Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was asked in an interview to recount what it was like to meet Beyoncé for the first time, to which Rosie responded in an awed voice: "She smelled so expensive."
That anecdote inspired me to hunt for Beyoncé's preferred perfume, then onto what other icons in history have worn, and finally, a broader understanding of the science behind smell.
Check out the well-researched blog The Celebrity Fragrance Guide for answers to more "who wears what?" questions.
Before exploring more about perfume, the fundamental question is whether one should wear it at all. Coco Chanel said, "A woman should wear perfume wherever she would like to be kissed," and Christian Dior thought that "A woman's perfume tells more about her than her handwriting."
But some in the beauty community are calling fragrances "the new secondhand smoke," implying that the secretive composition of chemicals in popular fragrances are in fact carcinogenic. Ignoring the medical hazard, there's also an increasing taboo of being the anosmic woman in the elevator causing everyone to hold their breaths for 30 seconds. Perfume can just seem so grandma, you know?
I had not thought much about perfume until a few months ago, when I sniffed Acqua di Parma Colonia at Barneys and purchased it instantly. I've sprayed it nightly on my pajamas before bed and even in my hair before heading to the gym. My obsession with this smell has spurred a quest to find more fragrances that I love as much.
On the subject of loving fragrance, perfume blogger Tania Sanchez writes: "The fact is this stuff is worth loving. As with the tawdriest pop melody, there is a base pleasure in perfume, in just about any perfume, even the cheapest and the most starved of ideas, that is better than no perfume at all. It decorates the day. It makes you feel as if the colors of the air have changed. It's a substitute for having an orchestra follow you about playing the theme song of your choice."
The above excerpt is from the incredible book Perfumes: The Guide by husband and wife co-authors Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. The guide introduces readers to a brief description of the science behind fragrance and then launches into witty, rapturous, and extraordinarily compelling descriptions of about 1,500 fragrances, each of which are rated 1-5 stars on a scale from "awful" to "masterpiece."
The co-author Luca Turin is a notable biophysicist, who also happens to have a passion for fragrance. In his amazing Ted Talk below, Turin describes how scent and sound are related. (Remember his wife's analogy to wearing perfume being similar to an orchestra following you throughout the day? Turns out that sort of IS happening on a molecular level.)
Music, even more than painting, is a metaphor for how perfume is created and experienced. Is it mere coincidence that individual essences are called "notes" and are blended together to form "chords"? Or that the unit where i keep my materials and compose my perfumes is called an organ, its semicircular stepped shelves lined with a vast array of essences, ranged by register? Music also captures the way scent is experienced--not all at once but unfolding over time-- a quality that in perfume is referred to as "duration." Perfume can be "listened to" as an evolving form that moves through aromas ... In their unfolding lies the unparalleled power of these arts over memory and emotion.
Luca Turin's Desert Island Picks:
Tania Sanchez's Desert Island Picks:
Turin & Sanchez's book is unexpectedly my favorite non-fiction read that I've encountered for the past year. Even if you never smell a single perfume the couple evangelizes, it's still a pleasure to be guided through any subject by passionate experts.