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On the nose

Every perfume will not suit every person. But, as Jo Caruana learns from perfume expert Nick Gilbert, fragrance profiling will help you find the perfect scent to suit your personality and DNA.

The writer and Nick Gilbert testing perfumes.The writer and Nick Gilbert testing perfumes.

I have to admit that I have never given very much thought to the perfumes I wear. For the most part, my fragrances of choice have been selected after a quick sniff in the shop; if I liked them I bought them. No further questions asked.

But, just a couple of weeks ago, all of that changed. After an in-depth consult with UK-based fragrance specialist Nick Gilbert at Franks, I suddenly gained fascinating insight into which perfumes work best for me, as well as the ones that simply don’t go with my constitution. In a nutshell, I will never see perfume in the same way, ever again.

You see, as part of his role as international fragrance ambassador to luxury perfume brand Penhaligon’s, Gilbert helps to match fragrances to personality, lifestyle and requirements (as opposed to the simple fact that you quite like the smell of something). The result is that you end up with a perfume that truly complements your character and says a lot about you.

“Fragrance profiling is a method Penhaligon’s has developed and refined over the years and I think it’s very effective,” says Gilbert, who has been involved in the wider perfume market since his teens.

Each profile starts with a series of questions that help him to understand the client’s tastes and the history of their fragrance usage, as well as how they want to feel or when they will use the fragrance. “Our consultants all work in different ways, but I find asking questions about a client’s penchants for food, textures, colours and even drinks helps me understand their taste.

“For example, if you prefer seafood and white wine, with cool or bright colours, then you would probably enjoy a crisp citrus like Penhaligon’s Quercus or a fruity rose such as Vaara. Creating a picture in our head of who our clients are, allows us to shortlist fragrances for them based on that. We then introduce them to the scents, and refine the selection based on their reactions.”

In my own profiling session Gilbert asks me whether I preferred white wine to red (I opt for red, or, ideally, dessert wine), which colours I am most drawn to (pink and purple), as well as the type of perfumes I have been drawn to in the past (sweet and fruity ones).

“While profiling you it quickly became clear that you like sweet things,” Gilbert tells me after our consultation. “This automatically led me to choose a sweet fragrance for you – and I narrowed it down to Penhaligon’s Empressa – a fragrance inspired by silks transported through London to adorn women of influence, and Vaara, a perfume that started life as the passion of His Highness Maharajah Gaj Singh II, who wanted to reflect his family’s deep love and connection with Jodhpur in India,” Gilbert continues.

It was at this point that I tried both fragrances on, to see how they would react to my skin. Interestingly, Vaara had been my first choice until that point, but it just didn’t suit me.

“When we tried Vaara on you, we noticed the strange phenomenon that sometimes happens on fair skintones with rose notes – they separate into their constituent parts,” Gilbert explains, noticing my disappointment at not matching with my chosen fragrance.

“The Moroccan rose absolute and Bulgarian rose oil heart notes simply didn’t mix well with your skin, and I would go so far as to say that rose fragrances will probably never complement you in the way you want them to – even if they do smell gorgeous when sprayed on someone else. This highlights just how important it is to get the fragrance onto your skin.”

Gilbert tells me that there are many reasons a fragrance can suit one person and not another. As a general rule it comes down to skin, but he has also noticed that diet, eye colour, skin tone and hair colour all seem to have an effect on perfumes too.

“The reason we’re attracted to different fragrances is down to our absolute individuality,” continues Gilbert. “Every person has a unique nose – determined by their DNA. A fragrance may work well on your friend’s skin but not on yours. Living in London, I smell people wearing a fragrance that doesn’t sit well on them almost every day. But I can’t go around telling people that,” he grins.

But, thankfully, Gilbert has told me what works for me and I find myself sniffing at the Empressa scent for ages, marvelling at how well it seems to match everything I want in a fragrance – it is sweet without being sickly, strong enough to last all day, but not overpowering to the point of annoyance. I love it.

“That’s the sort of reaction you should have to a perfume that really works for you,” says Gilbert, explaining that Penhaligon’s is the ideal brand for this process because it has such a wide selection of characterful, distinctive fragrances.

“As such I am able to find a fit for most people. It’s a fun and insightful process and it’s a wonderful way of discovering fragrances you wouldn’t have expected yourself to pick, or that you may not have tried before,” he adds. “Everyone should try it.”

Finding the right fragrance for you

If you’re stuck in a perfume rut or can’t find the right fragrance for you, try these expert tips from Nick Gilbert next time you’re selecting a scent.

Do some research. I trust sites like Osmoz, which is a social website about perfume and fragrance, for unbiased information. You can find out which family your current favourite fragrance fits into, and then look for other similar fragrances to inspire you.

Once you’ve found a perfume to try, spritz it onto a card and set it aside. Work your way through different scents and shortlist your favourite two or three.

Then apply them to your wrist or inner elbow and let the fragrance warm up over 10 minutes. At that point, see whether you still like it, or if the scent has changed.

The first part of the smell (the head note) is not what you will have to live with, so it’s worth waiting for the heart and base notes to come through.

Most importantly, trust your nose. It will tell you if you do or don’t like something!

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