How do I Find a New Perfume? … is one of the most common questions I hear over and over, phrased in a thousand different ways. It can vary from – “I used to wear Giorgio, but it smells like Mule Balls now, can you help me find something to replace it?” to “I want to find my signature scent, but I have no idea where to start! Help me, Obi-fume Kenobi!”
Sadly, the answer is there is no one answer because there are so many ways to find a new perfume. Think of it as a giant perfume Venn Diagram – here, let me break out my Musk Venn Diagram to illustrate.
This was how I illustrated where musk perfumes fell and where they intersect. I suggest when you are searching for a new perfume, you have to start constructing a similar thing. Find where the things you like intersect, what they have in common. But I digress a little. Let’s start at the beginning.
First, for those of you long-time Posse readers who have been down this path, I know you know all this stuff, but I am hoping you will chime in with your own experiences and tips and encouragement for people who are new. We have thousands of new readers a month that stumble on our blog though a happy Google Accident, and I want to help them save some time and costly mistakes.
Tips to Find a New Perfume
Perfume samples are a must. Disclaimer, I do own part of a perfume sample business, but I’ll point you to cheap ways to sample as well. I wound up in that business because I made the above costly mistakes already and completely believe in perfume sampling as the only real way to figure out what you love. You can sample by either getting free samples from stores, swapping for samples or buying samples at various places.
March put up a post some time back about where to get perfume samples, which you can find by following the link. I won’t get into swapping in detail because that is a different subject and a lot longer post.You can sample by getting free perfume samples at a retail shop. Sephora and Nordstrom are your best bets there as far as mainstream perfumes. If you are going into niche, you can ask for free samples with a purchase or buy the samples at retail perfume stores like Luckyscent, MiN New York, and many others. Many niche and indie perfume companies sell samples of their perfumes as well. You can also buy perfume samples at an internet site like mine.
Start somewhere, anywhere. This step involves how your mind works in making your personal perfume Venn Diagram. Do you like to sort things by Brand? Do you want to start by sniffing a note you know you love? Do you not know what a note is? Do you prefer perfume classification instead – like chypre, floral, oriental, fougere? Did your head just spin around 360 degrees when you read that last sentence? The Right Place to Start is the place that makes sense to you or is an area that you understand. Don’t try venturing down the perfume classification area if you don’t understand it and don’t really want to know what perfumes are fougeres or chypres or orientals or care what it is that makes them those things. If you are a random sampler that likes flitting from one perfume sample to another perfume sample, the next step becomes even more important.
Keep Careful Notes. This is one of the more important things you need to do. If you are an Excel spreadsheet person, get one started, and make columns for the name of the perfume sample, when you got it, where you got it, classification or prominent note or other feature that makes it distinctive, what you think of it, a rating on a scale of 1-10, when you tested it, whether you liked it enough to buy a decant or bottle of it, swapped it or not, used it up, and where you stored the damn thing (some small prevention against misplacing perfume samples). These notes will help you sort through the loves and likes and chronicle your journey and how your tastes will likely change by more exposure to different kinds of scents. This also keeps you from buying the same perfume sample more than once. Take it from a person who has done this more times than I care to count.
This spreadsheet with those columns will keep track of things you want to swap, the perfume samples you already have swapped so you don’t wind up swapping for them again, just to bang your head on the table when you get it, sniff it and realize you already tried the wretched thing and can’t believe you have it back, and it will track the things you liked well enough to get a little larger amount of, as well as those that you have bought more than one decant. Buying more than one decant of a perfume is a good indicator that it’s one you like well enough to keep on hand, and you may want to step up for a full bottle or go in for a larger portion on a bottle split (again, splits not covered in this post, it goes with swapping). You’ll also track where you keep it, which is the biggest problem for the Tribble Sample problem. These things expand like Rabbits, and before you know it you are buying baskets and containers just to hold samples. If you know where you put them, it will save you a bit of time when you’re hunting for it.
Find the Common Theme. If you are looking for The One, the Holy Grail, and you don’t want a fragrance wardrobe for seasons or mood or occasion or… well, okay, I can’t understand this at all, but no judgment. Keep looking on your spreadsheet for things you rated highly, then look at the brand, the note, the classification, any other distinctive pieces of it to try to find the point on the Venn Diagram it might intersect. It could be citrus fragrances from Annick Goutal. You may not really care that much about citrus fragrances or love them universally, but the way Goutal deals with them may make your heart beat faster. Whatever the intersection, you know then to head off in that direction for a while to see if that’s true – is it the brand you like or the way they treat that note or maybe something else in the line will be The One.
Keep an Open Mind. This is probably the hardest part. It is easy to dismiss something entirely based on one or two perfumes. You could smell a musk perfume, hate it and cross off all musk perfumes. It may be that, or it could be you didn’t like heavy musk or white musk. Maybe it’s roses, you smelled a couple of Rosines and thought they smelled like Aunt June, and the thought of smelling like Aunt June is not acceptable. But you might smell Le Labo’s Rose or Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit and have one or both take your breath away. But you won’t know that if you strike entire notes or classifications from your “to try” list. Sometimes it is painful to try things you are sure you will hate, but trust me on this – the times when you will find something to love in that painful mess will be worth it.
The other piece to keeping an open mind is to throw out your idea of gender-specific scents. I think men smell amazing in gardenia, tuberose and roses. Who said those are feminine notes anyway? What smells good to you is what smells good. Your masculinity is not defined by your smell, nor is your femininity. I wear about as many “masculine” fragrances as I do feminine. If your taste runs to the traditional masculine scents, then by all means, go with that for yourself. But I do have to tell you, a guy that knows what he likes smelling on someone else is incredibly appealing.
Thy Mind, it Will Be Changed. Once you play around in perfume for 6-12 months, go back to your perfume spreadsheet, resniff some of the things you tried early on that you really didn’t care for or thought were way too intense,. I promise you, some of them will now smell great or at least very different on the Hate-it Scale. We are conditioned in the United States especially, via all the “fresh” scents in our laundry detergent, shampoos, deodorant, jock itch powder and tampons to believe that good smells one way – clean. The more you explore perfume, your nose will adjust and start liking some of those non-clean-smelling perfumes, the ones that smell just a wee bit like buttcrack or post-coital sheets. When I first tried Serge Lutens Musc Koublai Khan, I was horrified at the open, it was nasty armpit, and it eventually turned into a great skin scent. Now when I smell MKK, I think it’s cuddly cute and can’t imagine how I was ever horrified by how it smells on the open.
99 Bottles of Perfume on the Wall. Well, you started this thinking you were hunting for ONE perfume, but now you have a list of 20-30 things you really, really love and would wear regularly. Hey, welcome to my world, punkin! Seriously, you will get no judgment here for being a Scent Slut. Just go with it, think of it as Promiscuous Perfuming where nobody gets hurt as long as you aren’t spending money earmarked for rent like you had a Crack Habit. You may find a few things and be happy and wear them for the rest or your life, or you may be back here in summer wondering why all the stuff you just fell in love with smells like Mule Balls in the heat.
The most important thing of all – Have fun. Setting out to find a new perfume isn’t real life, it is perfume play. I think discovering what you like through your sense of smell is an amazing journey inside of yourself, through your past, and maybe into your future. Take your time, explore it all, revel in how smelling something amazing or revolting makes you feel, what it triggers. I swear, before you know it, you will be sniffing the most revolting things, laughing if it can really make your nose squinch up.
Okay, we are going to do two drawings today. BTW, the winners of the last two posts will get announced later on Tuesday, so watch for that if you wanted to enter. If you are fairly new to perfume, just tell me that in the comments to be entered in a drawing for a Perfume Posse Perfume 101 sample set. If you’ve been around a while and would like to pass on a tip, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a sample of the latest Iunx from paris, the L’Arbre. So tell me what about this
meth perfume habit is the worst if you’ve been at it a while or what you’re getting stuck on if you’re new.
This is interesting too!
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