Sunday, October 27, 2013

Perfume 101 and Fall/Winter Fragrance Picks

Happy Sunday, everyone!  First, I'd like to thank all of you who read and/or commented on my most recent post.  It was a topic that took me several months to find the words to write about and the courage to publish, and I was so touched by all of the heartfelt and positive feedback on my blog and on my Facebook page from everyone.

As you all know, perfumes were one of the first loves of my life. For many women, fragrances are such a huge part of our memories, our impressions that we leave on others, and our mood for any given day.  I am a firm believer that one should smell good ALL THE TIME...and you shouldn't feel guilty about a little spritz of this or that just to go to the gym, grocery shopping, or heck, even to bed.  And, with this post, I hereby give you the authority and freedom to smell beautiful 24 hours a day, big girls.

Today I'd like to share with you my Fall and Winter fragrance picks, which, for the most part, are all "old favorites" that I have had in my perfume collection for years.  I am super-picky and fickle when it comes to perfumes (thank God for eBay and Makeup Alley swapping), and it takes a long time for a scent to be a permanent part of my collection.  Also, while I do have some fragrances that I wear year-round, there are a few scents I like to save for certain seasons.  For most of us, cool weather means scarves, boots, and coats (and yes, Pumpkin Spice Lattes if you haven't already OD'd on them like I have), and for me it's also the return of warm, spicy, heady fragrances.  Here's a peek at my current perfume collection:

(**click here to see how to make your own gorgeous perfume tray like this one!) 

Before we start, let's talk perfume vocabulary.  All perfumes consist of notes, which are the actual ingredients used to make up a perfume and can consist of flower or plant extracts or even synthetically-created molecules.  The notes in any fragrance can usually be divided into three categories.  Top notes are what one smells as soon as the fragrance comes in contact with the skin. These are often fruity notes, and they tend to disappear quickly.  Middle notes are evident once the top notes go away and are considered the "heart" of the fragrance. You'll often find that the floral notes of a fragrance fall into this category.  Base notes serve a couple of functions - they provide a "canvas" of sorts for the middle notes and determine how long a fragrance will last.  There are only so many types of notes that are truly long-lasting, and these are almost always base notes in perfumes.  Common base notes are vanilla, musk, and sandalwood.

Also, a fragrance's longevity refers to how long the wearer can smell the scent on his or skin, and sillage refers to the projection of the scent (how far away from him or her can it be detected) from the wearer's body.  A scent might have good longevity (you can smell it all day on yourself) but low sillage (only you can smell it, but not others other than those who might have the privilege to snuggle with you :)).  Most of us look for fragrances with good longevity, but depending on the occasion or just personal preference, you might want a lot or a little sillage. 

Next, most fragrances are divided into various families, which group them together according to their common notes. Experts vary as to what the major family categories are versus their subcategories, but some typical fragrance families are floral, fruity, orientals (contain warm, spicy, sweet notes such as vanilla or amber), woodsy (earthy notes such as sandalwood or patchouli), fresh (green, aquatic, or citrus notes), or chypre (often considered a sub-category of the woodsy family, these scents contain both woodsy and fresh notes and include some of the most popular scents in history such as Chanel's Cristalle, Christian Dior's Miss Dior, and Guerlain's Mitsouko) .  Most modern scents are a hybrids of these families and are referred to with names such as "florientals," "fresh-florals," woody-florals," "floral-fruity," etc.

Lastly, one lesson that I (and probably many of you, too) have learned the hard (and expensive) way is NEVER to buy a perfume based on love-at-first-sniff.  In other words, don't pick up a tester in the fragrance dept, spray it on your wrist, and buy it right then and there as the sales associate does backflips over your hasty purchase.  Walk around a while, do some shopping, and eat lunch before you buy it.  Even better, wear it home and see how(or if) it smells at the very end of your day.  There is nothing that breaks my perfume-loving heart (and wallet) more than spending a lot of money on a fragrance all to have it fade away or even turn into some awful, funky version of its original self (this happened to me this summer with some version of Gucci was a total impulse buy...later in the day I was shopping in Target and wondering who smelled like a combination of bad air freshener and wet was me...).  Keep in mind, too, that the notes, longevity, and sillage all vary depending on the wearer's body chemistry.  What may smell wonderful on someone else might make you smell like a nursing home or a brothel or vice versa. 

Now, on to the the nitty gritty.  Here is my first cold weather fragrance favorite, Quelques Fleurs L'Original Eau de Parfum by Houbigant:

