Your First Fragrance – A Guide to Raising them With the Right Smell (Ari)

This post is about the seemingly selfless tradition of buying a young girl her first perfume, but I must admit that my motivations for writing it were purely selfish: I don’t want to smell Pink Sugar anymore. I have been silently suffering at the hands of Pink Sugar-wearing tweens since its release in 2003, and I am seriously about to go Tyra Banks circa Cycle 4 levels of crazy if I have to keep smelling it everywhere for much longer. (Pink Sugar fans, please note that I am not saying that Pink Sugar is a bad perfume. I don’t have anywhere near the authority or the expertise to render those kinds of perfume value judgments. I am just saying that I hate it.)

It stands to reason that tweens who are not Veruca Salt generally cannot afford to buy their own perfumes, which means that they have a misguided relative or family friend who is supplying their Pink Sugar. This must stop. Let’s be clear: I have no desire to eliminate the tradition of buying a first fragrance for the young ladies in your life. In fact, I think that perfume can be an ideal gift for young girls, since age-appropriateness is not really an issue with perfume in the way that it can be with cosmetics or clothing (although I think that we can still all agree that Secretions Magnifique should probably not be anyone’s first perfume).

I really do believe that a first perfume can be a very special and meaningful gift for a young girl. That’s what normal girls tell me, anyway. I’m pretty sure that the most meaningful gift of my tweenage life was my copy of Zoo Tycoon.  I was that slightly sinister kid who always bankrupted her zoos by unleashing the tigers on the tourists. RUN, PUNY TOURISTS! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

As fumeheads, we’re naturally going to want to share our love of perfume with The Next Generation by introducing them to different perfumes. I JUST NEED THOSE PERFUMES TO NOT BE PINK SUGAR, YOU GUYS.

So I’ve written this post to show misguided relatives and family friends everywhere that there is another way. A better way! Here is a list of five non-Pink Sugar perfumes that would make great first fragrances for a young girl. NOW YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES. I WILL FIND YOU.

Guerlain Apres l’Ondee: Hook ‘em young! This delicate, watery violet fragrance strikes me as the classic Guerlain most likely to appeal to younger perfume preferences. Next year you’ll give her L’Heure Bleue, or maybe even Jicky… she’ll be huffing Vega before you know it!

A Lab On Fire What We Do In Paris Is Secret: A dreamy, ethereal gourmand, so much more sophisticated than the sickeningly sweet scents that most young whippersnappers insist on these days. WWDIPIS smells just like the steam that hits you when you open the rice cooker, sweetened with a little vanilla. This is what Kenzo Amour should have smelled like. 

Ineke After My Own Heart: There’s just something so tenderly lovely about the dewy lilac scent of Ineke’s first perfume. It evokes a fresh-faced kind of joy. Glamorous, elegant perfumes like Shalimar encourage girls to play dress-up; After My Own Heart whispers, “Don’t grow up too fast.” 

Juliet Has a Gun Lady Vengeance: If you’re perfume shopping for a goth girl, I beg of you: please don’t let her wear that Hot Topic dreck. She’ll be far better served by the Juliet Has a Gun line, which boasts quality perfumes inside of their playfully sinister packaging. Lady Vengeance is a loud rose-and-patchouli scent, a slightly seedier version of Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady

Annick Goutal Eau de Camille: Those of us who are a little on the sentimental side (says the girl who sobs during that Traveler’s Insurance commercial with the dog worrying about his bone) will be total suckers for Eau de Camille’s backstory. Eau de Camille was the first perfume that Annick Goutal created for her daughter Camille. Inspired by Camille’s request for a perfume that smelled like their garden, Goutal designed a gorgeous perfume that alternates between dark, leafy green notes and clear bursts of honeysuckle.

What perfumes do y’all think would be ideal first fragrances for a young girl? What was the first perfume an adult gave you?

  • Susan says:

    I’m late to the comments, but “Hook’Em Young” is the motto of my daughter’s daycare center. Guess where? LOL

    The first perfume given to me was a mini of Cover Girl Navy. The first perfume I ever bought for myself was the original Oscar de la Renta.

