Beyonce's Perfume

Franz Gertsch, "Barbara und Gaby," 1974. Acrylic on unprimed cotton

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." 

According to The Celebrity Fragrance Guide, Bey wears: True Star, Fleur De Rocaille, Giorgio Armani Diamonds, Emporio Armani Diamonds Intense, Heat & Heat Rush

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.

A woman should wear perfume wherever she wants to be kissed. - Coco Chanel

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." 

Is perfume the new secondhand smoke? Coco Chanel smoking with Salvadore Dali

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? 

Acqua di Parma Colonia

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." 

Georges Barbier

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.)

Fascinatingly, the Japanese word for the word "to listen" is the same as the word "to sniff." As detailed in perfumer Mandy Aftel's book FragrantJapanese priests, noblemen, and warriors used to burn incense and listen to it with "ears of the spirit." Aftel writes: 
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.    
Below are the Top 10 perfumes Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez would each choose to take to a desert island if they were banished from the rest of the world for life.  

Jicky by Guerlain

Luca Turin's Desert Island Picks: 

Homage (discontinued)
Jolie Madame (vintage)
Nombre Noir (Shiseido, discontinued)
Paradox (Jacomo)
Talisman (Balenciaga, discontinued)
Vetiver Pour Elle (Guerlain)


Tania Sanchez's Desert Island Picks: 

Diorissimo (Dior, vintage)
L'Heure Bleue (Guerlain,vintage)
Homage  (discontinued)
Knize Ten
Shocking (Schiaparelli, original version, discontinued)
White Linen
Mitsouko by Guerlain


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.