While I’ve been talking to people about The Sniff Box and men’s perfumes in general, it’s struck me that a lot of men find shopping for perfumes really difficult. So here’s a short section with some strategies for tackling the sometimes difficult job of how to find and buy a new fragrance.
I’m also going to add something about how to store perfumes too, since it’s a shame to spend a lot of money on a perfume only to spoil it because it hasn’t been stored properly. If there are any other ‘how to’ guides you’d like to see please let me know.
CHOOSING A NEW PERFUME
Like a lot of men I’m no great fan of shopping in general, and shopping for perfume is generally even less fun than shopping for food or clothes. I’m a fairly confident perfume buyer, but even I find it quite intimidating to shop for fragrance in department stores or duty free, where the instant you approach a perfume counter you’re borne down on by a series of terrifyingly made-up sales staff of both sexes brandishing bottles of the latest celebrity whiff, which more often than not is toxic enough to strip the lining from your nasal passages.
The other big problem about big stores is that there’s usually too much choice. This sounds like a good thing in theory, but if you’re anything like me, the minute I walk into an overstocked book or perfume store my mind goes blank and my decision-making capacities abandon me.
So my first piece of advice would be not to shop for perfume in duty free or a department store (or even a large branch of Boots). Small, independent perfume shops and pharmacies are hard to find these days, but places like Les Senteurs in London are well worth seeking out. Their staff tend to be better trained, for one thing, and actually know what they’re talking about, rather than just reading off a script.
The other option is to choose a brand you like and visit one of their standalone stores. Obviously you’ll only be directed to their own perfumes, but the chances are that if you like, say, Guerlain’s Vetiver, then there’ll probably be other Guerlain scents you like.
Whichever route you take, it’s worth bearing mind a few points before you go.
1. Don’t believe everything you’re told. I’ve heard sales assistants talk utter rubbish, even in supposedly ‘high-end’ stores. Mind you, I’ve heard customers spouting total nonsense too, so try and learn to trust your nose – if it smells good to you, you’re probably thinking along the right lines.
2. Don’t be swayed by price. High prices are no guarantee of quality, and some of the most expensive perfumes around are (in a word) crap. On the other hand, cheap perfume, like cheap wine, is generally cheap for a good reason. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between. I try and give an indication of price for most of my reviews, and if a perfume is expensive but worth it I’ll say so.
3. Don’t be a snob. Try and avoid being influenced by packaging and brand names, one way or another. Of course it’s nice to have a good-looking bottle to keep your perfume in, and a lot of people like displaying them on their shelves. But in the end it’s how it smells on you that matters. Some of the ‘smartest’ brands have terrible perfumes in their range, but equally, even the naffest brand can occasionally strike gold: try and smell with an open mind.
4. Don’t impulse buy. It’s very tempting, especially when you’re going on holiday or you’ve got a bit of cash to burn, but if perfumes are any good you want them to last, and to carry on smelling good on you for some time. A lot of modern perfumes are designed to smell great for the first few seconds, but a lot of them don’t last, or turn into something you’d rather not smell of an hour or two later on. So by all means spray yourself silly, but then go away and smell things again. If you live or work near a perfume store, call in as often as you can, and keep sampling different things until you’re absolutely sure you’ve found something that’s worth spending the best part of £100 on.
5. Ask around. Experiment. Sniff. Ask your friends what their favourite perfumes are, and get them to let you try. Try something you haven’t heard of before. And if you sit next to someone on a bus who smells amazing, pluck up courage and ask them what their perfume is: they’re more likely to be flattered than offended.
One of the first things many people do when they get a new perfume home, perfectly understandably, is to unwrap it and throw the packaging away. And who can blame them? Perfume boxes are rarely the most exciting things to look at, while a great deal of thought often goes into the bottle, and some bottles are things of beauty in their own right.
The trouble is, this is just about the worst thing you can do, especially if, like a lot of people, you then keep the bottle on your windowsill in bright daylight or in a well-heated bathroom. For perfume is like wine: it degrades surprisingly quickly in strong light or high temperatures, darkening in colour and losing its subtleties of smell.
On the other hand, if you look after it properly, like wine, most perfume will keep for years: I have bottles that I bought ten or fifteen years ago that smell just as good now as they did on the day I first opened them. The key is to keep them dark and cool, and for that purpose the easiest thing to do is to store them in their original packaging. Some people go further still: a pop star I once met keeps hers in a special fridge, which is what perfume companies do as well.
I know it seems a shame to hide a handsome bottle, but then if manufacturers made their boxes more attractive then people would be less likely to discard them. There again maybe that’s the idea, though there are honourable exceptions: take a bow for your boxes, James Heeley, Hermès, Etro and Frédéric Malle.
So, next time you buy a perfume, treat it right. After all you wouldn’t spend £80 on a bottle of wine then keep it in a boiler cupboard, would you?