There are certain things that you should never do online: Firstly, buy fine jewelry because I am not the wife of a Texas oil tycoon. Bras need to be adjusted, foundations need to be adjusted, apartments need to be viewed. Under normal circumstances, I would never buy perfume without first smelling it. But the fact that you can’t go to your local beauty counter for a smell headache right now shouldn’t stop you from indulging in a lovely new scent. Surely I thought there must be a way to make buying perfume invisible … doable?
To get some answers, I turned to fragrance developer Cristina Bonati. Some background information: Bonati studied at ISIPCA, the world’s leading French perfumery school founded by Jean-Jacques Guerlain. (Yes, that Guerlain.) Upon graduation, Bonati got a job at Mane, a world-renowned fragrance house that makes private label fragrances for well-known (yet confidential) brands. She also worked behind the scenes at Glossier. “I’ve always loved how something as simple as a fragrance can take you on a journey of endless discovery,” says Bonati, who tells me there is no reason to be afraid of shopping for fragrances online. Below are her best tips for buying something you love.
Read each note
If you see an unfamiliar word in a fragrance description, google it. Bonati suggests starting with Fragrantica, a comprehensive online fragrance library where you can look up individual fragrance notes. “They’ll give you a description, as well as a list of the fragrances that contain this note, so you can see if you are familiar with any of them,” she explains. Another approach is to check reviews written by real people (not marketers). Solinotes makes one-grade fragrances, so reviews of their fragrances are essentially reviews of specific fragrance notes. Finally, Bonati says, “It can also be useful to think about whether you have already hit a note in a particular landscape, in your childhood or while cooking.” That way, you can not only find out what a note smells like, but also understand the emotions it conveys. Ingredients can smell happy, calming, stimulating, seductive … “I used to live in a seaside village, so I know that scents with ozonic, salty notes bring back happy memories for me,” she adds.
Understand how each note fits into the larger fragrance
Bonati explains that checking the placement of each note in the olfactory pyramid (top, middle, and base notes) can help you piece together the pieces of the puzzle. “You can smell smaller, more volatile molecules immediately, but they disappear quickly,” says Bonati. These are top notes – they’re there to draw you in and make a great first impression. “Base notes are most representative of how the fragrance smells when you wear it for an extended period of time,” she says next. This is why you may have heard the general advice to “live” with a scent before. “But really,” says Bonati, “a fragrance is mainly characterized by its heart notes.” These don’t fade as quickly as top notes, but they also don’t sit as close to the skin as base notes – essentially, you smell them strongly longer. If you know you don’t like the middle notes of a fragrance, you probably won’t like the fragrance.
Check the subfamilies
Now you know how each note in a fragrance smells. They even know how much of each note you’re getting with each puff. But how do you find out how they all smell together? “Reading olfactory families and subfamilies together can help you understand the main olfactory profile of a fragrance,” says Bonati, but let’s step back a little. The family of a fragrance is derived from the middle notes that you just learned are the most important part of a fragrance. (Sometimes they are even referred to as middle notes.) Subfamilies are indicated by top notes, which can make the middle notes citrus, salty, or spicy. That is why Bonati says it is important to look at both. “For example, although both are part of the flower family, you may not like a citric gardenia if your favorite scent is heady jasmine. The first is opulent and rich, while the second is delicate and ethereal, ”she explains. Basically, the subfamily provides you with more detailed information – and if this is not stated on the fragrance website, you can also find the family and subfamily of a fragrance on Fragrantica.
Communicate with the brand
“You can always get in touch with brands on social media for more information,” says Bonati. You are communicating with a real person who knows the scents well. This is especially helpful when you know you want to shop for a particular brand but don’t really know where to start. They can narrow down the range based on what you’re looking for, and may also provide shortcuts to help you understand each of the fragrances. If you think you know which one to buy, ask them to describe them in their own words. Not only is your description more accessible than the one on the website, but you can also compare it to other fragrances in the area. (For example, they might tell you that Fragrance A is softer than Fragrance B, but lighter than Fragrance C or something like that.)
And if you’re not sure, start with a rehearsal
Sure, it’s an extra step. However, ordering samples allows you to try different fragrances without committing to something you may not like. Many brands offer cheaper sample kits across their entire collection, and some let you apply the price of the samples to a full size bottle later. (After you buy the sample flight, you will receive a voucher that you can use within a certain period of time.) If you are looking for a gift fragrance, a sample kit and gift card are sure to bet the price difference – plus, it’s much more thoughtful for your tastes Fifteen. If the brand you want to try doesn’t sell samples, try a website like Luckyscent. They offer hard-to-find discovery kits, olfactory family edits, and single samples at prices ranging from $ 3 to $ 8 each. Or, when you’re comfortable, mask yourself and head to Sephora or a beauty counter. Sales reps can make small samples of anything the store sells – it’s not impolite to ask, and once you’ve got the scent home you can bare it to your heart’s content. The only thing really not to worry about is the way the smell changes due to the skin chemistry. Bonati reassures: “If you want a fragrance to stay true to itself, you can simply spray it on your clothes at any time.”
Photo via ITG