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Monday, September 19, 2011

How to Wear Fragrance: On Perfume Etiquette

It might not come from a French-authored source, but in Karen Homer's adorable little book Things a Woman Should Know about Style, a whole chapter is devoted to fragrance use. The cover, sporting the famous opening shot of the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's (based on Truman Capote's story) with an Audrey Hepburn in shades & pearls, hair on a high bun, is predisposing for classical, glamour tips for wearing your clothes with confindence and panache.

Leafing through the book's pages, I come upon such seemingly wise, but ultimately ill-gotten advice as "A bottle of perfume once opened will not last more than 6 months. At least not to a nose that knows".  And I find myself smirking a bit on behalf of all the perfume community's hunt for vintage treasures. But still, there are other nuggets of wisdom, which are charming and harmless, as well as the sound practical tips on opting for classics when in doubt ("Chanel No.5 or anything created by Guerlain before 1930 are your safest bets") or buying the fragrance you like at outlets at a discount.

A few of those hints of perfume etiquette sound like wise precautions in the battlefield of love & romance; even if a little less self-assured or defying as the standard perfumista is accustomed to: The author advises to stop wearing a fragrance if one's significant other doesn't like it. And cautions an even faster elimination of fragrance if it happens to be the same as your significant other's ex. Particularly if said partner is responding positively to its scent! Furthermore a partner's conscious move to gift a current love interest with an ex's fragrance is to be viewed with grave suspicion. For reasons of fairness, one's partner should be met with the same courtesy when choosing a gift for them.

If you're really romantic and happen to be travelling away from your loved one, it's a very poetic gesture to scent a card with your beloved's fragrance and tuck it away in your luggage. Opening up your suitcase upon arrival, a wave of nostalia will tangle its poigant fingers around your heart...

Moving into the realm of choosing fragrance for public wearing, Homer advises caution in the face of unisex fragrances (or masculine scents for women): "When you dress up for an evening, you want to smell feminine and not the same as the maitre d'. That said, for daywear, the classic unisex cologne Aqua di Parma has a fresh, lemony charm perfect for lunching in Tuscan gardens." And where would one be most likely to find a decent substitute for Aqua di Parma cologne, should one want to bypass the sameness factor? The author confirms my own experience that small off the beaten-track toiletries stores in France (and along some of the Mediterranean countries) can provide their local take of toilet water which is often exceptionally good and looks positively "exotic" to most people not native. Homer quips that the trick of "exclusivity" with local toilet waters however is not possible with quite the same subtleness in Spain or Italy, given the predeliction of male patrons for stronger, expansive fragrances:  Therefore, use extreme caution, "unless you want to smell like a teenafer boy's bathroom the night he thinks he's going to lose his virginity".

But perhaps the most controversial and ripe for discussion snippet is the tip on choosing toilet waters: "Rosewater smells of the faded grandeur of old actresses; lavender smells of your granny". Perhaps it's all a game of perfume associations...Or perhaps the greatest tip of them all is to just have confidence in yourself and good manners when applying perfume: less can be so much more.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: How French Women Wear Perfume

9 comments:

  1. I love reading beauty and fashion books from the past. The combination of advice that feels quaint and outdated and advice that is still relevant always makes for interesting reading. Thanks for sharing this.

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  2. I once had a live-in SO who gifted me with a bottle of Bal a Versaille cologne (when it was still goood -- this was the 70's) for Christmas. However, he proved to be 1.) lazy and 2.) clueless when he bought the same thing for his uptight church-going mother! I'm not sure who was the more horrified -- she, or me. At any rate we broke up not long after that.

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  3. Fiordiligi15:08

    This sounds like the sort of thing that I absolutely love to read, and "anything created by Guerlain before 1930" sounds like perfect advice!

    Thank you, dearest E, for a delightful little treat.

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  4. I'm one of those types that wears perfume for me alone. Wearing perfume makes me happy, I'm not interested on if people think that something smells like an "old lady".

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  5. APB,

    thank you! You're most welcome. :-)

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  6. P,

    ewww, sorta creepy to give the same thing to both! (and such important persons in his life, too; if it were two strangers it wouldn't really make a difference, it would just be lazy, not creepy).

    LOVE Bal, especially in EDC skanky concentration. *sigh*

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  7. D,

    it's a pleasure! Thanks for commenting!
    Yeah, sound advice to go from a Guerlain classic; even if tampered with, these are still so beautiful and classy.

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  8. Eld,

    I guess we're not exactly the target audience of people buying this kind of books anyway. ;-)
    Perfumistas know their own path and seldom deviate from it just on the advice of a "style guru".

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  9. i am getting here more stuff if you want to got more type of perfume you also refer to marygrenwell.com

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