Grace Kelly dabbed classic scents like iris and violet on her wrists.
Marilyn Monroe’s predilection for Chanel No. 5 earned pages of press. (Or it could have been her insinuation that she wore nothing else to bed.)
But how on earth do you uncover the scent that makes everyone realize you just walked in the room?
The complicated, deeply personal nature of choosing perfume can take ages to figure out.
Follow the advice of these ten pros to simplify your quest for a signature scent:
1. Ben Krigler, perfumer, Krigler perfumes
For perfumer Ben Krigler, scent is inextricable from fashion.
Certain perfumes – those with notes of iris or jasmine – connote elegance and refinement, while others – like those with plum or passion fruit on the nose – are designed to seduce.
“There is an addictive quality to these smells that attracts people to you,” Krigler told Harper’s Bazaar.
Just like you might use clothing or personal style to tell a story about who you are, the right perfume can help you nail that story’s delivery.
Take a tour through Harper’s style break down and consider which look you’re drawn to – whether that’s clean, elegant lines, flirtatious ruffles, or rocker chick glam.
As Krigler suggests, style can actually help you narrow down the notes you might most enjoy in a perfume – and the story you’re trying to tell by wearing it.
2. Sheena Chandran, director of fragrance merchandising, Sephora
As you begin to try on fragrances, it’s important to remember that you can actually have more than one “signature scent.”
“Like fashion, your scent should fit your mood and where you’re going,” Chandran told Harper’s. “It’s the invisible finishing touch.”
Your everyday scent might be lighter and more flexible than the perfume you wear when you’re out on the town – and that’s a-okay.
Keep an open mind as you’re hunting for fragrances that you like.
3. Stephen Nilsen, perfumer, Givaudan
Phases and moods are important to Nilsen, too, who suggests finding a scent that molds to your personality.
“People who are more shy might want to go for something subtle, while those who are outgoing might want something that’s stronger. Regardless, you want to choose a fragrance that you feel comfortable pulling off,” Nilsen suggested to Cosmopolitan.
Your nose will help you more than you think on this front – most people are generally drawn to specific ranges of scents, from florals to citrus to warm and spicy. Let your nose do the talking!
When you find a scent you like, spray the sample paper blotter with perfume and carry it around with you for the day.
Still enjoy the scent four hours – or 24 hours – later? It might be worth trying out.
4. Christine Luby, co-founder, Pinrose
Ready to try on scents?
Luby recommends approaching all those rows of perfume bottles at the fragrance counter strategically.
“It’s better to start with more aqueous or musky scents first; 50 percent of the population can’t even smell musk,” she advises New York Magazine.
And, just in case you associated the word “musk” with livestock or, as writer Kathleen Hou puts it, “the underwashed armpit of a college wrestler,” the term means something different in the world of perfumes.
It’s “actually a clean-laundry scent,” says Hou, and it serves as the base note for many perfumes.
5. Francis Kurkdjian, perfumer, Burberry
So many florals, so little time.
“Florals translate to pure femininity,” Kurkdjian told Glamour. But not all floral scents are created equally.
Depending on what notes they’re paired with, rose can run the gamut from “airy” to “sexy,” according to Kurkdjian, while white florals connote boldness and elegance.
Looking for something softer? Try a scent with iris or violet, suggests Glamour columnist Cristina Mueller.
“[We] love them combined in the gently powdery Chanel Les Exclusifs de Chanel Misia, where they meld cleverly with leather—and rose,” she writes.
If you’re not typically drawn to floral scents, that’s ok – like Mueller indicates, floral perfumes vary widely depending on the additional base and heart notes.
6. Cécile Hua, perfumer, Ralph Lauren
Drawn to crisp, citrusy scents, including the smell of fresh-cut grass or your skin after a squeaky-clean shower? You’re not alone.
These perfumes are often slightly more androgynous, welcoming, and flexible, according to Mueller. Plus, they can be real confidence-boosters!
Fresh scents indicate that you’re “super comfortable in your own skin, full of positive attitude,” Hua told Glamour.
Sound appealing? Be on the lookout for musk, citrus, green, or aquatic notes to find your signature scent.
7. Honorine Blanc, perfumer, Estée Lauder
If both florals and fresh-cut grass make you turn up your nose, head over to the aisle with warmer scents.
Think heavy musks, amber, and chocolate – or deep woods and patchouli. These deep, spicy scents that will make you feel like an international woman of mystery.
You should also be prepared to navigate the most recent craze in warm scents – oud, a tree resin that will call burning incense to mind.
“Oud has a long-lasting, amber-y scent that combines spicy, leathery notes with a deep woodsy-ness,” Blanc told Glamour.
Not quite your thing? Mueller suggests trying out ingredients that might make you think of a dessert menu: “chocolate, berries, the ever-popular vanilla—yet you won’t smell like a fruit cobbler,” she writes.
That’s the magic of perfume.
8. Erika Shumate, co-founder, Pinrose
Alright, so you’ve navigated the perfume counter and carried plenty of those tiny paper blotters around in your bag trying to make up your mind.
It’s time to start sampling one of your top contenders on your skin. The key, Sumate suggests, is to spray then wait.
“Fragrances are living organisms and evolve over time,” Sumate told New York Magazine. “A top note lasts about 20 minutes and is your first impression of the fragrance. The heart lasts for the better part of the day, about four hours.”
Check back in with your scent later in the afternoon to see how you feel. Do you like the scent better after it’s had time to settle?
9. Christopher Brosius, perfumer, CB I Hate Perfume
For Brosius, finding the right scent is more about accepting your individual tastes than buying into the idea that you have to wear perfume at all.
By keeping tabs on the smells you already like – including everyday scents, or scents that evoke strong sense memories – you’ll have an easier time identifying perfume you’ll want to wear.
Once you’ve sprayed a perfume on the blotter, keep close tabs on your feelings about the scent.
“If there is ever a time when you question whether you like the scent, it’s not the perfume for you,” Brosius told Refinery29.
10. Carly Jacobs, Vogue Australia
After it’s all said and done, writes Carly Jacobs at Vogue Australia, don’t feel like you have to box yourself in to one scent.
“Just because you lean towards loving orientals doesn’t mean that a rose based scent won’t work for you,” Jacobs suggests.
Remember – from woods to citrus to spicy to florals – it’s all in the mix.
Finding the right scent – or scents – should feel like a grand adventure. Chances are you won’t nail down the perfume that feels like “you” right away.
In fact, it’s more likely you’ll identify glimpses of yourself throughout the process – the seductress or the world traveler, the beach bum or the hustler. Be open to embracing scents that help you reflect every facet of your personality.
How do you know whether you might have hit upon a lasting scent? According to perfumer Stephen Nilsen, compliments from your friends and family may mean you’ve found a keeper.
“That’s a surefire sign that maybe you’ve found your new signature scent,” Nilsen told Cosmopolitan.
And if you’re still looking? Just try to enjoy the ride. Opt for smaller scent packets or trial perfume vials to tide you over until you fall head over heels with a scent you can really invest in. It’s out there – we promise.
Do you have a signature scent? Tell us how you fell in love with your perfume of choice in the comments below:
- Tags: Perfume
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