Scent has the ability to transport us to another time in an instant. Walk into a room that's infused with a familiar floral scent and you're immediately six years old, sitting next to Aunty Ruth whose perfume of choice was Lily of the Valley. Walk through a garden and suddenly the heavenly scent of a roses (your mother's favorite flower) puts you back right next to her.
Perfume has been a welcomed companion for centuries, faintly changing the air and mood around us with its complex nuances; uplifting, sexy or invigorating. Different cultures the world over have used aromas to celebrate, rejoice, grieve or herald momentous events.
In the Christian world frankincense and myrrh are famous. Fragrances considered so important they were delivered to the Son of God at Bethlehem. In India incense has been an integral part of religion for thousands of years. Great clouds of fragrant rose and sandalwood waft through the sacred temples surrounding the devout as they pray.
How we connect with perfume and what we feel by dabbing a little scent here and there doesn't differ from the richest houses of wealth to the more modest lounges of working-class moms. The enjoyment of perfume is universal. It is held dear by all ages; five-year-olds love a splash of Mommy's fragrance, chic Granny's have their own favourite for church or Sunday lunch and teenagers revel in the wide choice from light to exotic. Most people feel they're not ready to go until they've dabbed perfume behind an ear or stroked a drop on a warm inner wrist.
Plants have been used since time immemorial to provide the essential oils necessary to make up delicious fragrances. Perfumes have not only infused our world with beautiful smells but due to the source of the natural aromatic ingredients, from nearly 60 000 plants, many other benefits came along in the package.
Prior to 1930, if you moistened your wrists with a perfume containing the oil from the skin of the bitter orange Neroli (Citrus aurantium) you'd smell glorious. More importantly you'd feel calmer, stronger and relaxed. All properties found in true, untampered with Neroli.
If you were lucky enough to receive an 'eau de toilette' containing a drop or two of oil from the blossoms of the Jasmine (Jasminium officinale) you could be assured that shortly after you had misted your skin with this superb scent, depressing grey thoughts would dissolve.
Our ancestors discovered healing properties within the plant kingdom. They realized not only did essential oils alter their state of mind but as it soaked into their skin, ailments and illnesses began to vanish. Soon essential oils were woven into the tapestry of daily life. In the mountains of Lebanon, people used the oil of the Cedar tree (Cedrus libani) to soothe bronchitis, calm the mind and quieten aggression. In Italy's Reggio di Calabria, the uplifting oil of Bergamot (Citrus aurantium ssp. bergamia) spread sunshine and happiness through the town. Within the hot interior of India, Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) was a tonic to all who wore her; dispelling grumpiness, strengthening digestion and improving concentration.
After 1930 synthetic scents made in a laboratory and chemically similar to the originals started to flood the shelves. These test-tube liquids were much cheaper than fragrances derived from essential oils and so found a ready market. However the healing and uplifting properties, the subtleties and nuances so widespread in essential oils from Mother Nature were starkly missing in pseudo-scents. Women quickly realized that inferior scents came with other downsides too - allergic reactions. Sneezing, headaches and skin rashes were part of the low-cost deal.
You cannot compare true quality perfume with its chemical imposter. Unfortunately today even top brands contain some synthetics. However the ratio of synthetics to essential oil decides whether the product remains a delight to the nose or relegates it to a lifeless debase flat liquid. Specialist perfumers know the value of a truly platinum fragrance and can answer the question, "What perfume is right for me?" They'll walk you through a myriad of choices to help you find those little bottles of beauty that mirror your mood and "timbre." Specialists will advise you on perfumes you can live with. The sensual aroma of tuberose, oak moss and jasmine may smell exquisite on someone else but if you buy that scent and you're a light, fresh lemongrass type of woman, you'll soon regret the purchase.
Perfume has an enchanting quality and like colour, specific fragrances seem better on certain types of women. Sultry, dark-haired, olive-skinned women smell beautiful when their aromas are infused with cinnamon, jasmine and sandalwood. Fair haired women with lighter complexions suit airy scents. Those containing hints of bright juniper berry, sharp citrus and soothing rose. However perfume, like good manners, is always appropriate if used with style. The time of day can also be an indicator. Use light scents for morning and business meetings, heavier scents for fun evenings or when you're relaxing. The combinations and subtleties are many and varied.
Perfume is about your personal signature. It's what you leave behind when you leave the room. Women wearing the exact same brand will smell delicately different. It's alchemy that turns a scent on your skin into a unique aroma – copied by none other. That's magic at its best and the true genie in the bottle.
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