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“In it’s way, a perfume is an invisible dress, playing on the tension between what is hidden and what is revealed.” ~ Thierry Wasser, Guerlain Perfumer

What is it about perfume that makes a woman feel, dare I say, desirable? Between the moment you put it on and the moment a man swoons over your scent, the perfume mixes with your chemistry to create a sensual aura that is yours alone. Whether your scent is a classic (Chanel No 5) or a more modern approach to perfume (Sugar by Fresh), we all have that signature scent that we call our own.

{Does anyone get this ad campaign?}

I’ve often wondered what’s involved in making my favorite perfumes. On my recent trip to France, I had the opportunity to find out. One sunny afternoon in the Village of Eze, in the mountains outside of Nice, David and I wandered into the Fragonard Parfumerie.

The perfumery is a family-owned business that was founded in 1926 in the town of Grasse, France. It was named after the French artist, Fragonard, who was born in Grasse. Handed down generation to generation, the Fragonard Parfumerie is owned and managed today by Agnes and Francoise Costa, two sisters who are the heirs to their family’s dynasty.

{A well-known painting by the artist, Fragonard.}

The History of Good Scents

The history of perfume goes back to Biblical times when the Hebrews learned about scents, oils, and herbs from the Egyptians. We’ve all heard about the three kings bringing Jesus frankincense and myrrh, which were, at the time, just as valuable as gold.

For more than a century, Grasse has been considered the perfume capital of the world because of its abundance of natural resources. The thousands of flowers that are indigenous to the area are used locally and are also shipped all over the world as raw materials to other perfume makers such as Elizabeth Arden. These aromatic flowers are the essential ingredient to creating perfume.

{Lavender fields in Grasse.}

The Maker of Scents ~ The Perfumer 

Creating a scent is no easy task. It all starts with the perfume maker, or the perfumer, who is, more times than not, discovered at an early age to have the gift of discerning scents and understanding how the notes of a scent are layered. From then on, the life of a perfumer is not very sensible, to say the least. He or she must abstain from eating spicy foods, drinking alcohol, and smoking, as these activities deaden the senses.

{Understanding the notes of a perfume.}

A perfumer’s education usually consists of three years of studies and seven years of training. This enables them to discern between 2,000 different scents. This is apparently a lot of work, because at Fragonard, perfumers only work two hours a day as to not overwhelm or deaden the senses. With all of this, it’s easy to see why there are only about 150 true perfumers worldwide, and why most perfumeries create only one new scent a year.

{Thierry Wasser, Guerlain perfumer}

Making Scents

The process of making perfume is tedious. They start by making essential oils out of dried flowers. At Fragonard, they make whatever oils they can with locally grown flowers. If certain flowers are not available, they buy the essential oils from other regions. Essential oils are made by taking dried flowers and adding water vapor at high temperatures. They then use the perfumer’s formula of essential oils to achieve the desired layers.

{Adding vapor to flowers to make essential oils.}

It takes approximately three pounds of flowers to make one liter of essential oils. A perfumer needs about 200 different essential oils to formulate a perfume.

Once they have just the right formulation of 200 essential oils, a little more of this, a little less of that, they add the other ingredients like alcohol, water, and sometimes chemicals. (For health reasons, the purer your perfume the better. The perfume industry in the United States is somewhat unregulated and perfume companies are not required to list every ingredient, some of which can be toxic.)

Strong Scents ~ Perfume or Eau de Toilette?

How much oil, water, and alcohol a product contains makes the difference between perfume and eau de toilette. The concentration percentage indicates how much essential oil is contained in the product. The higher the concentration, the stronger the scent and the longer it will last on your skin. Here are some standard concentration levels to help in understanding the difference.

  • Eau de cologne 3%
  • Eau de toilette 10%
  • Eau de perfume 15% (lasts about ten hours on the skin)
  • Perfume 20 – 24%

Applying Your Scents

We all have our own way of applying our perfume. Coco Chanel believed a woman should wear perfume where she might be kissed.

{Oh, Coco.}

I like to spray my perfume in the air and walk through it. I feel like the perfume sets mostly on my clothes so I avoid applying toxic chemicals directly on my skin. On my recent visit to Fragonard however, I was shown how to apply perfume “like a lady” – a French lady anyway. (Fragonard is a very natural perfume company, so I’m comfortable with this application.)

Spray two or three sprays on your left wrist (if you’re right handed) and two or three sprays behind your right ear. Now press both wrists behind each ear and voila! you have your kissable spots covered. Oh, you may also spray you décolleté if, and only if, you think you might get kissed there. Here’s hoping, right?

Keeping Your Scents

Most scents, once they are opened, only last a year. This should not be a problem if you wear the same scent every day. If you prefer to wear a different scent from day to night and season to season like the French women do, you are better off buying smaller bottles of your scents to ensure that they maintain their desirable strength. Direct light is a definite potency killer. Once the bottle is open the mixture of air and light will deteriorate the magic inside.

Fragonard is only sold in France. Lucky for me though, I came home with more than a few bottles of Fragonard perfume. I got caught up in the moment and thought it was about time that I have a scent for day and a scent for evening, and of course a scent for each season. But once I got home I had second thoughts. So, in order to avoid having a perfume identity crisis, I decided to give a few bottles away to my closest friends.

If you don’t get a bottle, don’t feel bad. It doesn’t mean we’re not close friends. It may just be that I came to my senses and kept them all for myself.




Karena Kilcoyne

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