“What do I wear in bed? Why, Chanel No. 5, of course,” Marilyn Monroe famously quipped. Nothing gets closer to a gal than her perfume, and it’s a tradition that goes back several millennia.
In 2005, an ancient perfumery was uncovered by archaeologists in Cyprus. They found 60 stills, funnels, mixing bowls and perfume bottles in a massive Bronze Age factory, believed to have manufactured fragrances for export across the Eastern Mediterranean.
There were traces of 4,000-year-old perfume within the bottles, and scientists reconstituted more than 12 different scents. They extracted essences of laurel, cinnamon and myrtle to give us an idea of what the woman on the high street was wearing 2,000 years BC.
Modern-day perfumes have their roots in the late 1800s, when synthetic properties were developed. From that moment, the possibilities were only as limited as the perfumiers’ imaginations.
The variety on offer today ranges from the culinary (where you can opt to smell of spices or chocolate) to the natural (a hint of cut grass or a seaweed-tinged sea breeze) and everything in between. Just as a sommelier can identify the type of grape of a particular wine, connoisseurs of perfume can do likewise with the components of scent.
As many of us know, perfumes can be described as having three sets of notes: top, middle and base. Top notes relate to the scent you immediately smell when you apply a perfume. The middle note forms the main identity, or heart, and the base notes add depth.
You might not become aware of base notes for at least half an hour after you’ve dabbed on your scent. So, if you’re in a department store trying out an unfamiliar brand, spray some on your wrist at the beginning of your shopping trip and then forget about it for 30 minutes or so. That way, you’ll have a much better idea of its suitability than if you’d sniffed it straight away.
There are five families of scent: oriental, woody, fougere (fern-like), floral and fresh, the first four belonging to the classic perfume tradition and the fifth defining a more modern taste. Within the fresh category, there are six sub-divisions (I know, how could it be so complicated?): bright floral, green, aquatic, citrus, fruity and gourmand. These fresh notes, to me, are the scent of summer. Light, invigorating and clean.
Summer is all about paring back everything to be as simple as possible. Make up, hair, attire and fragrance. Just as we don’t need cashmere and boots on a summer’s day, nor do we want the warmth and heaviness of an autumn or winter scent (though a slightly richer perfume may suit an August evening).
The trick to ensure a lasting scent is to layer it by using it in different forms. Start with shower gel or bath oil, follow with fragrance, and then finish with body lotion to lock the scent into your skin. If the range includes shampoo and conditioner, all the better.
Another trick, suggests perfumier Jo Malone, is to fragrance-combine. Think of your perfume as you would a little black dress, which you can accessorise or pare down accordingly. By mixing, matching and layering different scents, you can create a statement or a long-time signature.
Jo Malone’s Grapefruit cologne is perfect on its own for a summer day. It’s refreshing, bright and sunny. In the evening, though, you might want something a shade deeper and sultrier, so spritz yourself with the warm, Mediterranean aroma of Wild Fig and Cassis then lock it in with Grapefruit body crème.
I like to buy my fragrances in small sizes so that I can have several on the go at once. But as long as you store your perfume correctly, an opened bottle will keep its aroma for years (although ultimately air in the bottle does alter the smell). Finally, keep your bottle in its original packaging and away from heat and light. A friend of mine swears that keeping hers in the fridge keeps it fresher, longer. Here are my summer favourites for day and evening.
This is bright and fresh with a hint of sparkling fruit, derived from natural ingredients, With citrus fruits, spices and floral notes, this complex scent is nonetheless ideal for a summer afternoon.
Philosophy Pure Grace Fragrance 60ml, £32
Bergamot, water lily, lavender, jasmine and musk combine to create a just-showered, fresh fragrance.
Dior Eau Fraîche Eau de Toilette spray 100ml, £77
This cult classic, with its invigorating citrus notes, is elegant and fresh.
Jo Malone Grapefruit Cologne 100ml, £78
Sunny, bright and clean, with grapefruit and tangerine, vetiver and rosemary, mint and jasmine. One of Malone’s signature scents.
Chanel No 19 Eau de Parfum Spray 50ml, £67
The classic summer fragrance: green, woody, fresh and light. What more could you ask for?
Bulgari Mon Jasmin Noir Eau de Parfum 50ml, £60
Crisp and refreshing top notes of jasmine flowers at dawn and a sensual woody base make this light and elegant scent a sophisticated summer choice.
Tom Ford White Patchouli Eau de Parfum 50ml, £68
The sensual, eastern aroma of incense, sparkling notes of bergamot and delicate white peony, accented with spicy coriander, rose absolute, night blooming jasmine and stimulating ambrette seed all combine to create a complex, individual fragrance.
L’Occitane Rose 4 Reines Eau de Toilette 75ml, £37
A blend of four roses, with fruity top notes and musky base notes. Think violet, blackcurrant and Sicilian bergamot, accented with sandalwood and white cedar. Floral, rich and exotic.
Jo Malone Wild Fig and Cassis Cologne 100ml, £78
This intense, sophisticated scent, evoking the warmth of the Mediterranean, has notes of hyacinth, pine and cedar wood.
Bobbi Brown Almost Bare Eau de Parfum 50ml, £48.00
Italian bergamot, violet leaves, jasmine, cedar and amber combine to create a scent that is both warm and seductive, and fresh and floral.
Giorgio Armani Les Eaux Vétiver Babylone Eau de Toilette 100ml, £82.00
Zesty, citrus notes of mandarin combine with bergamot, cardamom, coriander and pink pepper in this unusual and spicy scent.