Quelques Fleurs is a timeless and classic floral fragrance that was created in 1913.  Its top notes are orange blossom, green notes, tarragon, bergamot, lemon and citruses; middle notes are carnation, tuberose, orchid, lilac, orris root, jasmine, heliotrope, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, rose, violet and iris; base notes are sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, musk, civet, oakmoss, honey and vanilla.  As you can see, it is a powerhouse of plant and flower notes, and it was one of the very FIRST multi-note fragrances ever sold.  It has incredible longevity and sillage, and it is one that draws compliments for me all the time.  Of all of the scents that I wear, this one gets the most remarks from my students, especially those whom I teach at the end of the day (thus proving its sillage and longevity champ status and my devotion to its beautiful drydown).  Currently a 1 oz. edp spray costs $100, but to me a bottle is worth every penny and will last for years without changing in color or strength.  This bottle, however, is probably my best Ebay purchase of all time.  It is a 3.3 oz bottle that came 1/2 full, and I paid $25 for it!  I bought it from an ebay store that deals exclusively in estate sales, and after having gone through one bottle of this beautiful perfume already in my lifetime (I purchased my first 1 oz. bottle in 2004 when I worked for Chanel at Bloomingdale's.  It lasted me 8 years!), I knew immediately when I sprayed it for the first time that it was the "real deal" and was not old or spoiled.  This is one that I wear for just about any occasion, but especially when I want to feel feminine and confident.  It is not for the faint of heart, but it means business, just like me. (maybe that's why I wear it to work a lot!)

Next, another classic scent that I save exclusively for fall and winter, Guerlain's famous sandalwood masterpiece - Samsara.
I have been through several bottles of this rich, heady, oriental-woody perfume since high school.  The top notes are bergamot, lemon, ylang-ylang, and peach. The middle notes are jasmine, iris, narcissus, violet and rose. The base notes are sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean, amber, and musk.  It also has fabulous longevity and sillage, and I love the way a scarf of jacket collar smells hours or even days after having been sprayed with this exotic scent.  Though I rarely buy eau de toilettes of any perfume (eau de parfum, which is a bit more expensive, has a lower alcohol content and a higher content of the essential fragrance, has much better sillage and longevity than an edt), this time around (this is my 6th or 7th bottle of Samsara) I am trying the edt, and it actually does have surprisingly good longevity, though not as much sillage.  This is a good night perfume, especially nights involving a d-a-t-e.

This next scent, though I can never be one of those "signature scent" women who can stick to just one throughout the entire year, is probably my favorite fragrance of all time - Chanel's Allure.
This oriental-floral contains notes of bergamot, mandarin orange, peach, cedar, vanilla, rose, jasmine, peony, magnolia, orange blossom, lotus and vetiver.  According to Chanel and other fragrance experts, this complex scent doesn't have a dominant note or top/middle/base notes, but I would say that the citrus and fruity notes are what I smell first, then the florals, and lastly the yummy vanilla and veviter base notes.  To me, the drydown of Allure is what makes it my favorite.  It is a warm, comforting, and sensual scent that I always return to.  A true man-catcher that never fails to impress.  This is another one for which I am trying out the eau de toilette this time, but for my next bottle I will probably go back to the eau de parfum. 

Another one of my longtime favorites that I wear year-round is Bvlgari's Rose Essentielle Eau de Parfum.
This ladylike, sweet floral is not your grandmother's rose at all.  It opens with both Turkish and Prelude rose and green notes.   Its middle notes are blackberry, violet and jasmine, and bottom notes are sandalwood and patchouli.  This is rose done right!  It is absolutely lovely, sweet (but in a grown-up way) and feminine, and I find myself wearing this to church, brunch with the girls, and on weekend shopping days.  I am a huge fan of all Bvlgari perfumes, but this one is my absolute favorite.  Their beautiful, heavy glass bottles look gorgeous on anyone's vanity as well.

If you follow me on Instragram or Facebook, you saw my post about this recent buy, Chanel's Coco Madmoiselle Eau de Parfum Twist and Spray.
Since working for Chanel for a year in 2007, I have become a fan of this sophisticated chypre floral.  And, I absolutely LOVE this refillable twist-and-spray bottle, which comes with two .7 ounce refill vials (in addition to the one vial that already is in the bottle when you buy it).  Top notes are orange, mandarin orange, orange blossom and bergamot.  The middle notes are mimose, jasmine, turkish rose and ylang-ylang, and the base notes are tonka bean, patchouli, opoponax, vanilla, vetiver and white musk.  This is another "I mean business" perfume for me.  To me it is sharp, spicy, and rich and commands attention wherever you wear it.  It is my "take on the world" perfume. 

The last full-size bottle that occupies space on my perfume tray is a recent eBay acquisition, the Marc Jacobs Daisy Pop Art Edition.
This limited edition bottle contains the eau de parfum version of Marc Jacob's uber-popular floral woody fragrance (though I would classify it as more of a floral-fruity), and I scored this 3.4 oz tester bottle on eBay for about $45.  Its top notes are violet, strawberry and grapefruit.  Its middle notes are jasmine, gardenia and violet, and base notes are woodsy notes, musk and vanilla.  The strawberry is what stands out most to me in this fun, fresh scent, and while it doesn't have much longevity or sillage ( does not have full-fledged "favorite" status for me), I love its fresh, sweet scent for a casual, quick outing or when I just want a little whiff of spring and summer during the cooler months.  The bottle, of course, is what enticed me the most, and Marc Jacobs has one of these limited edition bottles of Daisy almost every year. (the current one is a pink and black one for Breast Cancer Awareness)

