The experts: perfumers on 20 ways to make you, your house and your laundry smell fabulous | Life and style

From a fancy fragrance to a simple bowl of oranges, scent can transform how you feel about yourself, another person or a place. But how can you work out what suits the moment? And the best way to get rid of a stink? Perfumers reveal how to make your world smell fantastic.

1. Smell is an extreme sensation
“Scent provokes a visceral reaction,” says Ezra-Lloyd Jackson, a perfumer and artist who makes wearable fragrances under the brand name deya and creates scent installations for art exhibitions. What fascinates him about working with scent is the process of transforming “something that is grotesque or alarming into something that is familiar and comforting, or vice versa”.

2. Your reaction to a smell is linked to memory
Maya Njie makes perfumes inspired by her Swedish and Gambian heritage. She tried to capture this feeling in other artistic forms before realising that what she really wanted was to portray the way it smelled. “We know that our sense of smell is directly linked to the part of the brain where our memories are stored,” she says. “So it makes a lot of sense that fragrance and smells are connected to our memories. If you smell something that someone has worn, or you go to a house that belongs to your grandparents, smelling makes you feel way more emotional than a photo ever could.” Jackson describes this as “internal time travel. It is another form of communication that isn’t linguistic.”

3. It is possible to train your nose
“That is what perfume is all about,” says Jackson. He didn’t have a very orthodox route into perfumery: “I went straight into a laboratory and got to work, but most people will train at one of the schools in France, where the first year is all about learning 500 smells.” Brighton-based French perfumer Elodie Durande, who works for Somerset label Ffern, honed her craft at the University of Montpellier. “You start out by working on your olfactory skills, remembering smells and describing smells,” before receiving a wide-ranging education about the perfume industry, she says.

The fine art of fragrance creation at Givaudan Perfumery School, Paris. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Learning about scent applies not just to those who work in it, but those who wear it, too. “You can figure out what scent suits you by literally going around in your regular life and being sure to smell,” says Mandy Aftel, a natural perfumer who lives in Berkeley, California and runs a fragrance museum, the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. “Participate more in your life, bring your consciousness into a cup of coffee or when you’re baking; smell the oven and the smells of baking will evolve. All we need to do is close our eyes, inhale and be there. And it will become clear to you what you like.”

4. You can change how you feel about a smell – if you want to
“If there is a perfume that someone wore when you were younger and it makes you feel uncomfortable, or an ex-partner wore a perfume and you smell it again, it can be interesting to reclaim that smell,” says Njie. “So instead of smelling it every now and again, and feeling the way that you do, you would buy a sample of it and start wearing it – doing things that make you dissociate from that particular person. You can recreate memories and connections to it.”

But you should proceed with caution, advises Aftel: “If a fragrance reminds you of someone who stopped your heart, you should avoid it. It is a part of who you are and that should be honoured. On the other hand, if you really got over that person, it may be a victory dance to feel that it no longer bothers you. But it has to be an evolution inside of you.”

5. Take your time choosing a fragrance
You need to be in the right mood when shopping for a new scent, explains Lyn Harris, the perfumer behind the Perfume H and Miller Harris labels. “It’s like choosing an item of clothing – you have to be calm and not in a rush.” Don’t be intimidated by fragrance, she says. Tell the sales assistant the kind of things you like and they will help you to find something.

6. Pick a fragrance for the time of year
“Find a fragrance that fits you for the season,” says Harris. “I think that is key because that is how we treat our wardrobe in general; it needs to be reinvigorated and fragrance is the same, because it will stop working for you just like that. So go into it thinking, ‘I am going to have one for spring. What do I want? Do I want something fresh? Do I want something green?’ And then in the winter, you may think, ‘I want something to cocoon me, to nurture me but smell sexy at the same time.’”

Make sure to give your new scent a rigorous sniff test. Photograph: bymuratdeniz/Getty Images

7. Test it on your skin
“Once you’ve found two fragrances that you quite like and they’re doing something for you olfactory-wise, try them on your skin,” says Harris. “One fragrance on each wrist and perhaps another somewhere up your arm. Try no more than three. It is quite good to take a tester card and then, maybe later in the day, check it and see if it’s doing anything for you. But that initial skin contact and your reaction to it is very important. It should be giving you pleasure; making you feel inquisitive and emotional. Give it three to five minutes and if it’s still working, that’s a positive.”

Fragrance comes to life on the skin, says Njie. “Temperature plays a part, which is why we spray on pulse points and it is why fragrance may come alive more in the summer, whereas in the winter it may be flatter.”

8. Wear what you like, not what you think you should like
Fragrance has traditionally been marketed as “feminine” or “masculine” – interestingly, certain flowery notes were once considered the latter – and something used to attract the object of your affection, says Njie, who makes gender neutral perfumes. “But really, all those lines are so blurred” – now, it is more about “making you feel a certain way about yourself, more confident or secure or all of these different emotions that fragrance can bring to us”.

