Starter perfumes: Welcome to the wonderful world of fragrance

What’s the best way to give someone a nice introduction to fragrance? Not too much as to be overwhelming, but a good taste so they can get an idea of what they like. There are intro samplers at STC but those might be a bit more advanced than what I need. And I’d rather not do one of those Sephora sampler packs that you buy and then apply the cost to your purchase, because I’d rather not be limited to one store. I’m looking to do a hand-picked batch of starter perfumes.

A dear friend of mine, who has been an angel to me in so many ways, always comments on my fragrance addiction and has hinted that she might like to dip her toe into the perfumed water. She has a starter perfumes 2late July birthday, so I’d like to put together a goodie pack for her in the next few weeks and let her play awhile with those. Then I can get her more of what she loved for her birthday.

I think she likes florals, so I’m considering a few different scents there. I’ve already got a bit of L’Artisan’s La Chasse Aux Papillons, Guerlain’s Lys Soleia and Oscar de la Renta Esprit d’Oscar put back for her. So I probably could use a few more easy-to-love scents, perhaps including a gentle rose. And maybe even venturing a bit into other genres (gourmands, aquatics, classy fruity scents, maybe even a light wood and/or amber or two) just to give her a touch of variety, and for comparison’s sake.

We’ll leave the divas for later, as well as the super-hard-to-find numbers. I’d like them to be scents that are not too hard to obtain, especially if her husband is looking to give her one later on. Also, I’m passing on the uber-spendy ones, as I think she might faint if she knew what Amouages and Malles go for. Heck, when I look at the price tags for some of those, I feel a bit lightheaded myself!

I have a few more starter perfumes up my sleeve, but any suggestions you folks have would be very welcome. I know you all will think of some gems that I’ve overlooked. Thanks so much!!

  • Maureen says:

    I like Chanel #19 Poudre for spring and summer and for those really hot days, I like O de Lancome and EL Pure White Linen Light Breeze. I will be trying samples of some of these great suggestions .

    • Ann says:

      Excellent suggestions, Maureen! I like all of them and am quite fond of the PWL Light Breeze. Great scents for the steamy days ahead — thanks!

  • Jamie says:

    I got interested in perfume a couple of months ago and one of the challenges I’m having is figuring out what it is I’m smelling. You might want to consider noting with the sample, the strongest notes in that sample so she knows what she’s smelling and then that can help her find other fragrances with that note. I would say, definitely include a nice jasmine, orange blossom, and a neroli. But also consider a chypre, an aldehyde, something gourmand, something green and herbal… So she gets to experience the full spectrum of fragrance construction as well as notes.

    • Ann says:

      Good thinking there, Jamie! That would help her out quite a bit. I will try to give her a varied range of scents to experience. Thanks!

  • ojaddicte says:

    Here’s another Ellena scent suggestion, L’eau Parfumee au The Vert. Easy to wear, and perfect for summer. Maybe some of the Pacifica’s might work? They are quite inexpensive and a great intro to perfume. What a lovely and thoughtful gift you’re assembling!

    • Ann says:

      Thanks! The Au The Vert and the Pacificas are great ideas! See, I knew you all would have some wonderful suggestions. My friend is such a lovely, thoughtful person — it will be my pleasure to give her something lovely …

  • Nemo says:

    I will second (or third??) Hermes Jour d’Hermes. It is definitely one of my favorite florals! As for roses, perhaps Stella and/or Hermessences Rose Ikebana would be nice. I love the warm simplicity of Stella, and one of my friends who is just getting started in perfumes has developed an addiction for Rose Ikebana. In general, I think the lightness of Jean-Claude Ellena’s perfumes are perfect for beginners (as well as for pretty much everyone else!).

    • Ann says:

      Nemo, you are right on the money about Jean-Claude Ellena’s scents. A perfume newbie could find quite a bit to love among his creations. And glad to see another vote for the Jour d’Hermes; it’s a beauty for sure. Thanks also for the roses — those are good intro scents (I could not wear the Stella but remember liking the Rose Ikebana, so must revist).

