The Art of Seducing Yourself : How to Select Perfume


“What fragrance drives men/women crazy?” This is one of the most frequent email inquiries I receive. Given that fragrance preferences are very subjective and personal, a search for a single magic potion that will work on everyone for every event is meaningless. In fact, I would go further to say that it is pointless to search for a perfume to seduce your lover. Perfume is an extension and reflection of your personality; it should be worn to seduce oneself. Everything else will follow. “The best color in the whole world is the one that looks good on you,” said Coco Chanel whose Chanel No 5 is still a best-seller almost a century later. The same philosophy applies to fragrance. The most seductive perfume is the one that smells great on you.

The subject of perfume is often steeped in a myriad of myths. For instance, one is advised that rubbing wrists together “crushes molecules.” If that were the case, the job of chemists would be much easier. Or that fresh floral fragrances are only for the summer. In fact, they can work beautifully in the winter by reminding you of spring. Or that you should reserve the richest concentration, extrait de parfum, for the evening and wear the lightest, eau de toilette, during the day. However, many parfums stay close to the skin and therefore make superb and subtle daytime fragrances. Your preferences and lifestyle should be the ultimate guide.

A few decades ago, we had been told to find a signature fragrance and develop loyalty to one perfume. Now, the marketing of perfume is all about change and novelty. In the same vein, statements like “all men like __; all women like __ (insert the latest fad in the blank)” should be disregarded. Since every man or woman has his or her own preferences, finding a crowd pleaser will only lead you to something bland and characterless. We are constantly bombarded with messages designed to influence our likes and dislikes; however, wearing and living with scent is a very intimate activity.

Forcing yourself to love a particular perfume is just as unnatural as forcing love in relationships. Therefore, take marketing pronouncements with a grain of skepticism and be guided by your instincts. Below, I give a few pointers on how to seduce yourself with fragrance. In a way, they are my suggestions on how to start a passionate love affair with perfume in general.

Before you venture to the fragrance counter, decide what scents you like. Our vision centric culture leaves us with few experiences that develop our vocabulary for scent. Try to describe your favorite scents in words: with what are they associated; why do you like them? Jot down your favorite fragrances on a piece of paper as well as your favorite smells. Twelve years ago, mine would have read like this:

Favorite perfumes:
Christian Dior Diorissimo (lily of the valley, airy, elegant, poised, my mother’s favourite perfume)
Christian Dior Poison (smells like dark red fruit, mysterious, mulled wine, sexy, black lace and red lipstick type of fragrance)
Christian Poison Tendre (leaves crushed with flowers, reminds me of silk, bright, crisp)
Lancôme Trésor (a warm hug, rose, apricot jam)
Yves Rocher Pivoine (soapy bubbles, peonies, lush but delicate)

Favorite smells:
Jasmine (grew profusely around the house of my childhood)
Lily of the valley (picking them was our favorite pastime in the spring)
Tulips (evoke memories of my grandmother’s garden)
Mimosa (associated with a holiday celebrated in Ukraine, the International Women’s Day March 8th)
Apricot blossoms (favorite spring scent, dark trees covered with the froth of white blossoms)
Sandalwood beads (from my beloved aunt’s necklace)
Unbaked bread dough (reminiscent of my grandmother’s holiday preparations)
Diesel fuel (associated with my grandfather who spent hours repairing his Volga)

I always gravitated towards floral scents, reminiscent of the spring flowers I loved very much. All of my early favorites have a strong floral theme running through them. The easiest thing would be to take the list to a knowledgeable perfume sales associate and allow him/her to identify the commonalities and guide you in selection. Unfortunately, with the exception of Nordstrom and specific fragrance companies that staff their counters with highly trained representatives, most department stores employ temporary personnel having very basic training (i.e. they know next to nothing). You have to rely on your own research skills to find a fragrance to love.

Read up on your favorite fragrances: what notes do they feature, and to which family of fragrances do they belong. The Fragrantica is excellent resource for tracking down this information.  My index of Fragrances by Notes as well essays on perfume materials might be useful as well.