  • Patty says:

    I remember using some of my mom’s Evening in Paris as a kid, but I don’t recall receiving fragrance as a gift from an adult. For myself I bought Yardley’s Oh! de London and English Lavender, as well as Skinny Dip (which was probably the Pink Sugar of its day). Oh, and I forgot about Coty’s Muguet des Bois, all those Avons….

    I think any of the Jo Malone’s would be suitable for a young girl. I own Yves Rocher’s Pur Desir de Lilas, which is so pretty, and would be perfect as well (and the Rocher line is so reasonable too).

  • Terrific post, Ari. Especially love this bit: Glamorous, elegant perfumes like Shalimar encourage girls to play dress-up; After My Own Heart whispers, “Don’t grow up too fast.”

    I can get behind all your choices and many of the one’s listed above in the comments. I would add a couple categories that haven’t popped up yet: SOLIDS. Of any kind, really. Because they can’t be dropped and broken and there is far less danger of overspraying and they are often both adorable and affordable (Pacifica!). Also, I think for young girls those basic but very pretty body spray type perfumes–the lavendar, linden and rose waters from Pre de Provence, and the big ‘ole perfumes from L’Occitane–are both very approrpiate and a nice intro to the good life.

  • Vanessa says:

    Great to see another post of yours here!

    I was a latecomer to perfume, so I can’t speak about perfumes anyone gave to me. However, I can comment on picking out a gift for a young person. Well, to be specific I gave Borsari’s Violetta di Parma to a friend’s seven year old daugher, who was called Violet. I figured that though she was probably too young to be wearing perfume yet, she might at least be curious to sniff a scent that smelt of her name, and hoped I might just plant a seed of interest in her impressionable young mind…

    Some time later I thought to inquire of my friend how Violet was getting on with her namesake scent. He wrote: “She is guarding her perfume as closely as if it were the meaning of life itself in elixir form”. : – )

    • Ari says:

      Violetta di Parma for a Violet is beyond perfect. You know, there’s a Fragonard perfume named Arielle! I’ve always been tempted to buy it for myself. But the interwebz tells me that it’s a white floral, and I’m afraid that I wouldn’t like it. 🙁

  • Sam says:

    Eau de Camille was not one of the first scents given to me–that might have been 4711–but it was one of the first scents, and certainly the first semi-niche scent, I discovered and bought for myself. I was in my early 20s and working near Saks, where I discovered the AG line on my lunch hour and fell deeply in love. Decades later, I still own a bottle of EdC and wear it in the spring time; it may not suit me as well now (being, er, old), but I still love it. I’d LOVE to smell a bunch of teenagers reeking of EdC–or any AG!

  • reglisse says:

    Once again, so funny! And true, Pink Sugar is….hard to appreciate, perhaps? I am also a fan of Lavanila scents for tweens. Nice quality, good smelling and available at Sephora. No one will cry.

  • Austenfan says:

    My first perfume that I got for myself was Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel. The second was Paris Yves Saint Laurent. I have never sniffed Pink Sugar at least not consciously.
    I would actually suggest Eau du Ciel rather than Camille. I find it softer and therefore more accessible. The Nicolaï line is great, very elegant, refined and quite easy on the nose. Their Eau d’Eté would be a great first scent.

    What I object to is that people grow up thinking all perfume smells the same; sweet and musky. I don’t have children, so I don’t have any obligation of introducing anyone to anything.
    I guess it is similar with food. It has been proven that children who don’t get introduced to eating vegetables and other, to them, less palatable foods, that don’t just taste of sugar, fat and salt, are pickier with food in later life.

  • unseencenser says:

    I have a small 6-year-old friend whom I am raising to be my perfumista buddy. The first Christmas I got perfume for her (after watching her blissfully huffing everything I had in my purse during a visit), I got her some Marc Jacobs Rain – a very unobjectionable, and cheap, rose/ozone scent. (Her mother was worried that the day care people would look at her oddly if her child showed up smelling of Chanel No. 5, so I try to keep the scents girlish for this one. 🙂 Last Christmas I stepped her up to Caron Violette Precieuse, which she really enjoyed.

