Quite Continental Charm School: Day 16 — Select a Signature Scent

16/02/2012 § 7 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Taken by Hans Wild for Life Magazine, 1947.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker!  My good friend Anne, founder of the fashion and culture blog Ritournelle, is a lovely French expat currently living in New York City.  She works in the beauty industry and is my frequent partner at some of the best museum and auction house exhibits in the city (where I frequently act like something of a living duck blind so that she can sneak photos, sshhhh!).  Her encyclopedic knowledge of beauty and fragrance companies, especially French ones,  is second to none, and as I am always in need of a good tip — and who isn’t?! — I quite enjoy picking her brain for new discoveries.  The fact that she almost always comes bearing some sort of French delicacy is icing on the cake.  She’s like my own private Inès de La Fressange.

Ritournelle is a place to visit if you love Paris, Dior, Charlotte Gainsbourg, fashion history and would like to practice your French language skills (all her posts are in both French and English!).  If you are not yet familiar with Anne or Ritournelle, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Anne’s tip for a charmed life.


Day 16: Select a Signature Scent
My perfume is one of my most treasured possessions. I grew up in the rainy Normandy countryside, surrounded by a lush garden from which scents of moss and flowers, surprising by their variety, would compel me. Nothing stirs me more now than the green notes of galbanum and earthy iris roots from my Chanel N°19 bottle. You will often find me obsessively sniffing my wrist like a drug, a gesture that appeases while revitalizing me.

In France, fragrance is an essential and intimate part of a woman’s life. She would not consider starting the day, much less leaving her house, without a spritz. Moreover, each perfume worn over time defines a certain period of her life. The chosen brand and perfume, its concept and notes reveal much about her personality. Think about it: the woman who wears the strong, oriental, in-our-face Opium by Yves Saint Laurent leads her life far differently from the one who favors fruity, playful and innocent Petite Chérie by Annick Goutal. Yet, I quote Hermès perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, “The perfume must say, ‘I have many secrets: I am who I am, but you may not know everything about me.’ In any case, the perfume builds up the other self. The one I am and the one I wish I was.”

In order to find the perfume that you can call your own, got to the brands which values you cherish most. Are you more drawn to traditional and Parisian houses like Guerlain and Hermès or to modern, urban ones like Le Labo and Byredo?

Make your purchase an event to look forward to: experience it during a trip abroad or in a refined store where you will get the best advice (like MiN or Aedes de Venustas in New York). Try fragrances first on blotters, but be aware that what you smell on paper is very different than on your skin. Let your emotions guide you and take your time; it can be a lengthy process with several trials. The ideal fragrance should surprise you by its power of bringing out your emotions all while being the perfect olfactory expression of yourself. (For example, I adore Iris Nobile by Aqua di Parma, it’s a great fragrance, but that solar citrus note is just not me). When you come down to a couple you like, spritz each one of them on a different wrist (without rubbing!) in the morning and see how they evolve during the day to measure their quality and chemistry with your skin.

You needn’t be loyal to your fragrance. Think of it as a wardrobe: you have your outfits for work and days off, and those that you save for a special occasion. Likewise, adopt a more sensual perfume for nights out. For example, I’ll trust the rich and voluptuous 34 boulevard saint germain by Diptyque to set me in the right mood. Then, I change perfumes according to the season: when spring comes and temperatures rise, I will switch to a lighter fragrance, like Un Jardin après la Mousson by Hermès.

How do you choose your fragrance?
Do you stay loyal to one perfume or do you experiment with different scents?

by Anne, of Ritournelle.


The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

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§ 7 Responses to Quite Continental Charm School: Day 16 — Select a Signature Scent

  • Miss Minty says:

    I like to wear Chanel Coco Mademoiselle in the wintertime and Marc Jacobs plain old Gardenia when it warms up. I really like the sentiment of wearing perfume for “The one I am and the one I wish I was.” That’s definitely why I wear both of those scents.

    • It’s lovely, the thought of taking on a new persona with your fragrance. I used to only wear one at all times, but I’ve since adopted something more like Anne’s (and your) approach. I so adore seeing the little bottles lined up in my bathroom, hoping to be picked that day. I’m finding it difficult to keep from constantly adding to their ranks!

  • ohsteph says:

    I’ve been wearing Gucci Rush for years. From when it first came out, I knew that the spicy notes with a hint of Patchouli were just right for me. It comes in a red plastic box, but what it does on my skin is worth more than any crystal bottle in the world.

    • It is amazing how the right fragrance just finds you, isn’t it? You just…know. And even if you might move on to new scents over the years, isn’t it amazing how even a faint whiff of something you used to wear (or someone special to you used to wear), will jolt your sensory memory like lightning? (And Gucci Rush sounds like something I might like, as I tend toward spicy and complex scents!)

  • […] I work in the beauty industry and it’s one of my biggest passions. I tweet a lot but rarely blog on the subject, probably because I enjoy learning about new things out of the office. But it is with great pleasure that I wrote a post on fragrance for my friend Mariah’s blog, Quite Continental. To read it, click right here! […]

  • When I went to live in France for a month I couldn’t bear to bring a full bottle of perfume. Instead I popped into Sephora and with my days open wide smelled and sniffed and tried on, finally settling on a perfume I liked quite a lot. Androgynous, sexy, musty.
    I left Paris with the vial still in my make-up kit and put it on when I needed to feel like my French self. When I missed the city of Paris and the person I was there. One year later I brought the test bottle into a Sephora in NY hoping to identify the brand. They did. I now have three perfumes for my different selves, but my most pure is Narcisco Rodriguez, my Parisian self.

  • I grew up with the sweet scents of Calvin Klein and even now I realise my favourites are quite sweet…. I just need to find a grown up fragrance that suits my tastes. Clearly more investigation is needed!


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