Picking the perfect perfume

The key question is how to seduce oneself, says our scents expert

From left: Jo Malone Orange Blossom, £88 for 100ml EDC. Maison Margiela Lazy Sunday Morning, £95 for 100ml EDT. Caron Nuit de Noël, £192 for 28ml EDP
From left: Jo Malone Orange Blossom, £88 for 100ml EDC. Maison Margiela Lazy Sunday Morning, £95 for 100ml EDT. Caron Nuit de Noël, £192 for 28ml EDP

“What perfumes do men like?” is one of the most common questions I am asked, followed closely by “What perfumes will make women fall for me?” For both I have the same reply: each to his or her own, and instead of bothering to entice others with our perfume – a task of rather dubious merits – why not seduce ourselves instead? 

Selecting perfume, however, can be tremendously complicated. The market is full of new launches, each making lofty promises, but with many smelling almost identical. There are also considerations of brand, packaging and marketing that influence us more than we are willing to admit, even to the point of obscuring our real preferences. And then there is the problem of the sheer volume of choices.

From left: 10 Corso Como, £87.60 for 100ml EDP. Guerlain Après L’Ondée, £85 for 100ml EDT. Chanel No 19, £74 for 50ml EDP
From left: 10 Corso Como, £87.60 for 100ml EDP. Guerlain Après L’Ondée, £85 for 100ml EDT. Chanel No 19, £74 for 50ml EDP

So how should one proceed, especially if perfume is a new hobby? First, before setting out on a fragrance exploration, write down your favourite scents, bottled or natural, to chart your tastes. My list would include iris, jasmine, wet soil after the rain, old libraries, my cat’s paws, autumnal bonfires and Ukrainian church incense with its unique blend of sweet balsams and myrrh. Reflecting on this, I realise it’s not at all surprising that florals, woods and chypres (blends of mosses and woods with floral nuances) are my favourite perfume families. Among the fragrances I’d take on a desert island are Serge Lutens Bois de Violette (€170 for 75ml EDP), Chanel No 19 (£74 for 50ml EDP), Guerlain Après L’Ondée (£85 for 100ml EDT), 10 Corso Como (£87.60 for 100ml EDP), Armani Privé Bois d’Encens (£170 for 100ml EDP) and Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower (£165 for 50ml EDP).

Next, take your list to a specialist boutique where the staff are knowledgeable about perfumery, classical and modern. Les Senteurs or Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie at Harrods are among my favourite spots, oases of serenity and beautiful aromas. The Les Senteurs and Luckyscent websites also offer sampling services and plenty of advice.  

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The only important criterion for choosing a perfume is whether it makes you happy. For this reason, don’t rely on the opinion of others, however well-intentioned. What do you feel when you wear a perfume? Does it leave a trace in your memory? The right scents will provoke a wave of delight that will not lessen on subsequent encounters. It’s true that certain aromas, like dry wines and sharp cheeses, are an acquired taste and might not reveal their allure all at once, but bottled fragrances should provoke an emotional response. 

How a perfume will tell its story largely depends on one’s skin. So even if using paper blotters to compare several contenders, make the final decision by wearing a single fragrance for a whole day. Some blends might have bright top notes and mellow dry downs (Jo Malone Orange Blossom, £88 for 100ml EDC), while others save all the drama till the end (Caron Nuit de Noël, £192 for 28ml EDP).

From left: Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower, £165 for 50ml EDP. Armani Privé Bois d’Encens, £170 for 100ml EDP
From left: Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower, £165 for 50ml EDP. Armani Privé Bois d’Encens, £170 for 100ml EDP

These days my choice for seducing myself has become Maison Margiela Lazy Sunday Morning (£95 for 100ml EDT). With a flourish of iris and lily of the valley decorating its transparent accord of musk and patchouli, it makes me feel as if I’m wrapped in cashmere.

Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog Boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher. To read more of her columns, click here.

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