How to choose your next fragrance

Fragrance shopping can be great fun, but it’s often frustrating. Among all the brands, sales staff, and celebrity ads, how can you find the ultimate bottle for you?

I’ve been pondering over this recently, and have ranked nine ways of shopping based on how useful and enjoyable I find them.

The first step is always to ask yourself some basic questions like “What I want to get out of this experience – a great end goal or a fun journey?”, “What mood of fragrance am I after?”, “How much am I willing to spend?”, and the like. This will set you up for a good start. Then pick one or more of the following, which are ranked from worst to best.

9. Shop with your eyes (a.k.a. the Instagram method)

I kind of hate this method – as a perfumer, smell is virtually all that interests me in a fragrance. However, for those of you who need some gorgeous bottles for Instagram, there certainly are some great ones out there. A few that come to mind are Guerlain’s gorgeous (and very expensive!) Bee Bottles, or anything by Chanel or Louis Vuitton. There are Frederic Malle and Byredo for the minimalists, and Comme des Garçons for the avant-garde. Plenty of options – just google ‘beautiful perfume bottle brands’. The biggest problem is that if you’re shopping for pretty bottles, you’re probably going to store them wrong (e.g., on a sunny bathroom windowsill – see my article How to store fragrances properly).

8. Blind buy online

Don’t do this. It’s just a frustrating and expensive way to get buyer’s remorse. Even the recommendation of a good friend isn’t enough to go off. Please try things in person before you buy them, even if it means buying samples online (see number 6 below).

7. Submit to the wiles of sales staff

This is particularly an issue in many department stores, where staff are encouraged to push newly-launched products regardless of customer tastes. If you’re tired or disinterested, you might end up buying something you don’t like just so you can make an easy exit from the shop. However, as someone who used to work in sales, I know that not all salespeople are like this (see number 3 below).

6. Buy samples online

If you’re an introvert who doesn’t mind spending money deciding what fragrances you like, this method’s for you. It provides an easy way to get your hands on samples of virtually any fragrance on the market, rather than being limited to the free samples handed out at stores. The benefit of samples is that you can wear something for a few days in a row to see how you like it in different weather and during different activities. And you can ask for others’ opinions if you want them.

5. Shop alone, without any staff help

Because I take such a long time in perfume shops, this is the way I usually shop. Two tips for this method, as well as a few others: Firstly, unless I genuinely believe I’ll be buying a bottle, I don’t normally take up the staff’s time. It’s also good to take bottle caps off and smell the sprayer before actually spraying it on a blotter or your skin, so you don’t end up wasting perfume and annoying the staff – particularly if blotters are in short supply.

4. Shop with a friend

This is a classic way to shop for fragrances, and definitely one of the most fun.

3. Let sales staff help you (if you’re in a nice store)

If you’re in a good perfume store (usually independent ones, or brand boutiques), your best bet is probably to let staff assist you – after all, they probably know a lot more about the products they sell than you do. If they get overly pushy, just say you’ll browse by yourself for a while. And like I said earlier, don’t waste staff’s time unless you’re actually in the market for a new fragrance.

2. Join a local fragrance group

Make use of these groups’ vast collections of samples and broad knowledge by signing up for fragrance events. Search Facebook for things like the name of your city followed by ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’. This is a big investment of time for a simple purchase, but I can almost guarantee that it will yield the best result for you, and you might make some great new friends along the way.

1. Blind smelling with a supportive friend

There is one method that transcends all others in its delightfulness and effectiveness, supposing that all you’re after is your ideal scent. Simply take a friend shopping, and have them spray a heap of tester strips without telling you what’s on each one (I recommend bringing a pen and writing under the papers). Eventually you’ll find something you adore, at which point your friend will tell you what it is. Presto – your new favourite fragrance!

    At the end of the day, you should shop however you see fit, but I hope you found this list useful. And as far as which shops, websites, and boutiques to shop at, I’ll leave that for another day. Subscribe to my newsletter below and I’ll keep you in the loop.

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