Monday Question: What Would You Tell A New Perfumista?

What perfumes would you say are must-tries for any newborn fumie?

What mistakes did you make in the beginning that can be avoided?

What would you do differently if you could start over?

What advice would you give a new Perfumista on her way through Perfumeland?

If you are a new, what would you like to know? What help would you need? Which resources?

My Answer:

First and foremost I would tell any newbie to go slow. Falling through the rabbit hole and landing in this scented wonderland is great, and you are overwhelmed with choices, which either paralyzes you or compels you to try them all at once, none of which is the ideal way to go.

Hoarding samples, wanting to discover entire lines at once, buying bottles left and right, is understandable, but not sensible.

There is so much out there, after a few weeks, you don’t know whether you really want a full bottle of anything.

If I could start over, I would only try samples, as many as I’d like, but not buy anything in a bottle. After you have gained some perspective, and the frenzy has abated somewhat, then you can go about the process of selecting perfumes you really love.

I wish somebody would have told me that in no uncertain terms, although maybe I would have ignored them anyway…

Must-tries for new fumies? I would recommend the classics, you always need to know how they smell for reference. Chanel, Guerlain, Caron, then get your feet wet in Lutens and experience Malle, go from there. Great “starter” niche lines are Ormonde Jayne and Parfum d’Empire, both offer discovery sample sets. Here are a few examples:

Chanel N°5, Chanel N°19, Guerlain Shalimar, Guerlain Aprés l’Ondée, Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, Caron Nuit de NoëlSerge Lutens Ambre Sultan, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur, Frederic Malle Le Parfum de Thérèse, Ormonde Jayne Tiare, Parfum d’Empire Equistrius.

Also check out the Perfume Reviews page.

Don’t expect to “get” everything at first try. The greatest discovery I have made over time, was that nothing, nothing at all is set in stone, least of all your tastes. Taste expands and changes, broadens and evolves. Go back to the perfumes you discarded, don’t throw out samples too fast. What you hate today, may end up being your greatest perfumed love tomorrow.

And then – enjoy the ride!

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35 Responses to Monday Question: What Would You Tell A New Perfumista?

  1. andrea says:

    I am fairly new to falling down the rabbit hole, I did all the classics of buying samples and full bottles left right and centre, which as you can imagine was not cheap. I think even if I had the advice I would still go and do it all exactly the same way again because despite the cost I had fun doing it, yes I made some mistakes but those mistakes were sold off on ebay,
    My one biggest piece of advice would be to not buy the 5* Masterpieces unsniffed from Luca Turin’s book as eveyone of us has different tastes, likes and dislikes (how else would you explain secretions, presumably there is a market out there for it somewhere) Perfume should be viewed pretty much in the same way as art, there is no right and wrong formula, art is subjective and in the eye of the beholder, If you love a perfume and cant live without it and can afford it, go for it, it does not matter whether it is rated 1* or 5*, you are the one weaing the perfume.:-)

    • Olfactoria says:

      Those “masterpieces” from The Guide have led many into buying unsniffed and regretting promptly. :)
      I hope you did not buy Secretions Magnifiques!!!

      That is very good advice, Andrea! Thank you!

      • andrea says:

        Missoni by Missoni was my biggest regret and disappointment, it just seemed so mixed up and did not pick a perfume genre and stick with it.
        Thankfully I never bought or sampled secretions, your review and some rather hilarious reviews on you tube made my mind up that it was not a perfume that I ever wanted to smell despite LT giving it a 5* Masterpiece.

        • Olfactoria says:

          Life without SM is definitely better. ;)

        • Sombreuil says:

          Lolita Lempicka was my ‘masterpiece’ mistake – all I smell is sugared insect repellent, and I HATE the teeny spray mechanism. Though I did have a wonderful non-mistake with Parfums de Nicolai’s superb Odalisque. I think when reading The Guide, one has to remember there can be a big difference between the artistic merit of a scent and its wearability.

  2. civava says:

    First of all you have to persuade yourself that you will never be able to smell all the perfumes released in the past and every year. And that’s nothing wrong with that. Relax and enjoy with whatever you have.
    I suggest buying samples and try them many times before buying a full bottle.
    Buy just perfume you really love and not if you have some doubt about it. And let yourself go. Never say never, like I did with jasmine and tuberose. I learned to like them. That doesn’t mean I love them but now I can appreciate these notes in some perfumes and also wear them without a problem.
    Never fully believe that you will get a perfume you will like if notes quoted are ones you like. Sometimes the outcome is surprisingly different of what you’ve expected.