    I’m trying to space things out so she’s sixteen before I fork over any Amouage or similar wallet-busters. 🙂 Though I might give her some decants at some point.

  • AWench says:

    I had quite sophisticated tastes in perfume, even as a youngster. I had Rochas Femme in parfum, Amazone and Oscar de la Renta. But I also enjoyed my mother’s Coty Sweet Earth compact and some dodgy things like New West, Benetton and Cachet.

    Even then, I loved perfume and wanted to share that love – just on the threshold of 20, I bought my 14 year old cousin Miss Dior. Although we’re experimenting at that age, I still feel that young girls appreciate being bought at least one “proper” perfume – one that makes them feel all grown-up and taken seriously.

    Mums and Dads want to keep their precious darlings young, sheltered and close, but wicked older cousins are quite another matter…

  • nozknoz says:

    One of my first perfumes was Coty Muguet, which was quite good in those days. I think I had Yardley Violets, too. Which brings me to PdN Violette in Love, which Patricia said she designed for young women. Kiss Me Tender would be great, too. I think S-Perfume’s rose-chocolate scent 100% Love would be great – it smells wonderful and isn’t heavy. Mary Greenwell Plum is young, and the packaging – big gold cap, bright pink and green box – is attractive in a young way. Also, I think I read somewhere that teenaged girls in France often wear Eau Sauvage, which sounds rather ideal.

    • Ann says:

      Oh, yes! I, too, think Plum and Kiss Me Tender would be marvelous on a young lady.

  • tammy says:

    I must confess that I started off with a bang…at the age of three, my Aunt Chloe gave me a bottle of Joy. I had smelled it on her wrist when we went to visit her in New Orleans; I glommed on to her wrist and kept going “mmmmmm” “mmmmmm” until she took me to her dressing table and gave me the bottle, which I then refused to surrender, even as I was being bathed.

    Oddly enough, I do not remember the perfume incident, though I do remember being at her dressing table. (I am not sure it was the same incident, though) I think the perfume incident was probably overshadowed by seeing running water in the house for the first time! I can clearly remember watching the water run from the faucet, and I’d go and sit in the bathtub several times a day, til someone came and turned it on for me.

    My aunt replenishes my Joy for me to this day, and I am nearly fifty. She is a Chanel 5 lady all the way, but I have gotten her interested in niche to an extent. She favors Frederic Malle and Amouage.

    What a fun post!

    • nozknoz says:

      That’s a such a great story about big city conveniences, and what a great perfume tradition, Tammy!

  • Ann says:

    Ari, good choices all, but I have always adored Camille (still do). It’s green, young and refreshing, and who couldn’t use more of that in their lives?

  • Tatiana says:

    Great writing, as always. I vaguely recall my first fragrance as L’Air du Temps. This would be the vintage version, considering how old I am. When my daughter said she wanted a fragrance all her own we went shopping together. We smelled, then we discussed what we smelled. She selected the original Juicy Couture. A while later a bottle of L de Lolita. Then Si Lolita and Calyx. When she went off to college, my Lonestar Memories and a decant of Tobacco Vanille went off with her. Winter semester break was a perfume shopping trip where she tried Noir de Noir. Spring break she tried Fille an Aiguilles. You can see the progression.

  • Eva S says:

    Pink Sugar isn’t sold in Sweden so far, thus I have no personal experience of it 🙂
    I think my first perfumes were Pleasures and Chloe Narcisse(discontinued).
    The EL perfumes like Pleasures would probably work for a young girl. Also Juicy Couture or SJP Lovely or the new L’Eau Chloe for example.
    It would be fun to let the girl try some masculines as well, just to broaden her horizons and assure her it’s not dangerous to gender-bend…

    • Arielle says:

      Totally agreed on letting the young’ns try masculines! I wore a lot of masculine scents (the original Prada masculine, Rochas Man) when I was around 16 as a small form of rebellion against a rather controlling boyfriend. And Anne Marie’s experience a few comments up proves that SJP Lovely does indeed appeal to young girls!

