What to Look for When Selecting a Perfume

Selecting a perfume remains an ever popular topic among the questions you send me, and in my recent FT Magazine column, The Subtle Art of Selecting a Perfume, I offer a few recommendations for finding the right fragrance. As always, the right fragrance is not the one recommended by sales staff or the one that smells good on someone else. It’s not even the one that has a pleasant scent. Rather, the perfume that you’ll enjoy wearing for a long time is the one that triggers an emotion, unlocks something in your memories and makes you feel uplifted.

As such, the quest for a perfume is an intimate one, and my number one piece of advice is not to rush it. Also, don’t be swayed by the opinion of others as you test.

Whenever I’m asked by friends and readers for recommendations, instead of simply listing fragrances I begin by trying to determine which scents make them feel good. Or, to use Kondo’s phrase, which perfumes spark joy for them. One such composition for me is Serge Lutens’ Iris Silver Mist. It’s a cool, polished fragrance based around the scent of iris root, and when I wear it, I feel as if I’ve stepped into a secret garden filled with pearly light and the soft rustle of leaves. To continue reading The Subtle Art of Selecting a Perfume, please click here.

What fragrances spark joy for you these days? For me, it’s Guerlain’s Chamade. Of course, if you have your own tips on selecting a perfume, please share. 

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76 Comments

  • Annie: I love Chamade, but I only have the edt. Is the parfum that much better? I want to try it, but it’s hard to find it where I live. April 12, 2019 at 8:56am Reply

    • eudora: hello! I just searched for Chamade Eau de Parfum but I cannot find it in Guerlain’s web, only EDT and Elixir… There is a EDP? I never owned Chamade but the few times I tested it always thougt about it as “perfection”, that’s the word.
      Dear Victoria, your blog sparks joy…sometimes I think even more than fragances…Thanks! April 12, 2019 at 5:02pm Reply

      • Anne-Marie: There was an EDP and i have a bottle. The vanilla seems more pronounced in the EDP. Sadly, I think it may be discontinued. April 12, 2019 at 5:16pm Reply

      • Notturno: Hi Eudora,
        I’m enjoying my Chamade parfum but I had a hard time finding Chamade EDP. I looked in the US and a friend of mine looked in different countries and we were told everywhere that it has been discontinued. Then he bought it for me in Paris, I think in Guerlain boutique.
        So, keep looking! Good luck 😀 April 13, 2019 at 5:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I find the parfum more plush and long lasting, but the EDT/EDP are also beautiful. April 15, 2019 at 10:48am Reply

  • Matty: Shalimar and Shalimar souffle do it for me. April 12, 2019 at 9:10am Reply

    • Victoria: I like both! April 15, 2019 at 10:48am Reply

      • Amanda: I love Byzance by Rochas, but sadly cannot source it any longer and it must have been discontinued. Sad face. April 16, 2019 at 6:39am Reply

        • Victoria: It has been discontinued. I keep receiving requests about finding something similar, but nothing really is. April 17, 2019 at 5:06am Reply

  • Gabriela: Ohhh glorious Chamade! Ive just put a dab on because of this article.

    Its curious, I bought a vintage perfume set because of Chamade and discovered Samsara. Chamade gives me joy whereas Samsara makes me feel very feminine. April 12, 2019 at 9:14am Reply

    • eudora: hello Gabriela, I cannot forget your love for Chamade Elixir…it must be glorious as you say. I am curious too, where do you find those perfume sets? April 12, 2019 at 5:09pm Reply

      • Gabriela: Hi Eudora! Usually eBay has vintage perfumes, take a look.
        We need to meet up in Barcelona some time! April 13, 2019 at 1:56am Reply

        • eudora: 👍 April 17, 2019 at 7:38am Reply

    • Victoria: I also wore Chamade last Friday when I published this post. 🙂 April 15, 2019 at 10:49am Reply

