The Fine Art of Perfume Selection


We at Flutter happily peddle the soft vices: silk dresses, scented candles, rose flavored lip balm. The selection of these items usually happens pretty easily: You see the perfect crimson velvet armchair, it haunts you, you buy it, The End.
Perfume, however, is a slightly different story. Perfume is PERSONAL. It’s transformative. It can alter your mood. It can reduce stress. It can take you back in time. It can bother roommates or be the source of endless compliments, and it can cost a pretty penny.

Selecting a perfume can be tricky! I’ve seen people dazed, carrying around stacks of test strips, overwhelmed by the options. Or worse: they run out of places to spray, and leave the store smelling like tutti frutti forest. Hedonism is hard stuff! The quick and easy way to pick a scent is to sniff the sprayers of bottles that you think you might like (without spraying), and narrow the choice down to two, which you should spray on each wrist for a five minute test drive. Simple! If you feel you need more direction, or if you just need to get more cerebral about it, well, you’ve come to the right place.

The Flutter Guide To Perfume Selection.

So, you’d like to find yourself a nice little bottle of perfume. The first thing to consider is your intention: Are you looking to add a new scent to your perfume wardrobe, or searching for a seasonal scent, or an everyday scent? Maybe you’re looking for the ultimate seductive dress-up perfume, or maybe you’re hunting for your signature scent: the one by which you will be known and which will subconsciously define you to all you know (no pressure). There are “pick me up” fragrances, reflecting both meanings of the phrase. Whatever you are looking for, doing a little research first is a good way to avoid hedonic overload.

Take a moment to reflect upon what kinds of perfumes you like. Do you have a history with certain types of scents (woodsy, vanilla etc)? Did you appreciate particular perfumes or ambient smells when you were a child (baking cookies, or summer rain)? What are your favorite flowers, and are you one of those people who can’t stand cedar or lilies? Do you love your best friend’s perfume but don’t want to be a copycat? These are all good clues for you. Start a mental list: You like oriental spices. You love lilacs. You like the smell of birthday cake, but you yourself would not want to smell like it. You had an aunt who wore Samsara by Guerlain and you adored her. Those clues can help you when confronted with a triple tiered display of pretty bottles, but remember, some rules are just waiting to be broken.

A lot of people think they don’t like perfume, because it’s “too perfumey”. It’s like saying you don’t like art because it’s too arty. It’s really fun to show these skeptics scents that they love, or are at least intrigued by; I usually recommend the Vanilla Absolu or tobacco tonics for those folks first because they are so universally appealing, or maybe the Marine Sel by Tokyo Milk, which is a warm green summery scent, or the Jasmine et Cigarette, which is such a sultry surprise and a great introduction to the playful and evocative alchemy of scent.

Some people are romanced by the fruity floral scents, like Arboretum by Library of Flowers, or Kabuki by Tokyo Milk. These scents are optimistic, energetic, sweet. Falling Into The Sea is a gorgeous, Riviera-bright citrus scent with wayfarers on. The spicy florals like Cocoa Tamarind or Honey and the Moon have a little more edge, as does the sublime Osmanthus Oolong eau de parfum by Providence Perfume Co. I love a little resin and incense with my spice, and have always been drawn to woodsy scents. My favorite in High School was the peach perfume by the Body Shop mixed with rosewood essential oil. Mixing your own scents can be a lot of fun, and Tokyo Milk makes it super easy with their mini vial sets. Each set comes with three complimentary fragrances that can be mixed in various combinations. The best part is there are two vials of each scent, so you can split a set with a friend, or trade sets and have twice the combo power.

I won’t use the words feminine or masculine when describing perfumes, because truly it’s only the packaging that makes it so. That said, men tend to be drawn more to woodsy or tobacco-based scents (which are often a spin on vanilla and cider), or the smoky leather scents (Tom of Finland, anyone?). The Cobra and the Canary is a delectable, resinous bad-boy scent with a heart of gold. One of my absolute favorites is Rien, by Etat Libre d’Orange, which is a luxe blend of incense, rose, patchouli and black pepper. I don’t know if I want to wear it or marry it. Dedicated followers swear by the herbal edge of the Tokyo Dark scents, which incorporate big punchy notes like jasmine, blood orange or oakmoss for maximum intrigue. They are definitely in the “femme fatale” category, and at $38 for 1.6 oz, a really great deal.

All of this window-shopping and conjecture is an important part of the process, but the most relevant thing to consider about a scent is whether it suits you. Obviously, you have to like the way it smells, and the people in your life should probably not hate it (if they are on the fence, they might grow to like it simply because they like YOU, but if they hate it right off the bat you are in trouble). There’s the very real question of chemical compatibility, which can only be answered by a good old-fashioned skin test. If you really want to be thorough in your testing, try it on a few times throughout a typical month. It’s not unusual for diet, hormones and age to affect the way a perfume interacts with your skin, and that’s pretty awesome if you ask me. It’s almost as if you can personally take credit for how good a perfume smells on you, because it could smell very different on everyone else. I advise people to consider the tips in the paragraphs above beforehand to prevent overwhelm, and then narrow the choice down to two scents. Spray one on each forearm, and then walk around a bit. The initial smell will be a mix of the alcohol base (which evaporates very quickly) and the top notes, which can be very lovely and aromatherapeutic but are often ephemeral. The real smell of the perfume can be found about five minutes out, and it shouldn’t change much after that.

I hope this little rundown has been helpful. Reading about perfume is so hard; it really must be smelled to be understood, and no amount of forethought is going to change how you feel about a scent when you smell it. Your personal experiences, preferences, chemistry and evolutionary history have hard-wired you to have an olfactory opinion. I carry in my wallet a list of perfumes I’ve read about that I want to check out, and save up for the really good ones the way I would save up for a meal at a fancy restaurant or a new pair of shoes. Art is always worth it, because there is a kind of eternity that comes from living with appreciation for the senses.