By Helen Clemson

Many moons ago (actually only about seven or eight years, but stay with me here) my dear friend Robyn gave me a book that has become my fragrance bible. Called Perfumes, The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, it’s a comprehensive breakdown of just about every single fragrance on the market. While written in 2008 (so look out for an updated version), it still brilliantly dissects classic scents that women go back to time and time again (Beautiful by Estee Lauder and Chanel No. 5 anyone?) and why they love them so. It also tells the story of perfume, as well as different families of scent (called genres); how to categorise your orientals groups from your chypres (the former is based on amber by the way and the latter on oakmoss as well as cistus labdanum and bergamot). In short, if you’re a fragrance fanatic, buy this book. It’s also encouraged me to think widely about the genre of fragrance I tend to always wear (cologne or very citrus-based “nothing” scents). I read some of the reviews that Turin and Sanchez wrote about my beloved scents (both are fragrance critics and experts in their field) and started smelling my perfumes in a whole new way, much like when a wine maker takes you through a tasting and uncovers notes in the blend for you. The lights suddenly go on and you switch from, “I like this,” to “I know why I like this” or perhaps “I’m actually not that crazy about it anymore.”

Is this notion the reason why we stick to wearing the same fragrance year in and year out? In other words, why we’re wearing something that we haven’t really got to depths with but it’s easier than finding something new? Yes, but it could also be that like fashion, perfumes move with the times however we haven’t made that connection. Perfumes tend to go through a generational cycle, meaning that the fragrance that was once en vogue when you were 25 will eventually be viewed as dated. Wearing scents that many people associate with a particular decade or generation can make you seem old-fashioned. And that’s not what you want as you mature in years. But you certainly don’t need to cling to youth by wearing fragrances “made” by celebrities (read: reality stars) who are barely out of their teens and bring the market a juice filled with notes of strawberry daiquiri and red velvet cupcake accord. In short, a mess! No, the trick to modernising your scent – even if you do want to keep a bottle of your long-time signature on your dressing table – is to look not to what the young are wearing, but rather to what Haute Couture houses are putting in their fine fragrances. What notes are exquisite but make for modern sublime scents? Read on….

White Florals

I hear women saying time and time again, “oh but I don’t want a florally fragrance,” or “I hate smelling like a bunch of flowers, it reminds me of loo spray.” What utter nonsense! You can’t discount every floral scent just because back in 1987 your mom got over-zealous with Carpet of Spring Flowers toilet spray and you now have a mental block. You are really missing out. White florals are big business in perfumes right now because they are highly sophisticated when melded into an overall fragrance blend. Playing with white florals and woods is a brilliant why to create a heady balance of sweetness of flowers (without being too sickly or cloying) and the warm sultriness of woods. Find tuberose and jasmine together with orris root in Gucci Bloom EDP (R1335 for 50ml at Woolworths) – the packaging alone is so pretty you’ll wonder why you didn’t update sooner!

Kenzo World EDP (price TBC) also is an ode to flowers. It’s fabulous floral heroes such as peony and Egyptian jasmine together with fresh red fruits in the top notes create a sparkling scent (that too is what modern-smelling scent is about). And you’re going go mad for the bottle; it’s a piece of art!  An all-seeing eye is quirky, cool and almost a little bit retro in its design.

Bitter Notes

Fragrance innovation moves in whole new directions and Black Opium’s success was building the scent around the aroma of black coffee. While you can’t build a fragrance on this smell alone, adding white flowers, sweet vanilla and woods contrasts the bitterness beautifully and the modernity of the scent makes it a pleasure to wear. While there’s nothing new about the juice of Black Opium Wild Edition (R1,299 for 50ml at Woolworths), the animal print-designed bottle is part of a limited edition range.

Soft Means Sexy

Remember those BIG scents of the late eighties and early nineties? They walked into the room before you did! While they radiated loudly, it wasn’t their fault. Often the balance of notes wasn’t right; too many loud synthetics for instance, all fighting for attention. Ideally sexy scent needs some musk in the formulation. Musk, an animalistic note, is the groundwork for a delicious array of fragrances – within a fragrance – to really shine. It’s the backbone that makes a scent sultry, giving it a come-hither factor. Two new scents that have really caught my attention (and I’m hoping my husband’s too) are different in terms of composition but ah ha, they both contain musk. Let’s start with La Perla La Mia Perla EDP ((R950 for 30ml OR R1 650 for 100ml)); like the new slew of beautiful scents we’re talking about here, it highlights white florals like jasmine and peony. However, it’s complexity lies in the addition of orris, silky suede and ambrox (to enrich the white notes). Beneath this, sandalwood and muscenone brings a sexy “cleanness” to the fragrance. The second is just as seductive, and also hits the glamour spot for me.

Bulgari Goldea The Roman Night EDP (R1,380 for 50ml at Woolworths). A good hit of diverse florals – think black peony, night-blooming jasmine, tuberose and rose – is at the heart of the fragrance and they are mingled with handsome base notes often found in men’s fragrances like patchouli, vetiver and moss, and of course black musk.

Now go forth and spray something new!


Great post, Helen! I try to strike a balance between the new and the classics. And I like the boldness of many 80s fragrances. I must try the Kenzo World. Thanks. R

The title of this article just drew me in immediately and for good reason! Too often people wear the same perfumes for years and don’t realise that, like fashion, perfume smells can be outdated.

Hi Carly, thanks for the comment. I recently read an article on how the raw materials used in the “classics” have changed so much over the years, that the actual fragrances don’t even smell anything like they used to (they used Chanel No% as an example). I also really believe the newer launches are far more in tune with the times. However, if you’re a lover of the classics, and they smell good on you, I say continue wearing them 🙂

Hi Richard, glad you enjoyed the post. I must be honest, there are one or two 80’s scents I still love (Estee Lauder Private Collection & YSL Rive Gauche), but they are SO overpowering and heady, I can hardly wear them. To be honest, I’m very into the artisanal fragrance brands like House of Gozdawa, Tammy Frazer, Byredo and Atelier Colognes.

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