  • Patricia Devine: One thing I’ve learned is that I am fickle – I like variety in perfume and I no longer beat myself up about that. It’s just like wearing different clothes. Right now, as it’s spring, I’m going through a sharp, green phase with Azurée, Vent Vert (Calice Becker iteration), Alliage and Bandit, and also Ostara, which perfectly matches the scent of the daffodils in my orchard. Right now, these fragrances make me feel really happy, though come summer, I will go more floral. But I am heartbroken to find my spring cologne – Couvent des Minimes’ Eau des Minimes – has been discontinued. It was perfect for these crisp, sunny days, all acid lemons and limes. Any ideas on a sub? April 12, 2019 at 9:45am Reply

    • Lydia: Hi Patricia Devine,

      I’ve never tried Eau des Minimes, so this could be way off the mark, but have you ever tried Montale’s Aromatic Lime? April 15, 2019 at 12:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Have you tried Lancome’s O? April 15, 2019 at 10:49am Reply

  • therabbitsflower: Lately my biggest joy sparkers are Fum Ariose, Grandiflora Queen of the Night, Parfums Delrae Wit, Papillion Anubis, and Miller Harris L’air de Rien, to name a few. I agree especially with your tips to continue to try a perfume, as long as you like it in the first place of course, and to listen only to yourself. April 12, 2019 at 10:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Other people always try to influence our decisions, but in the end, the only perfumes that you’ll want to wear for years are the ones that you like. April 15, 2019 at 10:50am Reply

  • Alessandra: Right now, Guerlain’s Joyeuse Tubéreuse. Just became obsessed and addicted!
    Alternatively, Caudalie oil April 12, 2019 at 11:45am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m going to try it too. April 15, 2019 at 10:50am Reply

  • Trudy: Currently I’ve been wearing the original Marc Jacobs which is a lovely fresh gardenia. Although I do enjoy wearing it (it is nice for spring) I really love a deeper creamier gardenia. Not Fracas strong though. I’ve also been wearing a bit of Chanel Deauville which I can see becoming a staple as it is so fresh but has depth as well. I also enjoy By Killian Beyond Love. I’ve learned a lot about fragrance by reading this blog and enjoy all the topics. I really enjoyed reading about orange blossom the other day. Orange blossom is another favorite of mine. Thank you so much for all the great info. April 12, 2019 at 12:17pm Reply

    • Lily: I’ve been wearing that MJ a lot lately too! It’s about all the gardenia I can handle though, or at least where my nose is now…. April 12, 2019 at 7:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Paris-Deauville is so easy to wear. April 15, 2019 at 10:51am Reply

  • Mel: A few years ago, someone on this site recommended Chamade as a scent to give my mom for Mother’s Day. She’s been blissed out ever since! Just the other day she told me how much she loved it. April 12, 2019 at 12:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: Aw, I’m so happy to hear this! April 15, 2019 at 10:51am Reply

  • Tami: I’ve been wearing fragrance for a long time, but nothing has given me as much joy as my most recent purchase, Diptyque’s Oyedo. It sparkles on my skin and gives me a smile just thinking about it. The bright, sweet citrus makes me feel like I’m wearing a Lemon Drop cocktail or one of the lemon candies that a friend brought back from Scotland—tart outside and fizzy middle. It’s also longer lasting than another longtime favorite, Guerlain’s Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat. (Lots of Guerlain fans on this thread!)

    Of course, the fact that none of the notes trigger my allergies helps a lot! April 12, 2019 at 12:47pm Reply

    • Klaas: Wow, Oyedo sounds amazing! I’m going to check that one out. Now if you like citrus, you should definitely try Whipp by Le Galion….it has that same sweet lemon opening that makes my mouth water….. April 12, 2019 at 1:52pm Reply

      • Tami: Thank you for the tip, Klaas! I’ll have to seek out Whipp! Admittedly I’m a sucker for all things citrus 😉 April 12, 2019 at 2:12pm Reply

        • Klaas: It’s like wearing a lemon sorbet. Great for summer. I share your love for Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat, by the way 😉 April 12, 2019 at 4:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: You make me want to wear Oyedo. 🙂 April 15, 2019 at 10:51am Reply

