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An Australian perfumer’s guide to finding your signature scent

IMAGE VIA SŚAINT
WORDS BY KAYA MARTIN

How to pick a scent that leaves them wanting more.

It was love at first sniff. I was milling about in the fragrance section of Sephora waiting for a friend to figure out which Dior lip oil she wanted (spoiler: it was all of them). The glossy black bottle drew me in, reminiscent of a magic eight-ball.

One spritz and I knew it was special. I bought the rollerball, then sheepishly returned days later to pick up the full size. I was hooked. The perfume, as I’m sure you’re wondering, is Fun Things Always Happen After Sunset by Kilian. 


We like nosy people. Don’t be shy, head to our Beauty section for more. 


The French fragrance house is famed for making Rihanna’s signature scent, Love, Don’t Be Shy (and there’s a wide range of evidence that Rihanna smells amazing). Fun Things Always Happen After Sunset is everything I could want in a scent.

It opens with a juicy black currant not unlike cracking open a bottle of Ribena and has undertones of musk that remind me of the end of a long night out. It’s fun, complex and long-lasting enough to stick with me through all of my escapades. The only problem? It’s been discontinued.

Each day, as my supply dwindles, I wonder to myself how I could possibly fill the perfume-shaped hole in my heart. For advice on how to go about picking out a new signature scent, I spoke with Ciara Mahoney, the co-owner of Australian fragrance brand Sśaint.

 

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Her and business partner Elle Wallace are both former Qantas flight attendants who bonded over their fragrance fanaticism. When they launched their line in May 2021, they drew inspiration from the exotic spices and smells picked up during their travels. They now have over 100 stockists worldwide.

According to Ciara, the power of a signature scent should not be underestimated. “People remember fragrance in their memories. It’s a subconscious way that people remember you, and how they perceive you and how they think of you,” she tells me.

Your signature scent should make you feel like the best possible version of yourself. It’s the one you always gravitate towards, the one you don’t leave the house without. A quick spritz should elevate your outfit and your mood. “It’s an extension of your personality,” Ciara says. 

Get your wallet ready 

For an everyday smell, you’re going to want something you can wear to the grocery story, the office and the bar. Because of this, you may want to look at a pricier option (sorry).

Cheaper fragrances tend to offer less complexity, and really hit home on only a few aspects – they’re sugary and fruity, usually. If you’re willing to invest, it’ll result in something more refined and versatile.

Perfume 101

Before you grab a handful of test strips, it’s good to know a bit about how perfume works. Ciara recommends taking a look at the Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel, which breaks down the four main fragrance families of woody, amber, floral and fresh into smaller subcategories. 

Imagine your perfume like a chord in music. It’s composed of three notes – the top note, middle note, and base note – which all work together in harmony. Top notes are the sparkling, bright elements you notice immediately when you spray perfume. They usually only last for a moment.

The middle notes become more present once the perfume has settled into your skin. As for the base, that will be the final, subtle element you notice as your perfume fades. 

Find inspiration 

The scents you’re drawn to can help guide your process. Do you love the smell after a thunderstorm? Ask your local perfumer for something with a watery note. Are you obsessed with the smell of cake in the oven?

Try something in the amber family, which are typically warm and gourmand. Or maybe you just adore the hoppy scent of a brewsky – boy, do we have the fragrance for you

Think seasonally 

What you like is ultimately up to you, but there are certain notes that are more fitting for different times of the year. Although all the fragrances at Sśaint are designed to be trans-seasonal, Ciara still has a few pointers. 

“If it’s autumn, I’d encourage people to go for more of an earthy, woody, warming note of amber and vanilla, leather, tobacco, oud, hay…” she says, “Whereas if it’s summer, obviously the more citrusy or floral notes like rose and things like that.”

Hit the shops

The perfume section can get overwhelming at times. “You need a shower nearby, because you’re like, ‘Ah! There’s so many scents in my nose, I just need to refresh and regroup’,” Ciara exclaims.

 

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There are a few tricks to neutralise scents and prevent your nose from utter confusion. The most popular method involves taking a whiff of a jar of coffee beans for a quick reset. Ciara also offers another strategy. “This is a weird one, but sniffing into your elbow works as well. It breaks up the different categories of fragrances.”

Try a discovery kit

To avoid the olfactory clutter of the fragrance aisle, try purchasing a discovery kit from one of your favourite perfumers. You’ll receive a range of different samples, and it will allow you to wear them for the day.

You can see how you feel and gauge the reactions of friends/lovers/people sitting close to you on the train. If you’re feeling creative, you can also try layering the scents into your own unique blend. 

On the skin

Remember, it takes some time for a good fragrance to unfold, so don’t go around judging them by the first spritz. Make sure you’re trying them on before you commit. “Perfume smells differently on everyone due to the PH levels of the skin,” Ciara tells me. Just because it smells great on someone else, doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for you.

She says for the best projection, apply your fragrance to your pulse points just after you moisturise. And don’t even think about rubbing your wrists together. “It bruises the notes and bruises the fragrance,” she explains.

Enjoy yourself

Ultimately, the process should be fun. It’s all about confidence, self-love and adding a little bit of luxury to your daily routine. As Ciara tells me, “Spraying perfume should be a ritual to be relished”.

For a deep dive on signature scents, head here

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