The untold truth of perfume


There’s something very
mysterious about perfume. Unlike anything else, it’s the only thing we wear
that is invisible, it’s unique on everyone, and most of the time we have very
little understanding of the ingredients. I asked several fragrance industry
insiders to spill their secrets about what is really in perfume, how to choose
right scent, why that fragrance smells so good on your friend, but not quite so
delightful on you, and so much more. You will never wonder what you are
spritzing on again. 
Many fragrances consist of natural

Founded in 1981 by former
pianist and fashion model, Annick Goutal, the namesake brand is still one of
the most important names in the high-end luxury fragrance market today.
Still a family-run business,
daughter of Annick Goutal, Camille Goutal, is the in-house perfumer for the
brand. She revealed that flowers are one of the most important ingredients the
company uses in their fragrances. 
“Flowers in fragrance
have a very long history. They are so beautiful, feminine, and sexy and
therefore that translates to the scent itself,” she told me. “Flowers
will always intrigue and fascinate both men and women. When women wear
fragrances made of flowers, some say they feel a special connection with
Some fragrances have synthetic ingredients

Goutal told me that the brand
has always been fond of natural ingredients, and they are the main components
of their fragrances, but going 100 percent natural isn’t always possible. She
revealed there are many reasons behind this. “Many fragrances do consist
of natural ingredients, but it’s not the case in general. Due to the cost of
natural ingredients, most brands can’t afford them.”
But it is not just a matter of
economics. For some specific scents, using natural ingredients all of the time
is simply too difficult. “Natural ingredients are beautiful and complex,
but not the easiest to formulate. I don’t favor one over the other in terms of
synthetic versus natural. Synthetic ingredients are great and offer multiple
possibilities when natural ones can’t. For example, you can’t extract the scent
of peach or coconut naturally, and that’s when synthetic ingredients take over
the natural ones.”
Another reason manufacturers
use synthetic ingredients is sourcing some natural ones take too large a toll
on the environment. Eric Korman, who is the founder and CEO of
PHLUR told me, “We do not use real sandalwood, as this would ecologically
irresponsible. Instead, we use a raw material safely created in a lab that
replicates the essence of sandalwood and we donate $5 for every bottle sold to
the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.” 
There is a difference between perfume, eau de
toilette, and cologne

While many of us use the
expression “perfume” as an umbrella phrase to describe different
kinds of fragrances, not every fragrance is technically “perfume.”
Goutal broke down the differences. “The highest concentration is in pure perfume (or parfum).
Next would be eau de parfum, then eau de toilette, and
finally eau de cologne.” 
Perfume has the strongest
scent for various reasons. “The highest-concentration scent format,
perfume (also called parfum, parfum extrait or perfume extract) has
traditionally scented the wealthy. It’s the purest of the fragrance recipes,
with the highest concentration of expensive oils and the least amount of
alcohol and water. In some cases, it may contain no water at all. Eau de Parfum
and Parfum is the strongest.”
While many people believe eau
de cologne or cologne indicates a product is for men specially, Goutal revealed
that it is a misnomer. “Eau de cologne is not in fact a gender-specific
format, which surprises people and can actually smell different from a perfume
version of the same scent.”
Perfume is worth its price

Much like clothing, you can
buy fragrances for pennies or thousands of dollars. But perfume doesn’t come
cheap. Goutal told me there are several factors that go into the price.
“There are many reasons why perfume can be costly,” she explained.
“The main reason is the quality of the ingredients and the bottle
However, price does not always
reflect the quality. It can simply be about marketing. “What is
disconcerting for the client is that a very expensive fragrance does not equate
to a perfume of quality. Sometimes, it’s just a price positioning.”
Fragrances do not have to be expensive

A quality fragrance doesn’t
have to break the bank. Korman told me, “There are a few key factors that
drive up the price of fragrance and unfortunately a lot of [those factors are]
not ingredients. Mostly money goes towards inefficient marketing campaigns,
royalties to fashion designers or celebrities, and silly packaging.” 
But not all companies choose
to invest in these “other” components of fragrance. Some, like Phlur,
have a direct-to-consumer marketing plan that allows them to create a superior
company at a lower retail cost. “We actually spend 3 to 4 times more
per bottle on ingredients than what you’ll typically find in a department
store, and we are able to keep them priced at $85, versus the $160 and up you’d
need to pay for something of similar quality,” Korman explained.
Scent trends change seasonally