9. Scent can be used to lift or reflect your mood
“All of my perfumes are very mood driven,” says Aftel. “I have some perfumes that are sad, some that are kind of sexy for a date night, others that are relaxing – like being in nature in the trees.” They can also be chosen to mark a special occasion, such as a birthday, wedding or significant life change. “[You can] dedicate a particular scent to it that isn’t an every day one,” says Jackson, setting yourself up to make new memories with your chosen fragrance.

10. Spritz where you will most enjoy it
“I spray on my wrist and on the back of my neck,” says Njie, “because I find that if you spray it at the front, you smell it constantly and get used to the fragrance faster than you would if it wasn’t in your peripheral area the whole time. I like to spray it on my clothes, if I feel as if I’ve got fabric that can handle it; I like it on a coat sleeve before I leave the house – that way I can access it more easily. My hair is very short but I know that the girls in the studio spray a bit and walk into it and it wafts in your hair throughout the day.”

Durande agrees that wearing perfume on your chest means you sense it too much, which soon means that “you can’t consciously smell it anymore”. The trick instead is to “try to apply it to different parts of your body, on your wrist or even on your legs – anywhere that has motion. That way, when you move, you will get a whiff of perfume.”

Hell is other people – especially when they’re wearing an overpowering fragrance. Photograph: AaronAmat/Getty Images/iStockphoto

11. Don’t be too overpowering
“It is good to keep other people in mind,” says Njie. “When you’re in smaller spaces, travelling or working in an office, you may want to take others into account. I don’t believe that if a fragrance reaches across the room and it is eye-watering, then it means that it is good and you have got a lot for your buck. Something that is subdued and more sophisticated can be equally as beautiful. It is nice to have a smell that is more intimate – that people who come close to you get to enjoy.”

Harris agrees: “I personally don’t think it’s tasteful to invade other people’s space with fragrance. It should be for you and those immediately close to you.” When you can no longer smell your fragrance, reapply it to a different part of the body, suggests Durande.

Sweet vanilla is a desirable, long-lasting perfume ingredient. Photograph: Burke/Triolo Productions/Getty Images

12. Choose something that will last
“Anything with a deeper smell – something woody, ambery, richer – and sweeter scents like vanilla or caramels … these are all base notes, the longer lasting ingredients,” says Durande. “Perfumes that contain these will retain on the skin for a bit longer.”

13. Think sustainably
Njie’s eponymous brand is vegan and “offers refills, and uses recycled glass and paper packaging”. But sustainability in perfume is not always straightforward, so make sure you read up on how brands operate before you buy. “Natural does not equal being more sustainable or safer to wear,” she says. “In certain cases, the synthetic molecules are better, as they carry a lower carbon footprint and fewer allergens.”

14. How to tell a dupe
The internet is awash with cunning copies of notable perfumes, and it can be hard to tell a real fragrance from a fake one. “If it is a really good dupe, you can’t really tell,” says Durande. “If it is a perfume that you’ve been wearing for many years, every day, and you have a good sense of smell, you will probably pick up tiny differences. Because dupes are never 100% the same, even the good ones.”

15. Sometimes it is better not to wear anything
Durande barely wears fragrance. “I work with smells all day long, all week, so in my free time I need a bit of a reset. I like to be in a neutral environment, to give my nose a bit of a rest,” she says. Being scent-free at work, she explains, means that she can concentrate on smelling her creations all the better.

A giant bowl of oranges is a perfectly pungent prop for guests to huff up in your house. Photograph: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

16. In the home, embrace how life smells
Don’t automatically turn to a candle or incense to give a room character, says Aftel. “A lot of people will scent their home with those tired old fragranced candles that are quite synthetic. But how lovely would it be, say at a dinner party, to put out things that are fragrant that are not a candle, that encourage people to touch them. With a bowl of oranges, the oil is in the skin and they are very beautiful to look at. Or maybe having a little bouquet of mint so people can rip a leaf off. Or, if you have jasmine where you live, put that on the table with a bowl of peaches – they look and smell incredible together. I grow lemons so I always have a bowl of them out. Something very simple like that is a beautiful way to include fragrance in your life.”

Jackson, meanwhile, likes to embrace the smells of cooking rather than mask them, especially “cardamom, frying sage with butter and cumin, honey and carrots – a match made in heaven”.

