Perfume is power and the higher up the corporate rung, the more likely you are to utilise it to its best advantage.
Fragrance, maligned in the '80s office for good reason, now exudes status. Everyone's wearing it but, as in medieval times, it's inevitably the upper echelons that smell better.
"Men and women who have reached high status in their career don't need fragrance to say something about themselves," perfume evaluator Erica Moore says.
"They've narrowed down their sense of style and are secure with one or two sophisticated scents." But be warned: it takes more than a big pay packet and safe dose of Chanel No.5 or Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio to wear fragrance well.
"I've walked into an office and thought 'am I in a nightclub' and that's been the men's fragrance choice of the day," says Charlotte Turner, of prestige brands distributor Trimex. "Sometimes men are very hedonistic with things like that."
Both sexes "over spray", according to the national sales director of fragrance distributor Cosmax, Nicholas Gorick - who wears his in his hair. "If you spray your arm, your neck, your clothes, any fragrance is going to be too much."
And don't get the business etiquette experts started. "Most women are walking fruit salads and the men are using half a bucket of aftershave that makes you cry and sneeze," Lizzie Wagner says. "If you're going to wear it to work, make it subtle."
People no longer have just one fragrance on their dresser, worn only on special occasions. It has become an everyday staple and, Gorick says, "they're creating products for everybody. So many different walks of life are buying it, tapping into some affordable luxury."
In 1990 there were 76 fragrance launches worldwide. In 2011, there were 1047 launches and, already this year, 500 new fragrances have been tracked by Erica Moore and her colleagues at Michael Edwards Fragrances of the World.
"Fragrance has become so commonplace, so acceptable now," Moore says. "You don't comment on or make assumptions about a man wearing fragrance. So many men are interested in it ... It's another form of self-expression and makes them feel more powerful and more liberated in the workplace."
She says younger men are more experimental in their choice of fragrance while their mature colleagues often wear something that makes them feel younger, a fragrance they might have worn in their mid-20s. Women's tastes tend to mature from their initial sweet, girly and fruity choices. They find a classic scent - for the office at least - and make it their signature. Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle and Dior's J'Adore have remained among the top five bestsellers for years.
"The prestige fragrances are non-polarising with an element of luxury," Moore says. "They make a woman feel like she's gone to a bit of extra effort." Chanel No.5 is consistently the No.1 fragrance in Australia, not only because of the brand association, Moore says, but because it's cleverly composed. "The top, heart and base transit through the stages of development seamlessly."
Turner says that the one in two men who are now choosing their own fragrances are making better informed decisions - "thinking of the occasion as well as the smell".
"Woody but fresh is a good choice for corporate men, nothing too musky," she says.
Women are more likely to wear a lighter fragrance - something "chic, fresh, citrusy to keep their energy levels up" - and bring another fragrance to wear out after work.
"There's not a lot of people still choosing the Angel type of confidence that gets to work before you do," she says. "But there are always people who want that, who want the office just to be filled with them." (Despite having it on tap, her colleagues have a "no-spray" policy for Thierry Mugler's Angel "unless you really hate your workmates that day," one says).
Trudi Sampola visits top firms as managing director of a media agency and says "there's quite a few girls with perfume on their desks and they'll give a little spritz before a meeting". Sampola says that wearing perfume "is to feel 'I'm finished, I'm ready to go'. It's part of preparing yourself for the outside world and giving yourself a boost to perform your best."
Prestige, power and purpose. If you could bottle it, you would - and they have.
TOP 5 SCENTS
Coco Mademoiselle, Chanel
Acqua di Gio, Giorgio Armani
Armani Code, Giorgio Armani
Bleu De Chanel, Chanel
Big Pony,Ralph Lauren
The One for Men,
Dolce & Gabbana
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