How to find a new fragrance – tips & tricks to try before you buy

We’ve learned all manner of tips and tricks at The Perfume Society, which we’re thrilled to share with you, here. We’ve been privileged to meet some of the world’s best perfumers and foremost fragrance experts over the last seven years we’ve been going, and want to share their advice with you, below.

If you want a fabulous new fragrance to try, need tips on how to smell it as a perfumer does or how to describe what you’re smelling, consider some of these most useful fragrant facts to help you enjoy your fragrances even more…

Your taste in fragrance changes over the years – just as in food preference – and depends on weather, what you’ve eaten recently, your mood and hormones. So, take your time to explore a new scent out of your comfort range.

Spray on a blotter first and come back to it at hourly intervals. Write down your initial thoughts, then re-try a few days (and weeks) later.

Many perfumers trained for more years than a heart surgeon, memorising ingredients by connecting their smell to personal scent memories and images that immediately spring to mind, unbidden.

Smell has no distinct language. If you’re struggling to describe a scent, try likening it to fabric (is it velvety, suede-like, cotton fresh, silken or fluffy?) Perhaps it reminds you of music (played on which instruments? Fast or slow?) Or you might picture a place – imagine the air temperature and scenery it evokes…

Your nose gets used to smelling the same things, so avoid wearing the same thing daily. Try layering to re-awaken your senses or branch out with exciting new discoveries!

Like all artists, perfumers tend to have a certain style. If you fall in love with one (we’re predicting several) of these, research them online: we bet you’ll fall for others.

Scent molecules are volatile and evaporate at differing rates. Citruses are lightest, often found in top notes and disappearing rapidly; florals tend to be in the heart while base notes are heavier, woody or resinous. Make these stages last FAR longer by using matching or unscented body lotion, spray into your hair or on clothes (after testing on tissue!)

Undecided? Spray on a scarf rather than skin: you can take it off and sniff again, later! Spraying on fabric (or your hair) also helps make it last far longer as the molecules don’t warm up so quickly (or evaporate) as on skin. As does…

Use an unscented (or matching) body lotion or oil. Fragrance doesn’t last long on dry skin (or in hot climates). It clings far longer to moisturised skin – so slather up, then spray.

Don’t know what to try next? Use our simple Find a Fragrance tool: just type the name of a fragrance you already know and love, and the so-clever algorithm suggests six new scents with similar characters to try.

Fragrance samples are THE best way to try new things, dive nose-first into a whole new house you’ve never tried or perhaps a differing perfume family than you’d normally go for.

We know that a full bottle can be a big investment and not everyone happens to live near a shop with a great selection. That’s why we put together carefully curated Discovery Boxes. Our Launches We Love Discovery Box is a stunning selection of new names, with gorgeous mini bottles and generous samples from niche and luxury houses we know you’re going to love as much as we do…

By Suzy Nightingale

Ask Uncle James – Perfume problems? Our agony uncle has all the answers…

We’re so happy to have Uncle James (a.k.a professional fragrance consultant and expert, James Craven) on board with The Perfume Society. He’s the ‘agony uncle’ here to answer all your perfume problems and solve your scent woes…

In the first part of his answers to your queries, James explained where to spray fragrance to make it last longer and radiate on your skin, and how to go about choosing a ‘seasonal scent’. This time he’s been tapping away at his typewriter to help with questions about allergies and what fragrances might be best to start a budding 15 year old perfumista with.

Don’t forget you can ask your questions using the form below (scroll down) and they might get featured in the next edition of The Scented Letter Magazine. But for now, Uncle James, it’s over to you!

Uncle James Craven

I think I’m allergic to some fragrances as I get a rash on my skin and some make me sneeze. How do I find out what’s causing this, and any suggestions for how I can still enjoy fragrance? 

James says: Keep calm. Make a list of all the perfumes that you think have caused adverse reactions. Establish what notes they have in common by reading up on them online (I would of course point you in the direction of The Perfume Society), then by process of trial and error try to discover the ‘joker’ in the pack. The help of an experienced sales assistant in a sympathetic perfumery can be very useful here – and hopefully before very long at all, we will once again be able to venture into stores. Talking it over often clarifies matters no end and sudden enlightenment dawns.

Allergies come and go, often abruptly. Don’t automatically blame chemicals and synthetics: natural organic oils are now recognised as equally liable to be allergenic. Meanwhile you might still enjoy perfume as our ancestors did – anywhere but on the skin, so instead on scarves, the linings of coats, soft furnishings… And remember, sublime fragrances are all around us, not just confined to bottles.

