perfume the guide

The Best Perfume Insults

I love people’s writing about perfume, because it’s forced to be so creative.  Scent is hard to talk about, so people have to resort to stories and metaphors, all of them intensely personal to the writer.

And when they don’t like a perfume, that creativity gives forth some of the best insults.  I have here curated my favorites from Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.  The list is long, but trust me, they’re all worth reading.

A disclaimer: The same thing that makes perfume reviews fun to read also makes them super subjective.  I have never found less of a consensus on anything than on perfume.  In other words, if you find your favorite perfume on this list, please don’t take it personally (and don’t blame me- I haven’t smelled most of these myself!)

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The last decade has seen the unfortunate flourishing of a dismal genre, the fragrance for men and women who do not like fragrance and suspect that none of their friends do either.
The result has been a slew of apologetic, bloodless, gray, whippet-like, shivering little things that are probably impossible, and certainly pointless, to tell apart. All fragrances whose name involves the words energy, blue, sport, turbo, fresh, or acier in any order or combination belong to this genre. This is stuff for the generic guy wishing to meet a generic girl to have generic offspring. It has nothing to do with any other pleasure than that of merging with the crowd. My fondest hope is everyone will stop buying them and the genre will perish.
—  Turin and Sanchez on sports fragrances; Perfumes, The A-Z Guide

Why Old Books Smell Good

“Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.”

—From Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: the guide


We help you pick the perfect scent to gift on Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day is practically synonymous with a mother-daughter brunch date. There’s no better excuse to dress up and clink mimosas with Mommy Dearest—but you can’t show up empty handed. Here, we help you decide which fragrance to bestow on her before the eggs Benedict arrive. BECKY PEDERSON

THE SCENE: Your mom is a class act with impeccable taste. She deserves to be lavished in luxury. You secure a private table next to the grand marbled fireplace and sip Scotch cocktails—neither of you are much for saccharine sweet drinks.
THE NOTES: Rose, lychee, pink peony.

THE SCENT: Dolce & Gabbana Dolce.
THE SCENE: Your mom is not easily impressed, so only an insider, secret gem will do. You take her to a café with no outside sign, decked out in authentic vintage and a menu that hasn’t changed in decades. You gasp when you spy an A-list celebrity; your mom doesn’t even flinch.
THE NOTES: White amaryllis, neroli leaves, white daffodil.

THE SCENT: Versace Bright Crystal.
THE SCENE: Your mom can pull off black evening attire any time of day. She has the nose of a sommelier and the eye of a jeweler. She’s the only person you let order for you—and still, sometimes, tell you what to wear.
THE NOTES: Yuzu, lotus flower, pomegranate.

THE SCENT: Tocca Simone.
THE SCENE: Your Earth mother will always be a wood nymph at heart. You drop in on an airy patio and order iced Americanos. The pastries are adorable, but your mom is more captivated by the table’s centerpiece succulents.
THE NOTES: Frangipani, watermelon, blonde wood.

THE SCENT: Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet.
THE SCENE: Your mom’s not a regular mom; she’s a cool mom. You’re taking her to a local hot spot where bearded babes in flannel man a Bloody Mary bar. You sit back in a combination of awe and embarrassment as your mom’s winking earns you both drinks on the house.
THE NOTES: Sicilian orange, peony, white musk.


Why Old Books Smell Good

Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.

From Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: the guide


Pinpoint the perfect perfume present with this handy guide.

Gift exquisitely this Valentine’s Day with a fragrance found just for her. Picking out the wrong scent stinks, so if you’re clueless about where to start, visit a Sephora store and try Fragrance IQ, our custom scent-matching technology. Below are some suggestions to help you get started. BECKY PEDERSON

Chloé Love Story
If she swoons for Parisian trends, get her a scent from the brand that’s been forging them since the 1950s. Love Story’s intoxicating bouquet of orange blossom, neroli, and jasmine is packaged in a lock-shaped bottle—a reference to the famous Pont des Arts lovers’ bridge in Paris.

Elizabeth and James Nirvana Black + Elizabeth and James Nirvana White
If she’s a mix of uptown sophistication and downtown edge, get her a fragrance wardrobe that plays on the Elizabeth and James duality of masculine tailoring and feminine detail. Created by Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen, Elizabeth and James Nirvana Black is an intimate blend of violet, vanilla, and sandalwood, while Elizabeth and James Nirvana White softly mixes musk, peony, and muguet. Worn together, they exude an aura of mystery.

Tory Burch Tory Burch
If she prefers boutiques to big box stores, get her a fragrance from the apparel line that started as a best-kept local secret in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. This scent complements Tory Burch’s girl-meets-boy brand story with its fusion of floral peony and earthy vetiver, all contained in signature fretwork.