      • Tami: That is a lovely compliment! 😀
        Interestingly, I’m wearing it today, and the cedar notes are very prominent. I’m thinking it’s our weather; it’s a bit overcast and damp. April 16, 2019 at 12:39pm Reply

  • Klaas: Some months ago, I discovered Racine by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. Now that spring is here I like it even more, as it really comes to life under some sunshine. It is centered around vetiver, one of my favorite ingedients in perfumery, but has some orange, jasmine, lavender and sandalwood in there to give it a lovely French twist…happiness in a bottle, it’s going to be a lovely, lovely summer! April 12, 2019 at 1:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: Another favorite of mine, especially as an interesting vetiver interpretation. April 15, 2019 at 10:52am Reply

      • Klaas: Very interesting! It is such a lively fragrance somehow, yet incredibly discreet. I’m growing really fond of it! April 15, 2019 at 1:21pm Reply

  • Nora Sz.: Hi Victoria and perfume lovers,
    I recently dowsized my collection based on Marie Kondo’s sparks joy principle. Downsizing means 5% of it has to go. 🙂 I’m a multi-scented person with wide tastes. Today it’s rather cold and I’m wearing Coco Noir, my beloved Coco’s sibling. It does sprakle bright in the rainy evening on me even though I never would have associated Noir with such a radiant scent.
    Spring is here where I live and fresh flower scents do most for my mood currently. I recently blindly bought a bottle of Tuberose Gardenia by Estee Lauder, its simple, sheer beauty of white flowers awed me. I also received a bottle of Marc Jacobs for her original from my boss who does not wear it. Those water soaked gardenia petals make me so happy!!! I adore rose in perfumes from lush to ethereal, in spring I crave the fresh ones, so I wear Marni Rose, Kurkdjian’s A la rose and Stella Nude.
    Another finding (while shopping my own perfume wardrobe) is Lauren by Ralph Lauren. Green and floral at the same time, my mini bottle is a little treasure.
    As recommendations, I always ask the “seeker” about their favourite childhood scents (one of mine is leather as there was a shoemaker atelier in the basement of my grandparents’s house and it evokes holidays to me) and their previous favourite perfumes. However choosing a new scent is like love : you may think you have a type until you meet The One and realize that he’s different yet you’re head over heels for him. Like one of my friends who mourned the discontinuation of her beloved aquatic scent, Water Love by Mexx but eventually fell in love with heady Insolence EDP by Guerlain. April 12, 2019 at 4:00pm Reply

    • Trudy: Rose fragrances usually don’t work for me but I loved Stella Nude! I still have the empty bottle in my lingerie drawer because I can’t bear to toss it out. I’ve searched for for a new bottle but gave up. So sad. I will give Lauren a try as it sounds like something right up my alley. I like what you said about choosing a new scent being like love. The “One” may be different than what you believed to be your type. Good advice, I’ll remember that when I’m shopping. April 12, 2019 at 7:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a great tip, Nora! April 15, 2019 at 10:52am Reply

  • Sarah Hicks: Once I selected a perfume because it was in a dream. It was Black Saffron by Byredo. I had never even tested it but it was an image of great beauty and power in the dream so I blind bought it not knowing what to expect. It is perfect scent for me and continues to be years later. It is comforting and exciting, lasts for days on my scarves and never ceases to make me feel more myself. It was a gift from my unconscious that treasure dearly. April 12, 2019 at 7:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: Wow! What a great story, Sarah. April 15, 2019 at 10:53am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    Out of my current collection of about 290 fragrance, I have chosen my favourite 18. They are listed in order of type, from the citrus, through the florals and down to the chypres.

    1. Limoncello (MOR)

    2. Apple Blossom (Helena Rubinstein 1948) – A friend gave me a set of the hand lotion and talc for my birthday when I was about 10, and I’ve loved the fragrance ever since. Sadly, it was discontinued years ago.

