Scents are important to our well-being as we encounter them in every aspect of our lives. Scents and flavours can affect our moods based on past experiences.
Today, we have fragrances in washing liquids, laundry detergents, air fresheners, perfumes, deodorants and even at entrances to shops. The motor industry is not being left behind and some luxury brands allow you to choose a scent that suits you on transit.
Knowing how good perfumes are designed is the start of understanding how to pick them. Fragrances are created by perfumers who combine ingredients to develop scents on at least three levels or layers, called notes.
The top notes, heart notes, and base notes. Bakari Mwachungu, chief executive officer of a leading media house in East Africa prefers Eau de Parfum to EAU De Toilette because it is long-lasting.
“I prefer like woody base notes as I work in a very hot climate. I, however, prefer subtle but rich scents that are not over-powering and only project when one comes close to me,” he said.
What do notes mean and how can we identify them while deciding which fragrance to settle for while shopping?
Top (opening or head) notes
I call these the notes of first impressions. For the industry, they are important in convincing that impatient consumer who wants to rush into an important decision without any research.
It is the first scent you experience and is also referred to as the opening or head note. It is likely to be fruity and fresh with bursts of citrus (lemon, mandarin), and green (peppermint and basil).
This note introduces the fragrance and combines it with two other notes to give the fragrance its overall appeal and character. It is the lightest layer and will evaporate or fade quickly from your skin lasting between 10 minutes and two hours.
Making your decision based on this note alone means you will be thinking visually and with your head, certainly not your heart. This note is used by the mass market, commercially inclined, mainstream brands to get your quick buy-in. They hook you further with advertising and celebrity endorsements.
Heart (middle) notes
This layer defines the authentic character and essence of the fragrance. It has soul and will last the better part of the day creating a bond with you. These notes last between two and four hours.
Expect to see descriptors such as Jasmine, rose, Ylang ylang and vetiver.
This is a mellow scent and helps tone down the strength of the base notes before they dry down.
Making your decision on these notes means you are thinking with your heart and nose. You are patient, and careful, and will take the time to understand how the fragrance will impact your social standing.
Base (dry down or bottom) notes
In my opinion, these are the most vital notes as they will linger for several hours, possibly days. This is what will help you define your signature scent.
People will be able to know you were in their space long after you have left.
These notes have tenacity, character, and depth. They come to the fore when the heart notes start fading away. This is because they evaporate very slowly and are rich and strong.
When you research on a scent you will see words like Oud, sandalwood, patchouli, musks and vanilla. Making a decision based on these base notes means you are strategic in your decisions. It may require investing in miniatures of 2ml samples or smaller portions of between 10ml and 30ml.
Because good fragrances will cost you anything from $80-$700, testing it in real activities of daily living which includes work, play and leisure is wise.
Remember people react differently to fragrances so do not decide on a scent solely because it was great on someone else. Scents respond to you based on how oily or dry your skin is, as well as your temperature and perspiration.
When testing a good parfume apply it to the warm zones of your body like the neck, back of ears and inner elbows. You will be able to tell if it’s right for you in about 10-20 minutes. Do not rub the fragrance and nose it immediately after applying it to determine suitability.
As a rule of thumb, and for a more effective fragrance experience, here is how to apply the various fragrances.
Extract de Parfum (parfum) expresses its full richness when sprayed directly on the skin at the neck, elbow and wrists where it is warmest. Eau de Cologne and Eau de Parfum are best sprayed to dry skin in the warmest areas like the chest, neck, wrist, forearm, inner elbow and shoulders.
Some brands like Chanel recommend spraying it as a cloud inside clothing (be careful not to stain light garments) for a more holistic perfuming experience. For the Eau Fraiche aftershaves, it is best to apply it directly to the shaven skin from the palm of your hands. Please remember to not over-apply fragrance as it could offend people around you.
Michael Mwai is a lifestyle consultant at Dmiguel Style