Ask me why I like Vivienne Westwood and I can go into detail about aesthetics, corsetry and cut. Ask me why I like my three favourite fragrances, and I say, 'I like the smell.' Why? I haven't a clue, but world-renowned professeur des parfums, Roja Dove, can tell me a thing or two about the essence of Narciso Rodriguez For Her, the heart of Chanel Coco Mademoiselle or what makes Givenchy so Very Irresistible, so hopefully he'll be able to help me answer the question better.
All fragrances have a top, heart and base note to them, comprising the different ingredients that make a scent, and these ingredients have differing staying powers. If you put citrus on the back of one hand, and vanilla on the other, the citrus will fade quickly, while the vanilla lasts for hours. The top note is there to give the initial burst of fresh fragrance, but quickly fades to reveal the deeper heart note, which gives way to the lingering base note. But why do we need all three? Roja explains: 'The base note is responsible for building the character of the fragrance. It's known as a fixative because it literally fixes the fragrance to the skin. Also, a lot of raw materials don't smell nice until they've "warmed up" on the skin, so the top notes shield the base notes initially, too.'
There are three main strengths of scent, perfume, eau de parfum, and eau de toilette. The obvious difference is money. But why buy a tiny bottle of perfume for £50, when you could have a lot more EDT for the same price? Roja explains: 'EDT contains between 3-8% perfume oil (technical term, "the juice"). Half of this is top notes, so half of the scent is gone within 15-20 minutes... that seems very extravagant to me.' Perfume, on the other hand, contains 50% fixative, so it'll stay on your skin for a whole day. The difference is in the concentration of 'juice'. The reason you pay more for a higher concentration is the greater amount of costly raw material needed. Jasmine for instance, costs £60,000 per kilo, compared to gold bullion at just £13,000 for the same amount. With eau de parfum containing 20-40% juice, and EDT 7-14%, that might explain where your money is going. Another term you may come across is eau de cologne. So called because it originated from the German city Köln, it is made of purely natural ingredients. These are usually citrus or aromatic top notes, therefore fast fading and designed, like eau de toilette, to freshen rather than perfume you. So if it's value for money and a lasting aroma you're after, perfume is your best bet.
There are three main fragrance families, grouped depending on the main raw materials. Floral (pretty self-explanatory), oriental (including musky scents such as vanilla), and chypre (the woody or mossy fragrances, like vetiver or cedarwood). But why is it you can love a scent on your friend, only to find it doesn't sit well on you? The reason for this is that perfume has natural materials that react differently with different skin: the two mingle together, making a different odour every time. Nice to know your perfume will always be personalised.
So how do you know which fragrance family you like? If you really want to find your perfect perfume, you need to talk to the nose. Roja Dove's haute parfumerie in Harrods offers a personalised insight into your olfactory tastes, notoriously difficult to describe to the perfume counter-person. Heliotrope might be the one whiff that makes your day, but can you describe what it smells like? Thought not. At Urban Retreat Harrods, for £50, you can find out what attracts you to a perfume, your very particular tastes and a selection of fragrances to suit them perfectly.
I'm surprised to discover that we can have a perfume 'type'. According to Roja, it makes sense that I go for three signature scents, which I thought were very different but, in fact, have similar structures. Coco Mademoiselle, Narciso Rodriguez For Her and Very Irresistible are semi-oriental, with flowers on an oriental base, and some musk thrown in for measure. It seems our taste depends on three strengths of scent, three families of fragrance and the three notes. Ask me again why I like my signature scents and I'll tell you - all good things come in threes!
For a personal consultation at Urban Retreat Harrods, call 020 7893 8797, from £50.