Uncle James Craven

What styles of fragrance might be suitable for a 15-year-old who’s just starting to get into perfume? And how can I tell her to wear it so that it doesn’t overwhelm those around her? 

James says: Your young friend is lucky to have you. Most 15-year-olds love analysing themselves so encourage this young woman to do just that. Ask her to define her personality in her own mind, and then introduce her to the most empathetic sales consultant at your favourite perfumery. This maven – if worth her salt – will assist the young person in interpreting and expressing herself via a fragrance that fits like a handmade glove.

Youth is best showcased by light, subtle – but not necessarily naive –scents. We are all allowed a few garish fragrance mistakes as we develop our tastes, and perfume picking should always be fun. But I have found that most teenagers naturally actually tend to shyness and restraint when it comes to choosing and spraying fragrance.

I hope I have not grown cynical with the years – but the surest way to ensure an ingenue will NOT do something is to beg her to do that very thing. So maybe pass her the Giorgio and the Poison!

What questions have you always wanted to ask an expert? Put your perfume problems to Uncle James and he’ll get thinking…

Ask James Craven (The 'Perfume Agony Uncle')

Your questions for James Craven, The Perfume Society's 'Perfume Agony Uncle'
  • Could it be 'how do I know when a fragrance suits me?' or 'How can I make scent last longer on my skin?' or even 'Which fragrance should I wear to make me feel invincible?!'
  • (You can remain 'anonymous' if you wish, but please make up a nom de plume so we can separate questioners!)

Ask Uncle James – our new ‘agony uncle’ James Craven solves your perfume problems

We’ve a brand new team member for you to welcome – our agony uncle, James Craven (a.k.a. ‘Uncle James’). We asked you to pour out your perfume problems, Cologne conundrums and scented setbacks to him in The Scented Letter magazine, and with his years of experience and expert eloquence, he has answered!

‘Helping a client to find the perfect scent requires the combined skills of a psychologist, palmist and priest’ James always (half) jokes, and his career has been defined not only by the vast knowledge he’s gleaned over the years he’s worked in retail as a fragrance expert, but his ability to ‘match’ people to their perfect perfume and answer any number of queries.

 

 

The Perfumed Agony Uncle column debuts in the latest ‘Perfume’s Bright Future’ edition of our award-winning magazine, The Scented Letter, (free to VIP Subscribers, also available to purchase in glossy print form and via International Online Subscriptions) but we wanted to share some of his words of wisdom with you here, too.

Truly, what James doesn’t know about perfume could probably be written on the back of a stamp. His advice is gold dust, and so we’re sprinkling some of that here for you (along with many scented spritzes, of course!)

Where should I apply perfume so that it lasts? I know Marilyn Monroe apparently said she sprayed it wherever she wanted to be kissed, but I’m more interested in smelling fabulous all day! 

Uncle James says: ‘Crucially, apply to the pulse points of the body: these radiate heat, thus intensifying the expansion of perfume. But also spray on clean hair: being porous, hair is an excellent retainer and diffuser of scent. (If you’re worried about the alcohol in a perfume drying out hair, try one of the many, many hair fragrances which have been launched in the past few years.

Spray on washable natural fibre clothing and dab perfume on the eyebrows and ankles – yes, really! (They certainly do that in France, where they surely know a thing or two about the delights of parfum.) But please also understand that perfume is a poignantly fleeting pleasure : like a lovely piece of music it enchants and then it fades. Reapplication is a gracious and seductive ritual, not a chore. Enjoy it!’

Is it true that fragrances are seasonal and, if so, which styles of fragrance are best for spring?

Uncle James says: It’s certainly understandable that anyone might want to celebrate the emergence from an especially grim winter with a new scent for a ‘new you’. If you want to personify spring in your own aura, then try leafy greens (see the question below), light woody colognes and fresh florals that echo the stirring natural scents outside. You should always wear what excites and pleases you, and the start of a new season is a great time to kickstart exploring new scents, ingredients and fragrance families.’

Do you have a scent query you need solving? Don’t forget to add your questions for James in the form, below, for the next issue…

Ask James Craven (The 'Perfume Agony Uncle')

Your questions for James Craven, The Perfume Society's 'Perfume Agony Uncle'
  • Could it be 'how do I know when a fragrance suits me?' or 'How can I make scent last longer on my skin?' or even 'Which fragrance should I wear to make me feel invincible?!'
  • (You can remain 'anonymous' if you wish, but please make up a nom de plume so we can separate questioners!)