  • I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing too, in relation to my sister-in-law. She’s probably one of the only people who know about my ‘fume-fiend-hood, and for quite a while I didn’t know she was interested in scent at all, as she has allergy issues. But she’s been seeing a doctor about it, and she told me recently when we were in a Sephora that she’s started wearing Chanel Chance. So I’ve been mightily tempted to drag her down the rabbit hole with me. 😀

    For your friend, I’d say Chanel Chance might be a good one, since that was my SIL’s starting point. I also second Mary’s mention of Jour d’Hermes. L’Occitane’s feminine scents are generally pretty light and would be good for starters, as well as Jo Malone’s. Balenciaga Paris Eau Rose might be a good starter violet.

    • Ann says:

      Yay, Jennifer — tell her to “come on down!” The scents you mention are spot-on for a newbie, and she should find something to love among those, I feel sure. Thanks!

  • Mary says:

    Does your friend have any idea how fortunate she is to have you?! what an adventure she’s about to embark on.
    Ditto Jo Malone Orange Blossom and Hiris. Both are gorgeous and easy to wear. Chanel Chance Eau Tendre always gets a compliment or two, and Hermes Jour d’Hermes is so lovely and transparent.

    • Ann says:

      Thanks, Mary, you’re sweet! Love your suggestions and wear many of them myself. Am especially fond of the JM OB and the Hermes, so will share some of mine with her.

  • thegoddessrena says:

    I’ll add a vote for Infusion D’ Iris as well as suggest Songes. Truthfully though’ I’d suggest hanging out in person (if she lives near enough) and goingsniffing together or letting her shop your collection–nothing like having a trusted guide right there

    • Ann says:

      That’s a great idea! Between her kids and mine and our crazy schedules, it’s really tough to get much time together, but it’s definitely worth a try. At least then we could narrow things down a bit by finding out what she doesn’t like (i.e, lily, rose, musk, etc.).

  • Beth says:

    Rose is a tough one for me, some are very bad on my skin. Surprisingly, Cartier Baiser Vole has worked, but then so has the really dark JHAG Citizen Queen. I’ve been sampling the L’Occitane Grasse collection this week and these strike me as very light, sheer almost and fleeting on me… they turn into skin scents fairly quickly. My sister is just stepping into scent, and this is one perception I’m finding is important to her. Anything with any sillage comes off loud to her.

    • Ann says:

      Beth, you’re so right — too much sillage seems to be a no-no for many folks, so easy does it. I’ve wondered about that L’Occitane group, so glad to hear your take on them. Thanks!

  • Jan Last says:

    How about Cartier Baiser Vole, Guerlain Le Petit Robe Noir, and don’t forget the Demeters, their Gingerale has scented my sheets at night for a wonderful sleep experience. The two Marina De Bourbons are pretty well made and in budget. Some of The Scent of Departure, such as DOHO, affordable and, most definitely wearable.

    • Ann says:

      Jan, I had completely forgotten about the Demeter line. That Ginger Ale sounds yummy. And yes, the Scent of Departures, too. Goodness, there are so many lines out there that it’s easy to overlook some. And you’re really taking me back with the Marina de Bourbons — haven’t thought of them in ages, so thanks!

  • poodle says:

    Tocca has a lot of pretty florals. Estée Lauder scents are easy to find and reasonably priced. In addition to the ones already mentioned she might like White Linen, Knowing, or maybe even Bronze Goddess as a summer scent. How about Chloe? Or Love, Chloe? Fracas?

    • Ann says:

      Hi, Poodle! Happy to see another Tocca and EL fan weighing in. The ELs you mention are nice and the Chloes, too, but I wonder if the Fracas might be a bit too much to start. But you never know, a dab sample might be perfect to try, so it’s worth a shot.

      • poodle says:

        I think when it’s dabbed on its much easier to wear and no where near as frightening as a cloud of it might be.

        • Ann says:

          You are so right! Even I can dab a bit of it and enjoy it. And who knows? She might fall head over heels for it. Seems like those who love it, really, really love it! And it does have a nice range of body products, too, as a softer way to wear it. Thanks!

