It’s the perfect gift: thoughtful, intimate and memorable. Fragrances have a way of holding a special place in our hearts, evoking memories with every spritz and enhancing our moods. But fragrances can be so personal, which makes choosing one for someone else daunting.
Are they into florals or woody fragrances? What are their favourite notes? With so many choices, picking the perfect perfume for someone else is hard. “When it’s done with care and thought, selecting a fragrance for someone can be quite an intimate act,” says Almira Armstrong, founder and Creative Director for Lumira.
“It suggests that you’ve really taken the time to understand them and their style. On a simpler level, a fragrance is also a thing of beauty. From the glittering of the bottle to juice inside, it’s designed purely to bring pleasure to the wearer. What could be more perfect as a gift?”
That said, Armstrong acknowledges that there’s definitely some skill in selecting the right one. “It’s always better to do your research instead of just assuming you’ll know what someone might like. Just because your friend is an extrovert, that doesn’t mean she also enjoys a ‘loud’ perfume!”
“When it’s done with care and thought, selecting a fragrance for someone can be quite an intimate act.”
Almira Armstrong, founder of Lumira
These are our top tips for choosing a fragrance for someone else.
You need a plan before you start
Wandering into a department store and spritzing a variety of fragrance, hoping you’ll know what ‘The One’ is when you smell it, is a recipe for disaster - and a headache. Before you start spritzing or reading up on the scent make-up of a few fragrances, you need to pinpoint at least a few notes or a scent category that will complement your intended recipient. “Research is essential when you’re buying a fragrance for someone else," says Armstrong, “but the trick is to start it early or you’ll risk blowing your cover.”
“I’m not above a little harmless snooping to try to pinpoint someone’s tastes: make a note of the flowers they have growing in their garden and the candles they like to burn in their home; if they wear perfume, simply ask what it is. You can use the notes in these scents as a guide to help find another fragrance in the same family,” advises Armstrong.
Learning your special someone’s favourite flower is a great place to start, although their food preferences may also offer a big hint as to what they might like (are they into spicy or sweet?).
Think about your personal connection
Fragrances are extremely personal, so you need to dig deep if you want to choose the perfect scent. “Another approach is to select a fragrance that has some personal significance to the recipient, or one that connects to a story that you share together,” explains Armstrong.
“For example, if you were maid of honour at her wedding in Bali, giving a fragrance with ylang-ylang in the notes will be a beautiful reminder of that special day.” If the fragrance’s scent is tied to a special story or memory then you’re guaranteed to be on to a winner.
If you can’t think of a memory the two of you share that translates into a scent, think about places they’ve travelled to. Lots of fragrances are inspired by destinations, so matching places they’ve been with a perfume that captures the essence of that location in its bottle will steer you towards a winning fragrance.
Remember to take your own preferences out of the equation
While you may want the fragrance you choose to remind that certain someone of you, don’t guide your decision based on your personal taste in perfumes. The scent needs to be about them, not you.
“You really need to know the person you are buying for,” says Australian fragrance specialist Samantha Taylor of The Powder Room. “Things like their age, their personal style and their lifestyle have a lot to do with their fragrance choices. Also, fragrance smells different on everyone due to our own unique microbiome on the skin, so it’s a good idea to know at least what fragrance family they like,” Taylor adds.
Play it safe with a Discovery Set
If you’re still struggling to get a grasp on what they will or won’t like, then take the pressure off with a Discovery Set. Featuring a selection of fragrance sample sizes in the one set, you don’t have the pressure of choosing just one scent - and you’ll give your near and dear the chance to potentially discover a whole collection of possible new signature scents.
“Citrus is a gender neutral, non-offensive fragrance that most people like. It’s the kind of fragrance you can wear anywhere, and citrus fragrances smell happy. We all need a bit of that at the moment!”
Samantha Taylor, The Powder Room fragrance specialist
Some failsafe scents that you can rarely go wrong with:
- Something summery (who can help but feel in a good mood when surrounded by notes of sunshine and ocean breezes?)
- Energising citrus fragrances that awaken the senses
- Anything with vanilla (comforting and one of the most universally loved scents)
- Fresh florals (delicate, clean and feminine without being too overpowering)
Top tips for testing fragrances
When you’re surrounded by choice after choice in a store, it can be easy to overwhelm your nose. Stick to spraying just three fragrances. If you don’t find what you’re looking for after your three samples, take a 30 minute break before coming back and trying three more. Also, test each one on a sample card, not your wrist. Scents wear differently from person to person so you don’t want the way the warmth of your skin interacts with the fragrance to impact the end result.
If you’re shopping for a fragrance online, scent unsmelt, then pay attention to how the perfumer describes the scent. Because a fragrance is more than the sum of its notes - how they come together to create a mood or tell a story is just as revealing.
Advice for choosing a candle for someone else
Thinking about opting for a home fragrance instead? Armstrong’s top advice is to take their living style into consideration. “I think it’s nice to complement an interior style with the right scent. So if they live on the coast and have a beach aesthetic and lifestyle, choosing a fresh light floral can really pair nicely with this. Alternatively, if they have a more opulent interiors style and like dramatic colours and plush fabrics, a rich and slightly mysterious scent is perfect.”
4 top fragrance picks
2/ Lumira Tuscan Fig Perfume Oil
3/ Who is Elijah Discover Set
4/ Grandiflora Madagascan Jasmine EDP