Coco Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Estee Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, Azzaro and Guerlain are just some of the high quality perfume brands on the market. Perfume makes a great gift for that special lady in your life and with all the great perfume deals on Black Friday, you are sure to save a fair few quid.
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Perfume Buying Guide
The Scent Of A Woman isn’t just a film with Al Pacino, it’s something that matters. Perfume can allow you to be sexy, flirtatious, professional or even just feel fresh when it matters. Fragrances are the things that are most closely associated with evoking emotional memories, too, so picking the right one can be just as important for the future as the present.
It’s fair to say that there are more than a couple of options on the market as far as perfumes are concerned, but how can you narrow down your choices when you hit the shops? By reading our handy buyer’s guide, of course! We’ll do our best to guide you through the complicated world of choosing fragrances, giving you as much understanding about the world of perfume as we can.
Make a Note
It goes without saying that choosing a perfume based on words on a screen is perhaps not the easiest way of doing things. Understanding the way scents are put together, then, will at least help to point you in the right direction. As we’ll explain later, going to the shops and getting some samples is vital if you’re taking the job of finding the right scent seriously, but knowing what you’re on the sniff out for is also very important.
It helps to think of the composition of perfumes along the same lines as you would the composition of a musical score. Both have composers, though in the case of perfume the composer is called a designer. Most importantly, however, is the fact that both musical scores and perfumes have ‘notes’.
Much like in musical terms, notes in perfume are the individual sources used to make up a scent. They can come from natural sources or synthesised ones, with perfumes often combining a combination of both. Notes are typically described as one of three thing: Top notes, middle notes and base notes. It’s worth bearing in mind that these terms are relative; just because a scent is a base tone in one perfume doesn’t mean it would be in a different one. There relative position in the note scale depends on the other scents that they are combined with.
Top notes are, generally speaking, the scents that the smeller will note when they first catch a whiff of the perfume they are smelling. They tend to dissipate rather quickly, meaning they’ll only be around for the first couple of minutes of the smelling experience. Lemon, ginger and other sharp and bright scents are good examples of common top notes.
Next up you’ll be able to smell the middle notes, often also termed the heart or body of the fragrance. These notes are the ones that will linger the longest and, therefore, form your most long lasting impression of any perfume you smell. Floral and gourmand notes are the ones that most commonly emerge as middle notes in a fragrance. The middle notes are also the ones that you’re most likely to remember if you recall a particular scent from your past.
Last, but by no means least, come the base notes. These base notes last for hours and are the underlying structure to any perfume. Though you won’t notice them when you first apply your perfume, they stick around long after the top and middle notes have evaporated. The most predominant base notes are woody, spicy and musky scents.
If you’re the sort of person that likes to buy many different perfumes that share some sort of similar characteristics, then you’ll want to know about accords. Accords are a group of notes that tend to be put together, similar to a chord in music. This allows for different top, middle and base notes that work well together to be used commonly. An example of such an accord is ‘chypre’, usually made up of a top note that is citrus, a floral middle note and a base with a musky scent.
Perfumes don’t consist of just one accord, of course, in much the same fashion that music isn’t composed of just one chord. The trick is, though, that each accord is balanced quite carefully in order to make it smell like a single note. These well-balanced accords are then combined with others to make the perfume that you’ll smell in the shops.
It is worth keeping an eye out for the accords that you have enjoyed in the past. If, for example, you quite like a chypre accord made up of lemon top notes, gardenias in the middle note and oakmoss at their base then you might also be keen on one made up of bergamot, rose and patchouli. Having this information will help you to find scents that you enjoy and find familiar whilst also allowing you to be experimental in your choices.
The way perfumes are made is not an exact science, but most are made up of a combination of pure fragrance, water and alcohol. Some also contain fixatives, a synthetic ingredient that causes the scent to last longer. It’s also worth noting that fragrances will take on varying characteristics depending on their concentration. That is to say, a fragrance could seem to be quite light and fresh as an Eau de Toilette before becoming quite powerful as a perfume.
Here’s a list of the different types of perfumes you can find and the varying concentrate they contain:
- Extrait – The strongest of all of the variations, extraits contain between 30 and 40% pure fragrance
- Eau de Parfum or Perfume – This is the thing you’ll be most used to seeing in the shops. Perfumes contain around 20 to 30% pure fragrance
- Eau de Toilette – Another of the ones that you’ll be used to seeing in the shops, Eau de Toilettes have between 10 to 20% pure fragrance in their make up
- Eau de Cologne – Often referred to as just cologne, the pure fragrance amount in this drops down to between 3 and 8%
- Perfume or Body Mist – These light mists and all over body sprays only have around 2 to 3% of the pure fragrance in them and they often contain a base of alcohol and water
- Body Splash or Lotion – These usually contain less than 1% of pure fragrance and have a moisturising base
Part of a Family
Perfume makers tend to group their perfumes by their accords and their primary notes into families. It means that, much like a good knowledge of accords in general, shoppers can get a good idea of which category is for them depending on what they’ve liked in the past.
