How We Fashion Ourselves: Finding a Signature Scent

Smell has always been important to me. During the two years when I lived in Boston, what I missed most from home (aside from my family, thrift shops, and burritos) was the smell. The ocean and morning fog, mixed with fennel and wildflowers. The bay laurel and eucalyptus, drying in the afternoon sun. The heavy wafts of jasmine, that engulf you as you drift past vines spilling off fences on a summer evening…


Perhaps for this reason, I have always been attracted to the idea of wearing a signature scent – of leaving behind me some sort of olfactory calling card. The scent would have to be warm and inviting. Familiar, but complicated – a smell you can’t quite put your finger on…


The problem is, whenever I try to select such a scent, I am pulled in opposite directions. On the one hand, I am drawn to very light, ultra floral smells – tuberoses, ylang ylang, gardenia. On the other hand, I am attracted to very dark and heavy scents – sandalwood, musk, and vetiver.

So when a few years ago, I read an article about MiN New York – a SoHo apothecary where the shopkeepers help you select a signature scent by asking you about your favorite color and tea – I knew that I had to go. I knew that this would be the place for me to sort out my signature scent.

On a recent trip to NY, I had just such an opportunity.


I was greeted by Kristin Lisi, who offered me a glass of water and invited me to sit on the couch to chat. I described for her my dilemma, and she offered to help me find a fragrance that would bridge my interests in the both the floral and light and the woodsy, dark, and spicy.


One of the first questions she asked me was, “What do you want it to make you feel?” (expansive, a sense of clarity, openness). She also asked me if I wanted to go forward with spicy, despite it being a warmer season – spicy is often reserved for cooler months (yes). Lastly, she asked me if there were any smells that I didn’t like (I couldn’t think of any). She returned with a fragrance flight.


photo by Ji-Young

We started with Cozumel, by Laboratorio Olfattivo, in Italy. Kristin described it as “green, beachy, with a touch of floral. Really crisp, really light, really fresh.” She sprayed some on a card and slipped it under the bottle so that I could return to the scent as it developed.

Next up was Sedona Blue by Keiko Mecheri, a Japanese perfumer based in Beverly Hills. According to Kristin, Keiko takes a “delicate, feminine, pretty touch to fragrances,” and this is her take on a beach fragrance. Kristin described it as “a little more floral…not just strictly aquatics.” I found it a bit too synthetic for my taste.

With another beach fragrance, Cocobello, by Heeley (from France), Kristin explained: “you’re going to get more of that coconutty, almost sunscreen like feeling to it.” She was right. I loved the coconut aroma. And, as Kristin pointed out, it wasn’t too sweet, but rather kissed with a breath of sea salt.

Rounding out the beachy scents was Long Board, from MiN NY’s own debut collection. One of 11 scents, each intended to evoke a different moment, to tell a different chapter of  story, Long Board conjured for me an afternoon spent on a blanket, watching clouds float above the sea. For the first year, these scents are available to members only and there are only 1,000 available. I  was intrigued. Beachy, yes, but also faintly floral…


Then came the first curveball (Kristin threw in a few of her personal favorites just to spice up the mix): Korrigan, by Lubin in Paris. As Kristin explained, she couldn’t understand how a fragrance could be considered creamy until she smelled this fragrance. I concurred. Korrigan was reminiscent of caramel, or crème brulée. The scent filled and coated your nostrils. I was uncertain, however, whether I could pull it off. Might be a bit too sugary for me.

Taking us a step deeper was Perris Monte Carlo’s Bois d’oud. According to Kristin, oud is a resin secreted by a southeast asian evergreen tree, when infected by a mold. The resin is very expensive and gives off an aroma that is “really woody, really dark, really deep.” Bois d’oud mixes that aroma with fruits – plum, peach, and thus is a gourmand – a perfume that nods to ingredients one might eat. As with Korrigan, Bois d’oud smelled lovely to me, but more so to taste than to wear.

The last fragrance in the flight, and another curveball, was Cuir Cordoba. also from Keiko Mecheri. Said Kristin: “It takes very masculine leathers and blends it with a suede accord. So you get kind of a sweet touch to that dark, deep leather.” I found it enchanting, but the leather smell was too strong for me.

Kristin left me to mull over the fragrances, and I felt completely overwhelmed. Each fragrance was so complex. How was I to narrow them down? Kristin advised that I revisit each of the scented cards to  go back and see how the scents had developed with time, and to eliminate what I definitely did not want. Then, she offered to pull more fragrances, based on my selections.


Two of these fragrances, along with Long Board, ended up being my absolute favorites.

The first was Trayee by Neela Vermeire. An all natural fragrance, Trayee was utterly intoxicating. It enveloped me in jasmine, cardamom, and saffron. It was spicy, floral, and musky. I could definitely imagine myself wearing it.

The second was L’Air du Desert Marocain, by the Swiss perfumer Andy Tauer.  Another all natural fragrance, it was as equally enchanting as Trayee. But instead of swathing me in heavy floral notes, it was calmer, leathery and spicy. I could picture myself wearing it too, listening to records on a rainy night.


photo by Ji-Young

Kristin wrapped up samples of my favorites for me, so that I could try them out on my skin.

Here are her top three tips for selecting and wearing a fragrance:

1. Don’t think about what’s in a perfume (many fragrances have hundreds of notes). Select a fragrance for how it makes you feel.

2. Coco Chanel advised that before you walk out the door, remove one accessory. Likewise, don’t apply too much perfume. You don’t want to overdo it.

3. Try the scent on your skin. Fragrances contain a top, heart, and base note. The top is what you smell immediately, and the heart mingles with the base, which is the “final resting place.” Although you may love the top note when you first apply the perfume, it is important to determine whether you enjoy the heart and the base as well. Consequently, Kristin advises: “Get it on your skin. Give it a few hours to develop, and then make your decision.” She adds that this evolution is part of what makes niche perfumes unique: “The one cool thing about niche fragrances is they really do take that journey. A lot of times with department store fragrances, they’re very linear. What you smell is what you get. These – you’re using a higher quality of ingredient, a higher concentration, and so you really do get the journey from top to the bottom.”

Thanks for your help, Kristin! What do you think? Would you, or do you wear a signature fragrance?


9 replies »

  1. loved the descriptions here; makes me wish I could smell them all! have you been wearing the samples? how do they make you feel?

    • Yes!! I’ve been wearing Trayee, which is lovely. It definitely makes me feel expansive. Also calm, centered, and confident. I’ll try L’air du Desert Marocain once the weather cools…

      • Cool! Jasmine, cardamom, and saffron, that sounds awesome.

        How/where do you apply it to make sure you aren’t wearing too much?

  2. I still struggle with this, nrd! The rule of thumb is to apply at your pressure points – wrists, inner elbow, neck, behind your knees…but I get overwhelmed very easily! Right now I only apply on one wrist, then rub my wrists together and dab behind my knees.

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