    • Olfactoria says:

      It is very true, yet so hard to get into one’s head, that indeed, it won’t be possible and isn’t necessary to smell everything.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughtful advice, Civava!

  3. Thank you!! I am trying very hard to abide by these “rules”. I leaped into this with the intention of not buying any full bottles for a long long time. Although buying decants and splits is getting a tad out of hand LOL. I do tend to go a little crazy when I get involved with something ;-)

    • Olfactoria says:

      Believe me, that is normal! Many of us went through such a phase, when you want to try it all (and all right now!)
      You are very restrained for not buying full bottles at this point! Bravo! :)

  4. vanessa says:

    The single most important piece of advice I would give is the one you have majored on, namely to go slow and resist the urge to buy bottles early on in the hobby. It kills me that I bought upwards of 20 FBs of designer stuff before I progressed to niche (some at a discount, on Ebay etc, but still). I am slowly trying to sell/swap them on, with some success, but it was a crashing error. Don’t get me wrong – I like a lot of designer frags today – but with the benefit of hindsight most of the ones I bought were not FBW. Stick to samples and “steady as you go” for at least the first year to 18 months, if you can be disciplined. Okay, allow yourself some small decants maybe along the way.

    I found the Posse’s list of 101 perfumes you should try very helpful – there were two lists in fact – beginner’s and more advanced – my memory is a bit fuzzy now. So I worked through those quite steadily, if not slavishly exactly. NST was my main resource and also Osmoz, but that was mostly because I was fascinated by the families aspect, so I would only recommed that site if the newbie also enjoys deconstructing scents! I also googled reviews left and right and that is still a good technique.

  5. vanessa says:

    PS As two of my main sources of samples at the start of my hobby have got quite pricy now – The Perfumed Court and Luckyscent – I would mitigate the costs of the harder to find scent samples with cheaper ones on Ebay. Much much cheaper, but clearly the selection is hit and miss, though if someone is starting out that is less key as so many things will be grist to your mill at this point. I would also blag samples in the better stores and request samples by phone from perfume houses – it works quite well! Later, when you have more of a collection you can start swapping on MUA to amass even more variety, and then progress to larger splits on sites like Wiki scent splits or the google one. And then…..when you know you own mind a lot better……FBs await!

  6. Tara says:

    I can only echo your advice, B. Luckily, being the cautious person I am I didn’t jump into buying full bottles for a long time. I was enjoying all the research too much! Idid however spend a lot on samples so I’d recommend investigating perfume brands and stores that provide samples for free or for a small amount. Chanel, Dior and By Killian all provide free samples at point of purchase – if you have access.

    Basenotes.net is also a good resource for newbies because there are a lot of short reviews which can give you a good general idea of what a perfume is like before you invest in a sample. Swapping is also a great way to try something you might not have otherwise, plus it saves money.

    Start commenting on blogs and make friends with fellow perfumistas. That will enrich your experience no end.

    It’s such a wonderful, exhilarating time that it’s really not worth having regrets over. Enjoy the ride for sure!

    • My experience is similar to Tara’s. I didn’t rush headlong into buying samples or (thankfully) full bottles. Basenotes has been a big help and a wonderful resource since I discovered it many years ago. I have settled into researching, testing, and occasionally purchasing the classics while finding a few fragrances I like from more recent time periods. I don’t think I have made any huge mistakes, so I don’t think I would do anything differently if I had another chance.

      I haven’t yet fully explored Serge Lutens or Ormonde Jayne, so I’m interested in these since the come highly recommended by Birgit.

    • Olfactoria says:

      I love the points you make, Tara! Getting involved in the community is a wonderful experience. And I admire your paced way of goingabout building your collection.

  7. deeHowe says:

    What they said!

    I had this block for a while, where I found something I loved, but didn’t buy a bottle of, because it was a lot of money. Instead, I found steals&deals, and snatched up a bunch of “likes”. That was a mistake, because, as we know, a few “steals” can equal a more expensive bottle.

    The feeling of contentment with my collection didn’t begin until I stopped snapping up the partial bottles/discount designer bottles (many later resold on eBay), and instead saved dollars for a true love (without setting price limits). The scent that drew this distinction for me was Amouage Memoir; when I saved for this (HG) perfume, I had to resist all the little nothings, and when my bottle finally arrived, I felt so satisfied. Since then, my purchasing has been much more targeted and thoughtful. And I am very happy with my collection!

