Diamonds, and ever since, it’s become a ritual to launch a perfume for every big screen star. They don’t even have to be a superstar to do so.

Till date, Jennifer Lopez has released 16 perfumes, Celine Dion is close at 15 releases and Paris Hilton has 11 perfume titles to her name (with three for men). These numbers provide evidence for celebrity perfumes not being an alien concept anymore, be it a boy band or a mega Hollywood star.

As a consumer of pop culture, are we inclined to buy a fragrance that is bottled with fame? Surely, the prolific perfumes are attached with an aura of entertainment. Obviously, we don’t expect a tall bottle to burst out in a song, but we do relate them to a music album or movie. It reinstates our faith in the said celebrity and the bottle on the dressing table gets an image.
How could you not trust Justin Bieber to launch a top-quality perfume?

Luxury brand perfumes

But in all seriousness, where does this leave mainstream luxurious brands? Fashion houses like Elizabeth Arden, Christian Dior, Tom Ford and Gucci, who’ve been the trendsetters in the fragrance industry, are now competing in a market inundated with Disney kid stars with anime-shaped perfume bottles. Their exquisitely styled and photographed campaign images with the season’s top model, might get the consumer roaring towards their individual counters, but it still gets down to solving the dilemma between Beyonce’s latest and Chloe’s top-seller.

Has the perfume industry lost its niche with an avalanche of options readily available at airport counters? Would swimming in a sea of Chanel No. 5 still be considered a novelty? Or would you rather pick an obviously chosen scent, so when next time you walk on the street, people recognise you as Rihanna’s doppelganger?

Build your own perfume personality

A fragrance really needs to be about what you want to smell like, as opposed to who. Be it freshly cut grass, a vanilla milkshake or your Grandparent’s ancestral home, the linger in the air needs to be about the top, middle and bottom notes in the fragrance, not the name on the bottle.

And while you’re choosing that signature scent, you need to acquaint it with your natural scent. Adding your own personality to the perfume is, somehow, more valuable than letting a luxurious label introduce itself to the crowd. When you’re stuck in an elevator, would you want people to say, “Oh, she’s wearing CK One,” or would you rather have them insinuate the fragrance in an embrace?

It honestly comes down to a personal choice of letting your aura decide who you want to be for the day. You could pick the most expensive bottle on the shelf, but it’s all about the scent honoring your style, personality and lifestyle.

You need to pick a scent, whose tantalizing whiff can be associated with you and your skin. Be it patchouli, rose, ylang ylang, vanilla, musk or spicy wood, you need to decide who you want to be that day and what you want to leave behind you.

Over the next few weeks, Fashionising.com will take you on a beautifully scented tour of perfumes. We’ll feature season’s top fragrances, do perfume reviews and help you find your personality via a simple spritz. Do come back for more.

Five tips to picking a scent

The Perfume Jargon: These are difficult to understand, without a doubt, so here’s your perfume counter cheat sheet.

Ranked from strongest to lightest – Parfum, Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Eau de Cologne and perfume mist. Parfum is the richest, most authentic form of perfume with 15-20% of aromatic compounds, while Eau de Toilette is the most commonly worn type (5-15% of aromatic compounds).

Try it on your skin: As tempting as walking around a departmental store with 20 differently scented paper strips sounds, you need to try the perfume on your skin before heading to the checkout counter. Every person’s skin pH is unique; you won’t get its true flavours unless you let the fragrance seep through your skin.
Give it time: It takes at least five minutes to smell more than the top notes of the fragrance, and about 20 minutes to get to the bottom notes. Spray it on your skin and walk around the store (or airport), if needed. No rash purchases here.
Keep the Coffee Beans Close: Remember that perfume shopping can get overwhelming. Don’t be like a child in a toy store; slow down with testing perfumes on your arm. It’s also advisable to keep the container of coffee beans handy; it’s crucial to neutralise your senses every now and again. Smell the coffee beans.
Go outside: The aromatic oils in perfumes react to the heat on the skin and your surroundings. If you’re testing them in an air-conditioned room, you might not get the real sense of how the perfume reacts on your skin. If possible, head outside for a few minutes and get used to the scent on your skin. Even better, if you come back the next day to finalise your purchase.
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