Given fragrance’s intrinsic relationship with our sense of smell, it might seem odd to even contemplate buying a bottle of eau de toilette without having a sniff first. But in the same way that we now buy clothes without trying them on, an increasing number of us are buying our fragrances online without ever having sampled them.
And it’s easy to see why: there’s a host of fantastic money-saving deals to be had online and buying from a website is both quick and convenient. What’s more, if you live miles from the nearest department store or chemist, buying your fragrance online may be your only option.
“Obviously it’s always going to be better to smell a fragrance before buying it and, if you can order a sample, I’d always recommend you do so, but if you can’t, buying online can still be successful,” says James Craven, Perfume Archivist at Specialist Perfumery Les Senteurs. “You just need to work holistically, gathering as much information and using the clues given by the [fragrance] names, packaging and descriptions before placing that final order.”
Shopping online, Craven says, is an art that needs to be “cultivated, practised and honed”. So here’s a little masterclass on buying fragrance ‘blind’.
Do Your Research
According to GE Capital Retail Bank, a whopping 81 per cent of us research a product online before purchasing it. And buying a fragrance is no different from buying a plasma screen TV or a set of golf clubs: it’s simply a case of arming yourself with as much information as possible before ultimately clicking the ‘Buy Now’ button.
“To make things easier, begin by making a note of what you’ve worn in the past and take inspiration from that,” says Emma Leslie, Editor of Escentual.com. “Use online fragrance resources such as Fragrantica.com and Basenotes.net to find out which notes (like sandalwood, pink pepper and amber) feature in your favourite fragrances, and use that information when you’re researching your next scent.”
As with anything you can buy online, it’s always worth checking out what real people are saying about your potential purchase too. “There are some great fragrance blogs and websites out there that offer honest reviews,” says Chris Beastall of online grooming emporium Niven & Joshua. Worth a look are Persolaise, The Candy Perfume Boy, and Now Smell This.
Ignore The Price
“A high price doesn’t necessarily mean the fragrance will be good; and not all inexpensive fragrances are bad either,” says Craven.
Know Your Names
“The name is often useful in identifying a fragrance’s character,” says Craven. “Words like ‘intense’, ‘extreme’, ‘dark’, ‘night’, ‘passion’, ‘fraiche’ and ‘water’ all convey some sense of a scent’s mood and intensity.”
Fragrances like Boss Bottled Night, Nuit d’Issey and Bvlgari Man Black, for example, are going to be rich and warm and are designed to be worn for the evening, whereas Versace Man Eau Fraîche and Davidoff Cool Water are light and fresh and better suited to daytime.
Fragrances with night or black in title (top) are likely going to be rich and warm, whereas those with water or fraiche (bottom) are typically fresh and light
You won’t always be able to glean the nature of a fragrance from its name, though, so when you can’t, it’s worth taking a closer look at its packaging instead.
Consider The Colour
The advertising industry has used colour as signposting for products for decades – and it’s the same in the world of fragrance. “Fragrance packaging doesn’t always reflect what’s in the bottle,” says Craven, “but there are occasions when packaging will allude to the nature of the fragrance within.”
And when you’re buying blind, every hint helps.
In advertising, pale, icy blues have traditionally been associated with freshness and, in fragrance, they’re often used in the packaging for ‘marine’ or ‘aquatic’ fragrances like Davidoff Cool Water, Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue Pour Homme and Ferragamo’s Acqua Essenziale. Expect these to have a clean, watery freshness and sometimes a hint of salty sea spray to them.
Others, like Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino and Acqua di Parma’s Blu Mediterraneo Ginepro di Sardegna, have a Mediterranean vibe. Think summery citrus notes and aromatic herbs.
In fragrance packaging, gold is often used as shorthand for opulent, rich, exotic concoctions.
Even if you’ve never sampled Paco Rabanne’s 1 Million or Amouage Gold Man you can make an educated guess at their character: think statement fragrances that are heady, rich and perfect for evening wear.
Associated with cheerfulness, spontaneity and summer, yellow packaging, like that found encasing Balmain Monsieur and Acqua di Parma Colonia, usually signifies a zingy citrusy, summer fragrance.
No prizes for guessing what many fragrances presented in green boxes and bottles smell like. It’ll come as no surprise that the notes they contain often evoke foliage or freshly cut grass, though vetiver fragrances – traditionally housed in green packaging – tend to be woodier and smokier.
As you might expect, black generally signifies fragrances that are intense, have depth, and work well for evening.