It’s crucial to blow cold, then hot, when trying to defeat the odour of garlic. Photograph: GMVozd/Getty Images

17. Make your own scent rituals
Njie does use candles and incense in her home. “It’s something that I tend to do more after I’ve done my chores, and it is time to relax. It’s like a reward for doing something. I wouldn’t light a candle if I’ve got loads of stuff to do.” Durande opts for palo santo or Papier d’Arménie, which reminds her of childhood, for a similar unwinding effect. Jackson cannily sprays radiators with fragrance – as they warm, the scent is released.

18. To remove the smell of garlic from hands …
“Wash your hands with cold water first,” says Durande, “because the hot water opens up the pores in your skin. If you clean up with hot water, some of those garlic smells are going to be trapped deeper in your skin. I’ve noticed that if you rinse off or wash your hands with cold water first, it removes it better. You don’t get so much in your skin, and then you can do a second wash with warm water and soap.”

19. Consider your laundry detergent
“The stuff that people use to scent laundry sticks around for so long,” says Aftel. “I believe very strongly in a person choosing to engage with a smell and choosing when it comes to an end. So if you have stuff that lasts for a really long time, or blankets things, I feel like the person smelling it may falsely think they don’t like it, or that it’s too much. A natural smell has an arc over time. They last, then – for better or for worse – disappear.”

Frankincense crystals – pop over a tea light as a Biblical last resort for stenches. Photograph: Madeleine_Steinbach/Getty Images

20. To get rid of a bad smell …
“I would just open a window and get a draught going,” says Njie. “Because otherwise you’re layering over the bad smell – it is better to try to get rid of it.” Aftel suggests putting frankincense resin over a tea light: “It fills your house with a beautiful, natural smell and you could cover something up with that very easily.” Aside from that, she adds, simply “open the windows and pray”.

Scent has the power to completely change your perception of yourself, others, or a place, from a luxurious fragrance to a simple bowl of oranges. But how do you determine what scent is appropriate for the moment, or how to eliminate unwanted odors? Perfumers share their insights on how to create a delightful-smelling world.

1. Scent is a powerful sensation: Perfumer Ezra-Lloyd Jackson explains that scent can evoke strong emotional reactions, transforming the grotesque into the familiar or comforting, and vice versa.

2. Scent is linked to memory: Maya Njie, a perfumer inspired by her Swedish and Gambian heritage, highlights the connection between smell and memory. Smells can trigger deep emotional responses and serve as a form of non-verbal communication.

3. You can train your nose: Perfumers like Jackson and Elodie Durande emphasize the importance of honing your olfactory skills to become more attuned to different scents.

4. You can change your perception of a smell: Perfumer Mandy Aftel advises that if a scent triggers negative memories, you can reclaim it by wearing it in different contexts, but proceed with caution.

5. Take your time choosing a fragrance: Perfumer Lyn Harris suggests being in the right mindset when selecting a new scent, similar to choosing clothing. Don’t rush the process and ask for assistance from sales associates.

6. Pick a fragrance for the time of year: Harris recommends selecting scents that align with the season to refresh your fragrance wardrobe and match your mood.

7. Test it on your skin: Harris recommends trying out a few fragrances on your skin to see how they interact with your body chemistry and evoke emotions.

Remember, fragrance truly comes to life when it interacts with your skin, so take the time to find scents that resonate with you personally. Temperature influences the effectiveness of fragrance, which is why we apply it on pulse points. Fragrances may be more vibrant in the summer and flatter in the winter due to temperature variations. One way to incorporate fragrance into your home is by placing a bowl of oranges on the table, as the oil is in the skin and they are visually appealing. Another idea is to have a small bouquet of mint for guests to pluck a leaf from. If jasmine grows in your area, consider pairing it with a bowl of peaches for a delightful visual and aromatic combination. Personally, I always have a bowl of lemons on display – it’s a simple yet beautiful way to introduce fragrance into your space.

When it comes to cooking, Jackson prefers to embrace the smells rather than mask them. She enjoys the aromas of cardamom, sage frying in butter with cumin, and honey with carrots. These combinations create a heavenly match of scents.

Creating your own scent rituals at home can be a relaxing way to unwind. Njie enjoys using candles and incense after completing chores as a reward for herself. Durande opts for palo santo or Papier d’Arménie, while Jackson sprays radiators with fragrance to release a pleasant scent as they warm up.

To remove the smell of garlic from hands, Durande recommends washing them with cold water first to prevent the odor from being trapped in the skin. Then, follow up with warm water and soap for a thorough cleanse.

Consider the impact of your laundry detergent on your home’s scent. Aftel suggests choosing scents that have a natural arc over time, rather than ones that linger for too long and may overwhelm the senses.

If you need to eliminate a bad smell in your home, opening a window to create a draft can help to freshen the air. Alternatively, burning frankincense resin over a tea light can cover up odors with a natural and pleasant aroma. Ultimately, opening windows and letting fresh air in is always a good solution. please rewrite