Heavenly Scent – the art of choosing a perfume

Choosing a new perfume is a serious business – I should know as I have just decided on a new scent after more than 10 years of wearing the same one. It all came about when I was selecting images for a story on the history of perfume and talked to one of my (male) colleagues about how I would never buy a new perfume for anyone as scent is such a personal thing and every perfume smells very different on every person. I am quite slow in deciding on any new scent ever since I was given a perfume for my 18th birthday by my godmother. It was an expensive scent but it didn’t agree with me at all, I found it quite nauseating every time I put it on and never touched it again. One of my friends was wearing it a few years ago and I loved it on her but I am still not keen to try it again myself.

Our sense of smell is very important, it can signify danger, conjure up strong memories or even tell us who might be the right mate for us, without us really realising. There is a wonderful expression in German for any person you don’t like “Ich kann ihn/sie nicht riechen”, literally “I can’t stand the smell of this person”.

On the other hand our sense of smell is probably also the least reliable – it is easy to get used to scents, they become less pronounced over time, which is probably why some people overindulge in the liberal use of perfume. Perfumers are highly skilled and much sought-after for their fine noses!

Archaeological discoveries have shown that scents have always been highly prized. There are many examples of fine alabaster vessels from Egypt or glass bottles from Rome which held the precious and fragrant oils. The shape and design of bottles is even important today in the overcrowded market for celebrity perfumes. Classic shapes are instantly recognisable and any changes often decried.

After testing my new chosen scent again and again before deciding on it, I am now very happy but it still feels a little strange and I am much more aware of it than I was before. Just goes to show how much we get used to it!

Guerlain "Mitsouko", created 1919 by Jacques Guerlain. © akg-images /  François Guénet
Guerlain “Mitsouko”, created 1919 by Jacques Guerlain. © akg-images / François Guénet


For more images on the history of perfume there my selection of images over on our website.