 

By Suzy Nightingale

James Craven is our new Perfume Agony Uncle – and he wants to answer YOUR questions…

James Craven is famed in scent circles for his extraordinary depth of knowledge, and we’re thrilled to announce he will be our new ‘Perfume Agony Uncle‘ for The Scented Letter magazine – answering all your fragrant questions and scented conundrums!

‘Helping a client to find the perfect scent requires the combined skills of a psychologist, palmist and priest’ James (half) jokes, and his career has been defined not only by the vast knowledge he’s gleaned over the years he’s worked in retail as a fragrance expert, but his ability to ‘match’ people to their perfect perfume and answer any number of queries.

We want YOUR questions to put to James, which he will answer in the forthcoming issues of the magazine. Sadly he wont be able to reply to them all, but will read through, pick some favourites and gift you his wonderfully eloquent wisdom. Think of him as the Olfactory Oracle, if you will!

Ask James Craven (The 'Perfume Agony Uncle')

Your questions for James Craven, The Perfume Society's 'Perfume Agony Uncle'
  • Could it be 'how do I know when a fragrance suits me?' or 'How can I make scent last longer on my skin?' or even 'Which fragrance should I wear to make me feel invincible?!'
  • (You can remain 'anonymous' if you wish, but please make up a nom de plume so we can separate questioners!)

James first earned his scented stripes in Harrods, where he recalls such glitzy occasions as ‘…state visits from Paloma Picasso, a bevy of glamorous Fendi sisters, or even Mrs Lauder herself. It was enormous fun; this was life on the grand scale, such as the Guerlain sales team being treated to a trip to Venice on the Orient Express after an especially successful Christmas.’

But later, the allure of a more intimate, independent perfumery called to him, and James ‘…found myself enchanted by an opening which arose at Les Senteurs, a tiny jewel of a shop, then in Pimlico’s Ebury Street, which first defined niche perfumery in the UK 36 years ago.’

Having reigned as the doyen of retail consultations, we’re so happy (and you are SO lucky!) to have James turning his expert attentions to your questions in what will be his regular column within our magazine, The Scented Letter. This multi award-winning publication is FREE to read for our VIP Club Members, or can be purchased as a glossy Actual Real Life Paper Format for either individual editions or an annual subscription. International readers are also now available to sign up for the online edition.

Whatever your own level of knowledge – from complete perfume novice to utter fragrant fanatic – NO question is too big or too small. Simply fill in the form on this page, or put your question in our Instagram Story. We can’t wait to hear what you ask and, of course, read James Craven’s brilliant replies…

By Suzy Nightingale

The top 3 perfume tips to ensure you're a nose in the know…

‘Can you help save my marriage?’ is probably the most – um, unexpected request we’ve had (terribly nice chap who phoned to ask for advice on the things he should tell his wife in order to justify buying himself a rather costly bottle of niche perfume. Long story short: no lawyers needed, in this instance). But generally we get asked the same kind of questions time and again.
So what does this tell us? Something we already knew from experience: the world of perfume can be a rather overwhelming and bewildering place. Full of confusing language and conflicting advice that could dizzy the best of us in to an olfactory coma, it’s often a confusing and even off-putting arena in which to set foot (or nose).
Here at The Perfume Society we are proud to be celebrating our third birthday – founded by Jo Fairley and Lorna McKay, we exist exactly because of this befuddlement. Our ethos is to bring perfume alive through our informative website, award-winning magazine, exclusive events and Discovery Boxes to try at home, and we always aim to make fragrance accessible to perfume-lovers of all abilities!
However experienced your nose is, it’s good to get a refresher now and again – and our FAQs section is jam-packed with tips for how to choose a fragrance, what the ‘fragrance families’ mean, how ingredients are harvested (and the best perfumes to smell them in) and so much more. But before you get flitting around all things fragrant, let’s start with our all-time top three tips your nose should know…

1 – How can I choose a perfume that’s right for me?
Short answer:
It’s a minefield, right? Where to even begin? Well, our first tip is to give a perfume time. So many of us spray, sniff immediately (bascially it’s just the alcohol you’re smelling, with perhaps a mere whiff of top notes) and walk away. STOP this immediately. Sorry to nag, but it’s never going to get you the fragrance you really want.
Further advice:
Initially, try the fragrance on a blotter (also known as a perfume ‘spill’); these should be available on perfume counters – and when you buy a Discovery Box from this site, you’ll find a pack of blotters inside. Allow a few minutes for the alcohol and the top notes to subside, and then smell the blotters. At this stage you may be able to eliminate one or more, if they don’t appeal – but it is really the heart notes and the lingering base notes which you will live with, and which are crucial.
Remember:  blotters are a useful way of eliminating no-hopers and lining up possibilities, but they’re not really enough to base a perfume purchase on.  You really need to smell a scent on your skin.
Do make the most of FR.eD: The Perfume Society’s ‘virtual fragrance consultant’ who you’ll find on this site here (the name’s actually short for Fragrance Editor). You can tell FR.eD which perfumes you’re keen on, and ‘he’ will make a personalised selection, suggesting up to six fragrances at a time for you to try, at various price-points. Genius!

