The answer is . . . a melon: The question is . . . what makes a new perfume fashionable? Geraldine Bedell on the scent of '93

WHEN were you last assaulted by melons? The chances are it was yesterday or the day before. Melons are everywhere, getting up your nose on buses, in shops and the office. For some reason, perfumiers have decided that the female population wants to smell like a fruit salad, with melons the key ingredient: all the latest, most fashionable and persistent perfumes now smell of them. 'Ah, oceanic florals,' said Daniela Rinaldi, perfume buyer at Harvey Nichols sagely, when I mentioned the invasion of the melons to her. 'Oh yes, you mean the ozonic notes,' said Angela Creasy at Harrods. But do not be fooled by all these seaside images, by names like Dune (by Dior), or by the rolling-around-in-the-surf advertising for Calvin Klein's Escape. You are actually spending your pounds 40 to smell like an over-ripe honeydew.

Do women really want to smell melony? In Harrods this week the Oscar de la Renta assistant, spraying their new perfume Volupte over anyone who came near her, boasted that 'the top notes are tangerine and watermelon.' Watermelon? Apparently this is a reaction to what the perfume industry calls 'the shoulder-pad fragrances of the Eighties, like Giorgio or Picasso.' Issey Miyake's new fragrance smells like Aqua Libra. And New West's ads have a girl sitting in front of a lemon, sweet melon, and watermelon. 'The smell of the moment is softer, less aggressive, more feminine,' says Peter Norman, of Parfums Givenchy. 'Manufacturers of essential oils respond to a brief from companies like ours for fragrances which go with the make-up and clothes of the moment.'

Their decisions affect us all. The British market for women's fine fragrances is worth pounds 350m at retail, and for men's fragrances, half of that again and growing. (Women buy most of their perfume for themselves, although men will dutifully replace them). Perhaps the most curious aspect of this week's Consumer Association report on perfume prices at Boots, which revealed that customers paid up to 30 per cent more when there was no Superdrug store competing in the area, was that a perfume market exists at all at the budget-price Superdrug stores. Even at their prices, pounds 24.55 for a bottle of St Laurent's Opium is a fair old whack for a few mls of ethyl alcohol and water smelling of fragrance oils. It has been estimated that the contents of an average bottle of perfume cost dollars 4 ( pounds 2.60) to manufacture: a heroin-type markup. But the truth is that Superdrug's customers, as much as Harrods', want to be able to splash strong smells all over themselves in the morning. Claudia Rankin, an artist/teacher who earns less than pounds 10,000 a year, wears Clarins' Eau Dynamisante ( pounds 22 for 200ml) 'even when I'm wearing overalls: if I can write a non-bouncing cheque at the Clarins counter, I will.'

In this era of regular baths and recession, perfume ought to be the most disposable of luxuries. Yet the vast majority of women are still sploshing the stuff on: these days it doesn't feel like a luxury at all. 'I went out the other night without my Safari by Ralph Lauren' says Flo Fraser, a personal assistant: 'I felt as if I wasn't wearing knickers.'

Ironically, if Superdrug's undercutting price policy prevails (the Monopolies and Mergers Commission is currently investigating), the products it sells will almost certainly lose some of their allure. 'Part of the attraction of fragrance is that it is expensive,' admits Peter Norman. 'If consumers buy luxury products in Superdrug, they will soon no longer be luxuries, and there will no longer be a demand for them.'

Perfume has been around since the ancient Egyptians at least. Walk into Harrods' perfume department now, though, and you realise that perfume is about much more than covering up that hint of B O. The decor is black, pink and chrome, with piano music and fresh flowers; curvy counters are littered with glass bottles to touch, suggesting the pre-war world of ocean liners and F Scott Fitzgerald.

'Fragrance is aspirational,' says Daniela Rinaldi: 'If you can't afford the Dolce & Gabbana jacket, you can at least wear the fragrance. You're buying a dream, a lifestyle. Success depends not just on smell, but media support, packaging, and the designer name.'

Dr George Dodd, director of Warwick University's Institute of Olfactory Research, hates this fashionable aspect of perfumery - 'a tragedy' - and would like to see the industry mimicking the wine business and not changing its products every year. 'Good perfume speaks very poignantly to our unconscious minds,' he says poetically. 'At the heart of all the old perfumes are musk molecules, secreted by deer, which are reminiscent of our own body odours.' 'Stale odours and excretory odours are perceived as being repulsive,' explains psychologist David Booth. 'Others, such as the gentle odours of sexual activity, are perceived as being more positive. Musky perfumes will smell like the secretions from the sexual parts of the body and will be worn to remind people of that'.

But perfume isn't just about raw sex; it has highly complex associations with mood and memory. (Say 'Avon's Pretty Peach creme perfume' to a whole generation of women who grew up in the Sixties, and they will smile with secret teenage memories). 'Estee Lauder's Private Collection is my signature,' says Cindy Gallop, a 33- year-old advertising executive, who buys it in bulk in America. 'But if I want to feel like a different person, I'll wear Donna Karan. One ex rang me after about eight years and said he could literally smell the perfume I used to wear. It's incredibly important in attraction. You know when you don't like someone's smell, even though it may be quite subliminal.' Subliminal is how many men prefer it. Marketing director Peter Griffin says: 'Nothing is more attractive than a gentle whiff of a nice scent . . . A powerful aura of perfume can have the opposite effect.'

If you are easily offended by smells of melon and musk on the morning commute (one woman said vehemently that Dior's Poison ought to be banned: 'You can smell it in the next carriage'), then you are in for a miserable future. Increasingly, companies are looking at pumping 'corporate smells' into the atmosphere. 'It is known that smelling lavender makes you more alert, and citrus smells will cut down typing errors,' says David Fellowes, commercial director of Marketing Aromatics, who will design you a corporate smell and supply the machinery to discharge it. 'In Japan, the air conditioning in whole buildings now replaces different smells at different times of the day, so people don't go to sleep in the afternoon for example. Companies can impregnate their letterheads or perfume a retail environment. The Japanese estimate this market in hundreds of millions.'

We have come a long way from the days when it was thought vulgar to wear scent before lunchtime (though Dame Barbara Cartland says the rule was always to wear it whenever your young man was coming round and you were going to be kissed). Now the big designer names could barely survive without their mass market scents (half Dior's profits come from perfume); they depend on exciting interest in new fragrances every season in the hope of one day producing a classic. Chanel No 5 is still market leader, though new scents like Dune and Eternity are also in the top five. Anyone who finds the smell of melons a bit annoying, should, meanwhile, probably reflect that fashion is currently dominated by grunge. It could have been worse.

Research: Catriona Luke

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

    £65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

    Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

    £8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

    £14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable