Niche Perfume and Classic Fragrance for Beginners – Perfume Education 101

Niche Perfume and Classic Perfume for Beginners - Perfume Education 101 (Revised 2020) Once upon a time Patty and March were perfume virgins. We just didn’t know how to do it. Where to start, you know? The ladies tried to fix us up with mainstream perfumes like Lancome, and they tried to set us up with Estee, but it didn’t work out. March’s best friend loved Cristalle, but Cristalle hated her, so that never went anywhere. We made some mistakes. Flirted with Paris and Giorgio, but nothing much happened. You get the picture. We needed Perfume Education 101 – Niche Perfume and Classic Perfume for Beginners.

It’s funny looking back on those days and realizing how naive we were. Now we’ve turned pro. We’ve been caressed by niche perfume like  Guerlain, wooed by Frederic Malle Malle, bitch-slapped several times by Caron. Serge Lutens has suggested things that would have disgusted us not so long ago, and now we just sigh and say, oooooooooooohhhh. That’s a new one.

Niche Perfume and Classic Perfume for Beginners – Perfume Education 101

Anyway, we thought, why not share what we learned as rank beginners in niche perfume, before we earned our Perfume Posse spurs? We’re calling this post Niche Perfume and Classic Perfume for Beginners – Perfume Education 101 , and it’s our recommendation of where you should start in your journey through niche perfume as well as classic fragrance smellage. Later on we’ll do an Intermediate Niche Perfume and Classic Perfume list – Perfume 201 –  where we’ll introduce more challenging scents, including what to sniff when you Turn Pro.

We’ll leave this one up with a permanent link, and dump in here the relevant section from a previous post on where to get samples, so if you read this intro before, just skip ahead to the new stuff, here goes:

Unless you’re richer than God, the easiest way to sample a lot of fragrances is to buy or swap perfume samples, not full bottles. But where?

You can buy them outright from perfume/sample decant stores – your truly (Patty) and a partner went together and have a perfume sample/decant store   Surrender to Chance, featuring tons of niche and classice, vintage, retro and men’s  fragrance and cologne samples.

Department stores and getting samples there can be difficult, but usually if you buy something or cultivate one of the SAs, it works best.

You can buy samples from a number of online niche perfume stores like Aedes, Luckyscent, for nominal amounts of money; some of the niche perfumers also have their own sample programs.

Basenotes has a section for swapping and active perfume talk forums. If you have have a bottle or two of something decent and don’t mind the details associated with swapping — decanting and wrapping and mailing and keeping track — that is an excellent way to sample many scents for just the cost of postage and some decanting supplies. You’ll also learn a lot by reading and interacting in any one or more of those forums.

Where to start? Just start anywhere. Pick something you’ve read about. Or sample your way through a particular line, if you’ve found one scent there that really appeals. Or pick a note you like (rose, incense, tobacco, whatever.). We have a great guide going on individual notes, guiding you through them. So if you know absolutely you are a gardenia lover, just go there and start plowing the gardenia perfumes.

This is where we think you should start in your Niche Perfume Education sniffage to decide what you like and what direction you might like to explore further. With a couple of noted exceptions, we find these fragrances worthwhile without being scarily challenging to the nosebuds. Is this a biased list, weighted toward niche product and reflecting scents we like and neglecting things we don’t? Well, sure. So what?

You Should Smell:

  • Classics you might not have smelled before, because this is what 100% high-octane gorgeousness smells like – Chanel Bois de Iles, Caron Parfum Sacre or Nuit de Noel, Patou Joy.
  • Leather, because leather is such a great non-sweet note that adds depth to fragrance – Chanel Cuir de Russie, Serge Lutens Daim Blond, Caron Tabac Blond, CB I Hate Perfumes Russian Leather.
  • Incense, for the same reason as leather – Unum Lavs or Comme des Garcons Avignon (niche perfume)
  • Citrus — Guerlain Fleurs de Cedrat or Vitalisant (mainstream).   Carthusia Mediterraneo, Santa Maria Novella Eva (niche perfume)
  • Musk — Serge Lutens Clair de Musc (niche perfume).   Narciso Rodriguez for Her, Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely are great mainstream perfumes
  • Tea — one of the Bvlgaris (Verte — the one that launched a thousand imitations, Blanc, Rouge) L’Artisan The Pour Une Ete (niche perfume)
  • Amber — Hermes Hermessences Ambre Narguile (niche perfume) and Youth Dew Amber Nude (mainstream)

Florals with an emphasis on a single note, to see if that is a flower you’re digging:

  • Orange  Blossom – Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger (advanced beginner, due to cumin) both niche perfume (orange blossom guide).
  • Iris — tricky for beginners due to metallic strangeness. Less challenging scents: Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile, Hermes Hiris (see iris guide)
  • Rose – any of the Rosines, Creed Fleur de The Rose Bulgare for niche perfume.  Yves Saint Laurent Paris for mainstream perfume (see rose guide)
  • Violet — Guerlain Meteorites (dirt cheap and cheerful!), Annick Goutal Violette, or Molinard Violette if you have a high sugar tolerance (also see the comprehensive Violet guide)
  • White florals — Serge Lutens Un Lys or Datura Noir, Frederic Malle Lys Mediterranee (niche perfume).  Piguet Fracas, Marc Jacobs (very accessible, inexpensive and beautiful)


  • Chypre, for that weird, mossy groove with its iterations – Guerlain Mitsouko (warning — advanced beginner, try hard, it’s like your first bite of asparagus), Hermes 24, Faubourg or Patou 1000.
  • “Virtual Reality” frags that take you on a journey through a series of notes – Malle En Passant, L’Artisan Tea for Two, many of CB I Hate Perfumes (Russian Caravan Tea, Black March, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Burning Leaves, In The Library… check their website and salivate).  Maison Martin Margiela has a Replica series that is great, as well.
  • Smell Because We Said So — they’re beautiful, unusual, and your life will be richer: Annick Goutal (Hadrien, Passion, Petite Cherie, Mandragore, knock yourself out), Guerlain Apres L’Ondee,  Ormonde Jayne Woman (that OJ base! sigh),  Gucci by Gucci EDP
  • A Masculine, because we don’t believe in “men’s scents” – L’Instant Pour Homme, Arpege Pour Homme, Hermes Bel Ami, Dior Homme, Issey Miyake Pour Homme.
  • If You Like Things Really Sweet: Flowerbomb,  Guerlain Mon Guerlain, Guerlain L’Heure Bleue. (vanilla perfume guide)

But mostly, remember that, like Barbies, There are No Rules in Perfume. You like what you like, you don’t have to explain it by dissecting the notes and comparing and contrasting the composition, or you can do that if that puts bubbles in your bathtub. Perfume is personal and for fun. It makes us remember and sigh and swoon and turn up our nose. How we react to a perfume is unique, individual and unpredictable. So if you don’t love that 50-year-old classic and think it smells like the backside of a frog, please don’t be shy saying so. If you adore Brittney’s or Paris’ newest creation, don’t hide it! Stress is for work, tests and teenager raising, not for perfume.  And that’s your Perfume Education.

Niche  and Classic Perfume for Beginners Perfume Education 101 Sampler packs with some of the perfumes are available at Surrender to Chance.

  • julie says:

    very informative! i have taken some advice already on here and ordered quite a few samples :d

  • Adri says:

    Wonderrrrrful. I’m a literary geek and absolutely obsessed with perfume, so this post thrilled me on both levels. Wonderfully written- just infortunately haven’t heard of most of the perfumes on your list, maybe that’s because its Africa.

  • lacourt says:

    As a Parisian and true perfume addict, especially those from « niche » houses, I can pride myself of knowing the best addresses in Paris.
    Would you be in Paris on a Saturday and in needs for a guide, I would be delighted to see you to the some of the best perfumers such as Serge Lutens’ Palais Royal Shiseido ; Les parfums de Rosine, Editions de pafum Frédéric MALLE, l’Artisan parfumeur, Maître Gantier et Parfumeur, Patricia de Nicolaï, Divine, Montale, The Different Company, the exclusive JAR and eccentric Etat Libre d’orange, Annick Goutal, Creed, Dyptique, etc).
    I can also introduce you to confidential shops or specific department store where you ‘d be able to find Italian beauties such as LorenzoVilloresi’s, Etro’s, Carthusia’s or Santa Maria Novella’s perfumes, to try the French Histoire de parfums, Parfums d’Empire or Mona di Orio or finally decide to go for English scents such as Pethaligon’s, Floris, Geo Trumper, Czech & Speake or the Viennese Knize, the list is endless.
    Would you rather pay a visit to the classic ones Patou, Guerlain, Hermes, Chanel or Dior for their exclusive lines, I am still here to help and guide you.
    I don’t charge for the tour but I will appreciate a tip for my time. You will be the only judge and decide weither I deserve one or not at the end of the day.
    You can contact me either through my Email adress : [email protected] or on my mobile phone + 33 6 68 47 41 48 and I will arrange a tour according your wish for a day, an afternoon or just to a specific shop.