While neither notes nor family are foolproof ways to find a fragrance that you’ll love, they are good starting places. For instance, my favorites from the list above, Christian Dior Diorissimo and Lancôme Trésor, fall into the Floral and Floral Oriental families respectively. While Trésor is dominated by rose, it has lily of the valley in its top notes, which lends it some freshness. Diorissimo is a lily of the valley composition. I might have checked online resources and written down a list of fragrances with lily of the valley or in the Floral Oriental family to help me start a search. One of the first Guerlain fragrances I fell in love with, Après l’Ondée, was a very logical choice. It is a Floral Oriental, possessing the freshness that I liked based on lily of the valley fragrances as well as the warm, powdery core that makes Trésor such a voluptuous blend.

Next, you should sample as much as possible based on your selections while trying to focus on the scent, rather than packaging, designer name or brand. If you are in a large city, finding fragrance counters, from department stores to niche boutiques, should not be a problem. Avoid making decisions on the spot. Sometimes the top notes will be less interesting than the drydown, and vice versa. Sephora, Nordstrom, Aedes de Venustas in New York and Scent Bar in Los Angeles freely give fragrance samples of your choice, thus allowing you to live with a perfume for a few days. If you do not have an opportunity to visit the counters and stores, then you could purchase samples from the boutiques directly (such as Aedes, First-in-Fragrance, and Luckyscent). Surrender to Chance, The Posh Peasant and The Perfumed Court are respectable decant sellers who offer sample packages. Makeupalley, Basenotes and Perfume of Life have swapping forums, which provide another way to try a wide range of fragrances.

Finally, challenge yourself and pick something from a group of fragrances you would never have thought of wearing. For instance, for someone like me who used to enjoy solely Florals and Floral Orientals, Chypre (also called Mossy Woods) would have been challenging. Yet, Guerlain Parure and Rochas Femme (classical chypres) quickly entered into my fragrance wardrobe. Now, I wear fragrances from every fragrance family; however, it has taken me a few years to expand my horizons sufficiently to appreciate them all. Sample with an open mind and you will discover gems where you least expect them. Moreover, be prepared to sample dozens of fragrnaces and to allow yourself to experience the thrill of discovery. The more fragrances you try, the more your fragrance judgment develops and the more you would be able to understand your own preferences.

Although these bits of advice are just the tip of the iceberg, I would like to conclude by offering one of my favorite poems by Baudelaire which beautifully expresses the magic of scent.

When with closed eyes in autumn’s eves of gold
I breathe the burning odors of your breast,
Before my eyes the hills of happy rest
Bathed in the sun’s monotonous fires, unfold.
Islands of Lethe where exotic boughs
Bend with their burden of strange fruit bowed down,
Where men are upright, maids have never grown
Unkind, but bear a light upon their brows.
Led by that perfume to these lands of ease,
I see a port where many ships have flown
With sails outwearied of the wandering seas;
While the faint odors from green tamarisks blown,
Float to my soul and in my senses throng,
And mingle vaguely with the sailor’s song.

Exotic Perfume by Charles Baudelaire is reprinted from The Poems and Prose Poems of Charles Baudelaire. Ed. James Huneker. New York: Brentano’s, 1919.

Photo of Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel from Museu del Perfum.



  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria,
    I couldn’t agree with you more– Perfume, fragrance, scent ,whatever is a highly subjective and personal matter. I recoil at the thought that the Madelyn in the past would have sought to “smell like ” someone I adnired or whose romantic attention I sorely craved. But now. much the wiser . I have come to realize that I wear scent largely for myself. I have been recommended perfumes to wear by suitors of days gone by. often times – they were wrong . like Cinderella’s glass slipper. if the shoe/scent doesn’t fit — don’t wear it !
    I can also appreciate , as you referenced, the pleasure of a knowledgeable SA such as found in Nordstrom’s , Bergdorf Goodman etc. or some specialty boutiques i.e. Frederic Malle at Barney’s NY .
    Just yesterday a good friend (she wears only Spring Flowers) asked me the following : Do I wear fragrance for myself OR to please those around me. I thoughtfully replied : for myself first – and then hopefully for others. But – it is really for myself – The joy and sense of well-being that is engendered by that magical whiff, sniff or spritz is as the saying goes is beauty is in the eye (nose) of the beholder !
    BTW , Victoria, this post was simply masterful ! February 6, 2007 at 1:56am Reply