    3. Honeysuckle {Original} (Avon 1963) – Ever since I received a pot of the cream perfume from a beloved aunt as a young child, and thought it was hand lotion, and thereafter heavily perfumed the house every night before bed – to my mother’s chagrin, I’ve had a soft spot for this fragrance.

    4. Diorissimo – I received a bottle of the parfum from my younger brother for a birthday – my 30th I think (a long time ago!)

    5. Violette (Molinard) – I have a very sweet tooth, and this is a wonderfully sweet violet.

    6. Pur Désir de Lilas (Yves Rocher 2002)

    7. Paris

    8. Bellodgia

    9. Le Jardin (Max Factor / Dana/H & BF 1983) – This has always seemed to me to be one of the freshest florals ever, although a reformulation some years ago gave it a sharp edge that spoiled it for me.

    10. Le Dix – I first sampled this back in 1990, the day I went to see “The Witches”, with that magnificent performance by Angelica Huston as the Grand High Witch. Ever since then, I have associated the fragrance with her character (although I think I saw a bottle of Ungaro’s Diva on her dressing table in the film). The violet bow on the box even matched the one on the back of one of her black dresses!

    11. Lipstick Rose – I read about this fragrance in Bois de Jasmin and couldn’t wait to buy a bottle – now one of my favourites. I would wear it more often if it weren’t so expensive.

    12. L’Heure Bleue – About 35 years ago, at a chemist that has long since gone, I found a sample box of four Guerlain fragrances as 10ml eau de toilettes. That was my introduction to L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Shalimar and Nahema. I tried the tester bottle of L’Heure Bleue, and I remember walking down the arcade afterwards, smelling what struck me as a wondrous fragrance like church incense, and falling in love… Still my all-time favourite.

    13. Insolence – A close relation of L’Heure Bleue

    14. Oscar (Oscar de la Renta 1977) – The fragrance I chose, out of hundreds, to be my signature fragrance back in 1985. A couple of years later I had to admit to myself that I was a multi-fragrance gal. Probably my third favourite fragrance.

    15. Perfect Musk (Perfect Potion) – This was created by a Brisbane company, and, sadly, is no longer available (except for the stockpile in my fridge).

    16. Ciara (Ultima II/Revlon 1973) – Admittedly, this is very strong and a little over-the-top with the raspberry notes, however I’ve always found it ravishing.

    17. Yvresse – It used to be called Champagne – what more needs to be said?

    18. Mitsouko – My second favourite.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline April 12, 2019 at 8:43pm Reply

    • Lydia: What a great list, Tourmaline. Isn’t it interesting how perfumes create markers for one’s entire life history, almost like poems at the begining of book chapters. April 14, 2019 at 8:04pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Lydia,

        Glad you enjoyed it. That is so true; nicely described!

        With kind regards,
        Tourmaline April 15, 2019 at 6:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a fantastic list! I so enjoyed reading it. You’ve reminded me how much I like Yvresse. April 15, 2019 at 10:54am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

        Glad you enjoyed reading it. I can’t stand the flavour of lychees, but in this fragrance they work magic!

        With kind regards,
        Tourmaline April 15, 2019 at 6:24pm Reply

        • Victoria: I find that it’s an overused note, and it can easily take over all else, especially in delicate rose accords. Here, though, it works. April 16, 2019 at 3:11am Reply

          • Tourmaline: That’s interesting to learn. April 16, 2019 at 3:22am Reply

  • Deanna Wisbey: Talking of Chamade, I see that the EDP is no longer available, can anyone tell me if the EDT is acceptable, or is as weak as the Vol de Nuit EDT formula, which is just about the weakest formula if any perfume I have ever smelt. Tinted water?
    In my youth I sprayed the EDP with abandon, and I do remember people recoiling! Powerful stuff.
    Recently Debenhams, in London, got a small consignment of Vol De Nuit EDP, I bought a bottle for a huge price, and actually they sold out pretty quickly, in spite of the cost.
    So these Guerlin EDPs are in existence, and people do want them, so why are they unavailable.? April 13, 2019 at 3:13am Reply