2 – How can I make fragrance last longer?
Short answer:
If you moisturise your skin, this gives the oils something to ‘cling’ to, and will boost its staying power.  So, if the ‘matching’ body products are available, it’s a beautiful way to layer on your fragrance. If these range extensions aren’t available, go for an unscented body cream, butter or lotion which won’t clash with your chosen scent. Think of it as a primer for perfume.
Further advice:
Try spraying your hair as well as your skin – though be careful if the perfume is dark in colour as you may unintentionally dye your hair… Hair is porous and will waft the scent even longer than on your skin in many cases.
Spritz a scarf with with scent and the heat of your body will make the fragrance bloom. Also a handy way to try a new fragrance you’re not sure of. Bored of it? Simply take the scarf off and try something else…
Remember that the nose becomes desensitised and quickly gets used to the notes of your perfume. Although you may not be able to smell it at all after 30-40 minutes, your friends and colleagues may still be able to, so ask a friend if they can still smell it before dousing yourself afresh (tempting as we find it!)

3 – My perfume seems different to how I remember it.  Is my nose playing tricks…?
Short answer:
Possibly – our memories of scent can sometimes differ wildly to the reality. However, it’s also entirely possible your old favourite’s formula has been changed. This is because, when an ingredient is classified as a potential allergen – by IFRA, the International Fragrance Association – two things may happen:  it can be banned altogether, or its use limited by percentage, to minimise the risk of a susceptible perfume-wearer reacting.
Further advice:
When an ingredient’s re-classified, perfumes may be ‘tweaked’ by the manufacturer.  In some cases, a process called ‘fractionation’ – which allows ingredient manufacturers to remove the allergenic molecule of an fragrance note, while leaving the rest intact – can allow the continued use of that ingredient.
Case in point:  oak moss – invaluable in the creation of the chypre family of perfumes – has become restricted.  Thierry Wasser, Guerlain’s in-house ‘nose’, explained to us that he now uses a ‘fractionated’ oak moss.  ‘However, when you fractionate an ingredient, it leaves a “hole”:  there is something missing,’ added Thierry.  His solution to filling the sensory ‘hole’ in oak moss was to add a touch of – believe it or not – celery.  It’s impossible to discern, to the rest of us – but it gave the rounded quality to that so-essential note that Thierry needed to return the classic Guerlain creation Mitsouko to its former, long-lasting glory.
Occasionally, however, a perfume may change because the company which makes it is bought by another, and the formulation changed.
Written by Suzy Nightingale
 
 

Nose to nose with the best perfumers in the world – can you guess who said what?

Being in the privileged position of interviewing some of the most famous perfumers in the world about their lives, inspirations and perfumed preferences; we like nothing more than getting to share that with you – the people who actually fall in love with and buy their fragrances.
We believe their talents should be recognised and celebrated – just as composers, artists and (more recently) chefs are acknowledged for their gifts, and the enormous pleasure they bring us.  Until lately, almost all perfumers worked behind the scenes, anonymously.  Now, noses are emerging from their laboratories, starting to talk about their creations, and what goes into them.
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We’re lucky enough to have met some of the very best perfumers working today, and love nothing more than finding out their history, inpirations, personal favourite smells and sharing them with you on our Noses page. But can you guess who said what? (Click on their answers to find out…)
What is your first ‘scent memory’?
‘Traditional Christmas Cakes that smelled like Anis and Vanilla, made by the Carmelite nuns in my town, we would order these cakes from Christmas and pick them up at the convent, this smell is imprinted in my memory.’
If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
For Napoleon! I would have created the best Cologne ever for him!’
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
‘I love the scent of a Pierre de Ronsard Rose and the scent of asphalt just after a pouring rain.’
What’s the worst thing you ever smelled. (Honestly!)
‘Dead Amardillo, road kill in Texas, US.’
What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
If you want to better appreciate a fragrance, learn how to verbalise the emotions that the fragrance arouses. You have to smell and describe, smell and describe…’
Written by Suzy Nightingale