  • Anjali: What an excellent guide V!! A must read for anyone starting to explore the world of fragrance 🙂 I think my own exploration began with deciding I must have/try all the perfumes in the MUA ‘Top Rated’ and ‘Most Popular’ section, which made me make some terrible buying choices. I still would say though that reading reviews/blogs voraciously is amazingly helpful (I still remember reading all of your beautiful ones from my early days, they inspired me!). February 6, 2007 at 2:08am Reply

  • Flor: Wonderful guide for us all but especially for beginners. I’m going to send this link to some people I know. Thanks so much for taking the time to put this together. This is the kind of article we should see in a fashion and beauty magazine, it’s so helpful, practicle and informative. I know a couple of people who need help figuring out what to wear and what to do, and this will come in very handy. February 6, 2007 at 7:37am Reply

  • newproducts: What a lovely and helpful article! I love the idea of seducing oneself with fragrance. I do this every day, as I lovingly pick my scent of the day and swoon at my own scent. 😀 February 6, 2007 at 7:43am Reply

  • ~vanilla girl~: What a wonderful article,Victoria!
    I used to wonder a very long time ago “what perfume drives a man crazy”,then I’d ask my husband to surprise me and buy me what he loved.
    Well! what he loves and what I love is a diff story indeed…I recall when he first bought me white diamond..I hated it! but for a long time I wore it to please him.Now I take the time to purchase my own scents since I am the one sniffing myself all day long…it’s a personal choice for sure,it’s like a tattoo…a reflection of you!
    Sephora was where I learned my fragrance family which is ‘woody oriental’. February 6, 2007 at 8:00am Reply

  • aryse: To choose a perfume is sometimes risky. When one wants to offer it to friends without knowing their preferences, it’s a terrible test.
    For oneself, it is quite as difficult. Personally, I think that a perfume is the reflection of its personality and I prefer to wear only one very a long time, rather than to change every day. But I must say that with all the wonders which are proposed to us, it is difficult to resist. The season has also its importance.
    By nature, I prefer dry and strict perfumes which are also very cerebral: leather or chypré leather or vetiver. But I like also some perfumes powdered or great chyprés.
    The nostalgic or melancholic perfumes also attract me for their lanscinante pain: Après l’ondée (a masterpiece), Un bois sépia, Angélique sous la pluie, Let me play the lion, Bois d’Ombrie and Black de Bulgari (leathered and melancholic, one of my favourites).
    In my opinion, separation between female and male perfumes is purely artificial and subjective. I know men wearing Shalimar and women wearing Vétiver of Guerlain.This separation was created only at commercial purposes.
    My preferred perfumes:
    – Leathers: Knize ten, Tabac blond, Cuir ottoman
    – Chyprés leather: Cravache, Sous le vent, Signor Vivara, Miracle (Lenthéric), Bois d’Ombrie
    – Vetiver: vetiver (Guerlain), vetiver tonka, Encre noire (Lalique)
    – Chyprés: YSL for man and marvellous 31 rue Cambon (Chanel, new collection)
    – Powdered : Pour un homme, Habit rouge, l’Homme de coeur.

    Lastly, there is a marvellous violet which I adore: Bois de violette of Lutens, most beautiful violet of the world, fresh, luminous and disconcerting.

    One can thus prefer to carry only one perfume but to choose it well according to the circontances. It will be different for a dinner with your sweetheart or a conversation with your boss 🙂 February 6, 2007 at 8:14am Reply

  • March: Excellent article, V — thoughtfully covering a number of important points. I hope you’ll leave it up there with a permanent link somewhere on your homepage so people can find it easily?