  • mollypenny says:

    So much fun! I’ve had my 21 classic and niche beginner samplers from The Perfumed Court for about a month now. Here are my favorites-
    Chanel Bois de Iles, Patou 1000, Gucci EDP, Caron Parfum Sacre, Caron Tabac Blond, Hermessence Ambre Narguile, and Bond no.9 Chinatown.
    What I don’t care for- Bvulgari Au the Blanc (flat and common to me, I think Teas have been overdone these days) and Serge Lutens Clair de Musc (I once liked Musks, can’t stand them anymore. I’m sure it’s just a phase)
    What I can’t wait to sample next- Patou Joy, Guerlain Jicky, Coty Chypre, Serge Noir, Party in Manhattan, Creed Love in Black. And 100 others! weeeeeee! I’ll do my best to branch out from the warm Orientals and Woods, but they’ll always be my favorite. Your blogs are very entertaining and educational. Thanks!

    • mollypenny says:

      Now learning that not all musks smell the same (silly me!) So although I did not care for SL Clair de Musc, I’m liking musk notes in other perfumes.

  • PMO says:

    Dear Posse:
    I want to tell you how lucky I feel to have found your site The Perfume Court! I am a divorced mom (cue the violins;)who was feeling very guilty over her newly found perfume obsession. As other addicts know, it can be costly and time-consuming. There was my 4 year old pleading with me “MOMMY! Get off the compuuuuter!” as I was fishing through ebay, trying to find a sweet deal on my favorite perfumes, or futily attempting to find a reasonably priced bottle of Vol de Nuit to at least test. I’ve tried swapping, but my tastes have changed so much and well…I don’t think anybody wants my crap. SO, I’m so happy to have found your sampling site for hard to find perfumes, and way-too-expensive-to-buy bottles. Now, because of your site, I will have the time and $ to make many more trips to Toys R Us with my darling child. I just wish she would eat. :((

    • Musette says:


      C’mon in, the water’s just fine!

      A suggestion for you: rather than trolling eBay, why not go on Perfume Court to see what’s available in 1mil samps? It’s way cheaper than full or partial bottles and allows you to sample a fragrance a couple of times before you commit to a full bottle. Other sites (Aedes,Luckyscent to name a couple) also sell samples. Usually they’re $3-$5 apiece – WAY better than dumping $100+ into a bottle you might not love and then have to waste time trying to swap it out. I’m currently in a Cheap and Cheerful mode, so most FBs are out of the budget-question. Samps and decants, baby! It’s an economical way to try a whole bunch of stuff!


      ps. I’m a grandmother now but I remember the whole 4yr old ‘won’t eat’ syndrome. Everybody seems to grow out of it, like cats in trees you don’t see a lot of carnage from the ‘won’t eat’ period…but perhaps Posseites with children that age can weigh in here. Dang, though – I wish I had that problem right now;) I’m still trying to drop a dress size!

      • PMO says:

        Thank you, and yes, I definitely will not waste as much $ on ebay. I hope. Or I’ll try rather.:-?
        PS– I also wish I could drop a size. Maybe if we try my daughter’s all ice-cream diet?

  • Janet Twinn says:

    Not sure whether you can buy it in the US or not but Ormande Jayne has many fragrances that, I think, are unequalled. For me, Tolu and Ta’if are exquisite, but I have tried most of the others and all rank highly with me. Tolu speaks to me especially because of the juniper berry and clary sage. It’s definitely to be used on a special occasion. Tolu reminds me a little of SL Douce Amère, but Tolu is better I think.

  • Leona Anderson says:

    Still looking for Intoxication by D’Orsay and not any one else.

    I still have the full bottle of Dali lip and nose bottles of lotion and parfum:):)>-

  • Minxie says:

    I am a budding perfumista in Canada. I would appreciate your help: Does anyone know where I can buy decants and samples here? I know of the Perfume Shoppe, but that’s about it. Thanks!

    • Patty says:

      Hi, Minxie. Up in Canada, there s just the Perfume Shoppe that I know of as well. At The Perfumed Court (I am affiliated with it, just for full disclosure), we do ship to Canada, if you’re okay with mail order. Good luck!

  • Steph says:

    How do you get so much time to smell all these perfumes!

