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November 24, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Fruity or floral, earthy or herbal, a nose knows what it loves. A wide variety of available scents can leave an untrained nose in a fog, but with an understanding of the fragrance facts, anyone can sniff out the perfect perfume or cologne.
Much like with food, personal scent palates vary, and finding that signature scent can be challenging. Although it is easy to identify a smell as pleasant or pungent, Christina Kelley, owner of Makes Scents downtown and certified aromatherapist, classifies fragrances into nine major categories: citrus, floral, fruity, spicy, earthy, musky, herbal, green and gourmand varieties. The names for these categories vary between perfumers, and others might include oceanic, oriental and other distinctions.Related Articles
Fragrances consist of individual scents called “notes” that are combined to complement one another and create a specific scent. A fragrance always has at least three notes. “The top note is the initial fragrance,” Megan Tupper, an employee at Dillard’s fragrance department in the Columbia Mall, says. “It’s often a floral or a fruity smell.” The mid note is what a person smells after the scent dries. The base note, also known as the dry-down note, is how it smells after a few hours. It is usually a little muskier, she says.
Green scents, such as cut grass and pine, are fresh, crisp scents with an outdoor vibe. Gourmands are dessert aromas, such as cupcakes and chocolate. Herbal fragrances fall between green and floral and include herbs such as lavender, sage and peppermint. With more than 20 years of experience selling and marketing fragrance, Kelley knows how to blend the different notes.
Not sure what to mix: Pass on chocolate grass
“There are certain categories that always go together and certain categories that almost never go together,” Kelley says. “Green and gourmand don’t mix well. Something like Chocolate Grass just isn’t going to smell good.” Fragrance faux pas aside, Kelley says that most categories complement each other when the right notes are incorporated.
Trendy type: Stop to smell the runway
Anyone looking for a fragrance that’s fashion-forward needs only look to the runway. Much like clothing, the popularity of a fragrance category will cycle to match fashion trends.
“Clothing-wise, there’s a big trend toward the ’70s,” Kelley says. “Fragrances then were darker, heavier, richer and those have been popular the last six months.” Ultra-feminine fashions have been matched with a comeback of traditional floral fragrances.
Don’t know someone’s preference: Stay in the green (herbal and citrus, too)
For those shopping for a friend or relative with unknown scent preferences, Kelley thinks that some categories are better than others. “You’re usually a little safer staying in the green, citrus and herbal categories and avoiding the gourmand, spice, musky and floral types,” she says. “Those tend to be polarizing. People either want to smell like a cupcake or do not, there’s not a lot in the middle.”
Allergies and inhibitions out to play: Lighten up or lather up
People with non-skin related allergies or a dislike of strong scents are not doomed to scentless life. “Almost every fragrance has a lotion form,” Tupper says. “The lotion is sometimes lighter and won’t affect someone as much whose allergies aren’t skin-related.” Synthetic notes also allow those with pollen, grass and other outdoor allergies to wear scents that would normally make them sneeze.
Those turned off by strong fragrances can still find their niche. “There are options for creating lightly scented products,” says Courtney Shove, fragrance consultant at Makes Scents. “Essential oils, which are all natural, can be diluted and made lighter if the person has a sensitivity to smell.”
Shopping for someone younger: Mum’s the worst
Despite resurgences of retro fragrance, people shopping for others might find it helpful to keep the scent preferences of that person’s parents in mind. “Kids in their 20s now have parents who were hippies and wore patchouli, so the relationship they have with patchouli is that their parents wore it,” Kelley says. “It’s always what your parents or grandparents wore that you don’t want to wear.”
Don’t know your preferences:
Smell for yourself Above all else, Kelley emphasizes that there is no formula for figuring out what someone will or will not like. The best way to find the right fragrance is to stop by a store and smell for yourself.