    And what is it about Baudelaire that works so well with perfume blogging?;-) February 6, 2007 at 8:23am Reply

  • Elle: Absolutely fantastic piece. We really do live in a vision centric culture and it seems to take conscious attention for most people to develop more olfactory awareness – and, heaven knows, your blog is certainly a brilliant way for people to do this. Scent exploration is one of the great joys of my life and it certainly is interesting to track how my tastes have changed or expanded (was a very late convert to white florals). February 6, 2007 at 8:46am Reply

  • aryse: Very sorry Victoria, I am unforgivable. Thank you very very very much for the news about the Ebay sites.I didn’t know them all.

    All the best
    JP February 6, 2007 at 9:46am Reply

  • AvaMoore: what fragrances drive men crazy? unfortunately from my experience not too many, specially bold heady orientals and most classics if not all.

    Fleurs d ‘Oranger by Serge Lutens drives men crazy, definitely #1 in that category, not only getting women hot compliments from men all day but getting men in a very flirtatious mode too.
    Its compliment frequency exceeds any other perfumes and I ‘ve also experienced a lot of men asking me about my perfume, asking information, what it is etc, needless to say I never experienced something like that wearing anything else ever!

    Men love Fleurs d ‘Oranger because it ‘s pleasant, uplifting, smells natural, sexy, young, fresh, feminine, a little heady and bold but not too much, perfect dosage of seduction. February 6, 2007 at 10:27am Reply

  • Robin: Great article V! Waiting for part 2: resisting temptation, or how to stop buying perfume when you already have more than you’ll use in your lifetime… February 6, 2007 at 11:22am Reply

  • Judith: Wonderful, wonderful post! Great guide, beautiful poem–and I especially like the idea that one chooses a perfume to seduce oneself! Just perfect. February 6, 2007 at 11:27am Reply

  • violetnoir: Lovely. Simply lovely.

    Hugs! February 6, 2007 at 11:55am Reply

  • Mercedes Rey: Hi, everybody!!!I agree, the separation between male and female scents is nonsense, I love wearing Dior Homme, Terre d´Hermes and M7. I also think that we must choose perfume to reflect our personality, not to please men. But if men compliment me for my scents it´s kind of pleasing, too,…The scents I most feel to be “myself” are “Ambre Narguilé” and “Cologne Bigarade”, both by Jean-Claude Ellena. February 6, 2007 at 1:17pm Reply

  • Marina: Great, great post! I am saving the link in the favorites and sending it to anyone who asks one of the questions you explore here. February 6, 2007 at 9:17am Reply

  • cara: Thank you V for your comments, it could not have been more timely. My own history with perfume is a rocky love affair. My mother did not wear perfume in my childhood as her workplace forbid it so I have no emotional relationship to perfumes other than Estee Lauder’s Beautiful and Pleasures both of which my favorite grandmother wore often and I have a fondness for them for that reason. Unfortunately, I also have no education in the selection of perfume or even of what I like. When I was 12 my Ss was Chantilly because I loved The Big Bopper and wanted to be the girl in his song “Chantilly Lace” (and a pretty face and a pony tail hanging down…);when I entered High School my Ss was Jessica McClintock and I felt innocent yet sophisticated. I tried Obsession when it was first launched (oh dear, I’m dating myself),but it was too grown-up for me at the time and a certain aunt claimed it as her Ss. I have since grown to hate it (the downside of Ss’s.) In college I rebeled and went to a hippie school and wore only sandlewood oil and woodsy, citrusy body splashes for the next 10 years! Now I’m FINALLY becoming a grown-up and am trying to decide between a Ss or a Scent Wardrobe (I still don’t know.) I’m been researching and sampling, but your article made me realize I need to step back and be more organized in my search. Again thank you, so very helpful. February 6, 2007 at 4:34pm Reply