  • angelica3435 says:

    Hello I recently received a sample of ferns purfume could somebody tell me what this is and what it does

  • Cheri says:

    I’m one of the ones that discovered Patty’s Ebay biz before this website. I cannot emphasize enough how much fun it is to buy decants. Since I will change my scents at least twice a day, I love to have a variety. Blame it on my grandmother; she introduced me to Chanel No. 5 when I was only 9 years old! I had my first bottle of Opium at age 11. My mother bought me White Linen and the original White Shoulders (not the yucky new version) for Christmas and birthdays when I was much younger. I have progressed to niche scents now that I can afford some of my own. :d

  • Taryn says:

    Hi! I’m excited and nervous to be writing. Have read the recommendations for where to begin sniffing and sadly, recognize very few of the names. I’ve never even seen a bottle of Caron perfume!!! Can someone so inexperienced find a home here? I am searching for “my scent”–one I won’t tire of and peddle at a yardsale or donate to a thrift store after a month! My current favorites are probably very unclassy to you–Insolence by Guelain, Armani Code, Subtil by Ferragamo, and Lucky Six. My lifestyle is very simple; I teach in cords and sweaters all winter long and would like something rich, yet not something that would suggest cotillions and elegant dinners – that’s not me. Any suggestions?

  • happy_guerlain_mum says:

    Thank you for this wonderful blog site…. its a joy to read your reviews and the reader comments. Could you please direct me to Patty’s perfume link(s). I must be in a fragrant fog as I can’t seem to find the link on my own (lol).

  • Joanne says:

    can’t wait to get sniffing

  • Laurie says:

    Funny but I learned TONS. Thanks.

  • mireille says:

    what a great post this is! and a great blog, of course … xoxo

  • Nancy Volle says:

    Terrific introduction. I wish I had this to read BEFORE I spent $7000 on fragrances!

  • March says:

    Flora — that’s okay! — it was just killing me that I’d overlooked an AG Tilleul. THAT would be something I’d have to fix right away. PS I wish I had a perfume shop that carried the D’Orsay…:(( there are others I’d like to sniff.

  • Flora says:

    OK, an idiot – it was the D’Orsay I was thinking of – I found a picture of the bottle – duhhh. My perfume shop has the Goutals and the D’Orsays next to each other. Sorry for the misleading post! :”>

  • March says:

    Flora — I give up.:”> I can’t find AG Tilleul listed anywhere. Any ideas?

  • Patty says:

    Hi, Iris! Just click on the Contact Us Button on the right side of the blog or e-mail me a pgeissler AT (substituting the @ sign for the word), and I’ll be happy to help!

  • IrisLA says:

    Hi! I’d like to order some samples and decants from Patty through your website, but I’m not sure of the process. Do I do it by leaving a comment? Thanks!

  • Flora says:

    Oops, sorry I need to read the list more carefully! Of course 1000 is there… :”>

    Linden is bad for some? How can this be? It is wonderful, ethereal, delicious! I assume you have tried Annick Goutal’s Tilleul? It is nothing short of sublime, IMHO. A pure, breathy mist of spring.

  • Patty says:

    I’m positive that is true! Next time you’ll have to go for the Caron or the Patou 1000 just to make sure she knows!

  • Dale Price says:


    OT, but thanks for the tips for Mother’s Day. I picked up a Guerlain package, and ’twas a big hit.

    Of course, I’ve spoiled her for anything less, but what can I do? /:) She’s worth it…

  • March says:

    Flora — 1000 is on there, honey — under chypre. It’s advanced beginner, IMO, due to its animalic undertone, but you are correct, it is Extreme Elegance.

    The D’Orsay — I have not SMELLED! So. I will be taking care of that. I think their Tilleul is beautiful, but I try not to harp too much on the linden, for fear of driving everyone away, screaming.

  • Flora says:

    Great list – I would take nothing off – but I would have added one or two:

    1. Patou 1000 so the neophyte understands what is meant by an elegant perfume.

    2. Parfums D’Orsay (original formula if possible)Intoxication d’Amour to understand the true meaning of voluptuous. :d

  • Patty says:

    Rosie, Aedes is wonderful with the samples, as is LaCreme and Luscious, if you’ve ever ordered from them. I’m very proud of the Professional Scent Slut title. 🙂 I keep thinking I’ve got too many other jobs that I’m already doing, but that gig is my most fun one, and every time I think I should give it up for lack of time, I just can’t do it. I just love to decant and package up perfumes for people.