    • Nancy Chan: Hi Deanna, Chamade is pretty strong even in the EDT formula. The parfum extrait still exists, you should be able to find it at John Lewis, Selfridges and Harrods. I don’t think Guerlain does Chamade in a Eau de parfum. You should see Victoria’s reviews for Chamade. Best of luck. April 13, 2019 at 3:14pm Reply

      • Deanna Wisbey: Hi Nancy, Glad to hear that Chamade EDT is strong, as much of the Guerlain range is on half price sale here, at the moment! So I might get the Chamade EDT whilst on offer. So your answer was very helpful.
        There is an EDP, as I have it, only a little left though, but I bought it about 10 years ago. April 14, 2019 at 1:57am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s much weaker now, that’s true. I don’t know why they limited the production, and it doesn’t make sense. I guess, LVMH wants to focus on their big launches/big sellers. April 15, 2019 at 10:55am Reply

  • OtherWise: I like your use of “spark joy” in this context. One of my challenges has been that, the more immersed I’ve become in appreciating the artistic beauty of perfume, the more I risk drifting away from what, for me, simply “sparks joy.” It is reassuring to hear that someone as knowledgeable about and experienced with perfume as you — much more than I am ! — still manages to stay in touch with your own subjective sense of what’s simply thrilling. And also a big yes to Tam Dao. April 13, 2019 at 11:05am Reply

    • Lydia: I relate to this challenge! The more perfumes I try, the more I want to try, and I forget that my goal is quality of experience, not quantity.
      I’ve missed buying bottles of perfumes I truly adored because I put it off to keep trying new scents (and then my favorites were discontinued or reformulated). Lesson learned. If you truly love it, and you can afford it, buy a bottle now. April 14, 2019 at 7:59pm Reply

      • Deanna: I can relate to that!
        All the samples I’ve bought this year, all were 2nd rate, and could have bought a bottle of Chanel Cuir de Russie instead with the money spent. April 15, 2019 at 11:07am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that it’s very important not lose trust in your intuition, despite your ability to parse out the technical elements. As for Tam Dao, it’s such a fantastic, evocative composition. April 15, 2019 at 10:56am Reply

  • spe: Lately warm florals with some contrast: Mon Guerlain Florale and Elixir d’ Merveilles spark joy for me. April 14, 2019 at 1:40am Reply

    • Victoria: I like that style too. April 15, 2019 at 10:57am Reply

  • Lydia: Really falling in love with a perfume requires that a scent be beautiful and also tell me a story. It has to evolve and excite my imagination, and I also have to have the “ah” moment when I catch a whiff and think, “What IS that beautiful scent?”

    I asked myself recently which perfumes I’d choose if I could have only 4 – one per season.
    My spring scent would be (appropriately) Ostara, my summer scent would be either Nicolai’s Odalisque or Monyette Paris, my autumn scent would be L de Lubin, and my winter scent would be an older vintage of Rochas Femme.

    Then there are all the others that make me happy – DSH’s Cathedral (an abandoned church in a weed-filled field, decayed wooden altar and whisps of incense), Aria di Capri (my warm weather version of L de Lubin), the original Feminite du Bois by Shiseido (so gorgeous and strange), DSH’s vintage-revisited beauty, Vert Pour Madame, my old bottle of Green Tea by Lothantique (the smell of linden trees in Paris), my early-90s bottle of Mitsouko, BPAL’s Chaste Moon (a memory of childhood comfort), and a lost bottle of no-name 1960s musk that was the beginning of my love of perfume. April 14, 2019 at 7:43pm Reply

    • Lydia: PS I was happy to see Mimosa Pour Moi in the article. That scent reminds me of the 1944 movie, The Uninvited. The fragrance of mimosa perfume signals the presence of a ghost and a past mystery. (Even though the story pre-dates L’Artisan Parfumeur, I like to imagine it was Mimosa Pour Moi they were smelling.) April 14, 2019 at 8:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’ve put it so well. Yes, if a perfume doesn’t tell you a story, then the rest is meaningless. April 15, 2019 at 10:58am Reply

