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Perfume Interview with Judith of Unseen Censer Part II: Advice and Recommendations

Yesterday we had Part I of our interview with perfumista Judith, who blogs at Unseen Censer. In the second part of her interview, she helps us make sense out of the massive amounts of perfume out there, and how to store it and wear it once it’s acquired.

An exceptionally lovely bottle from the Unseen Censer collection, vintage Nuit de Noel.

I asked her for her perfume recommendations – greens, florals, what to wear for a night at the burlesque, and what she’d recommend for a wedding. More advice is mingled with the recs, such as how to wear the more challenging artisanal perfumes. And at the end, I’ve noted my own New Zealand and online places to buy fragrance. So read on!

Do we need to keep perfume in the fridge?

Not really. If you intend to keep it for a hundred years, like the Osmotheque, the museum of perfume in France, then it needs to be temperature controlled. Also, spritzing on something cold and refreshing in the summer is fantastic. I know some people who are manic about the freshness of their perfumes who have a fridge for the most expensive or beloved parts of their collection. But if you keep it relatively cool (NOT in an attic or hot closet) and away from light, you can extend the life ofyour perfume probably as long as you care to – certainly for five to ten years or more. Most of my best perfumes are in a drawer in a bureau in my room.
Judith's "morning perfumes"
Oils also last longer in better condition than alcohol/spray perfumes – another reason I love them. I’ve had some of my oils for 20 years, and they’re still fine. I think they’ve changed a little – but after 20 years it might be me that’s changed more. And back then I didn’t know to keep them away from light.

It’s an interesting question – do you expect your perfume collection to outlive you? I, for instance, have far more than I can ever wear. I expect to start giving away more, and of course perfumistas love swaps, in which they give away something less beloved for something new. Past a certain point, you just want to achieve stasis!

What’s the best way to apply perfume?

This is such an interesting question. It’s the number one question women ask about perfume, I read somewhere, and I can’t think why. Surely the answer is “where you want to?”

I like living in a little cloud of my perfume. If it’s a fairly light scent (and most of what I’d wear in the morning to work are fairly light scents), I spritz my breastbone and my forearms, so that the scent will rise in a cloud in front of me all day and I can smell it. Very light things, I might even add a spritz to the small of my back or the back of my knees, just to be surrounded by the scent! Heavier things might just get one spritz, to the breastbone or the belly, even. There’s a limit to how much I can stick my face in my shirt collar and sniff – I need the smell to travel at least a *little*.

I think the classic pulse points thing is for people who want their lover to smell the perfume. In that case the answer too is simple – “wherever you want your lover to nuzzle you.”

Can you please give us some accessible perfume recommendations for…

Something “green” for everyday?

Recently I got to smell The Different Company’s de Bachmakov. This is an incredible scent pulling off an incredible trick: instead of starting fresh and drying down into a richer floral, this starts with a beautiful rose and dries down into the most gorgeous green herbal mix. It’s amazing, I’ve never smelled anything like it.

Except Peter Thomas Roth’s scent 460 Park. This is a lovely scent, a quarter of the price of the de Bachmakov, and I bought it because it’s not particularly linear – it changes a bit as you wear it, which I think is pleasant. Very non-demanding and yet a clean green fresh scent that is still interesting. And its clean green drydown reminds me very much of the drydown of the de Bachmakov.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Vert pour Madame is an homage to old-fashioned green scents without being particularly old-fashioned. It’s green, quite green, and smells like a grown woman would want a pretty bottle of it on her bureau – it smells like a beautiful perfume, which to me is no insult. This is the way perfume used to be, and should be. I could easily see this being someone’s signature scent, and it’s uncommon enough that you won’t smell it on many other people.

But perhaps the most common green and easiest to get is Hermes’  Un Jardin sur le Nil. This perfume, the creation of which is documented in Chandler Burr’s interesting book The Perfect Scent, is a very wearable, very light green that is nontheless a little exotic, a little different. Based on lotus root, it is intended to be the impression of a garden on the Nile river. The nose who created it, Jean-Claude Ellena, is a minimalist who makes the most of very sophisticated ingredients and I think this perfume is a masterpiece.

Something floral for everyday?

Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds is a gorgeous floral that dries down to creamy woods – there’s a reason it’s the best selling celebrity perfume of all time. The key to wearing it is to spritz it VERY LIGHTLY, JUST ONCE!

Currently I’m loving Caron’s Fleurs de Rocaille (Rock Flowers), which is a very fresh spring bouquet with an accent of vanilla. This was my favorite floral this spring!

I also adore YSL’s Parisienne – a lovely young delicate bouquet, not as sweet, also not quite as fresh in the opening – and Dior’s J’adore, which is a great “big” bouquet. I’ve also discovered Lancome’s Miracle is a very wearable, very pretty floral that I think would appeal to many.