Oriental smells, for example, tend to have warm, radiant qualities like spice or incense. Vanilla, and amber accords with base notes of musk, sandalwood or patchouli are good examples of oriental smells. They are often matched with Floral scents, and those are made up of either natural or synthetic flower smells. Floral arrangements are considered to be feminine, but they can range from potent down to light and sweet.
There is unquestionably some overlap between Floral fragrances and Fruity ones. They both tend to have a recognisable quality, with Fruity smells tending to replicate things like the freshness of an apple or the tartness of berries. They often get mixed with Gourmand notes, with the latter a new kid on the perfume scene. Gourmand notes are things like candy, coffee or chocolate and they tend to be quite full-bodied.
We’ve already mentioned Chypres as an accord, so we won’t go into too much detail on that front. It does tend to get classed alongside other fragrances like Green Scent, though, so we’ll tell you a little about that. Green fragrances are built on a base of citrus, musk and floral notes with plants like basil and rosemary thrown in. We all know how evocative it can be to smell freshly cut grass and that is the type of thing that comes from the world of the Green Scents.
Finally comes the notion of Aquatic and Sporty fragrances, sometimes called Oceanic scents. These have a watery characteristic and are often made from synthetic smells designed to evoke the sense of the atmosphere in the air after a storm or the notion of the sea air. Aquatic accords are often paired with fruity notes to give a light, fresh and feminine smell to a perfume.
How to Shop
Were you to travel to Japan and go to a department store in search of a new fragrance, you might see an unusual sight. The Japanese believe that you shouldn’t choose a scent based on your first impression, so at the start of the day someone will spray each perfume that they sell onto one of the tester cards before sticking it underneath the perfume’s display for their customers to smell. That means that by the time the shop has opened for business the top notes will have diffused and the shoppers will be faced with the more important and long lasting middle notes.
The fact that this practice hasn’t really caught on in a big way anywhere else is perhaps a reflection of the fact that the scents of a perfume are a matter of personal preference, but the practice is nevertheless an interesting one. The reality is that you really shouldn’t choose a perfume after a brief two minute smell of it in the smellies section of John Lewis, instead giving the fragrance time to settle down to the sort of thing you’ll be stuck smelling all of the time if you go ahead and buy it.
One top tip for perfume shopping is to take a pen with you and write the name of each fragrance that you like on the top of the test strip that you’ve sprayed it on to. You can then keep them, separately, in your bag for an hour or so and re-smell them after they’ve had time to settle. Once you know which one you like the most you just need to read which one it was before seeing what bargains you can find for it online.
If you’re really serious about finding a scent that’s right for you then there’s two more things you can do before you click ‘buy’. The first is to take a small amount of coffee with you to sniff in between smelling perfumes. The coffee clears your nasal passage any lingering smells from a previous scent, so you know you’re getting the authentic smell.
The second thing you can do is to make sure you actually put the perfume on yourself. Owing to the fact that perfumes typically tend to contain oils, it makes sense that they will interact with the natural oils produced by your skin. The best thing you can do is spray the fragrance that you think is the one for you onto your neck or wrists and then leave it for an hour or so. After it’s been allowed to settle and mingle with your skin you’ll know whether your initial impression about the scent was the right one.
Making It Last
One of the hardest things to do with perfume is, of course, to make the scent last longer than the initial half an hour or so from when you put it on. Unfortunately there isn’t really much you can do about that with the perfume itself, but there are a couple of tricks you can keep up your sleeve to maximise the chances of your fragrance sticking around for a little bit longer than it would otherwise.
It is estimated that roughly 50% of the perfume you spray on yourself doesn’t actually make contact with the skin, instead ending up on the floor or on your furniture. If you’re hoping to prolong both the smell and your supply of perfume, then, you’d do well to abandon the spritzer and opt to splash on your scent whenever possible.
Using multiple products to ‘layer up’ your scent is also something you should consider doing. Most perfume producers have learnt that a good way to maximise their profits is to bring out a series of products that are from the same fragranced family. Keep your eye out for soap, body spray, deodorant and the likes that have the same base as the perfume you like to wear.
Choosing the right perfume is very much an individual thing that can’t be dictated by theory. You can only know which scent is right for your when you put our advice into practice and your various options on in the shops. If you’re looking at buying a gift for someone else, see if you can find out what perfumes they enjoy before looking for ones from a similar accord family. Hopefully you or your loved one will be smelly fabulous in no time.