This morning, I received a desperate text from my long-distance best friend that read “[My boyfriend] says he’s going to buy me perfume for V-day. I need ideas!” Well, Scents of Self to the rescue, y’all. When you have finished reading this article, you will be a veritable master of Valentine’s Day perfume presents. Please try not to abuse this awesome power.
Step 1: Get a sense of your intended gift recipient’s tastes.
What perfumes has he or she worn in the past? Are there any connections or common themes between these fragrances? Perhaps your IGR has never worn perfume. In this case, we’ll have to start with the basics. What are his or her favorite smells? If he or she mentions naturalistic smells such as “fresh-mowed grass” or “the smell of the ocean”, you’re probably going to be looking at light, clean fragrances. If he or she says “a bouquet of [insert favorite flower here]“, we’re talking florals. If he or she salivates over “fresh-baked brownies”, you’ll do well to focus on gourmand fragrances. The website Basenotes provides a helpful basic guide to the different types of fragrances, with examples of each type.
Be sure to also take note of what kind of things your IGR enjoys outside of fragrance. Is he or she a label-lover who has never stepped a Manolo-clad foot inside a Walmart? You’re probably best off sticking to the big names, such as Chanel, Dior, or Prada. If, instead, your IGR is a tree-hugging hippie with a carbon footprint in the negative numbers, he or she might be happiest with a gift from natural or organic perfume lines. If you’re buying for a hipster who delights in the obscure, your best bet is a niche brand that only 5 people in the world have ever heard of.
From here, you have two options.
Step 2A: Take your IGR shopping with you and allow them to pick out a perfume for you to buy. I consider this the less romantic option.
Step 2B: Present your intended gift recipient with a collection of 5-10 samples which, based on the information you gathered in Step 1, you think he or she will like.
Giving your IGR five to ten choices greatly increases the chance that he or she will like at least one of them. DO NOT JUST BUY YOUR IGR ONE PERFUME. This has a much lower rate of success, and is quite likely to be returned. How will you get these samples? You have two choices: in person at stores, or online. I highly recommend the online option, but if you are short on time, here are some rules for in-store interactions. First, do not talk to the salespeople. For more information, please refer to this post. Your own nose will tell you whether what you are smelling is a floral or a candy-sweet gourmand. Do not talk to them until you are already sure of which fragrances you would like to have samples made of, and are ready to ask them to make or find those samples.
Here are the stores who will make you a sample of anything in the store: Nordstrom, Sephora, bluemercury, Lush. Here are the stores who will give you pre-made manufacturer’s samples if they have them and if you ask nicely: Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney’s New York, Macy’s (if you ask VERY nicely). Here are the stores who will not give you samples under any circumstances unless you have already purchased something, and maybe not even then: Neiman Marcus and virtually everywhere else. Feel free to add to this list in the comments, y’all.
If you are instead ordering your samples online, the process is significantly easier. There are three main websites from which to order samples: LuckyScent, The Perfumed Court, and The Posh Peasant. Each has their own advantages. LuckyScent is probably the best choice for beginners. It has the fastest delivery, and its website groups fragrances into many helpful categories based on fragrance family or specific notes. Each sample costs between $3-$5. The Perfumed Court and The Posh Peasant, however, offer a greater selection of vintage or discontinued fragrances. Many smaller perfume houses, such as Ineke or Andy Tauer, offer sample packs on their own websites. The samples will not come wrapped in anything more glamorous than bubble wrap, so make sure you have your own pretty wrapping supplies on hand.
Step 3: Observe your IGR’s reactions to the samples. Act accordingly.
Most likely, your IGR will have a clear favorite. Hooray! Buy that one! If your IGR does not like any of the choices, you can resort to Step 2A, start over at Step 2B, or give up entirely. Frankly, I would give up entirely. Some people are more into the idea of receiving perfume for Valentine’s Day than the actual perfume. Buy them a nice book or a coffee machine instead. Take comfort in the fact that you have at least learned not to talk to perfume salespeople.