When you don’t know what to buy someone, the first two presents that pop in your mind are probably fragrance or a candle. Coupled with the simplicity of picking out one or the other is the olfactory orgasm your giftee’s nose might experience. Just because gifting a fragrance seems personal to you, doesn’t mean the selection process is too. Be real—how many times have you picked a fragrance for another after just a few sample whiffs? One too many. In our guide to creating a custom fragrance, we introduced New York-based fragrance studio Nova. Here, Nova’s founder and self-taught perfumer Julia Zangrilli weighs in on the do’s and don'ts of buying a scent for whoever—keep scrolling for Julia’s tips on gifting perfume like a pro.
Do Pay Attention to Their Style
Take into consideration the way the present themselves, the types of fabrics they wear, and the way they decorate their home. Getting a read on the tone of their overall lifestyle can help to point you in the right direction. If you find a fragrance brand that looks like it belongs in their world, that’s a good place to start smelling. If you do know some of their favorite fragrance notes, then tell a sales associate and they will be able to show you a range of products that are in that world. You could decide that you want to get them the opposite of what they already have, and the same sales associate should be able to take you into totally new directions.
The best bet is to go to a niche fragrance store and buy a gift certificate, so they can select it themselves! Or buy a sampling gift from a niche fragrance store online. I say this because fragrance is so, so personal. I say this also because an opened fragrance is usually non-returnable. But if you’re really set on purchasing a fragrance for that person, and you don’t know any specific fragrance notes they like, pay attention to their style.
Do Ask the Right Questions
Ask what type of mood they want to impart, as what their goal is. Do they want to feel cozy? Dominant? Powerful? Natural? Thinking about fragrance effect in that way can be helpful.
Do Practice Caution with Consult Quizzes
A quiz can theoretically steer you toward what is supposed to be a fragrance match - I definitely tried to use questionnaires as an anchor when first starting making custom fragrances for clients. They can be okay jumping off points, but no quiz should be used as a substitute for smelling. Language and smell are hard to compute–those areas of the human brain aren’t built for rapid, precise connection (in the way that memory and scent are). Even within an in-person scenario, where people are smelling and discussing, it’s still incredibly difficult to describe a scent to someone else.
Do Reset Your Olfactory Senses
Sometimes the nose just needs rest, it needs a few hours and some chill time. Smelling a piece of clean wool in between whiffs can be helpful (say if you’re wearing a sweater). Coffee beans (debatably, I say yes, some say no) also help. My teacher at the school where I trained, The Grasse Institute of Perfumery, insisted that coffee beans were a sales floor tactic. Something mysterious to tell people - much like telling people that they shouldn’t rub their wrists together after applying a fragrance, because it “crushes the molecules”. That said, I genuinely find coffee beans to be helpful!
Don’t Outright Guess
I say don’t guess for someone else, because scent preferences are deeply subjective in that they are sharply linked to very specific memories, associations and emotions. Best not to inadvertently open up a can of worms. Once I allowed a guy to make a custom fragrance for his girlfriend. He chose a floral note as the centerpiece. She came back asking if we could start over because she hated floral notes!
Don’t Go Straight For the Most Expensive
My company NOVA has a light delicious quartet of musks that are super affordable. I created them with my custom clients in mind…so many people came to me saying they wanted to wear a fragrance that wasn’t “perfumey”. So this was my response! They all wear fresh and sheer - and dry down to more of a “skin smell” than an eau de perfum. I also just released a unisex active eau de cologne called Sport - I designed it to cover all aspects of an active day, so it literally takes you from the morning gym to post-work dinner and drinks.