  • Austenfan says:

    I think L’Artisan is a great place to start exploring niche. Goutal might be of interest too, as they have a lot of florals in their line.
    Le Chèvrefeuille, La Violette, Le Jasmin, Eau du Ciel, for light florals. Un Matin d’Orage for a modern floral. Grand Amour, Quel Amour and Heure Exquise for a bit more oomph.
    I don’t know how easy the Nicolaïs are to get hold of in the USA. She has some wonderful fragrances in her line and they are not too demanding. Weekend, Odalisque and Le Temps cover the “Greens” while Sacrebleu, Number One and Juste un Rêve are good examples of floral orientals. Eau d’Eté is a great summer scent and very easy to like.

    In the mainstream a lot of what I would include has been suggested already: Prada Candy and Infusion d’Iris, Chanel Cristalle, No.19 + Poudré and maybe Coco Mlle.
    Bottega Veneta,
    Lauder’s Pleasures, Pure White Linen, Sensuous and PC Tuberose Gardenia might me interesting and I’ll never tire of pointing out how good Prescriptives Calyx is.
    Yves Saint Laurent: Cinéma, I’m afraid I cannot recommend the juice that is currently sold as Paris but your friend might actually like it. ( I adore the original, you see)
    Cartier: Baiser Volé

    • Ann says:

      Wow — what a great batch of suggestions — thank you! And you’re so right — L’Artisan and Goutal are wonderful places to start, also the Nicolais. And of course, one of my all-time faves — Calyx!

  • solanace says:

    Hi Ann,

    It’s such a lovely thing to draw others to our perfumed paralell dimension! I’ve been doing the same with my sister in law. She really enjoyed Thé pour un été, Chanel Cristalle and Bel Respiro and the Hermes jardin series. I know the Malles are (more than) a bit expensive, but perhaps a little Angeliques sous la pluie among other, more accessible options? It is so unique, and was my sister in law’s favorite, she even visited the Malle homepage! I love many suggestions here, will try a few myself!

    • Ann says:

      Hi, lady! Yes, it is a wonderful thing to pull those we love down into the perfume rabbit hole with us, isn’t it? I’ve already got a bit of Cristalle put back for her, and am thinking about Bel Respiro and also the Jour d’Hermes and some other Hermes ones. Thanks! And I know what you mean, I’m tempted myself by some of these great suggestions.

  • Lisa D says:


    I’d echo the Prada Candy, which I found ridiculously wearable, and some of the Tocca line, which I’ve found really pretty, more interesting than your average department store frag, with lovely packaging. Are you giving her samples, decants, minis, or some other form?

    • Ann says:

      Howdy, Lisa! You are one of several folks who’ve suggested the Tocca line, so I’ll have to look into it. And Prada Candy is definitely going on the list. Think I’ll be putting together mostly samples or small decants for her initially and then will get her more of whatever she likes best. Thanks!

  • Portia says:

    Hello Lovely Ann,
    What a wonderful way to thank your friend. I am loving everyones suggestions, you have so much great choice here. Can I add my Huzzah for the afore mentioned Marc Jacobs Woman, new Paris by YSL, Mure & Musc but go for the Extreme and Elie Saab.
    Also maybe the Marvielles (?) range from Hermes, some of the new Robert Piguet are lovely especially Petit Fracas and Bois Noir, I also find the Etro fragrances easy wear and their new Rajasthan very wearable. Nobody has mentioned the CHANEL exclusives or the DIOR Couturiers, very reasonably priced and fabulous ranges.
    Good luck. I hope your friend is blown away.
    Portia xxx

    • Caroline says:

      yesss…esp 31 Rue Cambon, 28 La Pausa & Cuir de Russie are understated without being boring (or worn by everyone else)

    • Ann says:

      Thanks, Portia! She has helped me through so much. Just one example: When we got the sudden call and had to go out of state to adopt our child, she loaded us up with a bassinet, infant car seat, diaper genie thingy and all kinds of newborn baby items — all with less than a day’s notice! So she really is an angel. Great scent suggestions, BTW, and I will definitely dig into the Piguets, Chanels and Diors for her. She is so worth it!

      • Ann says:

        Caroline, those are indeed lovely scents — thanks!

