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Picking Out a New Fragrance Needn't Be Torture. Just Identify the Notes You Like and Do a 'Lil Spritzing & You'll Find The One. Advice Sister Alison Tells All. FASHIONTRIBES BEAUTY BLOG & PODCAST

Picking Out a New Fragrance Needn't Be Torture. Just Identify the Notes You Like and Do a 'Lil Spritzing & You'll Find The One. Advice Sister Alison Tells All. FASHIONTRIBES BEAUTY BLOG & PODCAST MP3 File


Whether you're in search of a new signature scent, or trying to pick one out for someone else, perfume shopping can be incredibly offputting. Being accosted by bottle-wielding spritzers on a mission is nothing short of frightening. Although finding a new scent will require you to go out and engage in some serious spritzing, the good news is that there are some shortcuts you can take to narrow your search - and interaction with bottle-wielders - signficantly.

The first step is to narrow down the possibilities. Identify the basic category of fragrance that you've liked, or has worked for you in the past, and you'll know what to look for. "Don’t judge by how a fragrance smells in the bottle," advises Alison Blackman Dunham of The Advice Sisters in a special podcast interview with Fashiontribes (above) - "A perfume has notes - top, middle, and bottom. When you open a bottle of perfume and get a first impression, it's likely to be something such as a floral, or spicy, or woodsy. But after you put it on the body, it creates something different."



  1. Floral full-on flowers such as jasmine, sweet lily, lilac, lavender & rose
  2. Fruity lighter & citrusy - think papaya, tangerine, lemons & limes
  3. Chypre woody & earthy: sage, oakmoss, patchouli
  4. Fougere  grassy, green & herbal: crisp & refreshing rosemary & pine
  5. Oriental exotic & incense-like; suitable for evenings & extremely formal occasions
  6. Oceanic Because this group is derived from synthetic rather than organic ingredients, it's not technically considered to be an official perfume category. However, it's an important & growing category, especially in men's fragrances, and summer scents (eg. Marc Jacobs Splash).

Once you've figured out which category of perfumes you like, narrow your search even further by doing some research into the ingredients & notes your favorite perfumes contain. "You'll not only understand what’s in them, but what works on you." If, say, pomegranate is this year's trendy ingredient - such as green tea and even chocolate have been in recent years - it may not suit you. However, if you simply must have some, try a scented candle or a room spray instead of wasting money on the wrong perfume.


Part of what makes fragrance irresistable on someone is that it mimics pheromones - an invisible substance we naturally excrete which was discovered in 1959 by researchers looking into the reproductive behavior of silkworms - that trigger a response from anyone who is nearby.  Like pheromones, fragrance is meant to be experienced up close...not across the room. "Whatever you put on affects you and others around you. You have a responsibility to apply with a light enough hand that people only smell your perfume when they get close to you." Your body chemistry will affect a scent dramatically; if, for example, your skin happens to be particularly acidic, it can cause a very intense scent to turn, possibly making florals too sweet.

Some fragrance options:

  • Perfume Because it contains the largest amount of distilled essential oils, it's extremely concentrated and commensurately expensive. Apply very, very sparingly.  Did we mention sparingly?
  • Eau de Toilette (Toilet Water) Less potent & not as long-lasting, but a little still goes a long way.
  • Body Splash Which Alison herself admits to "throwing on myself with wild abandon!"
  • Solids
  • Body Lotion
  • Candles & Room Spray


If you're planning on having a barbeque & serving hamburgers, you'll probably choose a different vino than if a fine filet mignon is on the menu. The same thinking applies to perfume: match your scent to the occasion, and, in particular, the season. "Many people buy one fragrance and think they can wear it year round. When you're wearing heavy tweeds and layers, your body can carry more scent. But in summer, if you wear something like Shalimar or Agent Provocateur with shorts or a cotton spring dress to the beach, it probably would not go with the image you want to portray." In fact, sweat can cause a scent to turn, which is a bad, bad thing. So if you can't quit a particular perfume in the warmer months, at least opt for a lighter or alcohol-free version.