Something sultry and special for going out to see the burlesque?

Ah – we need roses and tobacco for this, no? Caron’s Tabac Blonde is the classic naughty liberated woman tobacco scent – it’s very interesting but one must smell it before buying it (one should smell ANY perfume before buying it) as it won’t appeal to everyone!

Aside from Back to Black, By Kilian’s honey tobacco gloriousness that you’ve already mentioned, what we want is a perfume that smells like… well, sex. The scent of a warm and ready woman is a very heady perfume, and one that a number of perfumers over the years have tried to capture, but one that doesn’t jibe well with American “clean and fresh” sensibilities. So you have to go classic and look for things that French women wore prior to 1980! Look for “leather” and “animalic” in the notes. You’re looking for the scent of warm, used skin! Mmmm… Bandit, by Robert Piguet, is a classic in this category. People tend to love it or hate it – always smell first!

But for classic Burlesque, doesn’t one want the perfume Marilyn Monroe claimed to sleep in? Chanel No. 5. Never anything wrong with a classic.

Something to get married in? Cost no object?

OK, this is a tough one. I actually think a wedding is no time to wear a blow-the-walls-out perfume. I’ve smelled Kate Middleton’s wedding perfume, White Gardenia Petals by Illuminium, and it’s lovely and unassuming and perfect as a background for a gorgeous bride. You don’t want the perfume wearing you on your wedding day.

If you are a huge perfume lover, try Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s wedding box – it’s not expensive and comes with scents for the bridesmaids, groom, and mother of the bride as well! Dawn would also be happy to advise anyone by email or phone regarding a special purchase, and something from a niche, handmade perfumer like Dawn would be very special. Be aware with these handmade perfumes that the first five minutes may not be the best – they sometimes take a few minutes to “set up”, unlike commercial perfumes which are designed to smell fantastic in the first five seconds, which is about how long women consider them before they buy them these days. Try a DSH perfume and wear it for an hour or two- and see how you like it.

I think you’re looking for something beautiful that will enhance you and if you’re lucky in future years when you spritz it on it will carry you – and perhaps your partner – back in time to a lovely day you spent promising yourselves to each other. Classic wedding perfumes that are easily obtainable like Joy and Creed’s Fleurissimo are popular because they do exactly that. In fact I love Fleurissimo – perhaps some would be shy to wear it every day, but it was formulated for Grace Kelly’s wedding and it would probably be gorgeous for yours too.

But perhaps my all-time favorite general house is Guerlain, so let me make a recommendation for a scent that should be relatively easy to find but perhaps you might not think of – Guerlain’s Chamade. This gorgeous bouquet starts out with galbanum, a green note, and has slight tastes of fruit to it, and hyacinth – it is a beautiful perfume and would enhance a beautiful day. If you try Fleurissimo and it’s too young-girly for you – because that would be my recommendation of a place to start – try Chamade.

And write down in a diary somewhere what you wore, so you remember!

I also recommend taking it with you on your honeymoon, or discovering a new scent on your honeymoon and just enjoying the serendipity. The toiletries in my honeymoon hotel were scented with Bulgari’s Eau Parfumee au The Blanc, so that’s my honeymoon scent and it makes me happy to this day. You never know what you’ll encounter at the hotel, in a restaurant, on a street corner with your beloved – just keep your nose open!

Personally, I like perfumes with fig notes. So what would you recommend for me?

I have a tough time with fig because I think it tends to overwhelm a perfume – if it smells like fig, it smells like FIG! I own Buddha’s Fig because I was curious about an organic perfume. It’s very fresh in its own figgy way, and soothing. And Thierry Mugler’s new one, Womanity, is a very pretty and wearable slightly flowery fig. It’s famed for having a salty-caviar note – if you try some, let me know if you notice it! On me it smelled like FIG. (Ignore the bizarre bottle and more than faintly ridiculous name.) But March over at the Perfume Posse has done massive research on fig – follow her footsteps!

I checked out a Womanity review and I actually really like that bizarre Aeon Flux/Alien bottle. Which just goes to show, to each their own when it comes to fragrance and design. Thank you so much!


And that’s the end of our interview. If you have more perfume questions that haven’t been answered here, do contact Judith over at her blog.

In New Zealand, the main department stores, yep, they’ll sell you perfume. For more artisanal scents, World Beauty is THE place to go in Auckland and Wellington – their range includes the affordable Demeter line of quirky scents. Charming Bello in Wellington also has an eclectic fragrance range, including Diptyque.

A lot of the perfumes mentioned here are available at StrawberryNet, which ships free around the world. I have also had a good experience with FragranceNet (affordable international shipping) and FragranceX seems like a strong contender. For sample vials, “decants”, and very unusual scents, The Perfumed Court is also recommended.

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