Most of us know perfume as a product that arrives on shelves from far-flung destinations. But since 2008, master perfumer Emma J. Leah has been creating custom-designed fragrances for her label, Fleurage, in suburban Melbourne. An expert in designing and creating scents from scratch, Leah describes her vocation as a mixture of science and art.
“I study a lot of scent chemistry,” she says. “I use droppers, beakers, filters and funnels, but my studio is not a clinical lab – it’s a place of creation and beauty. Scent is subjective and it comes down to the creator’s taste. That’s the art.”
Leah is one of several beauty experts sharing their talents this month at Highpoint’s Architects of Beauty event. We asked the master perfumer for her guide to finding the right scent.
Leah says that before heading to the shops, the best starting point is to work out what “fragrance families” your old perfumes fall into: “If you’ve got perfume that you already know you like, find the common notes and ask the sales assistant to guide you towards scents with similar ingredients.”
Leah recommends speaking to a shop assistant around your own age. “Generally, a young person has different taste to an older person,” says Leah. “Young people like fragrances that are a bit sweeter and lighter. Then they tend to develop into more complex scents as they get older. Try to speak to someone who understands how perfumes are worn at your age.”
For those with no clue where to start, Leah’s advice is to take your time and test different scents. “I don’t recommend any perfume to someone unless I’ve spoken to them,” she says. “But generally, if you’re looking for a daytime perfume, go for something light, stimulating and refreshing. For night time, go for something a bit deeper and more mysterious.”
When working with a client to create a scent, Leah likes to know a bit about them, to help guide the creative process. “Before they make their scent, I ask people in my classes a series of questions about their taste palette; what sorts of flowers, foods, seasons and colours they like,” says Leah. “Cross-sensory referencing is good, because all those tastes and palettes are linked to smell.”
You can call upon this approach when talking with a sales assistant. Leah says you can even chat about your favourite foods – it all helps to narrow down what fragrances you might like. “It comes down to understanding your taste level, and communicating that,” says Leah.
She also says to understand the same fragrance can smell completely different on different people. “Not everyone wears florals or citrus very well,” says Leah. “Spraying it on paper is one thing, but you need to spray it on your skin to test it. Our individual skin chemistry means we radiate scents in a certain way.”
It’s also important to leave perfume on your skin for at least 30 minutes before choosing whether or not to buy it. “Fragrances take time to reveal themselves,” says Leah. “The top notes in the fragrance disappear first, after about 10 minutes. Then the heart notes after 20 or so. What remains are the base notes. They’re the ones that you’re looking to enjoy, and they will remain on your skin for the next 12–24 hours.”
Once you’ve settled on a fragrance, pay attention to where you apply it. “Heat projects perfume on your body,” says Leah. “So it’s best worn in places like the crook of your elbow, your torso, and even on your hair line. Although we see pictures of people putting perfume on their wrists, I’d advise against it because our wrists receive friction that can interfere with the scent.”
Leah’s parting words of advice remind us that smell is primal, and what you put on your own skin can have a subtle affect on those around you. “Scents that are beautiful on your skin will attract like-minded people,” she says. Whether that’s friends or mates, you’re creating a memory in people’s mind in the way that you’re scented. Above all, fragrance should bring you joy, uplift your spirit and make you feel beautiful.”
To learn more tricks of the beauty trade in person, Highpoint’s Architects of Beauty series of masterclasses runs from Thursday May 5 until Sunday May 22, 2016.
This article is presented in partnership with Highpoint.