  • Julie: Dear Victoria –

    You are so right – perfume preferences are highly personal and subjective. Which is why I cannot say any perfume is bad – it either works for me, or it doesn’t. I never bought in to the “signature fragrance” idea, because it was too limiting. I need a variety to fit my moods – either the one I’m in, or the one I want to be in. In the dead of winter, I want cheerful citrus or floral scents to keep me the glum weather from driving me crazy, a chypre to ground me when the office is frantic, somthing outrageous for the weekend – just because it is the weekend. Thank you for all the sites – I have discovered some, and want to try others. Vive le parfum! February 6, 2007 at 4:47pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Madelyn, thank you! I agree, one can only perfume for oneself. Of course, wearing in moderation is another important point. For instance, someone who adores Angel and drenches oneself in it does a disservice to the rest of us (even to those who like it). February 6, 2007 at 2:15pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Anjali, I recall doing the same thing in my early explorations of niche. Some choices were good and others were horrible. Ultimately, one has to educate oneself, but it is a fun process. February 6, 2007 at 2:18pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Flor, I am glad that it is useful! I come across so much of ridiculous and nonsensical advice that I decided to jot down a few of my thoughts. After all, my love for perfume grows stronger the more I learn about it. February 6, 2007 at 2:26pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: N, me too! It is an enjoyable process. 🙂 February 6, 2007 at 2:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: S, I love Sephora, even though the music is far too loud there. Their website only includes whatever Sephora stocks, but it is great for learning about families. February 6, 2007 at 2:48pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Aryse, very true, I agree with you. Your list is wonderful! You’ve reminded me of a few favourites I have not worn in a while. February 6, 2007 at 4:42pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: March, thank you! I will make a section on the side bar for it. I hope that it will prove useful to others.

    Baudelaire alluded to perfume in his poetry often. He was very passionate about it. February 6, 2007 at 4:44pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, thank you very much! I never get tired of exploring new fragrances, and even if I feel uninterested in hunting down the latest releases, a promise of something beautiful reawakens my curiosity. February 6, 2007 at 4:46pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, thank you! I would be happy to know if it proves useful. I believe in systematic approaches. 🙂 February 6, 2007 at 4:47pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Aryse, thank you very much! Two of those Ebay stores are managed by Marina of Perfume-Smellin’ Things and Patty of Perfume Posse. They are reliable. February 6, 2007 at 4:49pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: AvaMoore, I get many compliments on Fleurs d’Oranger. It is truly a beautiful perfume! February 6, 2007 at 4:51pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I think that I shall leave it up to you to write the follow-up. That notion is foreign to me. 🙂 February 6, 2007 at 4:52pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, thank you! I never think of perfume as an instrument of seduction. A woman seduces a man (and vice versa), not her/his perfume. February 6, 2007 at 4:53pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Vi, thank you very much! February 6, 2007 at 4:53pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Mercedes, I find that I get complimented most often on perfumes I absolutely love. I think that it is all in how they make me feel–beautiful, confident and special. I agree with you. February 6, 2007 at 4:54pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cara, organizing one’s thoughts is a very helpful way to learn and understand what one learns. For this reason, I propose to start with favourite smells. Sometimes we wear perfume for all the wrong reasons–because we want to smell like person X, because it was a gift, because every single fashion magazine tells us that we have to wear it. Smells are more personal. Make a list and put everything on it. Then go through it and figure out what are the commonalities, if any. You seem to gravitate towards florals, and I think that starting with fresh, crisp florals might be a good idea. Then you can see whether or not, you might want to explore different groups. February 6, 2007 at 4:58pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Jule, I completely understand. I believe that there are no bad smells, but, on the other hand, there are plenty of bad perfumes–cheap, badly composed, copycats. I also cannot be loyal just to one fragrance. There are just too many that are interesting and that capture my imagination on any given day. February 6, 2007 at 5:18pm Reply

  • k-amber: Helpful and thoughtful guide. One of the best things for me in 2006 is finding your site. Your insight help me to find crucial pieces to complete my fragrance digsaw puzzle as I have gained its fragmentary knowledge for a long time.

    I like to express to you my gratitude for that.

    Kaori February 6, 2007 at 8:55pm Reply

  • playsbyscent: My first post here but just HAD to applaud your succinctness and logic in tackling so many silly myths, and in ONE, paragraph at that – absolutely right, there is no perfume that will have all the men in the world slobbering on your neck! – absolutely right, perfume notes aren’t gender specific! – absolutely right, I have never sniffed someone’s scent and thought, ‘how gauche, she’s wearing a floral in winter!’ Well done!

