Chanel No.5

Barbara Redmond

By Andrea Johnson

My first job, not working for my parents, was as a fragrance sales associate at Younkers, an American department store founded in 1856 with several locations throughout the Midwest. When I began, I was instantly enchanted by the luxurious experience of olfactory satisfaction. I smelled and sampled as many fragrances as I could to acquaint myself with the many different perfumes available. Finding the right fragrance is really a process of elimination. There are many fragrances from around the world and choosing the right one is not always easy.

Since researching a fragrance can be overwhelming, plan to spread the search over a few visits to the fragrance department or boutique to be sure of your decision. Do not feel pressured by the associates behind the fragrance counter. Even an associate who is pressuring you, something they shouldn’t do, does not want you to make a purchase only to regret and return it. Some customers feel intimidated by individual attention from a sales associate, but they are there to help you. Go in with confidence. I was genuinely interested in selling the right fragrance to each of my customers or none at all, if they decided against it.

I would begin by asking customers what kind of scent they were looking for: fresh, floral, warm, etc. Perfumes fall into several categories and many people have an idea of a category they would like to explore. If they listed one of those categories, I would bring several of my favorite, or popular, scents that matched their description. I would spray each scent on a separate fragrance blotting paper, known as “touché à sentir” or “mouillette, in and instruct the customer to gently wave each paper strip under their nose. Sometimes we would quickly arrive at a winner, but on most occasions I sprayed at least half the perfumes on the counter before we came to a decision.

After the customer found one they thought they liked, I would tell them to spray it on their wrist and walk, trying it for a short time or wearing it home overnight. If it was available, I might also give them a sample to take home. Testing a fragrance in your normal environment is a must. After sampling many perfumes, your olfaction senses are sure to become a bit desensitized and confused. All fragrances smell differently on everyone because the aromatic chemicals in perfume react differently with each person’s own aromatic chemicals.

Time is also a necessary aspect of testing a new fragrance. When it is initially sprayed, the top notes are the most potent and noticeable. As time goes by, the bottom notes come out more fully. When purchasing a fragrance, you need to be sure you like all its layers, from the initial scent to the sillage d’un parfum or wake of the scent. It is important to be aware of the lasting power of a fragrance. If you find you don’t like the fragrance you initially tried, return to the sales counter and try again.

Most importantly, you should feel like your fragrance reflects your personality. Some fragrances are fun, some are feminine, some are serious, some are seductive—and others are a combination of many different things. Ideally, the perfect fragrance will embody the favorite parts of your personality.

After you’ve found a fragrance that you like (it may take years of searching to find one you love), it is time to make a purchase. This is the step where it is most important to consider whether you’d like to purchase an eau de toilette, eau de parfum, or parfum. These are progressive concentrations of perfume: eau de toilette being the least concentrated. It is most important during the purchasing step because the level of concentration is what most affects the price. If you are ready to commit to a fragrance, you may feel compelled to purchase the parfum, which is highly concentrated—and highly priced. Some fragrance brands maintain the same recipe and merely add the dilution to the original recipe to create eaux de parfum and eaux de toilette; but Chanel and other designer fragrances slightly alter the composition of each fragrance tier to avoid damaging the integrity of the scent. Purchasing time is also the time to remember the lasting power of the fragrance. Fragrances made by companies, celebrities, or brands that do not devote real time to the science of perfume are not likely to create products that will pass that test. A fragrance that doesn’t last isn’t worth your money.

If you’ve really found a fragrance that is going to make you happy, now you’ve got to be prepared to shell out the cash. Depending on the fragrance you chose, a 3.4 oz bottle of eau de toilette will likely set you back between 60 and 100 U.S. dollars (as I said, fragrance is a luxury experience). Eaux de parfums can cost 10 to 20 dollars more than eaux de toilettes, and the parfums are even more expensive per ounce than that. There are also many other designer fragrances that exceed these the costs that I’ve listed. Some fragrances are so exclusive that one must be invited to purchase a bottle of the smelly stuff for 800 U.S. dollars or more. There are also fragrance accessories to consider such as lotions and body washes, for example, that may enhance your perfume purchase.

If you’ve completed all these steps, congratulations! You now have a perfume. I personally have several perfumes, but I have one staple that I hope will be available for me to purchase forever—Gucci II. It is a clean, lightly floral, semi-crisp fragrance with black currant and rose water. I loved it my first day at Younkers and I love it now. I don’t believe I will ever have enough of that fragrance. On days that I’m not wearing Gucci II, I switch it up between Miss Dior Cherie, Chanel Chance, Chanel Chance Eau Fraîche, Burberry Summer, Ralph Lauren Blue, and J’adore. I like to keep the others in the rotation separated by season because it is a good idea to have a summer fragrance and a winter fragrance. In summer, you typically want to wear something light, fresh, and really crisp. In winter, something warmer and fuller is more appropriate.

I admonish you that a little goes a long way. No one likes to smell someone’s perfume if it’s overbearing—even if it is an enjoyable scent. Reapplication is acceptable, but not twelve time during the day. You don’t want to smell like a pubescent boy who thinks Axe body spray is a good idea. The right amount of fragrance will be noticeable when you walk by or when someone is within a couple feet of you. You want to draw people in with a scent, not scare them away.

Happy hunting!


The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur, Jean-Claude Ellena

The Perfume Lover: A Personal History of Scent, Denyse Beaulieu

The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York, Chandler Burr

The Secret of Chanel No.5: The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume, Tilar J. Mazzeo.

Andrea Johnson photo Cropped VerticalAndrea Johnson received her B.S. in Biochemistry with a minor in French from the University of Minnesota in May 2012. One semester of her degree was spent abroad in France where she cultivated her love of French language, food, wine, and navigating interactions with others from foreign countries. She currently lives in Minneapolis and works as a contract employee through Pace Analytical Services at 3M in Maplewood, MN. She spends one evening each week volunteering at the Emergency Department at Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. While she enjoys living in her home state, she is impatient to be abroad again, since travel is her joie de vivre.

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French Perfume: The scent of a woman by a woman, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who tells the story of parfumière Annick Goutal who went to London, opened up a secondhand boutique, and began to experiment with creating her own face creams and lotions. During her lifetime, which was cut short by breast cancer when she was 53, Annick Goutal created 25 perfumes. Eau d’Hadrien is one of her best known, which was launched in 1981. Including recommended books and a valuable vocabulary for French to English translations for those shopping for fragrance.

French Soap: Savon de Marseille, by writer Lauren Ernt who stumbled upon La Licorne, a storefront soap factory in the heart of Marseille and one of the last authentic manufacturers of the famous “savon de Marseille.” Lauren writes about her visit and love of this renowned soap for its purity and restorative properties.

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Text copyright ©2013 Andrea Johnson. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.