Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How to apply perfume

It shouldn’t take rocket science to figure out how to put on perfume. You just spritz it on your wrists, rub them on each other and behind your ears, and you’re good to go, right? Maybe. But since you’ve spent almost a hundred dollars for that fabulous bottle of Guerlain Chamade or Chanel Eau Première, you may as well do a little research on how to wear it well.

Cloud of scent or targeted sprays? Some people spray a mist of perfume in the air and then walk through it. They say that the scent then disperses evenly over their bodies. (I first saw this technique used by Holly Hunter’s character in the movie Broadcast News.) When I’ve tried it, I’ve never felt satisfied by the concentration of the scent. Plus, if you walk through the cloud of scent clothed, not much perfume lands on skin where it can warm and develop.

I like targeting sprays of perfume. I mostly wear dresses and skirts, so I tend to spray once behind each knee. The scent then warms and rises so that it leaves a quiet trail. If the fragrance is subtle, or if I’m especially in love with it, I’ll spray once between my breasts, too, so that the scent is closer to my nose.

I do scent my wrists sometimes so that I can lift my wrist to my nose and get to know a perfume better. Another place I like to dab scent if I’m testing it is on the fleshy part of the back of my hand, between my thumb and index finger.

Spray clothing or not? “Of course not!” you might say to yourself, “Everyone knows perfume on fabric is a bad idea.” It’s true that perfume can stain some fabrics and probably dries out hair. I’ve also heard that perfume can deaden rhinestones, taking the sparkle right out of them. On the other hand, Chanel said that one of the benefits of a signature scent is that you can always identify your own coat. (This is useless advice for people like me who have a few dozen signature scents. Get a more distinctive coat, I say.)

Caron sprays its customer’s scarves so they can live with a perfume before deciding to buy it. Diaghilev sprayed his curtains with Guerlain Mitsouko. I spray my sheets with scent and haven’t stained them yet. Why not scent your scarf or woolen gloves if you feel like it?

Rub or let dry? Perfume folk wisdom says not to rub your wrists together when you apply perfume because you’ll crush its molecules. I’m not a physicist and I don’t know what it takes to crush a molecule (although I hear that splitting atoms takes special equipment and sometimes a treaty). I always let my perfume dry without rubbing my wrists together because I like how it smells when it’s sprayed rather than dabbed, and to me rubbing it on skin is too much like dabbing it.

What about splash bottles? Bottles of extrait most often come in splash bottles — that is, bottles without a sprayer. Many Eaux de Toilette do, too. As I said, I like how perfume smells when it’s sprayed, so I like to decant Eau de Toilette into an atomizer. Sprayed extrait can be wonderful, too — I fell head over heels for Guerlain Vol de Nuit and Chamade when I smelled the parfum after it was sprayed on my skin. But for a quarter-ounce bottle of precious extrait, a cheap atomizer feels wrong. So I dab it.

The problem with dabbing is that if you dab by uncapping the bottle and turning it directly on your skin or your finger, when you right the bottle you’ve swished oil and even flakes of skin into the scent. You can end up spoiling the fragrance before its time. One solution is to dip a clean Q-tip into the scent and use that to dab perfume. I tried this method for a while, but I felt like the Q-tip held too much of the valuable extrait even when I’d squeezed it dry. Now I turn the bottle upside down to moisten the stopper, dab perfume on my skin with the stopper, then wipe the stopper on a handy cloth (usually my blouse or the skirt of my dress).

When to reapply? As much as I love a perfume, I’m happy when it fades because I can apply a different perfume. But if you want to boost your scent, for the truest fragrance make sure that the first application has disappeared from your skin. Perfume won’t show its true character if it is layered — even if it’s layered over itself. A scent is designed to unfurl on naked skin from its topnotes through the final whisper of its drydown. If you interrupt and complicate this progress by reapplying scent, you won’t smell the full story of the perfume.

In the end, though the best advice I’ve heard about applying perfume was to “Be extravagant with perfume and with love.” I wish I could remember who wrote it.