As the holiday season rolls around, we’re often asked about the best way to select a fragrance as a gift. Many people like the idea of gifting fragrance, especially for a loved one who’s often within smelling distance. But the wide variety of fragrances available and the personal nature of scent make it a particular challenge, especially if you’re not a diehard fragrance lover yourself. However, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get them a fragrance they’ll love! In a perfect world, you could just buy them another bottle of their favourite, in which case, you’ll be done before you know it. Assuming that’s not an option, here are some steps to help you achieve a fragrance gifting triumph.
1. Don’t think so much about ”notes” or ingredients; think about personality
Perfumes are often described by what fragrance “families” they belong to. Are they sweet? Floral? Woody? Animalic? And while knowing your recipient’s taste in ingredients can help, often fragrances can vary just as much within families as between them. Instead, we suggest thinking first about the personality or style of the person you’re buying for. Are they bold? Reserved? Dramatic? Fun? Distinctions like fancy or casual, and for work or for play, can often help narrow the field better than deciding between cedar and vanilla.
To this end, we’ve compiled a Fragrance Gift Guide with nine categories of fragrance lovers (or the fragrance curious). Look for ones that feel like they describe your recipient’s disposition, taste in clothes, or the way they greet the world.
2. Stick to the safe bets (and beware some tricky ingredients)
There are two reasons that ingredients do matter a little for gift giving: skin chemistry and scent associations. Scent is closely tied to memory, which can make the exact same smell feel different to different people. Additionally, perfume changes subtly once it hits skin, making it harder to estimate how certain perfumes will smell on any particular person. To maximize your chances of success, we recommend sticking to more versatile scents with crowd-pleasing ingredients and styles.
Try: Escentric Molecules
This brand is a hit for a reason. Without getting too technical, many of their most-loved perfumes aren’t really “perfumes” in the sense that vanilla isn’t really a cake. Instead, their line of “Molecule” scents (numbered 01-05) are suspensions of a single versatile base note in alcohol. Translation? They’re the frame, not the painting. This means that they adapt to anyone’s skin and amplify the best qualities of their natural scent. The result is a wear-it-anywhere automatic jaw dropper that can also layer beautifully with any other scents in their collection.
Try: Malin + Goetz
These fun, modern fragrances are a nice bridge between “nice smell” and “proper perfume” (and we mean that in the best way possible). They’re inspired by easily-identifiable smells, and evoke them in an accessible way. They’re already well loved for their addictive body products, and their packaging is effortlessly chic. And worst comes to worst, buying someone a fragrance named “Cannabis” is sure to at least make them smile (but it would also smell great on almost anyone anyway).
Be careful with: buying something ”fresh”
“Fresh” is a concept in perfume that’s become such a cliché it hardly means anything. If they’ve told you they like “fresh” fragrances, or you have a memory of them smelling “clean”, this could be helpful, or could be a trap. Because of the way scent is tied to memory, “fresh” could mean anything from citrus to mint, light flowers to aquatic, and even white musk. Try to narrow your search by thinking of their personality, or if “fresh” is all you have to go on, consider any Heeley fragrance with a white label.
Be careful with: Floral for the sake of floral
Flowers are foundational to the history of perfume. They also could be the most polarizing ingredient of them all. Not only can people have strong reactions to heavily floral scents, but the way that flowers show up in a composition ranges from “shrieking” to “invisible”. This doesn’t mean you should stay away from any fragrance which lists flowers among the notes; most will have some somewhere. However, if a fragrance is described as both rich/intense and predominantly floral, you might want to get them to try a sample first (unless you or they are experienced fragrance buyers).
One exception to this rule is if you know they have a favourite flower. If so, find a fragrance that doesn’t just include it, but is overwhelmingly and exclusively inspired by it. Lilac lovers will likely love A Lilac a Day, orange blossom enthusiasts will likely swoon over Histoire d’Orangers, and if they grow real roses in their garden, Lustre should remind them of home.
3. Smell for yourself, and even get a second opinion
It will not surprise you to hear that smells cannot be fully experienced through the internet (at least not yet). While many of our clients have learned enough about their personal taste to shop our fragrance selection online, buying a fragrance gift can put many of us back at square one. An excellent way to complete your holiday shopping would be to visit our Montréal boutique and sniff a shortlist of options. If this is a possibility for you, the same advice from #1 applies; when smelling each fragrance, try to think of the person’s energy, personality and style more than decide whether they’d like the actual ingredients.
For those who aren’t lucky enough to live nearby, we also offer the option to purchase samples online of almost any fragrance we sell. If you plan ahead, investing a small amount in an assortment of samples can help you seal the deal, or even sneak an option onto the skin of the actual person you’re buying for. And if the element of surprise is too important to give up, bring the samples around to someone who knows your recipient just as well (or even better) than you do. When seeking a second opinion, the question we’d recommend asking isn’t “would they like this?” as much as “do you think this smells like them?” Lastly, if you’re their significant other, remember to consider what scents you’d enjoy smelling on them as well!
4. Don’t forget the home!
If you’re still not ready to make a judgement call on a fragrance for skin, try a fragrance for space! Any room is enlivened by the invisible colour of a home fraIf you’re still too scared to make a judgement call about a fragrance for skin, try a fragrance for space! Any room is enlivened by the invisible colour of a home fragrance, and we carry a beautiful array of scents in various formats. Home scents are the perfect gifting sweet spot: something almost everybody loves, but many people often don’t buy for themselves.
The range of diffusers from Culti Milano have been extremely popular, as well as their car sachets – a unique gift for anybody who drives to work. Local Montréal brands Les Citadines and T. Lees create artisanal, elevated scents for every taste, and Arquiste’s candles are vibrant, transportive and unique. Finally, for the ultimate luxury experience, the world-renowned house of Fornasetti makes candles which rise to the level of art objects – taking home scent from invisible accent to dazzling decor.
Finally, gifting fragrance with Etiket has one distinct advantage – free samples! Like most retailers, we can’t accept returns of used fragrance, even if it’s only been sprayed once. However, Etiket offers complimentary fragrance samples with every purchase. Simply request a sample of the scents you’re buying and we’ll happily include them so your recipient can try the sample on before they open the full-sized bottle. If it turns out it’s not for them, they can easily return the unused fragrance and get something for themselves. This also means that every bottle of fragrance you buy for someone else lets you try some free samples for yourself, and if that isn’t a reason to be generous, I don’t know what is!
Image source: @penhaligons_london