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FRAGRANCE

The right perfume for your age

Are sweet, fruity perfumes the domain of the young and the more complex scents for the mature? Maybe.

November 29, 2009
  • ESTEE LAUDER ALIAGE: A scent popular with older women may be less appealing to the young.
ESTEE LAUDER ALIAGE: A scent popular with older women may be less appealing… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Survey a group of beauty-conscious Americans and many would undoubtedly agree that a Paris Hilton fragrance is for teenagers or twentysomethings and the sophisticated strength of Chanel No. 5 is for your grandmother. Certain scents typically have certain age associations.

But ultimately, what makes a scent "young" or "old" is subjective. While most perfumers agree that simple and sweet, fruity florals are the scent of preference for women and girls who are likely to have seen "New Moon," and that big, powdery, floral bouquets are most often worn by older women, that perception is largely dependent on one's personal interaction with the fragrance.

A thirtysomething may have smelled one too many retirees wearing Estée Lauder Aliage to want to dab it on her own pulse points. A fortysomething may feel a twinge of nostalgia for the patchouli of her youth and seek it out, while a twentysomething may simply want to smell like her friends -- or a celebrity.

"It is true that if you smell a 1920s or 1950s fragrance, there's a style you associate with a person of a certain age, compared to yours," said Luca Turin, a biophysicist and author who is one of the world's preeminent perfume experts. "However, if you come to it fresh and consider the fragrance carefully, you'll find that actually anything goes. Somebody who arrived from another planet might think that something great for grandmothers might also work for them."

The connection between age and scent choices is largely dependent on emotion and life experience -- and marketing.

Teenagers with little life experience and less-experienced noses tend to go with sweet, "linear" perfumes, according to Franco Wright, founder of the online niche-fragrance emporium Lucky Scent and the Scent Bar boutique in L.A. In their 20s, they're able to distinguish multiple notes in a fragrance, but they are also extremely brand conscious, which is good news for the marketers of celebrity and fashion-brand perfumes.

It's in their 30s, 40s and 50s that women become less predictable in their perfume choices. Armed with more life experience, a greater sense of who they are and an increase in disposable income, they're "more daring," Wright said. They choose a larger swath of fragrance and are more likely to match a fragrance to the season and their wardrobes.

While many perfumers give a nod to the scents associated with age, many agree with Pierre Aulas, olfactive consultant for Thierry Mugler in Paris: "Anyone can wear what they want."

-- Susan Carpenter

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