Would you pay £47,500 Sterling for a four-inch bottle of perfume? Michael Jackson and Mike Tyson both did, back in June, when the world's most expensive perfume to date was launched. Created by British perfumer Arthur Burnham, for the fashion house of Gianni Vive Sulman, it comes in a bottle made of platinum, 24 carat gold, rubies and diamonds, encased in a box locked with a gold, jewel-studded key and is called Parfum VI. Limited to only 173 bottles, this fragrance is the epitome of exclusivity and a top-of-the-market example of how the perfume consumer doesn't simply pay for a fragrance but for the 'essence' of the product as a whole.

Our choice of perfume is very much a reflection of our personality and, as the great perfume houses well know, we are influenced by the packaging, the shape and decoration of the bottle, as well as the fragrance. But most of us would insist that it is the latter that influences our choice, as smell has the ability to bring alive memories and evoke images more intensely than other senses. Marilyn Monroe's famous remark in the 60s that she slept in nothing but Chanel No 5 did nothing but enhance the success and longevity of the perfume. It is a market that taps into our subconscious perhaps more than we would like to admit.

Maybe it is for this reason that it is not just big business but a very secret business. Perfume houses go to great lengths to ensure the formula of their latest unique scent is kept under wraps for fear of imitation. Hardly surprising, as any new perfume is the outcome of meticulous work by the Master perfumers and their 'nose', while the finest perfume houses grow their own vast fields of flowers and herbs to ensure only the purest scents are captured inside those stunning bottles. Their secret is to overcome the test of time, to anticipate fashion trends and produce a scent that is as unique as it is appealing. It is a world cloaked in a veil of mystery that can only make it all the more appealing and seductive.

Exclusivity is very much part of this mysterious world and who wouldn't want their individuality heightened by the knowledge that their particular perfume is one in a million! Khalid bin Hamad bin Hamoud Al Bu Said, 35 years old, a member of Oman's ruling family and creator of Amouage, is banking on it. Retailing at 1,870 US dollars for 50mls of eau de toilette, Amouage comes in a gold-plated flask that is modelled on the traditional Omani mosque and packaged in sterling silver. With only 50,000 bottles produced a year, it's not quite as difficult to get hold of as the Gianni Vive Sulman perfume, but it certainly comes with the guarantee that not everyone will be wearing it.

However, the great French classics still seem to retain their popularity, in spite of the numerous, new and exciting scents that come on to the market each month and nowhere has a greater magnetism for the perfume shopper than the 'parfumeries' of Paris. Whether you choose to visit the salons of Christian Dior and Nina Ricci in Avenue Montaigne, or the exclusive Rue Faubourg-St Honoré where Gucci, Cartier, Lancôme, Guy Laroche, Courréges, Pierre Cardin, Ted Lapidus, Hermes and Yves St Laurent perfume houses can be found, this still has to be the perfume centre of the world. Galleries LaFayette, in Boulevard Hausman, houses the world's largest beauty and perfume department, should you want to find a wide selection of perfumes all under the same roof.

With thousands of perfumes to choose from, the key to finding a fragrance that reflects your personal favourite scents is to know your perfume family. According to the 'Comité Francais du Parfum' there are seven 'families' of fragrance, all of which can be sub-divided into specific styles.

  1. Hesperidia, where the predominant note is citrus fruit
  2. Floral, such as rose or jasmine
  3. Fougère, the predominant note is aromatic, such as lavender or rosemary
  4. Chypres, the predominant note is bergamot and patchouli
  5. Woody, sandalwood or cedar
  6. Oriental, the predominant note is sweet, such as vanilla
  7. Green leather, the predominant note is dry e.g. tobacco, smoked wood with floral tones

Every perfume is defined by its top note (first impression); the middle note (which unfolds a few moments after applying the perfume to your skin) and the base note (the lasting impression). Once you have evaluated in which main category your preferential scents lie, you are equipped to take on the best of the perfume houses and ready to broaden your choice of favourite perfumes.

Up to the Minute Fragrances!

Lancôme: Famous fragrances include Trésor, Climat, Magie Moire, Magie, O De Lancôme, Poème and Trophée for men. Latest - Miracle

Christian Dior: Famous fragrances include Miss Dior, Diorissimo, Dune, and Dolce Vita. Latest - J'adore

Gucci: Famous fragrances include Eau de Gucci, Envy, No 3 and Accenti. Latest - Rush

Guerlain: Famous fragrances include Jicky, Eau de Guerlain, Jardins de Begatelle, Mitsouko, Shalimar, Samsara and Champs Elysees. Latest - Mahora

Rochas: Famous fragrances include Femme, Madame Rochas, Tocade and Byzance. Latest - Lumière

Givenchy: Famous perfumes include: Ysatis, Amarige, Givenchy III and Organza Indécence. Latest - Extravagance

Jean Patou: Famous fragrances include Joy, Joy 1000 and Sublime. Latest - Patou Forever

Chanel: Famous fragrances include Chanel No 5, Chanel No 19 and Chanel Coco. Latest - Allure

Jean Paul Gaultier: Famous fragrances include Jean Paul Gaultier. Latest - Fragile

Giorgio Armani: Famous fragrances include Acqua di Gio, Emporio Armani, Elle. Latest - Mania

Hermes: Famous fragrances include Caleche, 24 Faubourg. Latest - Hiris

Issey Miyake: Famous fragrances L'eau d'Issey. Latest - Feu d'Issey

Calvin Klein: Famous fragrances include Obsession, Eternity, Escape and Contradiction. Latest - Truth

Carolina Herrera: Famous fragrances include Flore, Aquaflore and Herrera. Latest - 212

Ralph Lauren: Famous fragrances include Lauren, Safari, Polo Sport. Latest - Romance

Yves St Laurent: Famous fragrances include Rive Gauche, Opium, Yvresse, Paris. Latest - In Love Again

Nina Ricci: Famous fragrances include L'air du Temps. Latest - Deci Dela

Houbigant: Famous fragrances include Ciao, Raffinée, Chantilly. Latest - relaunch of Quelques Fleurs

Perfumes launched in October 2000

Lancôme - Miracle

Isabella Rosselini - Manifesto

Estée Lauder - Intuition

Guerlain - Mahora

Kenzo - Flower

Nino Cerruti - Cerruti Image

Calvin Klein - Truth

Jo Malone - Fragrance Combining Sets

Shu Uermura - Parfum Allie (mix 'n match of 10 scents)

Boucheron - Boucheron

Libertine - created by British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood - Lancaster Group, Coty Inc.

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