    Tania’s advice rings true: if you love it, buy it! ;)

  8. I would say there can be no true advice. My personality is reflected in the way I sampled and bought perfume. The one thing I could say is smell as much as you can.
    Read.
    Find your own way through perfume.
    Go with the flow because after all perfume is a thing of the heart: if you follow it it will probably lead you where you want to go.
    Don’t read too much.
    Don’t be afraid form your own perfume personality: you don’t have to like what most people like.

  9. Sample prices seem to have gone up indeed. Still the cheapest ones are offered by companies who have sample packs at reasonable prices. Some even free.

  10. My advice is to not buy full bottles. Sample, make a list of those that interest you, revisit that list a few months later. If you still like, then buy if you can. I would also say that decants are wonderful too. Full bottles may be pretty but they aren’t sensible. You can still enjoy perfume without owning the 3.4 oz bottle of everything!
    In the beginning (over 10 years ago), I didn’t read too much. I would read Basenotes or NST for new launches or perfumer interviews. I didn’t read The Guide until this year. I wanted to form my own opinions and not feel persuaded by somebody else’s opinion just because I felt they knew more than I did.
    And I smelled everything that I could get my hands on. This helped me to find my perfume personality.

  11. lady jane grey says:

    I’m not sure I would do anything differently, becasue in spite of all the mistakes I had loads of fun. But I’d probably say “go slowly, take your time, don’t hurry – try & test for few days first and then buy the full bottle.” Plus I might add “test and understand the main fragrance categories like Chypre, Citrus, Floral, Oriental, …etc, etc.”. But for sure my first advize would be “go and get quickly Mandy Aftel’s Essence & Alchemy ! “

  12. Julie says:

    I think everything has been covered here. Don’t buy full bottles until sampling several times! And don’t assume you will like something based on a review or list of notes and buy unsniffed! I’ve done that a few times after reading amazing reviews (perfume bloggers are so talented!) and then been disappointed. Preference and skin chemistry are so important. After reading NST, the Posse and other blogs for several years, I’m starting to get to know each bloggers tastes (and also knowing mine better) and realize that no matter how beautiful a review Angela at NST writes, for example,, I probably won’t like the scent. And don’t be swayed by experts or feel that if something is more expensive, it must be better. You like what you like, so don’t be ashamed if it’s mainstream or not expensive.

  13. Alice C says:

    I know that I bought lots and lots of samples in the beginning; so many that I was on sensory overload most of the time. My sample supply grew so quickly, I did not smell them more than once or twice. I bought some full bottles before I should have: a few unsniffed and new, a few from Ebay. I got burned a couple of times in antique stores. It may be that we all have to go through it, but if I could change things for myself or give a newbie advice, I would gather my samples more slowly. I would trade for samples and acquire more through bottle splits. Go slow, not 200 mph. (You won’t listen, but maybe you’ll only go 90 mph!)

  14. JoanElaine says:

    My advice: Try before you buy. Don’t be fooled by sexy advertising or celebrity endorsements. Read all the amazing perfume blogs out there. Make friends and have fun!

  15. Sombreuil says:

    I needed this post about eight months ago!!! I don’t particularly regret any of my purchases (all good journeys have bumps in the road, right?) but, like deeHowe above, I did fall into the trap of buying things I merely liked because they seemed to represent good value. Not a good plan.

    My best advice though would be to learn to squash the lemmings. I have found perfume writing generally, in books and on blogs such as this one, to be utterly gorgeous. Passionate and knowledgeable, it is inspiring, and sometimes it’s very hard not to heed that siren song when a fragrance you haven’t smelled promises to take you to a land of silver unicorns and yellow flowers after a sunshower, where every day’s a holiday and there’s a large pimms just around the corner ;). But you need to learn to strap yourself to the mast and just hold off – there is so much good stuff to smell, why hurry?

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hello Sombreuil,
      very well said! The siren song of perfume blogs and books can be hard to resist, it is the same for me, even hough I sing a tune myself.
      And those bargain buys are mostly turning out to be not such a bargain at all. I am happiest with the perfumes I really, really wanted and paid full price for after saving up for them, not the “great catch” on ebay or a discounter.

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