While scent trends push sales,
they also have a lot to do with consumer preferences. According to Goutal,
“There are two types of trends. One is just seasonal and simply depends on
the weather. People usually wear light scents in summer and
heavier ones when it’s cold, but it’s not a rule. The other much-longer
standing trend is when an ingredient or a type of scent is on trend. This could
be three years or sometimes a decade.”
In terms of specific notes,
Goutal told me, “Citrus notes or vanilla notes seem to have the longest
appeal and the longest staying power in terms of what people wear overall. For
the last ten years, perfumes have tended to be stronger and more sugary, but
it’s changing a little bit.”
However, not every
manufacturer necessarily develops fragrances to be on trend. “Our
new Naughty Garden scent for example is a fragrance with timeless appeal
blending of variety of very unique notes that can definitely transcend seasons
be worn and enjoyed all year round rather than pinning itself to a particular
season,” explained Francois Damide of Crafting Beauty, who
helped formulate the scent for Laubahn Perfumes. “But, ultimately, it
is up to the consumer. Some people lean towards lighter, fresher fragrances in
the warmer months and deeper, muskier fragrances in the winter, where as some
people will wear the same fragrance 365 days a year. It’s all about personal
with woodsy, citrus, and vanilla notes tend to be the most popular scents

If you’ve noticed that many
scents smell alike, no matter what label is on the bottle, it’s because there
are certain notes or categories of fragrances that tend to be popular across
the board. 
Goutal explained, “Light,
sparkling, citrusy notes and vanilla” are usually on trend, but it varies
by the market. For men, she says they “tend to lean toward woodsy scents.
There has also been a trend for Oud recently.”
But Goutal’s approach to
choosing a scent is that it is a very personal process. She told me,
“Trends are not important. What’s important is that you enjoy wearing your
fragrance, no matter how trendy (or not) it is. I always say to the clients
they need to fall in love with their fragrance. It must be love at first
can smell different on everyone

Our unique bodies, lifestyles,
and chemistry can change the scent of a fragrance from person to person. Korman
illustrated the science behind this, explaining, “A person’s unique body
chemistry affects how a fragrance smells. For instance, people have varying pH
levels. That is one reason why a fragrance might smell differently on you
versus your friend. What you eat, your body temperature, and the
environment you’re in also factor into how a fragrance smells.”
Another frustration that many
people encounter when trying new scents is that they smell it on a piece of
paper at store, but when they take it home, something has changed. Korman
shared the reason for this. “We obviously are not made of paper, so a
fragrance will always smell differently on you, and differently over time,
than in a few minutes on a paper strip at the mall.”
His solution to this dilemma
was to change the sampling process. “We found a pretty easy solution to
that problem for Phlur by creating a sampling process which enables customers
try our fragrances on their skin, and in real life—not a paper test
higher the quality of fragrance, the longer it will last

There is nothing worse than a
scent that fades by midday. If you find your fragrance doesn’t last, you may
need a product that has a higher concentration. But using too highly a
concentrated product isn’t necessarily better. After all, who hasn’t sat next
to or been in a room with someone whose perfume is stronger than their
Damide said this dilemma is
something manufactures have to consider when creating new products. “In an
effort to make sure a fragrance lasts longer, we look to high quality
ingredients and higher concentrations of fragrance oil.” She explained
that testing fragrances at various concentration levels helps manufacturers to
find the “sweet spot of scent and longevity.”
But for consumers who deal
with fragrance fade, Goutal says the simple solution to this problem is to
choose a perfume as opposed to eau de toilette, for example. “[Perfume]
tends to last longer on the skin.”
the right scent isn’t difficult

There are so many fragrances
out there that choosing one can feel very overwhelming, but Korman thinks we
are overcomplicating the process. “Choosing a scent can be confusing,
because similar to wine, many people who consider themselves ‘experts’ overcomplicate
it to make it hard, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is what
you like.” 
He suggests really thinking
about who you are when choosing a scent and going from there. “Remember,
smell is our most visceral sense, so fragrance should be an extension of
yourself. Look for scents that elevate different moods and moments, helping you
express your natural self. For example, if you are vivacious by nature and
heading for a night out, try a fragrance boasting osmanthus, which is a
sensuous apricot-smelling blossom. Because fragrances change and develop
throughout the day, the best method to find a new fragrance is to test the
perfume in real life over different days, and in different settings.”
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.