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A picky person’s guide to finding your perfect perfume

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When it comes to perfumes, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of scents I truly love. I mean would-buy-with-own-money love, not just a case of asking for it at Christmas when your boyfriend has run out of gift ideas. And as is always the way with perfumes, each bottle comes with its own memories.

Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia was the first ‘grown up’ fragrance I got, back when I was an intern at a fashion magazine in Hong Kong.

It was gifted to me by the lovely PR team at a press launch, and it seemed impossibly glamorous. This dainty bottle held all my aspirations – I noted that it was what the magazine’s publisher wore – and it smelt like sophistication and success. Now every time I smell it, I’m taken back to that feeling of trying to blend in, trying to make it, trying to project an aura of confidence that I did not have. It’s still the perfume I make a beeline for in Jo Malone airport stores, and spritzing it on before a flight makes me feel like I’m travelling business class – even if I’m flying easyJet.

So my first tip for tracking down your signature scent is simple: go with your gut. If the packaging speaks to you, or the brand reminds you of someone you love, then give it a whirl. Remember to spritz the perfume onto the little strip of card first though, as there’s nothing worse than being stuck with a lingering odour if you hate it. If, after that, you think you might like to commit to a trial run of the scent, test it with a few squirts on your wrists. DON’T rub your wrists together as this crushes the notes of the perfume.

Then sit with it. Live with it for a day and ask your friends, colleagues, and family members to give you feedback.

Sites like Fragrantica.com are great for doing in-depth research as they break down all the fragrance notes, so you can see straightaway if a certain perfume will suit you. A quick caveat: just because a scent contains ingredients you might not like, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you won’t enjoy the final result. I loathe the smell of oranges (mandarins, clementines, the lot) but I still think L’Occitane Verbena is one of the dreamiest summer scents around.

Social media has become an increasingly integral part of many people’s perfume discovery. There’s nothing quite like a heartfelt recommendation from a blogger or Instagrammer whose taste you trust to really get your retail pulse racing. For instance, this recent post by beauty writer Laura Capon had me rushing to the beauty counter to try out Tom Ford Neroli Portofino Acqua. As it turned out, it wasn’t really for me which is why…

A post shared by Laura Capon (@laucapon) on

…my final tip is to get your hands on samples. As many as you can. Some brands will give you mini sprays for free, while others will need you to buy them. I was lucky enough to receive Le Labo’s Discovery Set a few years ago, and to this day I still think about Bergamote 22 like it was The One That Got Away. To be fair, I could just stump up the cash and buy a full-sized bottle, but at £120 for 50ml…well, put it this way, the day Le Labo lands in duty free I’ll be booking the next budget airline flight and I don’t care where I go. I’ll smell fabulous regardless.

Tess Harold
written by: Tess Harold
Born in Hong Kong, Tess currently lives in London where she is Editor at PretAirporter. Over the course of her career, she has worked for the likes of Stylist, The Telegraph, Prestige Hong Kong, Asia Spa and Harper’s Bazaar UK.