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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Scent Rules I’ve Learned From Europeans

By Marla

For the past several years, I’ve spent my weekends in a number of Central European cities. The museums, the shops, the coffee, are always delightful. My latest holiday was in Munich, the capitol of Bavaria. People from all over Europe and beyond were enjoying this city and my nose had a holiday of its own (with perfume and food, that is!). Having lived in Europe for a long time, my American brain began thinking what I’ve learned from Europeans about perfumes/scents. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Don’t be afraid to wear perfume in public. It is not taboo here, as it is in many parts of America. My WASP mother still looks at me with deep suspicion when she smells anything perfumed in my vicinity, though my paternal grandmother, a southern belle, would never be caught dead without her French lilac cologne.

2. Don’t wear too much perfume. European women almost never overdo it. I’ve noticed some women in North America who do decide to wear perfume are, um, how shall I say, sillage challenged? I also noticed this in Russia when the Communist period ended. The women in smaller towns were going perfume-mad, as they’d been deprived of it for so long, and a great deal of perfume, (sadly much of it counterfeit), was appearing in local markets for incredibly low prices. Perhaps it goes back to Rule #1. Don’t OD on perfume to be a rebel or because you grew up in a No Perfume Zone. Clothing, tattoos, and hair color are better for that sort of expression, I think. Those generally won’t send innocent bystanders into comas (or inspire anti-perfumery laws like in Canada). Be wary of too much Angel….

3. Ignore mass marketing. OK, European teens are waaaay susceptible to this, just like their peers everywhere. But older European women, especially, are really creative and independent in what they wear. They even layer. Bravo! Celebrity scents are greeted with “Meh” by these women. And that’s a good thing.

4. Seek quality. High quality ingredients are more readily recognized and valued. (I see this in the bakery and dairy, too.) Europeans are more likely to save money for considerable periods to buy that one Lutens or Malle, than to spend less right now on cheaper stuff. Many Americans do this, also, but our rush-rush do-it-now culture discourages save-and-wait behavior. Europeans hunt carefully, and eventually, they bag their quarry.

5. Take risks. Wear that strange chypre. Try a really spicy scent. Go woodsy. Try incense. Or an unusal note, like galbanum or coriander or pomegranate. These are not shunned in Europe, so you can smell at least 5 different scent categories in one metro car!

6. (For shops) Stock niche brands. OK, not all of them, just a couple you like. Even small towns in Europe have little perfumeries that carry Etro, Creed, Annick Goutal, Santa Maria Novella, and some houses I can’t even pronounce (mostly local operations). Despite the machinations of the EU and IFRA, which vigorously attempt to ban ingredients as ubiquitous and humble as lemon and bergamot, small houses still thrive in Europe, as they have for centuries (millennia, even?). Most niche perfumeries in the US are on the coasts, inaccessible to 90% of the population except through the Internet. On the other hand, North America has a much stronger tradition of do-it-yourself, and a lot more people there make their own aromatherapies, incense, and even perfumes, than you’d find here across the Pond. You can find good essential oils and supplies in most American towns. They aren’t easy to find here outside of certain apothecary shops.

7. No such thing as a signature scent for life. European women particularly wear different perfumes to match the weather, their mood, the time of day, and their outfits. You’ll rarely find just one or two bottles in their boudoirs.

Well, that’s enough cross-cultural musing for now. Time to go out to the shops and find something weird and wonderful!

The first illustrations is by Marla.


Blogger tmp00 said...

I think a lot of us are closet Europeans,,,

Although. late at night. I am guilty of over-spritzing

1:41 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It looks like you enjoyed Europe, Marla. I'm glad about that. I live not so far from Munich (in Vienna) and happily go there few times a year, there is a lovely little shop with lots of niche perfumery and other naughty things called "Suendhaft" (also on www) - check out.
cheers from a European

1:57 AM EST  
Blogger Divina said...

One thing that Europeans have not managed to learn from Americans: generosity at cosmetics counters. In the US, you buy a perfume, or even just a lipstick and they fill you with gifts! I wish they did this over here as well :( It is always cool when I ask a friend to bring me back something from NY and along with the single item I asked for comes a lovely gift bag filled with free goodies like lipstick, a miniature fragrance, a lipgloss and a mirror etc...

6:21 AM EST  
Blogger elle said...

I'm w/ Tom in being a closet European. :-)
The colors and lines in your painting are wonderful.

6:59 AM EST  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

A lovely post, Marla !

[Tom- I can't imagine you as a 'closet' anything... unless, I can crawl into the closet WITH you, honey...]

At night, I too 'overmedicate' with perfume- a desire to cocoon my sleep with fragrant heaven.

It sounds like you have plenty of company here, going by the responses !