Gucci Guilty Diamonds
If she’s impeccably chic, get her a scent that says sexy with authority. This sheer, oriental floral mingles black pepper and citrus for elegance with a sultry edge. Sure to be a classic, the diamond edition bottle will bring an extra sparkle to her vanity.

Prada Candy Florale
If she waits all year for fashion week, get her something from a legend of the runway. Held in a flacon as visionary as the fashion line, notes of cedrat, caramel, and white musk blossom with flirtatious confidence in this latest creation from the Prada House of Candy.


#BestYearEver: Find Your Signature Scent

The perfect perfume for you

Finding the right scent for you is easier said than done, but when you do, it’s well worth the wait. Perfume is that accessory that always feels right, adding a personal and elegant touch to every outfit. We’re breaking down the process of finding the perfect fragrance for you, so read through our tips below and then shop our top 10 great-smelling perfumes.

Start with what you know. If there’s a specific scent or bottle you know you like, visit a department store or specialized beauty shop and ask questions. The people working there can help you find similar perfumes.

Learn your families. Perfumes are often categorized by scent families, so it helps to know which ones please you the most. Smell a variety of citrus, floral, oriental and wood-based perfumes to find your favorite.

Don’t spray too much. You only need a spritz or two before the scent starts to overpower your presence. If you want a light coverage, spray it in the air first and walk through it.

Take samples with you. Perfume scents change throughout the day, so it’s important that you like how a certain fragrance smells even after it has settled.

Smell it on your skin. Perfume smells a little differently on each person, just as it does on a paper sample. Live with the scent a little and feel it out.

Have a few on hand. While having a signature scent is important, it’s also key to keep in mind that you might want something different depending on the occasion or time of year. Lighter scents are better in the summer and heavier in the fall.

Take your time. If you haven’t completely fallen in love with a fragrance yet, don’t worry. There are plenty of options out there, so it’s worth your time to keep sampling and find something that you’ll want to smell every day.

Shop Scents

Gypsy Water - 50 ml Eau de Parfum

“Vanille 44” (Paris) eau de parfum

Nirvana White

Chloé Eau de Parfum

Balenciaga Paris

Le Parfum

Neroli Blanc Eau De Parfum


Paco Rabanne Lady Million Eau de Perfume Spray

Eau des Merveilles Parfum des Merveilles - Pure perfume lock spray refill

Still on the hunt? Search for more perfume here.

Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit,
is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin.
When made into paper and stored for years,
it breaks down and smells good.

Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute,
subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.


Style clues for finding a fragrance she’ll love.

A perfume is pretty much the ideal present. It’s a transformative experience, it’s beautifully encased, and it’s a gift that keeps on giving.  Even if you don’t know your eau de parfums from your eau de toilettes, we can help you choose a scent we think your lady will like. Here’s the trick: When shopping for her fragrance wardrobe, just take into consideration what’s in her clothes wardrobe. Personal style can go a long way, and fragrance is essentially the final accessory to any outfit. Read on for pointers below. KELLEY HOFFMAN

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If her closet is full of designer labels:
We’re looking at a woman who loves her high fashion. Keep the chic coming with exquisite scents that channel the best of New York, London, Milan, and Paris Fashion Weeks. 

Tory Burch Tory Burch: with notes of neroli, grapefruit, and cassis.
Burberry My Burberry: with notes of sweat pea, bergamot, and geranium.
Dolce & Gabbana Dolce: with notes of papaya flower, white daffodil, and sandalwood.
Chloé Chloé: with notes of pink peony, freesia, and lychee.

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If her closet is full of florals:
This woman knows how to incorporate ladylike lace and feminine flower prints into her wardrobe, no matter the season. A floral perfume would be her foolproof finishing touch to any look.

TOM FORD Velvet Orchid: with notes of cool citrus, honey, and rum.
Marc Jacobs Fragrance Daisy Dream: with notes of blackberry, jasmine, and blue wisteria.
Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb: with notes of centifolia rose, cattleya orchid, and ballerina freesia.
Prada Candy Florale: with notes of sparkly cedrat, bouquet of cosmos, and caramel.

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If her closet is full of sensual fabrics:
Furs, silks, leathers, linens—there’s everything but polyblends in this woman’s wardrobe. Because for her, it’s all about the way her clothes make her feel—and her fragrance should match just that.

Dior J’adore: with notes of ylang-ylang essence, damascena rose essence, and sambac jasmine absolute.
Gucci Guilty: with notes of mandarin, pink pepper, and peach.
philosophy Amazing Grace: with notes of bergamot, muguet blossoms, and musk.
Elizabeth and James Nirvana Black: with notes of violet, sandalwood, and vanilla.
Elizabeth and James Nirvana White: with notes of peony, muguet, and tender musk.