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How to Buy a Scent You Haven’t Yet Smelled

Even if a trip to our iconic Fragrance Hall isn’t a possibility, you can make an informed perfume-buying choice online. Let Liberty be your guide
By: Verity Clark

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By: Verity Clark
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How to Buy a Scent You Haven’t Yet Smelled

Even if a trip to our iconic Fragrance Hall isn’t a possibility, you can make an informed perfume-buying choice online. Let Liberty be your guide

By: Verity Clark

Fragrance shopping is tricky at the best of times. Do you go for a blockbuster scent, something instantly recognisable and universally adored? Or, do you plump for something unknown and a little obscure? Should you opt for eau de parfum, or an eau de toilette? See, a minefield. Add virtual shopping into the mix and selecting a new scent becomes even more testing. So, while we fervently recommend any fragrance-hunter a trip to the scented aisles of our iconic Fragrance Hall, we know that that isn’t always possible. Sometimes you have to go in nose-blind; for which you’ll need to learn how to buy perfume online.

Thankfully, Liberty knows a handful of savvy tricks and tactics to help you make the most informed online fragrance choice possible, the kind of intel that almost guarantees you’ll purchase something you love enough to make it your next signature scent. Let’s begin…

1. Learn the Language

The world of fragrance is a bit like wine, there are a lot of long, complex words, unfamiliar terminology and categories that only make sense to a handful of people. “Like any art or industry, there is a certain amount of jargon,” notes David Moltz, perfumer at D.S. & Durga . Getting to grips with some of the most common fragrance phrases will help you decipher one fragrance from another, and, more importantly, help you land on something that you really want. So, allow us, well specifically perfumer Veronique Gabai, to take you through a crash course in fragrance vocab.

Concentration: “This is the percentage of oil (the part that is the perfume) in the solution (the liquid you spray on, usually a mix of alcohol and water). The more perfume oil in the solution, the higher the concentration,” explains Gabai. Concentration is the differentiating factor between perfume, eau de parfum, eau de toilette, and eau de cologne. If you like your scent to be very strong then opt for a parfum, which has a perfume oil concentration above 10%. After something lighter? Eau de cologne comes in at under 6%.

Sillage: Pronounced see-yahz, “sillage is what a person following into your steps will smell,” says Gabai. Essentially it’s how powerful the scent is. Weak sillage means you can only properly smell it if you put your nose to the exact point in which you sprayed it, whereas something with a strong sillage will fill the entire train carriage – one to avoid if your desk fellow is prone to migraines. Saying that, most people consider scents with strong sillage to be better value for money, so do take that into account, too.

Longevity: This one is simple. “It’s how long the fragrance stays on your skin,” explains Gabai, and unless you're switching up your fragrance throughout the day or need it to be gone by a certain time, most people are looking for something that lasts a long time. As with sillage, the term longevity is often used in fragrance reviews so understanding what it means can be helpful when choosing what to buy.

Fragrance Pyramid: Most fragrances are built a little like a pyramid. The top notes, those you smell at first spritz, lie at the very tip of the pyramid, and tend to evaporate first, making way for the heart notes at the centre. Finally, you have the base notes, those that linger hours after you first apply your perfume, are at the foot of the pyramid. When checking out a perfume online, you'll often find a breakdown of the fragrance pyramid in the product details, which can help you understand whether you'll like how your scent develops over the course of the day.

2. Find Your Fragrance Family

“The fragrance family refers to the ingredients inside the scent,” says Gabai. There are four main families; floral, woody, oriental and fresh. Each of these scent families has distinctive characteristics and notes associated with it. Find out which family your current favourite fragrances belong to to help kick off your new perfume search. “You will be instinctively attracted to a fragrance family or two,” notes Gabai, so once discovered, note down the family’s major notes. When you’re searching for a fragrance online, use this list as a kind of bingo card, hunting for fragrances that share top, heart and base notes of scents you already know you like. You’ll find our perfume glossary particularly helpful as it lists fragrances according to their key ingredients.

3. Stay Loyal

A perfumer is an artist, and although they don’t use paint to create they often have a signature style and use similar characteristics and notes across the scents they compose. One way to avoid the risk of buying something you turn out not to like, is to first find out who composed the scents you love most and then look online for other fragrances they’ve created. Think of yourself as a perfume collector.

4. Let Your Personality Guide You

“I usually ask people what kind of landscape they like to relax in,” says Gabai on choosing a fragrance for someone else or yourself online. Whether you’re drawn to the beach, forest or mountains can indicate what type of scent you’ll like most; if you choose the beach then perhaps you’ll enjoy scents in the fresh fragrance family which are often associated with oceanic aromas. You can apply this to other parts of your life too: “What kind of fruit, flower or plants make you happy can help evaluate the type of scent that will make you smile,” says Gabai. In fact, Gabai offers a simple six question personality quiz that uses an algorithm to create a curated shortlist of fragrances that should appeal to you.

5. Try a Sample for Size

If you have a little time, one way to avoid disappointment is to first order a discovery kit, a small collection of miniature scent vials that give you a chance to try new perfumes without so much of an economic investment. Liberty-loved brands including D.S & Durga and Malin+Goetz offer sets of six different fragrance samples at a fraction of the full size price, while our own A Scent to Remember Kit, £75 allows you to try out a selection of iconic and up-and-coming perfumes from all corners of our Fragrance Hall.

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