Eau-La-La! The Ultimate Perfume Guide
5. Does fragrance have a shelf life?
Absolutely yes: Perfumes go bad—they “turn,” as the French say—and bizarrely enough, I find that even if you have no idea what the perfume is supposed to smell like (and even if it's something as strange as a few of the Comme des Garçons perfumes), you can smell that “off” quality instantly. A perfume's life depends hugely on how you store it. Worst enemy? Light. Second worst? Heat. People tell me all the time, “I keep my scents on the windowsill because I like how they look when the sunlight hits them.” Great, but: Sunlight is destroying your perfume just as it destroys your skin. Because people do dumb things like this, fragrance companies try to help them out by putting sun-filter molecules in perfume. They'll prolong a fragrance's life, as will an opaque bottle (like the Tom Ford Black Orchid flask or the black glass of Fracas). But if you care about your Gucci Envy, you'll store it in a dark, cool place. And if you're really serious, there's only one place for it: the fridge. Just take over one of the vegetable crispers. A pound of carrots costs $1.57; your 100 milliliters of Envy ran you $85.
6. Do scents need time before they fully blossom, or are they at their best immediately after you spray them?
In the perfume section of a department store in Japan, you'll see something very strange. The Japanese dislike the way perfume changes over time, so they spray blotters at the beginning of the day, anchor the blotters under their respective perfume bottles, and by the time the store has opened, the top notes are gone and the perfume has settled down to its main story. That's what customers smell. But I think there's no right time to smell a perfume. After five seconds, you'll get the top notes; after five hours, you'll get the heart. If the perfume is good, both smell great.
7. How can I make scents last on me?
Ah, the fundamental question. You've found your true loves and now you just want them to stay. One faithfully spends the whole day with you, the other callously slips away before you even reach the office. Here's the bad news: There's nothing you can do to prolong scent on your skin. It all depends on what the French call lapersistance of the fragrance. A lot of the lighter citruses, flowers, and gentler woody scents are going to float away much faster than the heavier smoke, leather, and animalic ones. The rule is: Pretty is fleeting; heavy sticks around. Take the utterly genius Hermès Ambre Narguilé. Here's a perfume of such luscious perfection, you want to melt into it as if it were an expert beurre caramel. Ambre Narguilé will not only dance all evening with the one that brung it, it'll take you all the way home, too. But Fresh's new Sugar Lychee? You get half an hour of the ethereal, carbonated, fruity astringent loveliness—and then it's outta there. But it's a hell of a half hour. So keep the Hermès in the crisper, but put the Fresh in your bag and reapply periodically.
8. How often do I need to reapply?
As often as you need to keep the smell at perfect pitch. Hermès's 2003 Un Jardin en Méditerranée, one of the most insanely wonderful light scents in the world, disappears quickly, like almost all light perfumes. Reapply every 45 minutes. With Guerlain's 1929 Liu, a perfume of almost impossible glamour, you apply at 7:30 P.M. and when the limousine drops you off at 5 A.M., the last faint lovely traces are still on your arms.