  • MaureenC: I return consistently to Ormonde Woman which takes me into a green forest and is always calming. Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio is always uplifting (well the version before it got reforulated and lost its punch) and good old O de Lancôme always transports me to a cafe on the riviera where I’m sipping a Campari soda in the sunshine! April 15, 2019 at 4:06am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, so happy to see a mention of my own favorite, O de Lancome. Such a beauty, isn’t it? April 15, 2019 at 10:57am Reply

      • Carla: I like O de Lancôme too. In very hot weather or sprayed in the bath…
        My liking for Ormonde Woman comes and goes. Some winters it is a yes, lately more of a no for some reason. I really am having a hard time finding “winter” scents I truly love. April 15, 2019 at 1:35pm Reply

        • MaureenC: The time travel was about O de Lancôme, but I know exactly what you mean about Ormonde Woman Carla. In winter I find myself reaching for the incense laden perfumes, though that is probably the legacy of convent school!! April 15, 2019 at 2:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: Ormonde Woman can be too imposing, I find. April 16, 2019 at 1:57am Reply

      • MaureenC: It also reminds me of what I saw as the “sophisticated grown up women” in the early 1970s so it’s one of those time travel perfumes as well as a location fantasy! April 15, 2019 at 2:00pm Reply

        • Victoria: So true! I have the same image. April 16, 2019 at 3:10am Reply

  • Carla: Iris Silver Mist always feels so right. If I had to pick one perfume that was “me” this would be it! April 15, 2019 at 1:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I often reach for it when I don’t know what to wear. April 16, 2019 at 1:57am Reply

    • Annag: The Perfumed Court has one empty bell jar of Iris Silver Mist on offer. April 18, 2019 at 10:45pm Reply

  • Muriel: The few fragrances I own do indeed make me happy or have brought something to me. The very first came to me as a key to a new passion: it is not even a perfume, it is not famous, it’s just a floral water I discovered during a vacation in the south of France and that comforted me when I fell down. When I smell it now, I can see it’s far from perfect, but back then, it made me more confident and made me realise how much I cared for fragrances. Since then I have discovered lots of “possibles” and what I enjoy most is heading on a perfume quest! I’m totally happy with Angéliques sous la pluie, I think the opening notes are fantastic! and these days, I’m also thrilled by the peppers of “Fleur de peau” and “Black” (yes… I fell for this one as well). I feel confident when I wear them! My current quest is towards a floral, and now that you mentioned it, I will stop by Guerlain and check Chamade (what a beautiful bottle!!). Thanks a lot Victoria! April 16, 2019 at 7:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, you’re right, positive associations do make anything special, not least of all the perfume. It can be such an instant boost. April 17, 2019 at 5:07am Reply

  • Aurora: At the moment vintage Halston makes me so happy. I know it’s been around since the seventies but somehow it had passed me by. It has made me fall in love with chypres all over again. I understand your joy in Chamade, it has so much development that I am never bored with it and it shines in spring as does Diorissimo I found at last a very affordable EDT in the houndtooth box (100ml £31) and stand it’s both fierce and delicate like the queen of the night’s aria. April 17, 2019 at 11:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, how lucky you’re to have the vintage version! It’s such a beautiful chypre. I see what you mean about falling in love with the whole family again thanks to it. April 18, 2019 at 5:25am Reply

  • Figuier: I do ove Chamade extrait – although I’ve only ever smelled it from testers in shops. The bottle is beautiful too.

    At the moment Chanel no 18 ed is sparking lots of joy in me. It’s effervescent and musky at the same time – one of the few musk bases I can actually detect – and is perfect in warm spring weather. It actually lasts well on me and yet is difficult to overspray, which is reassuring! April 18, 2019 at 6:25am Reply

    • Victoria: I also like that about No 18. It’s one of the best perfumes for a light, gauzy sillage. April 18, 2019 at 6:58am Reply

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