  • Naie says:

    I don’t know about this. It’s not really necessary to spend a ton of money introducing perfumes to a young relative, if only because the cost is prohibitively expensive. I also feel there’s a great deal of snobbery going on in niche perfumery. I grew up with quite cheap drugstore fragrances and developed my love for fragrance from there, and niche fragrances, while undoubtedly beautiful and superior in ingredient quality than most mass-produced perfumes, are out of most people’s reach. These days I wear Victoria’s Secret and Serge Lutens equally, and I’m an unabashed lover of Pink Sugar (am I going to be banned from this blog now?). If I’m unable to afford a beloved bottle of Passage D’enfer, I hardly think a teenage girl on a limited allowance would be able to, and there are quite a few mass-market perfumes that are quite respectable and not frou-frou. I think a love of fragrance should be encouraged before all, and tastes should be permitted to develop by themselves and not imposed upon others, no matter how atrocious the perfume, if it is truly loved.

    • Arielle says:

      I promise that I have neither the desire nor the authority to ban you, Naie 😉 This post was actually missing a good three paragraph chunk when it was first posted; the part where I say that I have no right to claim that Pink Sugar is a bad perfume is back in the post now! I agree completely that there are a huge number of mainstream and drugstore fragrances that would be perfect for young girls. My own first fragrances were decidedly downmarket (Escada Rockin’ Rio and B&BW White Tea & Ginger)!

  • Hey Ari,
    Nice question, neatly put and answered.
    Is it OK to give a young girl Declaration by Cartier? It seems so fresh and vibrant, aqueous, slightly prim but blossoming. I think it would be awesome. And the bottle is lovely without being too Missy.
    Portia x

    • Arielle says:

      Hey, don’t you be asking me for permission on things, Portia! I am not the arbiter of anything. If you think it’s okay, it’s okay! But at any rate, I agree that Declaration would be lovely for a young girl.

  • Eldarwen 22 says:

    My mother was never really the perfume type but I do remember her wearing Chanel’s Pour Monsiuer on holidays. When that ran out, she never bought another bottle. When I got her a large decant of it, we both agreed after spraying it on ourselves that it didn’t smell the same. It smelled like lemon Pledge. When I got into high school, I started out wearing Bath and Body Works Cucumber Melon then went on to Happy and Pleasures. I might have been a trend setter at school though. As soon as something caught on perfume wise, I moved on to something else. I still wear and enjoy Pleasures and Happy on occasion but I’ve moved on to other things. On my sixteenth birthday I requested, a bottle of CK Obsession and got it. The bottle is only half used and 13 years old. I can’t really think of anything good for a teen off the top of my head not when I’m wearing Chanel no. 5 in EDP form and I can’t get Mitsouko out of my head. Guess that settles what I am wearing to work tomorrow.

    • Arielle says:

      Oooh, I love your mom’s daring tastes! The current Pour Monsieur definitely still has a lemon Pledge vibe- what did it used to smell like?

      • Eldarwen22 says:

        Back when my mother had a bottle, it didn’t have the lemon Pledge vibe. You could smell some hints of citrus but it didn’t overwhelm. It was a classified as a chypre.

  • Susanna says:

    L’Air du Temps was my first perfume. I loved the minis with the white dove stoppers! I’ll recommend this and for a sure to please mass-market perfume, Clinique Happy.

    • Arielle says:

      L’Air du Temps is a total winner on the packaging front. I always see bottles of it in TJ Maxx, but I presume that they’re the reformulated version, so I’ve still never actually tried L’Air yet. I hope to someday!

  • Sharon C. says:

    Ari, So glad you chose this topic! I have nine great-nieces from age 22 to 3, and I would like to introduce them to perfume. Since their mothers (my nieces) don’t seem to be interested in scent, I haven’t figured out how to approach the younger generation. Guess I could do what my husband did years ago for the nieces and buy small perfume gift sets from Sephora, etc. for the younger generation. I think Anais Anais would be a nice safe choice for a young girl.

