Learning how to smell a natural perfume is like learning to speak another language: the common vocabulary will not suffice. Words don’t cover the same territory and in fact, the terrain is different. So let me take you by the hand through this narcotic, complex, earthy, dense, sometimes luscious syntax.
Natural perfumes are best experienced on your skin, rather than smelled in the bottle or on a perfume blotter. They have an idiosyncratic relationship with your body chemistry, blossoming on your skin. These perfumes smell unique on each person, which is part of their allure and magic.
Natural perfumes don’t broadcast their presence, and last only about two hours on the skin. In contrast, the thing that allows perfumes to endure from morning until night, and to be perceived from across the room is the presence of synthetics. Perfumes that purport to be all natural, but last all day or have a sillage of ten feet, are not from botanical sources.
When I come upon a person to whom the aroma of a synthetic rose reminds them more of an actual rose than does the aroma of the voluptuous natural Turkish rose absolute, I know that the funky, complex, and authentic aspects of natural perfumes will not be appreciated. The aromas of natural essences are multi-layered by nature (pun intended). The texture of these aromas is more opaque and less possible to pin down. Their scent is just plain different. The perfumes created with them, are complex, layered, and deep. Some people think of their aroma, pejoratively, as dark, heavy and fungal, almost coarse.
The best way to smell a natural perfume is put a bit on the back of your clean un-fragranced hand. Rub the perfume twice to make the alcohol disperse. If you don't do this, you will be overwhelmed by the smell of the alcohol and it will diminish your ability to smell the perfume. Close your eyes when you smell the perfume and focus on that initial aroma. Take note of the complexity, texture, shape of the scent. Wait five minutes and smell it again. Notice how it has changed. Smell again after ten more minutes and then again after half an hour. This will give you a good reading of the evolution of the perfume on your skin.
An inescapable aspect of smelling a natural perfume is the way that it connects you to the smells of the natural world, in the same way as a walk in the forest, cooking a delicious meal or harvesting plants and flowers from your garden. There is a richness to knowing that the essences you are inhaling played such a rich part in human history. After all, we not only smell with our nose, but with our mind.
© 2011 Mandy Aftel
About the guest blogger: Mandy Aftel is one of the world's leading natural perfumers. She is the author of three books on natural perfume: Essence And Alchemy, which has been translated into seven languages and was the winner of The Sense of Smell Institute's Richard B. Solomon Award; Aroma, co-authored with chef Daniel Patterson, which focuses on the essential link between food and fragrance and includes recipes for both; Scents And Sensibilities, which guides the reader through the history and creation of solid perfumes. She was named "Best Scent" in San Francisco Magazine's "Best of the Bay", included on the "It List" of perfumers in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine and was chosen as one of the twenty-five most influential people in perfume by Basenotes.net.
Mandy is currently up for an American FiFi award, the recipient of which will be decided by a public ballot. Click here if you'd like to vote. Please come back to Persolaise.com on Friday for reviews of four Aftelier perfumes.