Case in point: the lovely Helena Christensen and her new Dead of Night perfume. We ran into the supermodel at a dinner recently, and we were immediately entranced by her perfume. In fact, we couldn't stop thinking about it, so we sought her out to learn all of her smell-casting secrets. Ahead, we get the inside info from Christensen on how her new scent came about, what makes it so magical, and the nuances of attraction by scent. Read on for the full scoop straight from Helena herself and to swipe some of her genius fragrance tips.
"My friend Elizabeth Gaynes met the Bornean royals through friends in Europe 15 years ago. The daughter of the family, Marinah Embiricos, was put in charge of saving 5,000 hectares in Sabah, Borneo, and she approached Elizabeth to help raise awareness. Embiricos' father, Datuk Harris, decided to intercrop those fields and plant teak, agarwood, herbal teas, and crops for essential oils.
"Elizabeth has worked with the family for almost six years and signed an exclusive partnership with Givaudan for a 600-acre patchouli plantation recently under her company Gaia One. This partnership led her to discover the beauty of true, authentic fragrance. Subsequently, she approached me about collaborating in creating a unique perfume from the oud oil."
Oud isn't exactly a new note in the fragrance world — what makes this oud special?
"Normally, harvesters of the agarwood tree go deep into the forest looking for the one tree in hundreds in the rain forest and chop down and distill it there. This oil is very valuable, so there is incentive from a lot of the local people to harvest the rain forest. Some trees can be worth upwards of $100,000. It is illegal to take down rain-forest trees, and the agarwood tree is a protected tree.
"Because the Harrises are growing their own trees and producing their own oud for commercial consumption, the need for harvesting in the rain forest will drop. The Harris family used their own land, which had already had other crops on it, to plant the agarwood — they didn’t clear the rain forest for additional acreage. This is sustainable, as they are replanting as they are harvesting the trees, so the oud they produce is certified.
"Elizabeth had the idea of making the purest version of oud as you could. I smelled the first version in the early beginnings, and I was literally mesmerized by the first whiff, in a way that happens very rarely in your life when you smell a perfume. It's completely different than anything I have ever smelled, like an explosion going off in your head."
Can you talk a bit about the price? Why are these so expensive?
"The whole process of how it's derived is interesting. The tree needs to get attacked by a certain fungus in order to produce the actual liquid that is the oud oil. It's very rare that you can even find a tree that has this happening. You can almost say it's the truffle of the perfume world.
"Not that many bottles [of the scent] are made. We create a certain amount of bottles that are numbered for each batch. The scent changes ever so slightly with every batch we make. When a new batch comes in, you need to almost start [the process] over again. Since they are all so personal and hand-created each time, we decided to number them and sell them in batches."
What's your fragrance style? Do you mix your own?
"I don't mix them so much as I create them. I like mixing oils — all the scents I have are all oils because you always find a combination that surprises you. I like that element of surprise in a scent.
"I put [fragrance oils] in my hair — I put a few drops in my hands and run them through my hair. Scents are important because they follow you throughout the day. That's why I like oils — oils you can sort of decide what part of your body you want to add more or less on. If you spray with a bottle, that's sort of it: The scent goes to that point [of your body] in that amount. With oil, you can put ever so little on or add a little extra instead of it being concentrated in just one spot."
What do you think is the biggest mistake most women make with scent?
"I think the only time you notice that something could have been done differently is when you pass a woman or man and the scent that follows them is just so heavy. We have a lot of other scents on us — the face cream, the body lotion, the shampoo — it's a lot of scent.
"The natural scent of a human being is really special and important as well. People don't fall in love because you are wearing an amazing perfume; they fall in love with you because they smell your natural scent — that's what you get attracted to. It is your natural scent at the end of the day that is the most beautiful, important, and hypnotic scent of all.
"That is why I love this oil. It reminds me of the scent of something very primal and very real, natural, and authentic. It smells like all the beautiful smells of yourself — all the natural scents that a human being exudes, only intensified. Because it's so pure, your brain sort of registers that there's nothing superficial about it. I don't feel that I am putting something on me that is a foreign, chemically processed thing. It feels real and smooth, like an extension of yourself."
ERH1012 Dead of Night Perfume Oil, $245, available at ERH1012.
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page!
Photographed by Christy Bush