    Since MY mother didn’t wear perfume often, I had to explore on my own–mostly drugstore purchases like Emeraude, Love’s Baby Soft, and Charlie. Then I discovered department store brands like Charles of the Ritz and Estee Lauder. I’ve definitely made up for “lost time” with my current perfume collection!

    • Arielle says:

      I also had to explore the world of perfume without any maternal guidance, Sharon! And you can bet I’ll be making up for it with any young girls I can get my hands on. Those Sephora gift sets are pretty cute (they come with mini-bottles)- but I’d get the 22 year old a discovery set from Ormonde Jayne or Etat Libre d’Orange! (The ELd’O set is actually a really good deal- 24 samples for $62.)

  • Patty White says:

    Darn it, I still love me some pink sugar! But I think Fresh’s Lemon Sugar is a better choice.

    I was wearing this musk-monster STephen B during high school until I couldn’t find it anymore. I didn’t think it was that musky until March found it for me on eBay a couple of years ago and sent it. Yeow! That stuff is smut central. no wonder I behaved like an alley cat. I blame my perfume.

    • Arielle says:

      If only certain behaviors really could be explained away with a simple “I blame my perfume”…

      The Fresh Sugar line would be sooo great for young girls. They smell just like lemonade! Who doesn’t like lemonade??

  • Meg says:

    Hooray Ari! Terrific article!

    I always thought Anne Pliska would be a nice first fragrance for a little girl. However, my niece — who is now 16 — has apparently been a diehard Tabu lover since childhood. I once gave her some Miss Pucci and she liked it; I’d also like to see what she thinks of Bottega Veneta. But most of all, I want to lay some vintage Jolie Madame on her doorstep– I think she would “get it” right off the bat!

    • Arielle says:

      Thank you, Meg! It is an even better article now that the missing 3 paragraphs have been restored! 😉

      Your niece is so sophisticated, to be a long-time Tabu lover! I agree with you that Anne Pliska would be a lovely first fragrance. It’s got that orange creamsicle vibe going on.

  • Poodle says:

    I was a Love’s Baby Soft girl. Then I progressed to Jovan Night Blooming Jasmine and others. I remember asking my cousin Stephen what guys like on a girl and he said White Shoulders and red fingernails. So off to the mall I went to buy my first real perfume, White Shoulders. Funny how it was a department store scent back then. Anyway, I think I would let my girl, if I had one, pick what she liked and possibly guide her in the right direction but it’s a growing up process and if she wanted that awful Justin Bieber scent who am I to stop her since I would have totally gone out and gotten Def Leppard’s scent if they had ever made one.

    • Arielle says:

      LOL! I love the idea of getting boy advice from a relative. You clearly had a good relationship with your cousin- I suspect that mine would have tried to sabotage me :O

      The one good thing about the Justin Bieber perfume is that all net profits are being donated to charity. So all Someday wearers are doing good, even if they are not necessarily smelling good!

  • annemariec says:

    Great topic Ari! It might make you very happy to know that as far as I’m aware Pink Sugar has never been marketed in Australia so generations of Australian girls and women, including me, continue to be blissfully unaware of it.

    I have a nine year old daughter and so have given some thought to this very question. She likes to sit in my bedroom and smell perfume with me but only, I think, as a game, and because she knows it pleases me. She does not seem interested for herself yet, and that is a good thing. I’m not rushing her.

    But it is obvious that she is drawn to sweet or musky comfort scents, and that is natural. She is fond of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely. She likes No 19 Poudre, unafraid of its crispness, and she likes EL’s Beautiful too. So those are all good places to start. Oddly enough, I thought she would like Acqua Allegoria Flora Nymphea, but she doesn’t.

    I think the question will be what happens when she is a teenager and her friends are all shopping at the celebuscent counter. Will she follow along for the sake of conformity, or will she be willing to assert her own taste? I should try and get in early and give her something of her own. (That Eau de Camille sounds good.)

    • Arielle says:

      And my love for Australia just grew a little stronger!!! (It was already pretty damn strong thanks to your newest export, Chris Hemsworth (THOR!))

