Shopping for perfume - how to talk the talk...

Always found yourself confused by perfume 'jargon'? Worry no more, help is at hand....

The one thing I hate about going into an upmarket wine shop on the way to a friend's house (I like to think said friend is worth more than a quick trip to the offy) is the fact that I know hardly little about wine. "What kind of grape are you looking for madam?" is a question I normally draw a blank at ("erm... fermented?").

 The gorgeous perfumery at Roullier White, East Dulwich

The gorgeous perfumery at Roullier White, East Dulwich

Like wine, the  language of perfume can intimidate people especially if it's a world you're not too familiar with. So I'm going to be writing a series of posts to help it look like you know what you're talking about.

Concentration: Basically the ratio between the perfume oils containing the different fragrance 'notes' and the alcoholic water solution they are suspended in. Most scents are Eau de Toilette (EDT) but if you want your perfume to last, you need to invest in at least an Eau de Parfum (EDP) concentration. The higher the concentration, the more it costs but the payoff is that it will last longer and you'll need less of it.

(FYI any brides-to-be, if you're shopping for a wedding perfume, I'd go for an EDP over an EDT for the above reasons, as you won't have the time to be constantly spritzing all day.)

 A few of my favourite florals - Estee Lauder Modern Muse Chic, Anais Anais and Roja Dove's Reckless

A few of my favourite florals - Estee Lauder Modern Muse Chic, Anais Anais and Roja Dove's Reckless

But because a fragrance is a higher concentration e.g. a 'perfume' as opposed to an 'eau de toilette' this doesn't mean that the fragrance is 'stronger' or overpowering, just that it has more staying power.

Below is a run down of each fragrance concentration in descending order, with percentage of actual perfume oils versus the alcohol. 

Perfume - uses 20 - 40% of oils

Eau de Parfum - 7 - 14% 

Eau de Toilette - 3 - 8%

Eau de Cologne - around 2 - 4%

Fragrance Families: Many of us are familiar with different types of scent, whether it's flowery or citrusy, sweet or smoky. The main 'families' of scent are as follows...

Floral - one of the most familiar and popular fragrance families (usually accompanied by a commercial with Natalie Portman in sunglasses, murmuring sweet nothings from a bathtub). These usually have hefty doses of rose and jasmine, violet and ylang-ylang. 'Fresh florals' tend to have green, dewy notes to them, while 'white florals' are slightly softer, creamy and delicate.

Chypre - in my experience, one of the trickiest fragrance families to pinpoint. It's a fairly complex scent with a dry warmth (have a sniff of Clinique Aromatics to give you a better idea). It has bergamot, rose and jasmine and usually oak moss, patchouli and cedar wood. Perfect for those who tend to avoid 'girly' scents.

Fougère - most men's scents can be grouped into this family. These types of perfumes marketed to the chaps are normally 'clean and fresh' smelling and packed with cool notes of lavender, bergamot and vetiver underscored woody notes such as oakmoss and patchouli.

Oriental - jazzy characters these ones, they became popular in the 1930s when the world was fascinated by and fetishised the Far East. It's the scent equivalent of a feather boa and diamond tiara. You'll usually find vanilla, patchouli and sandalwood - and a few spicy notes in there too. Guerlain's Shalimar has to be one of the most famous orientals in existence.



Oud - the latest scent craze thanks to the perfume-loving Middle East, oud is a type of resin produced by South East Asian agar wood trees when they become infected (nice). Yet it's gone on to become one of the most highly-prized ingredients in perfumery for centuries. I've seen it described crudely on websites as 'musky and expensive'. But they have a point, when you wander down Brompton Road in Knightsbridge and catch a whiff of an oud-wearer it certainly knocks you for six and palatial decadence springs to mind.

Notes: Top, middle and bottom notes mean what you smell when you first spray it on (top), then the 'dry down' after it's evaporated on the skin (middle) and those warm, foggy notes right at the very end (bottom).

A very brief guide but I hope this comes in handy on your next scent shopping trip. For brilliant guides to perfumery I'd recommend Roja Dove's book The Essence of Perfume, as well as The Perfume Bible by Jo Fairley and Lorna McKay