I hate perfume. When I was a little girl, my mother was constantly plagued with migraines, and perfumes made them worse. So, I grew up only enjoying the scents of body sprays with fruity notes (shout-out to Bath & Body Works' Cucumber Melon!) because that’s what my mom could stand. And, now that I also seem to carry the migraines-caused-by-perfume gene (thanks, Ma), I hate fragrances even more.
Perfumist Christopher Brosius also (interestingly) hates perfume, but his reasoning for this has a much better story behind it than mine. “I was working as a cab driver,” he said. “I’d have blinding headaches, severe nausea, and burning eyes, and I realized that it was women’s perfume that was actually doing it. And, it’s the opposite effect that a perfume should have.”
Fast-forward a few years, and Brosius found himself working in the fragrance industry alongside people who had the technology to analyze scents and figure out exactly what constitutes them. After an aha! moment when he realized how much he loved the scent of tilling his garden in Pennsylvania, he started to wonder: What if we analyzed the scent of a pile of dirt the same way we analyze the scent of a flower? And, the rest, they say, is history.
Brosius now heads up CB I Hate Perfume, an indie fragrance brand with a storefront in Brooklyn dedicated to providing people with scents they can actually tolerate. “There are a lot of people who would love to wear perfume, but what the perfume industry offers has nothing to do with what they want,” he said.
Lucky for us, Brosius has some serious insight into the inner workings of the perfume industry. Read on for his tried-and-tested tips for finding your perfect scent. Trust me, it’s a lot easier than it seems.
Ask yourself: Do you just put perfume on because you think you should? Brosius says this is typical, but a definite no-no. “When people come to my [store], we will ask them, ‘What to you smells good?’” Identifying what you actually find pleasant is step one in finding your perfect scent, but Brosius stresses that not all scents you love are “pretty” scents.
In fact, he wants people to tap into those smells that don't immediately scream "perfume!" Personally, I love the smell of musty basements. Weird? Maybe, but Brosius assures me I’m not crazy — I’m just tapping into my emotions.
“Memory is linked to an emotional response that you have to the smell at a time. When you have a very powerful emotional response, the brain records it most profoundly by recording the smell that you are having,” he says.
So, before you even think about picking up a perfume, take a second to reflect. Do you recall a scent that you found pleasant at any certain time? Consider why that smell was so pleasing, and think about how you felt while smelling it. Make a list of these scent memories, and begin there.
Next, start sniffing. But, here’s the catch: You’ve got to take your time! This means that you will likely only smell one perfume a day. Consider it an investment in your olfactory system’s happiness.
Smell your fragrance from the bottle first. If you like it — and Brosius means you really like it, not just tolerate it — spritz it onto a blotter and smell it. If you still enjoy it on the blotter, put the slip of paper into your purse and take it out of the store.
“Smell it on the blotter over time,” Brosius says. Take a whiff when you’re outside. Have a sniff when you’re feeling stressed. See how the blotter smells when you’re at home. “If there is ever a time when you question whether you like the scent, it’s not the perfume for you."
If you find that you love the scent on a blotter after a day, go back to the store, and spritz some on your skin. (Or, ask for a sample — lots of stores will hand ‘em over.) Repeat the same process, and really give the scent time to settle into your skin. And, if you’re in a store with pushy perfume salespeople, don’t let them derail or pressure you. Remember: You’re there to make yourself happy — not them.
Now, I will say from experience, this process is a long one, and I'm still searching for that perfume that's going to make me fall in love. I guess you could still label me a hater, but I've learned something: Not every fragrance I smell is going to make me headachy, nauseated, and sick to my stomach. In fact, I have a newfound (and totally welcomed) optimism that I will find the right scent for me. And, if I'm lucky, it will have notes of a musty basement.