Perfumers Prefer Blondes; But Sell to Brunettes

ralph-barton-masterpieces-06 Because there are simply more brunettes (with apologies to my blonde readers) and to any stray red heads – and never fear- we’ll get to red hair later) who may be out there.

There used to be theories about coloration and skin chemistry.  It sounds antediluvian, and probably does predate Noah and the Ark, but perfume houses used to recommend scents according to whether you were blonde, or red haired, or brunette of any ethnicity.  I thought it was long gone as a strategy for selling fragrance until I went to a fragrance trunk show at Saks a few years ago and whammo! found myself in the brunette contingent.

“Madame will wear L’Heure Bleue particularly well,” said the very French company rep, transfixing me with a look as pointed as her stilettos and glaring at the bottle I had in my hand. (I’d picked up the tester of Oriental Brulant because I do not personally care for L’Heure Bleue.). “No, no, no, that perfume is not suited to madame at all.” she continued, firmly dabbing me with Cruel Gardenia, since I would not do any twilit blues.  I was forced to leave the Brulant strictly alone, but could have the new Shalimar, or Apres L’Ondee, or  Mayotte- but no Samsara.  That was for the blondes, along with Tonka Imperiale.“It is generally claimed,” write Elizabeth Barille and Catherine Laroze in The Book of Perfume, “that red heads exhale a milky odor, brunettes a musky fragrance, and blondes that of almonds…”

Yes, they do go on to mention such things as skin PH, and hormone levels, dietary choices etc, but there you have it.  This seemed a little arbitrary to me, but the belief goes back a long way in French perfumery.

Take the first three Jean Patou scents from 1925, Amour-Amour the floral bouquet similar to Joy, was for brunettes, Que Sais Je, the fruity chypre, was for Blondes, and redheads got Adieu Sagesse a mix of carnations and tuberose that smells a bit like Bellodgia and has a sweet tart thing going on. I would not have thought hair color made any difference particularly as so many of us change ours courtesy Clairol et al.

The idea persisted though. “Arthritis and red hair,“ Armand Petitjean the founder of Lancome once declared, “are the death of jasmine.”  This statement maybe explains the notes of Adieu Sagesse the redhead-aimed release, which don’t contain any jasmine, the florals being of the neroli, tuberose and carnation sort.  Redheads might also like Caline, Colony and Vacances among the old Jean Patous, for the same reason.

Blondes, by this set of criteria, would appear to be shunted off into the side tracks of chypres, with the occasional almond scented gourmand on their route. This seems unfair to me. I married into a family of blondes, have a daughter who is a blonde every summer, and a mother-in-law and sisters-in-law who are all blondes.  The lot of them are sharp as tacks, belying their blonditude.  Nary a blonde moment do they have, and they like to wear any number of scents, everything from Prada Candy to Diorissimo. Not a blonde amongst them wears chypre, nor ever has, to the best of my knowledge.  They are all floral wearers except for my daughter, who seems to relish orientals.

So, is there anything to this old theory?  I don’t know.  I was born a red head, having picked up some genes from my auburn haired grandmother, but have worn jasmine heavy perfumes most of my life without any problems, since my hair darkened to brown.  Perhaps the ban is only for certain shades of red, and not residual redness?  If you’re a natural red head does natural jasmine smell bad on you? This seems hard to believe.

Still,  and for what it’s worth, the break down seems to be: Brunettes (who have hit the scent jackpot if they are also dark skinned with active sebaceous glands- because they will retain fragrance longer than the rest of us) are recommended florals, floral orientals, orientals and green chypres.  Blondes shine with light florals, fruity florals, light orientals , woody scents and fruity or woody chypres.

And for the red haired (who have the hardest roe to hoe perfumically because they often also have dry skin) tart florals, (jasmine excepted) carnation and tuberose scents, also citrus fragrances and citrus chypres, green florals, and green chypres.

Would this work? I haven’t the foggiest notion.  It’s just hair color to me.

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6 thoughts on “Perfumers Prefer Blondes; But Sell to Brunettes

  1. The thing I find the most humorous about this list is that I’m nowhere on it. Blondes are interesting, so are brunettes, and redheads are just fabulous. But my hair is a light ash brown. Yup. It just sits there. I’m about 50% white right now, but even my hairdresser agrees that going natural right now would be unflattering. However, once I’m mostly white I plan to rock that color, because I think white looks awesome.

    In terms of skin chemistry, it’s rare to find a floral or floral blend that I can wear (Rose? Goes to vinegar. Lily? Ick. LOTV? Sour. Violet. Shrill.) but for some reason I can rocks the woods and make them smell feminine. And the weirdest thing is that despite being fair-skinned and blue-eyed, I get major longevity out of my perfume. Just call me an outlier, I guess.

  2. Well, my husband has exactly the haircolor you describe as yours. so I like it fine.

    Boy do I understand how you feel about florals, because I love florals but many go nasty on me. So I feel your pain. This is why I go looking for old Cotys online, or wear Carons, because they will not go as funky as a roadhouse on a Saturday night on my epidermis.

    As to longevity, mine is pretty good, and I’m just a garden variety graying brunette. Who knows? Perhaps we currently don’t understand much about it. More between Heaven and Hell than our skin PH levels have dreamt of…

  3. Strange topic this isn’t it? Apparently Guerlain’s ‘Are you her type’ series of ads was all about matching perfume to ‘type’. So that would mean Lui and Shalimar for brunettes; Vold de Nuit for redheads; and Sous le Vent for blondes. I hated those ads, with their eye-less women, even before I knew about the ‘type’ thing. The fact that they were produced in the 1930s makes them seem especially sinister.

  4. You know, I hadn’t thought of those ads but I bet you’re right! And they were a little bit creepy with the blank faces. Perhaps Guerlain has been skin typing by hair color for a long time?

    Personally, my belief is that perfume works in mysterious ways, and there’s no substitute for just wearing it. Everyone finds out what smells good on them sooner or later.
    Liu is very pretty btw, spent yesterday wearing it, though I still prefer L’Aimant.

  5. Hmm. I am very skeptical of all of this. But I have come to wonder lately if I have the equivalent of “nothing” skin. Scents mostly just seem to sit on my skin, smelling not that differently than they do on paper. There are exceptions, of course, but they are exceptions. Alas, I no longer have any idea what my natural hair color is, so I can’t add that to the discussion. :)

    • What amazes me is that any perfume house still recommends scents on this basis-after all not many of us remember our natural color, and I’d consider your “nothing” skin good fortune because so many of us change perfumes.

      That having been duly noted, the old Coty suggestion that blondes wear flowery fragrances well and brunettes orientals and chypres, does seem to hold very roughly true for me. And it’s true that my hoards of blonde relations all wear flowery fragrances- come to think of it.

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