      • Portia says:

        WOW Ann.
        Some people are amazing, and you must be pretty special to be worthy of such a friend. I hope at least one of the fragrances you choose for her resonates.
        Portia xx

  • shaney says:

    OK, you may *HATE* this suggestion, but I’m giving it anyways! I love the smell of roses, but in fragrance, I often find them to be too powdery, too musty, too heady, too soapy…so I was pleasantly surprised to try DKNY Pure A Drop of Rose. It’s a very clean and fresh and green rose scent that I think your newbie might appreciate (and easy on the wallet). For an incense, I would try L’aP Passage d’Enfer since it’s lightened with lily. Also, Dior Dune was a friendly woody evening summer scent that I discovered early on in my addiction 🙂

    • Ann says:

      Never, Shaney! I’ve not smelled the DKNY one but it does sound nice, especially to me, not a big rose fan. And the Pd’E and Dune are great scents, too! I just got a sample of Dune recently and had forgotten how much I enjoyed it back in the day. Thanks, dear!

  • leathermountain says:

    Apres L’Ondee was my first love. If you’re in the US and would like a decant for your friend, let me know.

  • mim says:

    Huh, when I was a newbie I went straight for the vanilla/amber/patchouli side of things and matured into florals…

    I love L’Artisan and Jo Malone for their sheerness–most can be nuanced but approachable and pleasant in summer.
    The Pour Une Ete–I hated jasmine until this scent changed my mind
    Safran Troublant– kinda gentle candied rose, kinda creamy vanillic saffrony goodness
    Jo Malone Red Roses, Nutmeg and Ginger, Orange Blossom, French Lime Blossom, probably others…

    also Atelier Vanilla Insensee (which is at sephora in a travel size) is a lovely lighter vanilla
    and Caron Pour Homme is a simple lavender/vanilla blend which I find fresh, comforting, and never overwhelming in elevators.
    Hermes Hiris and TDC Bergamote too

    Love–instant for me– but have no idea as to category: ELdO Fils de Dieu, Tauer L’air du Desert Marocain, Ormonde Jayne Woman.

    • Ann says:

      What a great batch of suggestions, Mim! Thanks so much! I know there’ll be several there that she might like. I myself am quite partial to Safran Troublant, JM Orange Blossom and OJ Woman.

  • Sherri says:

    I think you are on the right track with La Chasse. Mure et Musc would be great, too! Prada Candy is easy to love for most, and easily available. VC&A Orchidee Vanille is another I’ve found works great for non-perfumistas. It’s expensive though (there is a seller who regularly sells it on ebay for $119.99). How about a great vanilla: i Profumi Firenze Vanilla Madagascar, Lann Ael, Vanilla Absolument, Vanille Exquise, etc.?

    • Ann says:

      Hi, dear! When you mentioned the Mure et Musc the proverbial light bulb went on over my head! I knew there was one L’Artisan that might work well and just couldn’t think of it until you mentioned it, so many thanks! Those others you noted would be great, too, and would give her a nice intro to vanilla.

    • FeralJasmine says:

      Orchidee Vanille is a great thought. My usually very perfume-averse work buddy sort of whinnies in pleasure when I wear it. In fact, it occurs to me that I should give her some and get her interested in perfume!

      • Sherri says:

        FeralJasmine, Yes, I gave my mother OV for Mother’s Day, and everyone was cray-cray over it. I noticed it was also the perfume Patty’s niece chose for her wedding–definitely a crowd pleaser!

        • Ann says:

          It is such a gorgeous scent, ladies! Every time I’m in Neiman Marcus, I have to give myself a healthy spritz of it.

  • maggiecat says:

    Tocca’s Colette is a lovely, light-but-not-too-simple fragrance with incense, juniper, sandalwood, and vanilla. It’s very easy to wear and not expensive.

    • Ann says:

      I’m not very familiar with the Tocca line, but I probably need to be, and the one you mention sounds wonderful. It sounds right up my alley, too, as I really like incense and juniper. Thanks!