      Your daughter is clearly a young lady of very distinguished tastes! I think that Lovely is truly a universal scent- it can appeal to anyone, regardless of age. SJP really did a nice job with that one.

  • FragrantWitch says:

    I think Hove has some lovely scents that would be good introductions to fragrance. Their Verveine is lovely -lemony with a bit of marzipan in the far drydown, sort of a lemon creamsicle. Also Creole Days and their tea olive whose name escapes me.
    For department store, I would say Flowerbomb or Clinique Happy.
    As for me, I fell madly in love with Shalimar and Emeraude at 15 and had to have them! I got the Emeraude dusting powder for Christmas one year and felt unspeakably elegant. I also used to wear Navy and original Oscar de la Renta as the same time.
    Does anyone remember a fragrance called Camp Beverly Hills? I used to love it but, bar the one bottle I discovered at Marshalls, never saw it anywhere.

    • Arielle says:

      Hove is the store in New Orleans, right? A “lemon creamsicle” perfume sounds absolutely perfect for a girl’s first fragrance. I’m very fond of orange creamsicle scents myself, like L de Lolita Lempicka.

  • Joanna says:

    I don’t know that I agree with Apres l’Ondee just because I think let them be young while they’re young. AlO isn’t especially young or girlie in my opinion. Although it is beautiful. I think going through the phases of perfume growth is like all the other experiments and mistakes that lead to growth. I smell some of the bottles from my youth that I still have and it smells like the girl I once was is tucked away safe and sound there in the bottle. I can share her memories just by spritzing her scent and it makes me glad that I was her once, with all her craziness and phases and dating disasters. I smell 16 when her braces came off and she spent a summer working in a stable, so when she went back to school that fall she was sleek for long hours of work and not embarassed to smile anymore. I smell each of the 11 different majors she tried on in college. I wouldn’t pick any of those scents to wear today but I stand by her choices she made back then.

    • FragrantWitch says:

      I feel exactly the same way!

    • I agree also, Joanna! The phases of perfumista-dom trial and error are all a part of growing up. The overspraying of candy florals is just a phase…you can try to show by example, but sometimes the girls really need to find their own identity in fragrance as in any other area. Sometimes, with certain daughters, even the very gentlest suggestion is taken the wrong way. I actually think it would be better to introduce my nieces into fragrance, rather than my own daughters–no power struggles, need-to-be-different-from-mom stuff, etc. For right now, I have to try and let each daughter go through all the stages and find herself.

      • Joanna says:

        I give my nieces boxes full of perfume and beauty products that are too young for me all the time. I loved it when my aunts used to do the same. But I like that they smell like cotton candy and bubble gum and all things sweet and pink. They still live in a world where nothing is too sweet and I hope they stay there as long as possible.

    • Arielle says:

      This is the loveliest comment, Joanna. I am also truly impressed by your 11 college majors- so far I have only managed to get through 3. But I still have one more year to go! 😉

      • Joanna says:

        I’m still not done trying on majors. I left college with a baby instead of a diploma. Maybe should have spent less time studying human biology.

  • Undina says:

    Great article, Ari!

    My first perfumes (those that I had to myself – as an opposite of using my mother’s perfumes despite her objections to that) weren’t actual perfumes but rose and lavender oils in small vials. Loved those. And the perfume perfume I used first (I was 6-7, I think) were my mother’s Diors – Diorella, Miss Dior and Dior Dior.

    An appropriate first perfume? French Lilacs by Pasifica (and some other scents from the same brand), many of Jo Malone’s scents (Grapefruit, Nutmeg & Ginger, Red Roses, Vanilla & Anise, Verbenas of Provence, etc.), Annick Goutals soliflores or more simple floral compositions, Yves Rocher’s Tendre Jasmin, Vanille Noire or Iris Noir.

    • Arielle says:

      It is an even better article now that the missing 3 paragraphs have been restored, Undina! 😉 I would have been thrilled if someone had gotten me Vanilla & Anise as a young’n. Hell, I’d be thrilled if they got it for me now!