First published on July 2014

Building a Perfume Collection:

Just getting started with perfume and feeling a bit confused? It’s a crowded market out there, so here are some bright ideas about how to buy, store and enjoy your fumes

Don’t be seduced purely by top notes. They’re first impressions, volatile substances with low molecular weights, and can deceive about how a fragrance will settle and unfold. Some manufacturers blast you with a powerful top note to hide the smell of alcohol. Don’t be fooled. The best vertically constructed perfumes reveal their heart and base notes slowly, then return to tease with certain top notes, only to start the whole cycle over again in a non-stop orbit of olfactory fabulosity. The best horizontal accords unfold at the same time. But I’m not saying top notes are evil, goodness no. One of my all time favourite scents, Bulgari’s Black, blasts out a very naughty top note of pungent rubber that is seriously kinky and seriously addictive. But wait … for what unfolds is a gorgeous symphony of white flowers.

Hang out with your fragrance before you go ahead and part with your dosh. Spray lots of things on paper strips then choose two, three tops, to test drive on your skin – choosing sites well apart from one another. Then off you go to check out the knickers or the white goods. Give the perfume time to open up and work its magic – or prove itself a stinker. Then sniff yourself. And sniff some more. That patch on your arm that keeps calling you back? That’s the one to buy. (Hint: If you’re prone to absentmindedness, make a wee map of what you spritzed where.)

Nose your limitations. (Sorry, can’t help myself.) After a couple of scents it can close shop temporarily. But you can fix that. I’ve tried the coffee bean plunge and they do seem to recalibrate the nasal passages. You will even find little pots of them in quality shops. Denyse Beaulieu, the author and perfume blogger, told me it’s just as effective to take a deep whiff of your own skin (the inner arm, for example), provided it’s not already laden with scent. Like all her advice, it’s spot on the money.

Perfume bottles are mini works of art and many are gorgeous to behold – but you don’t really want to look, unless you’re buying for the pose value, in which case display away you silly Billy. Passionate fumeheads know they have to hide their love away. Do not expose perfume to light and heat, which alter its chemistry. Store it in a dark, cool place. Many experts keep their collection refrigerated – you might want to invest in a mini fridge. I bought an antique music cabinet with a solid wood scroll-down door that reveals open-fronted trays. This lets me pull out my prizes and survey what’s what. I keep it on the opposite wall from my radiator.

Should you find a signature scent and stick with it forever and ever? The case for: From the age of about 17 to, oh, 25, I wore Chinese Flowers cologne from Kiehl’s Pharmacy all the time. A couple of years after graduation, while riding the subway in Manhattan, I ran into a university acquaintance (non beau variety). We caught up on life and then his stop arrived. As he stood to depart he smiled and said: “You still smell the same.” I was ever so chuffed. The case against: Boring! With so many amazing perfumes out there, why limit yourself? Isn’t it more fun to have a selection of scents to reflect your ever-changing moods? For night and for day? For different seasons? For work and for seduction? The only thing that matters is that people remember you’re the person who always smells amazing.

When choosing what to wear, bear in mind what you’ll be doing. You probably don’t want to send out a “ravish me” vibe on a job interview, nor would you be popular at the theatre if you’re wearing something people can smell from miles away.

On a related note, is less more? That depends on your perfume. Some have such strong sillage (scent trail) you can smell them hours after their wearer departs. (Face it, you’ll always know if a colleague’s wearing Giorgio.) Other scents, especially the citrus and light florals, are more fleeting. Start with less and see how you get on. You can always re-spray later in the day.

Where should you wear scent? I grew up adhering to the maxim – some attribute it to Coco Chanel, other to Cosmo – that said a woman should apply perfume on those areas where she’d like to be kissed. When I asked perfume guru Luca Turin if that notion held water, he honked with laughter and crowed: “If that was true then I’d wear it on my ass!” But seriously folks. They say to apply perfume to pulse points (neck, wrists, inner elbows, behind the knees) because the blood’s closer to the surface and its heat helps release a perfume’s alchemy. I say put it wherever the hell you like. I love spritzing my hair because I get unexpected blasts whenever my shiny locks swing. I apply it to my inner wrists as a secret message to myself – I can check up on it as the day progresses. If you want to avoid skin entirely, put the perfume on your clothes. (I don’t mean a Febreeze-style dousing, just a dab’ll do ya.) Or saturate a cotton ball with scent and tuck it inside your bra.

Go pansexual by ignoring sex distinctions. Many a floral smells amazing on men, and the world is full of so-called male colognes that I, personally, will never stop wearing, such as Givenchy’s stonkingly beautiful Insensé (mysteriously unavailable in the UK). Whenever I wear it I earn compliments, not cat-calls accusing me of gender dysmorphia.

Embrace samples. One of my favourite websites is, an LA-based retailer that also sells sample vials of their vast selection, at reasonable prices (though there’s the VAT man to consider on this end). London’s Les Scenteurs allows customers a couple of free samples per visit. Other manufacturers, such as Ormonde Jayne, sell sanely priced sample boxes containing all their fragrances. They’re not alone in this practice, so do a bit of online hunting and gathering. It’s a great way to spend time getting to know the range and deciding what’s right for you. The money you spend is actually a saving, because you won’t wind up with an expensive bottle of Eau My God That Stinks.

Perfume can discolour pearls. Keep them well apart.

Many say scent lasts longer if applied to moisturised skin – though you want to be sure to choose a moisturiser that’s unscented. I read that putting perfume on top of a dab of petroleum jelly (ie Vaseline) helps prolong scent, so I tried it – and what do you know, it’s true.

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