  • eldarwen22 says:

    For someone who is beginning to sniff around or has expressed a growing interest in perfume, I would do a mix of classics and some dirt cheap scents like Habanita. I wouldn’t go for the Victoria’s Secret offerings nor the Bath and Body Works stuff. Estee Lauder Pleasures is a great starter.

    • Ann says:

      I like your idea of mixing classics and other scents — thanks! Pleasures is such a nice one, isn’t it?

  • hajusuuri says:

    I would start her with an Ineke Discovery Set, in addition to your picks…it seems to have something for everyone and the actual FBs are not spendy if she falls in love with one or more.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, lady! Great idea about the Ineke set — there’s bound to be at least one (or more) to love. I know I adore several of them as well. Thanks so much!

  • Eliza says:

    Bottega veneta original (not legere), and Prada l’eau ambree probably won’t disappoint…

    • Ann says:

      Oh, yes — both nice picks! And now that I think about it, I haven’t smelled the Prada in ages, so it’ll be good to revisit it. Thanks!

  • anatu13 says:

    Floral, good starter, and for a birthday at the height of summer? I’d highly recommend Ormonde Jaye Frangipani (lime and frangipani), especially if the husband is ok ordering on the internet instead of picking up at a store. For a light wood, Diptyque Tam Dao or Philosykos (I prefer Tam Dao). For a citrus, Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine. Fruity non-citrus: Jo Malone Blackberry and Bay. And for more florals, Serge Lutens Fleurs de Citronnier (another summer favorite of mine), Fleurs d’Oranger, and A la Nuit (though the latter two probably count as divas).

    • Ann says:

      Yum — OJ Frangipani! Love your other suggestions, too, and especially the Fleurs de Citronnier and A la Nuit, as I’m rather partial to them myself. Thanks!

      • anatu13 says:

        OJ Frangipani was my first full bottle purchase after having tried only about 10 samples and not having tried perfume EVER previously (my mom loathed perfume and poured it in the sink if she ever got any as a gift 🙁 !) . So I figure it is reasonably likely to be good as an intro fragrance!

        • Ann says:

          Oh, that’s too bad about your mom, but I’m so happy that you’ve come around to fragrance and are enjoying it. I’ll definitely put the OJ on the list.

  • Janet in California says:

    Mark Jacobs original fragrance is lovely and very easy to wear, and find. I need a new bottle of it since my daughter to mine home with her!

    • Ann says:

      Janet, I love that one, too! So glad you mentioned it because it is just so darned pretty. It has body products also (or at least it used to) and I’ve even seen it in a perfume solid. Enjoy your new bottle of it; think I might have to get some myself as well.

  • FeralJasmine says:

    I’d consider including Estée Lauder Beautiful. It’s a gentle multi floral, not expensive, smoothly balanced, readily available, pretty and likeable, and not frighteningly pervasive. In the same category, YSL’s reissued Paris is a pretty rose, and she is no diva. Time enough for vintage Opium later on.

    • Ann says:

      I had not thought of Estee Lauder — that’s a great place to start! Need to smell the new Paris (the old version was just too much for me). Thanks!

  • linda says:

    guerlain’s vol de nuit is a real gem. also, people seem to love elie saab when i wear it.

    • Ann says:

      Both good choices, Linda — thanks! And the Elie Saab is fairly easy to find, too.

  • beverly schneider says:

    I think that Prada Milano Infusion D’Iris is lovely. (Although it doesn’t last too long on me). It’s ma very light, almost grassy scent, with some other stuff thrown in (I don’t have a perfume vocabulary, and don’t know how the notes play out, if they do at all.) But I do really love this scent. First I apply the body cream, and then I practically have to bathe in the EDT and still rarely anyone (including me) can smell it on me. Sometimes, some people do comment on it (always favorably) and I am always shocked to learn they could actually smell it! I also love Heritage by Guerlain, and even though it is made for men, people always compliment on me when I wear it. And it is really my go-to fragrance. I also have been flirting with Sisley’s Eau du Soir. What do you think of it? Bev

    • Ann says:

      Beverly, those are great suggestions. I’ve not smelled the Guerlain or the Sisley, but the Prada is so pretty. I agree about its light nature, but that’ could be a real plus for someone starting out. Thanks so much!