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Health, Beauty & Fashion

The wrong signal may be scent

Wearing the right perfume can give a good first impression but beware of cultural differences.
The Straits Times - May 3, 2013
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The wrong signal may be scent

To the list of things that are difficult to wear on an international business trip, such as stilettoes or shorts, add one more: fragrance.

This is because your everyday, ideal-for-the-office scent may be too light for the people you are meeting in Dubai or too strong for your colleagues in Tokyo.

"Taste for perfume has always been different from one country to the other," said Parisian perfumer Frederic Malle, who founded the fragrance line Editions de Parfums. "Despite the fact that the entire planet is now offering practically the same thing, these differences in taste remain and will remain. They are deeply rooted in our cultures."

Men are not exempt here. A scent can help a guy get noticed at the office the same way a standout silk tie can.

"Businessmen these days need an edge," said

Mr Fabrice Penot, who co-founded the perfume line Le Labo. "Fragrance can bring that to them. Maybe they would not have worn it 30 years ago, but today, they are getting out of their comfort zone."

Many travelling men and women, though, choose to go scentless in transit, as a courtesy to fellow airline passengers.

That includes Ms Diane Venet, who organises exhibits of fine jewellery and often travels to London, Paris and Miami. On the ground, she is such a fan of Editions de Parfums' Carnal Flower that she ducks into the restroom before business lunches to reapply.

"I put it on to be sure, to be seductive," she says. "It is a great help. People tell me I have beautiful blue eyes, but I think the perfume is a great addition."

But even she goes fragrance-free during flights. "I was sitting next to a lady while flying from Europe to America and did not like her perfume," she said. "It was terrible."

What to spritz when disembarking? It depends on where you are going. The United States and Britain have basically the same preference for more understated scents that you should not be able to smell farther than a handshake away - whether it is Prada's Infusion d'Iris for women or Calvin Klein's Eternity for men.

When in Russia and the United Arab Emirates, though, dab on a heavier fragrance, advises Mr Steven Gontarski, manager of the Scent Bar, a perfume shop in Los Angeles. He recommends oud-based scents such as YSL's M7 or Tom Ford's Oud Wood for men in these places. Oud comes from the wood of the tropical agar tree.

"We have a customer who works in finance and does a lot of business in Dubai," he said. "He was at a dinner and a colleague leaned in and said, 'What you're wearing is a Middle Eastern scent'. It was a huge compliment."

In South America and Africa, too, heavier scents are the norm.

Ms Stephanie Bruni, a television commercial producer in New York who travels often to both continents, usually wears Le Labo Patchouli 24 or Le Labo Oud 27; she believes these two smell best when it is hot. But when she works with people for the first time, she uses only scented body lotion.

"I do not want to show up in a big cloud of perfume," she said. "I do not want to offend."

In Asia, her view would be appreciated. "They think perfume should not be invasive," said Ms Trudi Loren, Estee Lauder's vice-president of corporate fragrance development worldwide. "It should not interrupt another's personal space."

For women travelling there, she suggests gossamer florals such as pureDKNY's A Drop of Rose.

Mr Khaled Nasr, who works for a company that makes semiconductor equipment and microchips in Los Angeles, takes fresh-from-the-shower-smelling Creed's Green Irish Tweed on his business trips to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, even though he prefers stronger colognes in the United States.

"You have to understand the culture and what they expect, and just go easy with it," he said.

Beyond deciding which scents to take, you also have to decide how to tote them.

Some perfume aficionados who use only carry-on luggage buy special shatterproof cases for their allotted 100ml of fragrance - such as Le Labo's metal container that can be engraved with your initials.

Others stockpile the atomisers they receive at department stores while sampling scents.

Of course, there is always a chance that the right scent will be awaiting you at check-in. Le Labo, for example, supplies the shampoo and body wash at all of the Park Hyatt hotels around the world.

"I got a call from the big boss and he was telling me its cost of amenities has increased dramatically," Mr Penot said. "People have been stealing more shampoos and shower gels."



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