    And your musings on the perfumes themselves are always beautiful, of course! February 6, 2007 at 11:04pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, thank you very much for your kind words! It makes me very happy knowing that my writing is helpful, and it makes Bois de Jasmin all the more meaningful to me. Thank you again! February 7, 2007 at 6:05pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Playsbyscent, thank you very much! I confess that I get very irked seeing the same silly myths perpetuated and much mystery surrounding perfume, which makes it even more unaccessible. It is all about love and passion. Stopping and paying attention to what one smells is all it takes. February 7, 2007 at 6:07pm Reply

  • helg: Indeed, how generic and encompassing all things cliche is that eternal question about what the opposite sex prefers….
    Good points all around and isn’t it wonderful to see one’s boundaries and horizons expanded?
    I wish all novices saw this and realised that myths do not help them along. February 8, 2007 at 10:09am Reply

  • Polyna: Just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to continuously update this site. After reading the above article, I’m even more inspired to continue my “love affair” with perfume. I own close to 10 perfumes that I wear regularly, with each one reminding me of certain situations or periods in my life. Keep up the great work!!

    Spasibo! February 12, 2007 at 1:33pm Reply

  • Anna: Have you all had to pick between what others like on you and what you prefer? I get compliments from men all the time when I wear Coco Mademoiselle, yet I’ve never felt comfortable with it. It’s a bit too sweet, and makes me think of cookies. Eau des Merveilles, however, I adore. But I only get admiring comments from women, never interested comments from men. February 17, 2007 at 6:20pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Helg, thank you very much!

    Polyna, I appreciate your kind words! I am very glad that you liked the article.

    Anna, pick what you personally like. Coco Mlle is a super strong sillage fragrance, which is why you get comments on it. However, if you do not feel comfortable in it, then it is not for you. February 18, 2007 at 12:26pm Reply


    I tend to favor fragrances that others don’t! Thusly, most of what I have worn in the past gets discontinued.

    I fell in love with MAC’s greenify, which has hints of citrus, green tomato, grass. Now they’ve discontinued MAC Greenify (aka MV5) because it wasn’t popular. I have no idea what to buy now and would love any guidance!

    I used to wear TRIBU by bennetton, because it seemed that on my skin the notes of blackberry, earl grey tea always came up the most. Guys ALWAYS complimented me on it. It was great to wear in the office. I don’t know if I got a bad batch or a fake or if my body chemistry changed or the recipe for the perfume itself changed, but it no longer smells the same anymore. I may try again, the last time I got some it was shipped in high summer, and I wonder if it cooked.

    At the very least, I never smelled like anyone else in the office because most of the popular scents just don’t suit me. I am perfectly happy wearing something unique/odd/interesting. Actually, that makes me very happy. I want to be “different. (but not in a bad “smells like a refuse pile” way!)

    I don’t like flowery, but I love mossy and woodsy, and I love the smell of lime and bay rum. I don’t care for things that smell “pink” or of vanilla, powder or cupcakes/bakery (if I want that, I’ll make cookies, thank you)I hate the smell of commercial laundry soap (I use unscented laundry soap because the fragrances in the scented kind smell cheap and like chemicals). I take that flowery back…I like the smell of daffodils, reeds and bamboo.

    I’ve been known to wear men’s fragrances, simply because they stay away from flowery! I wore Bulgari Black for a while, with its scent of leather and tobacco (boy howdy, the men dug that). I like the smell of bourbon, ambergris (whale barf!) too. And black licorice/anise. Here’s an odd one…red wine that has dried up and left a bit of a crust in the glass. I like how that smell plays on the back of the roof of my mouth.

    I like the ozone smell the sky gets right before a lighting storm and the smell of the fur coat my grandmother used to own – a sleek, animal smell that was still kind of musky but not overly so (probaby from the mink oil in the fur)

    I like the smell of diesel fuel too, makes me think of my dad. And a bit of motor oil. Black pepper and olive oil …

    I’m sorry, I got so carried away. I would love any advice you have to offer. February 16, 2008 at 4:35am Reply

    • Marnie: Does anyone know a perfume that smells like MAC Greenify? I love how it’s grassy, green fig and light amber. July 12, 2019 at 10:39pm Reply

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