They had come for breakfast at Tiffany's, showing up at the jewelry store in their pretty, spring dresses to nibble at strawberries and to learn what every debutante should know about wearing fragrance.
Twenty Assisteens of Capistrano Valley--the junior support group of the Assistance League--and their mothers arrived at the South Coast Plaza store in Costa Mesa at 8:30 on a recent Saturday morning, before Tiffany's opened its heavy metal doors to mall shoppers. Tiffany & Co. hosted the breakfast to promote its new Tiffany Eau de Toilette and to introduce the debutantes to the "Tiffany's environment of fine taste," according to Jo Ellen Qualls, vice president of Tiffany & Co.
The debs sat at tables that had been set up in the middle of the store while Susan Prusaczyk, manager of fragrance for Tiffany & Co. in New York, taught them the fine art of wearing perfume well.
So what's to learn?
Applying fragrance is not a matter of dousing oneself with scent. Even 17-year-old Becky Carter knows that.
"The idea is not for people to smell your perfume, but how your body reacts to pulse points," she says matter-of-factly.
Almost everybody can recall a nasal assault by a woman wearing too much perfume. Prusaczyk wants to help the debs avoid such social gaffes.
She teaches how to "build a fragrance wardrobe" so the scent lingers throughout the day instead of overpowering others in a single whiff.
"Most women spray on a cloud of perfume before they dash through the door," she says.
Instead, she advises layering different products, starting with a scented body lotion or gel in the shower, followed by a light dusting powder before dressing and finished with an eau de toilette or perfume.
"Less is always more appropriate than more," she cautions. "Keep your fragrance at a minimum in a business situation so you won't be wondering, 'Is that person next to me fainting?' "
To test the debutantes' olfactory senses, she passed around little sticks scented with essential oils. One stick smelled of mandarin, another of rose.
Some perfumes such as Tiffany's contain no less than 100 ingredients or oil extracts. That's why perfume has been compared to a melody, a virtual symphony of scent.
"The first note you smell is the top note, or 'burst,' " Prusaczyk says. Tiffany Parfum, for instance, has Indian jasmine, fleur d'oranger and damascena rose as its top notes. Its middle notes, which include Italian mandarin and violet leaves, filter through after an hour. The base notes--sandalwood, amber and vanilla--resonate after two hours.
"When you first smell perfume it's not a true indicator of what the fragrance is really like. As you wear fragrance, it mellows and gets richer."
To choose a perfume, she suggests that women try on a sample at home instead of in the store where the fragrance must compete with other scents.
"Wear it under your clothes the whole day and really let it work," she says. Only then can one tell how a perfume will react over time.
Perfume has the highest concentration of essential oils. Eau de parfum has been distilled with "eau" (water) and alcohol so it's less strong and less expensive than perfume, while eau de toilette has the least oils. Tiffany's perfume is 30% essential oils, while its eau de parfum is 15% oils and the eau de toilette is 8% oils. Each solution smells the same, but the eau de toilette can be used in greater quantity.
"You can lavish it on with an exuberant spirit," Prusaczyk says.
Perfume should be applied to one's "pulse points"--the underside of the wrists, behind the ears, knees and neck. That's where the body emits "energy and fragrance," she says.
Some women douse themselves in too much perfume because they've become immune to the scent. To avoid becoming a wayward Pepe Le Pew, Prusaczyk suggests occasionally changing one's fragrance routine and being careful when putting perfume behind the ears or at the back of the neck where one's nose can't measure the smell.
Perfume can be potent stuff. Certain smells conjure up different emotions and can either repel or attract.
"The first thing you notice about someone is how they look. The second thing you notice is how they smell," Prusaczyk says. "Smells register in the brain, and some scents are more pleasing to us than others.
"Vanilla might remind someone of home and mother. Conversely, if you can't stand your grandmother and she had jasmine in her garden, you won't like jasmine."
The power of perfume wasn't lost on the debs.
"Dear Abby said it makes people come closer," Carter says. "It's an image people kind of pick up."
She wears perfume "for formal occasions, if I remember."
For young women, selecting a perfume to fit their personality is another rite of passage.
"Eighteen-year-olds are beyond wearing their mothers' fragrance," says Prusaczyk. "They're a little unsure of what to wear and they need guidance. They should not rely on the latest flavor-of-the-month."
Katie Strauch, 17, of Laguna Beach, has never bothered wearing perfume, but Prusaczyk's talk might get her to start.
"There are certain smells I like," she says. "I think it's nice when I can recognize my mother or my grandmother by their perfume."
She, too, wants to find a fragrance she can call her own. She's come of age.