7:29 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great comments! I think a lot of us are "closet Europeans" when it comes to perfume. I've been one since age 12. And thank you, elle, for the compliment on the painting.

8:10 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's funny how a couple simple words can be so right on the money! I couldn't have said parts one or two of your comment better myself, Tom! :) I've been doing part two almost every day for a couple weeks... There's no better way to experience the dry down of a fragrance either... wake up and there it is! :)

Excellent article! Thank you Marla :)

11:43 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"ignore mass marketing"... does that include chatty blogs?

12:52 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Marla. It's thrilling to know that European women tend towards a perfume wardrobe rather than a signature scent. For some reason, I had the idea that the perfume wardrobe was born of an American more-more-more mentality. Now I can feel a little less guilty :-) Thanks!

1:00 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Dear GostRanchGuy,
How flattering for us bloggers that you would think that our (chatty blogs) would have mass outreach. Thank you for the compliment. :-)

1:04 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oooh! Sign me up as a "closet European"! I think you definitely coined a phrase, Tom.

Chaya: I'm with you on the self-medicating with perfume. None of those pesky unpleasant side effects, either.


2:30 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marla, you have described me very well - another "closet European!" :-D

I do confess, like others have, (Tom and Chaya, are we related?) that when I am alone I will over-apply my favorites to bask in their fabulousness without having to worry about my effect on other people.

And your painting is wonderful!

4:19 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a European, now living in the States, I've enjoyed your insightful post very much, Marla. You've captured the essence in no. 4.
It's sad to hear that European teens are now falling for the mass marketed stuff, too. When we were teenagers, my friend and I wore everything from Chanel to Dior to Guerlain. We didn't think much of it, we bought what we liked and the market was different then, but I'm glad for those beautiful perfumes I've experienced.
Couldn't agree with you more on no. 7, no signature scent for life. I'll toast to that!

P.S. I like your painting.

4:20 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

I really enjoyed your post! It was alot of fun and I find myself of course in the closet with all of the rest of you:)
I have always enjoyed quality over quantity...although like Tom and Chaya, I can't be held accountable for what I do at night in the privacy of my bathroom:)

9:19 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I confess! I overspray at night, too! Even Samsara sometimes....

12:51 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was a fun tour. my scent-wearing proclivities must derive from my french side - i was nodding in agreement the whole way through! especially about having different scents for different moods and motives. would love to hear more scent observations as you come up with them. - minette

12:54 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What confuses me, is that I think I'm a closet American...?

10:08 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, that's not a bad thing, either, Leopoldo. But are you the overspraying or underspraying kind?? :-)

1:20 PM EST  
Blogger Alba said...

I wish all Europe was they way you paint it! I live in Spain and, while in the big cities people can be described the way you do, most women still think that the right way to smell is "discretely", wearing "fresh", "citric" scents (O de Lancome and Eau de Rochas have been hits for decades). Surely things are changing, but we cannot compare with our French neighbours, for example

7:59 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,
Spain sounds a lot like Miami, a former home of mine. Very light white musks, vanilla, lots of citrus, emphasis on light! Might have to do with the hotter, more humid climate, but Brazilian friends assure me they wear lots of intense, daring scents in Rio, so who knows? Interesting, isn't it?? -M

11:29 AM EST  
Blogger MonicaL said...

As a Parisian and true perfume addict, especially those from « niche » houses, I can pride myself of knowing all the best addresses in Paris.
Would you be in Paris on a Saturday and in needs for a guide, I would be delighted to see you to the some of the best perfumers such as Serge Lutens’ Palais Royal Shiseido ; Les parfums de Rosine, Editions de pafum Frédéric MALLE, l’Artisan parfumeur, Maître Gantier et Parfumeur, Patricia de Nicolaï, Divine, Montale, The Different Company, the exclusive JAR and eccentric Etat Libre d’orange, Annick Goutal, Creed, Dyptique, etc).
I can also introduce you to confidential shops or specific department store where you ‘d be able to find Italian beauties such as LorenzoVilloresi’s, Etro’s, Carthusia’s or Santa Maria Novella’s perfumes, unless you’d want to try the french Histoire de parfums, Parfums d’Empire or Mona di Orio ? You may finally decide to go for English scents such as Pethaligon’s, Floris, Geo Trumper, Czech & Speake or the Viennese Knize, the list is endless.
Unless you’d rather pay a visit to the classic ones? Patou, Guerlain, Hermes, Chanel or Dior for their exclusives lines.
I don’t charge for the tour but I will appreciate a tip for my time. You will be the only judge and decide weither I deserve one or not at the end of the day.
You can contact me either through my Email adress : or on my mobile phone + 33 6 68 47 41 48 and I will arrange a tour according your wish for a day, an afternoon or just to a specific shop.

2:24 PM EDT  

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