When It Comes to Perfume, Richard Loniewski's Nose Knows What Makes Good Scents

updated 12/14/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/14/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

Blondes may have more fun, but brunettes, take heart. You smell better longer, according to "The Nose." He is perfume expert Richard Loniewski, 40, who has had a hand in the creation of Enjoli and Opium, two of the best-selling fragrances in the U.S.

Along the way, Loniewski has also sniffed out the secrets of picking the right perfume. For example, he says, "Fair-haired women usually have dry skin, which absorbs a fragrance." In contrast, the same perfume will cling to dark-haired women with oilier skin. Loniewski recommends that blondes buy "larger-molecule" scents (examples: Charlie, Chanel No. 5 and Senchal), which, because of their chemical makeup, are less readily absorbed.

Before purchasing a perfume, Loniewski cautions, never eat spicy foods. "Fragrances can be a blend of several hundred ingredients," he explains. "Foods like garlic and curry come through the pores and upset that balance." State of mind also affects how a perfume strikes a buyer ("When you're nervous or depressed, blood rushes to the olfactory area and you lose most of your sense of smell"). Loniewski suggests choosing perfumes in the afternoon, when one's sinuses are clear, and allowing at least 10 minutes for a test. "Put the fragrance on your hand, not the salesperson's," he advises. "It will smell different on different people."

The most important decision a woman must make about her scent is the personality she wants it to project. Loniewski suggests "a light floral, like lily of the valley, for an innocent, delicate image, and the green florals, with nuances of cut grass and leaves, for active, independent women." Perfume manufacturers advertise the Orientals, made with animal essences like musk and civet, as sensuous and sophisticated. Whatever a woman's choice, Loniewski also recommends she change scents as often as she changes clothes. "Fragrance and fashion are one," he avows.

Perfume should be sprayed on (always use an atomizer) before a woman dresses, says Loniewski: "Clothes form a veil and keep the fragrance in." Apply at the pulse points—wrists, crook of the arm, behind the ears, the base of the throat and the back of the neck—because "the blood is closest to the skin there." Loniewski laments the male approach to fragrances. "Men don't know what to do with cologne," he notes. "They treat it like an after-shave and slap it on. A man should spray it on his body just like a woman."

Professionals like Loniewski—there are about 150 working for perfume companies in America—have a choice of 2,000 synthetic aromatics and essential oils from which to fashion a fragrance. When Loniewski helped develop Opium, he started with Yves Saint Laurent's concept of how it was to be packaged and positioned in the marketplace. Then the chemists in the Charles of the Ritz lab, which Loniewski oversees, went to work. Two and a half years later the perfume, containing 300 ingredients, was finally approved. It is one of the most costly ($130 an ounce), Loniewski says, because "the oils used are of the highest quality. Rose oil goes for up to $2,000 a pound and it takes 1.2 tons of rose petals to make one pound."

Loniewski grew up knowing a far different smell—the Jersey City waterfront. The youngest of three sons of a tugboat captain, he attended Fairleigh Dickinson University at night while working days as a technician for Rev-Ion. Later he studied under several master perfumers and learned to detect the slightest nuances in a fragrance. "Noses are trained, not born," Loniewski claims. At Fairleigh Dickinson, he got a degree in analytical chemistry in 1968 and an MBA in business and marketing in 1972, shortly after joining Charles of the Ritz. Loniewski heads a staff of five at the Ritz labs in Holmdel, N.J. and lives nearby with his wife, Stella, and their three sons, aged 10 to 13.

On the job Loniewski never wears a cologne because it would hamper his testing, but on weekends he often dabs on a fragrance he is working on—even those designed for women. Not surprisingly, Loniewski has found that "scent is the first thing I now notice about women." He even has found himself following strangers on the street while sniffing their perfumes. "Someday," he allows, "I could get into trouble."

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