  • Think Seasonally Alison advises having at least one fragrance per season, which means, at minimum, you should own four perfumes.
  • It's a Fashion Accessory Unlike the days when our mothers kept a single treasured scent on the vanity table, dabbing a little behind her ears on special occasions, today fragrance - and its packaging - are fashion accessories. "I collect perfume bottles, and there is no more sensous experience than pulling out the stopper and applying a dab of scent."


While it's possible to find a decent bottle of perfume for $20, at least be aware of what you're giving up by opting for a budget pricepoint. "The art of blending makes the expensive perfumes expensive. Better perfumes have artists that blend ingredients together, and it's mysterious and a true art. The cheaper ones are less complex. Also, the ingredients [in the expensive perfumes] tend to be more rare, and not synthetic," explains Alison. "I keep coming back to wine: the perfumers who create these, it takes years to know how to do it, and you have to have the nose to know how to blend."


  1. Identify the Category & Ingredients Figure out which category of perfumes you like best & the notes you love.
  2. Test it Spray it on and see how it smells after a few hours.
  3. It's an Investment Costlier perfumes will be more complex & contain natural essential oils instead of synthetics. You get what you pay for.
  4. His & Hers Think about trying a unisex scent like CK ONE. "It's something both men and women can share."
  5. Store with Care Once you find a new fragrance, store it the way you would a fine wine: with love & care. "If you have an expensive perfume, put it in the fridge or some cool place for summer. Scents don’t last forever. Take care, as they can turn in the bottle."
  6. Do unto Others If you're working in close quarters with others, avoid heavy or fruity fragrances. Perfumes are meant to attract, not make innocent bystanders nauseous - so don't overspray. Start sparingly as you can always add more. "If you're like Pigpen [from Charlie Brown] with a cloud of perfume around you, you've defeated your purpose to make yourself attractive."


  • Don’t overshop. Don't have more than three or four sprayed on you at any time or you'll lose your ability to evaluate.
  • Get a sample. When you visit the fragrance counter, tell the salesperson you're looking for new signature scent. If you ask nicely, most will give you a sample. If not, test on your wrist.
  • Take a test drive.  It's vitally important that you see how a new fragrance smells on you after a period of time. "You have to put it on your body and then let it dry down. Walk around in it for a few hours. Take it home and wear it there."
  • Avoid big event impulse buying! Try not to succumb to any sudden urges to buy an untested fragrance right before a big event. If you absolutely must buy something this afternoon to wear this evening, Alison advises keeping it light - and less costly.
  • Sensitive skin Relates back to test driving. You don't want to shell out cash for something that reacts with your skin and gives you a rash.
  • Mix & match A fun thing to try if you know what you're doing. Many companies, like Jimmyjane, make different fragrances that are made to be layered and combined.


  • Personality Assessment Buying fragrance is an intimate gift, so do some upfront sleuthing. "If they wear nothing but jeans and t-shirts, something ultrafeminine and super sweet might not be the best choice. If they're at work in suits all the time, take that into consideration." Instead of springing a surprise on them, find out what they like: florals? fruity? What about at home: do they use fragrance there?
  • Do they even wear scent at all? If not, start a little cheaper with a less pricey cologne. That way, if they don't like it, you haven't needlessly spent oodles of cash. Alternatively, candles, incense, oils, scented soaps or aromatherapy products are an equally thoughtful way to give the gift of scent.
  • Do they already have a fave fragrance? Consider enhancing it with a body lotion, powder, bath gel or other similar product.
  • Grant a license to return. Once you choose something, explain that you bought it because you thought they would love it, but if they don't like it, you won't be offended. Explain that "this expressed you to them...but give them license to return it. Nothing is worse than receiving a $100 perfume...and then you loathe it."
  • Office Grab Bag If you're shopping for the office party, don't waste your money on a cheap $10 scent. Instead, try a bath gel, body lotion, candle. "It’s just safer. The person who gets it won't be stressed & will enjoy it."
  • Regifting 101 Alison is of the mind that it's kosher, provided the bottle is unopened and it hasn't been kicking around for years.


To celebrate spring, Advice Sisters is giving away five different prizes - some worth hundreds of $$ - just for recounting how you celebrate spring. The contest runs from May 1 - July 4, and all the details are at

- Lesley Scott

April 29, 2006 in Beauty, Fragrance & Perfume, PODCAST, Weblogs | Permalink


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