On Giving Perfume

Antique perfume bottles from a private collection
Spent some time recently happily gazing at an antique perfume bottle collection and thinking how coveted they must have been to be kept all these years. The ones above are from the 20's and 30's. Curiously I also learned that perfume remains one of the very top gifts people still love to give. Long treasured as gifts a lovely example is Prince Rainier III having Creed specially create Fleurissimo for Grace Kelly's wedding day and yet another Prince was known to dole out Chypre by François Coty in Lalique crystal bottles. Intensely personal, fragrances are also often the most returned gifts during the holidays. There are a few rules gleaned over the years that can greatly improve the chances of picking out something perfect. They've served me well. Here they are:
Perfume Perfume Perfume

  • It pretty much goes without saying that if someone keeps picking up and putting a fragrance back or loves bringing up its name with a glint in their eye, they'd love it as a gift. This one's really easy but quite often it's much more challenging than that, but that's alright. We're up for it, right!?
  • Body chemistry is probably one of the most daunting parts of buying fragrances for ourselves let alone someone else. Someone with an acidic system for instance often finds a perfume will sour and turn on their skin. One of the most problematic notes for turning I've found is patchouli. For someone without that issue to contend with it can get even more ridiculously complex. While some people like to wear whatever is popular at the moment many more are subconsciously drawn to scents that highlight and broadcast their particular body chemistry the most. Chemistry that interestingly has a lot to do with ones genes and the immune system. Read more here and here. Without having a blood test you'll need to look for clues...
  • Know they're favorite individual notes. Do they love vanilla or apple? Sometimes people know what they like but are unsure of what the actual scent is. Smelling essential oils or visiting a perfume bar to sample individual scents (notes) can really help people nail down their favorites. Others know the scents they love and will usually immediately pick it up when they whiff a fragrance they later turn out to adore. Do they squeal, oh I can smell the vanilla! Take note.
Snooping around at someones perfume collection (or signature scent) and then finally figuring out what the common notes are can also be a big help. Someone I know has a vanilla note heavy fragrance collection so anything with a strong vanilla leaning usually spells love for them. A favorite note usually trumps a perfume class I've found (e.g. Chypre, Floral, Oriental, Woody, Fougère) although that can be the common denominator too. If everything in their collection has wildly differing notes but they all end up falling in the class of gourmand, that caramel infused perfume might be great for them after all. All I can say is Bassnotes, fragrantica &/or a knowledgeable fragrance counter person is seriously your friend for sleuthing all this out.

  • Are they a smoker? Do they love visiting cigar bars, smoky clubs or Paris frequently? This can make a huge difference in your fragrance choices as watery, transparent scents haven't got a chance. Not only because of the sense of smell itself being dulled but because of how tobacco likes to eat up other scents and turn musty. To counter, conceal and even enhance smoking perfumers developed vanilla heavy scents often found in the Oriental class of fragrances. One of the originals was Habanita by Molinard. These fragrances often combine thick, creamy vanilla with fresher citrus notes, leather, amber, coffee, chocolate and even more tobacco.

  • Why stop there though? Someone, usually referred to as a nose, is behind every fragrance out there. A celebrity or fashion house usually has little to really do with fragrance blending aside from proclaiming it a masterpiece or very them in the end. Find the name behind the person you're shopping for's favorite fragrance and you may have a better chance at a winner. One example is Olivier Polge who created the Jimmy Choo namesake fragrance along with a huge list of others including Mon Jasmin Noir, Burberry the Beat, Armani Code and Flowerbomb. Lancôme's La Vie Est Belle smells so similar to Flowerbomb and now I know why...  Olivier Polge.   If someone has Jimmy Choo they may also really enjoy Polge's Florabotanica. Again fragrantica is your best friend for finding all this out.
  • Fragrance is universal or at least not what you may think. A while ago I wrote about how many powerful women loved wearing fragrances intended for men. See many of them here. The ironic part is the ancients felt differently about gender and scent with men wearing rose and sweet honeyed fragrances while women wore kaboom peppery spice. Scent was for self pleasure and making oneself feel good. Later in the 18th and 19th century families would have universal scents created that everyone would wear, many of which are still sold by Creed and now deemed unisex. Then someone got the idea to flip it and use perfume to allure and tantalize. Still it would be a shame to pass over a scent because of marketing and silly, incorrect taboos that even the ancients did not concern themselves with. Someone told me if they found a scent they loved, they would always ask to smell the other genders counterpart which they admitted to often liking more.  So many perfumers know this and are creating fragrances accordingly... Boyfriend by Kate Walsh, Narciso Rodriguez for her, Santo Domingo by Oscar de la Renta and Hanae Mori pour homme quickly come to mind.
  • While waiting in the returns line after Christmas it was frightening the amount of perfume that was being returned. The top reason I heard uttered, it's way to strong for me. Ever since I've been buying, for the most part, eau de toilette's or perfumes that behave more like one. They can always upgrade if they want to something stronger.
  • Lastly something that is almost no fail is the lovely sets that Sephora puts together. The ones that include miniature perfume bottles and a voucher for your gift recipient to then pick out their favorite from the collection and redeem it for a full sized bottle. The best ones are usually seen around Christmas but here is an example.
For thoughts and favs be sure to see the fragrance section of the blog here and as a personal aside, as much as I adore trying new scents I always seems to come back to Lanvin, Burberry, Chanel or Lavanila. So good!

Image: mam for Gave That


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