  • Patty says:

    Sybil, we aim to keep your list as long as possible. :evil cackle:

  • Patty says:

    Anna, yes, it is fun! And you you meet such great people along the way, which is the perk nobody tells you about.

  • Patty says:

    Justine, I just spritzed some apres on to see if I could detect what you were talking about, and on intial blast, I guess the combination of the notes could be described a little like that. I tend to back up from Apres more since it’s sort of an air scents. Some perfumes seem to smell much better next to the skin and some are better at a distance. All the CArons are waaaaayyyy better at a distance. 🙂

  • Patty says:

    R, March wrote almost all of it, I just signed my name to it. 🙂 She, indeed, would have been an awesome teacher.

  • Rosie says:

    What an informative post. I just bought a few things from Aedes and they sent me a flood of samples, smart people, they know how to get a return customer (and I have returned several times). I also discovered Patty the Professional Scent Slut (your words)on EBAY, a very nice way to sample before buying a whole bottle!
    Thank you

    Rosie aka Lynne

  • March says:

    Justine — I am stumped. I think for most people, Apres L’Ondee is anise (that licorice smell) and violet. Basenotes lists “hesperedic notes” and “hawthorn,” both of which can smell fresh and green, but not winter-green-y, to me. I wonder if its powderiness combined with the anise morphs on you into some bathroom-deodorant smell? I have never heard it described as wintergreen before … my only other guess/suggestion is maybe something went wrong with the decant. Or maybe it’s just not your thing, which is okay — plenty of other things to love.@};-

  • March says:

    Cait — that’s the flaw in a joint post. The Caron only bitch-slapped ME. Caron and Patty are a hot item.

  • sybil says:

    As usual…good information & funny & a whole bunch more stuff goes on my list…Thank you!

  • Anna says:

    Thanks for the “roadmap” to perfume discoveries. The journey is so fun, isn’t it?:)

  • Justine says:

    Since you’re teaching, I’m waving my hand and asking a question.

    I’ve been wondering about this one note ever since I bought a decant of Apres L’Ondee which, I am ashamed to admit, smells like that cake of bathroom disinfectant in the gas station bathroom on me. The note is wintergreen. What on earth is that? In Apres it is wintergreen/menthol over some powder (I take it that is the violet) and on me it is really gag inducing.

  • violetnoir says:

    Great primer, Patty! I wish all of my elementary school teachers had been like you. 😡


  • Ina says:

    Thanks, Patty! 🙂

  • Patty says:

    Hi, Greeneyes, you’s so very welcome! Hope it is useful and, well, entertaining. 🙂

  • Patty says:

    Hi, Ina! I just linked your blog. You’re sure welcome to link to this post. I think it is so hard for people to get interested in perfume and then just get overwhelmed with what is out there now, then go back to the classics. It’s just too much. It’s too much for me, and I’m fairly “acquisitive” when it comes to perfume. 🙂

  • Patty says:

    Marina, you know that was March’s phrasing. 🙂 I like to think of Caron as gently spanking me.

  • Patty says:

    Hi, Ylva! I’m not really up on the synthetics and naturals debate, but I think later on, in another post, we may address that briefly, just so people can be aware of the difference in what they are smelling. I’ll be sure to keep reading yours and other’s blogs to educate me there!

  • Patty says:

    Thank you, Cait.:d

  • Patty says:

    Kuri, we tried to get a list together that would be fun and some of them very accessible and/or cheap. We’re glad it’s helpful!

  • greeneyes says:

    Thanks for putting this together! As a struggling perfume newbie, I appreciate all the information I can get.

  • Ina says:

    I’m so excited to read this post as I just started my own perfume blog, and there’s a page for perfume newbies. I’d love to be able to link to this! 🙂

  • Marina says:

    I am roaring with laughter at “bitch-slapped several times by Caron”…

    What a great post!

  • Ylva says:

    Wow!! This was as an informative post as they come and how I wish:
    1) that I was young again and could enjoy this perfume education and
    2)I still could bask in the glory of synthetic “enhanced” perfumes. But you know what, I’m gonna print and save it anyway as a fab fume referense. Maybee I can even learn something from it?:d

  • cait says:

    You are lovely mistresses for a perfume lover’s sentimental education. Most informative and great.:d

  • kuri says:

    Ooh, a post perfect for me! I have a long list of perfumes that I want to try, thanks to various delightful reviews that I have been reading. I will add these perfumes to the list. I put sample buying on hold until I’ve gone through all the perfumes (that I am curious about) that can be tested in stores.