Associated with danger, energy and passion, the colour red generally conveys a lively, punchy and spicy fragrance. Lacoste’s Eau de Lacoste L.12.12 Rouge, for example, is a scent that features a raft of spicy notes like ginger and black pepper.
Understand Your Family
If you’re searching for a scent online, start by thinking about the sort of mood that you want to achieve with your fragrance. Do you need something fresh and crisp for work? Or are you looking for something richer for evening engagements?
“If you’re looking for a fragrance for a particular occasion, then you can’t go too wrong if you focus on fragrance families,” says Leslie. “You just need to decide on which mood, occasion, climate and season your scent is required for and then match it with the fragrance family that most closely fits the brief.”
By identifying what family your current favourite fragrances belong to, you can also narrow the field when looking for new purchases online.
Many websites will mention which family a fragrance belongs to in order to help you refine your choice and some – like Les Senteurs – make things even easier by grouping their scents by family. Want to meet the clan? Here’s a quick guide to the families worth knowing:
- Citrus. “In a broad sense citrus fragrances are lively and energetic,” says Leslie. They’re good for daytime, gym bags, the office and summertime.
- Aquatic. Fresh, salty, fruity and often reminiscent of sea spray, aquatic or ‘marine’ fragrances are ideal for daytime, summer and gym bags.
- Gourmand. Warm, sweet, sensual and comforting, gourmand fragrances feature ‘foodie’ notes like vanilla, cinnamon and chocolate. They’re perfect for evening wear and hot dates.
- Sport. Although not strictly a fragrance family, sport fragrances tend to be spicy and energetic. They’re good for gym bags, holidays and nights out.
- Fougère. One of the most popular and versatile men’s fragrance families, fougères are aromatic and elegant with a ‘barbershop’ freshness. They often work just as well during the daytime as in the evening.
- Floral. Though more common in women’s perfumes, there are plenty of floral men’s fragrances – from Dior’s Homme Intense to Amouage Lyrica Man. Opt for one if you’re feeling confident enough to pull a more unconventional evening scent.
- Oriental. “Oriental fragrances tend to be more sensuous and powerful,” says Leslie. They’re good for date nights and other evening engagements, especially those during autumn and winter.
- Woody. Warm, quintessentially masculine and versatile, woody fragrances are your safe bet.
Discover Who The Perfumer Is
“If you’re buying an unfamiliar fragrance, it’s always worth finding out the identity of the perfumer who created it,” says Craven. “Like authors, painters or actors, the great ‘noses’ [each has his or her] individual, very distinctive style and signature.”
If you have enjoyed one of Jean-Claude Ellena’s creations – like Terre d’Hermès – for example, you may well like his other creations. Worth checking out are Basenotes.net and Fragrantica.com, which lists the name of a fragrance’s creator against a list of its key notes. Or you could simply Google these famous fragrance names to see their olfactory CVs.
Stick With What You Know
If you’re still nervous about ending up with something at the opposite end of the spectrum of what you usually like, then stay inside your olfactory comfort zone by sticking with a brand you love.
“Many fragrance houses use a signature note or accord in their compositions, which works to subtly tie their fragrances together and give them a certain ‘feel,” says Leslie. “If you loved one scent from a particular fragrance house, it’s likely to be worth taking a chance on the others.”
Most of Paco Rabanne’s men’s fragrances, for example, are linked by the inclusion of musk and/or amber in their base notes – two notes that originated in their signature 1973 fragrance, Pour Homme.
Find Some ‘Flankers’
Have a signature fragrance you’ve loved for years but find yourself bored of it now? Then why not try a variant or ‘flanker’ of that fragrance?
In the same way a house DJ might reassemble the elements of your favourite floor-filler to create a whole new sound, perfumers are often drafted in to play with the notes of existing fragrances – emphasising some, playing down others and occasionally adding brand new ones – to breathe new life into the original.
The good thing about these variants is that they retain the essence of the original, so if you like Dior Homme you’re probably going to like Dior Homme Intense (deeper and richer with a bigger emphasis on the floral and musky notes) and Dior Homme Eau For Men, which is lighter and fresher. Both are recognisably ‘Dior Homme’, though, making them sure-fire bets if you’re buying blind.
“The most important thing when buying fragrance online is to take your time,” says Beastall. “A good fragrance will last and is an important statement about your personality so if you want to make a wise investment, make sure you invest some time into finding just the right one for you.”
Do you have any tips for buying fragrances online?
Comment below to share them with us.