Now, on to the little guys on my perfume tray, here is another recent eBay purchase - a rollerball of Victor and Rolf's insanely popular oriental floral -  Flowerbomb.
Floral/fruity, sweet, patchouli scents are all the rage right now (this along with Lancome's new La Vie Est Belle perfume both fall into this "fru-tchouli" or "flora-tchouli" category).  This is currently the best-selling perfume at Sephora and several other stores, and I even saw a sales associate at Nordstrom the other day showing off their "Flowerbomb Fountain," with which customers can refill their 1.7 or 3.4 oz edp sprays of Flowerbomb for $40 less than the costs of buying replacement bottles.  Now THIS is perfume mania and marketing at its best!  Its top notes bergamot and green tea, while the middle notes are Sambac jasmine, Centifolia rose, freesia, and Cattleya orchid.  It dries down to some serious musk and patchouli basenotes.  While I am still on the fence as to whether or not to buy a full-size bottle, what I love about this rollerball is that through purchasing it I discovered a wondeful eBay store, Surfinjunkie.

As you can see from their business card, they give 15% of their proceeds to organizations that help victims of sexual assault and human trafficking.  I was thrilled to find out that part of my purchase went to such important causes, and while I may not fall in love with Flowerbomb, I most definitely plan to buy from this socially conscious e-tailer in the future.  I even emailed them to tell them how pleased I was with both my purchase and their charitable work, and the owner quickly replied to me, thanking me and telling me how they have received similar feedback from other buyers, including some who had been victims of these crimes themselves. 

In addition to eau de parfums and eau de toilettes, I keep my Pittsburgh Street Soapworks Un Bois Vanille perfume oil on my perfume tray (and the matching body lotion in my bathroom) year-round as well:
This rich, sophisticated vanilla scent also contains notes of black licorice, sandalwood, and coconut milk that make this "vanilla for grown-ups."  I LOVE to use this oil by itself or underneath some of my winter scents.

Lastly, I keep all of the sample vials that I accumulate in a lovely little pink Depression glass bowl that I found in an antique store:
I often throw one or two of these in my purse if I have to go straight from school to another meeting or dinner, or I include them as extras in swaps or gifts for friends. 

Now, y'all already know that I am nosy and I love to snoop in your bathroom cabinets and makeup drawers, but I REALLY love to know what everyone's favorite perfumes are, so please share them!

p.s. - All of the "notes" information in this article is from Fragrantica, THE website for perfume research and history.  If you are a perfume-lover like me, I highly recommend this website!

p.s.s. - Look for instructions in my next post later this week for how to make your own perfume tray like the one pictured in this post...

Thank you for reading, and go spritz on your favorite scent! 


  1. Ahh you seem like a kindred fume spirit! Amazing selections. Samsara sounds so up my alley it's not even funny, yet for some reason I've never smelled it. 10 Corso Como is another sandalwood-heavy fume I think I'd love but haven't sniffed yet.
    It's been pretty warm this fall, so far, so I've been all about my Dior Hypnotic Poison as my transitional, and also my all-time favorite and year 'round go-to, Caron Tabac Blond. I reserve the extrait for cold months and the edp for warmer weather, and I've been able to stretch my edp usage through October. Do you read perfume blogs at all? Before my time was taken over my my own blog I used to love spending lots of time on Now Smell This and Perfume Posse.

    1. I have become totally addicted to Fragrantica lately, plus I often look on Bois de Jasmine and Now Smell This for perfume reviews. I will have to check out the Perfume Posse, though! Glad to see that we are "scent sisters" in our perfume tastes. :)

  2. You have quite a fragrance collection there! I'm jealous that you used to work for Chanel. I've been meaning to do a fragrance post on a scent I bought at Barney's a couple of months ago by Frederick Malle. It's incredible, but I lack the vocabulary to adequately describe it. Also, it smells fantastic but it just doesn't linger on my skin...on my clothes yes but not on me. Any suggestions on how to make it last longer? It was super expensive & I love the scent.

    1. it Carnal Flower? I have heard that that one is wonderful. What are the middle and base notes in your Frederick Malle perfume? My suggestion would be to find a perfume oil with at least one of those notes (or mix a couple) and apply it before you spray the perfume. Gives your fragrance something to "stick" to.

  3. Eine ganz tolle Auswahl an Produkten, die du da hast. Einiges davon habe ich auch und ich bin total glücklich damit.

  4. Hi I got a Chanel no 5 purse spray, which full in black color. But I found out my cap is very loose, when I put my spray up side down, the refill will just fall out. The twist is not really functioning also. Just let you know that the Chanel no 5 is gift by my friend and I do have the receipt and not sure whether is authentic or not. Since you have experience working with Chanel, can you teach me how to recognize it. Thank you. Wish to hear from you soon.

    1. Hi, Elaine! Chanel containers are usually very sturdy, and I haven't had this happen with my Coco Mademoiselle Twist and Spray. My advice would be to take it by a Chanel counter and ask the sales associate. If you have a Nordstrom near you, I'd go to them. They tend to be the most friendly, helpful SA's that I have encountered.

  5. I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read! I definitely enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog.

    1. Thank you so very much! I hope you enjoy future posts! :)