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Gift Guide 101: How to buy perfume for someone else – and nail it

We're diving deep into gifting season right now – and as much as perfumes might seem like the most popular gift choice for your loved ones, it's also one that is easy to get absolutely wrong. We don't need another *open pop culture reference* “it's an avocado… thanks” moment *close pop culture reference*.

Selecting the ideal perfume for someone can really be a fine art, because it's less about the bottle of the fragrance, the brand or the scent itself, but more about capturing the essence of that special someone. You want to find something that resonates with their personality, unlocks good core memories and becomes a fragrant extension of who they are – and that's a lot of pressure.

Fear not, we're here to help you navigate through the nuances and subtle cues that define your special someone's essence, their style, the memories that they most cherish and the adventures that define them to find… the one.

We sat down with Beauty Director and fragrance connoisseur Alice Du Parcq, whose nose we very much trust, as she helps us break down the best ways to nail the complex art of buying fragrance for someone else.

What are the rules for gifting fragrance?

Fragrances are such personal purchases, and all we want is to find the ‘perfect scent’ for our loved one, but Alice recommends us removing the word ‘perfect’ completely from our vocab when shopping. “That's putting so much pressure on yourself. If you head into this with the simple goal of gifting something beautiful and lovely, that's enough.”

What do you need to know about a person to find their ideal scent?

There are a few questions you should really know the answer to when gifting perfume. However they're not as specific as you may imagine. “Try to find out the bigger, more broad picture of their lifestyle and style habits,” says Alice.

At this stage you really just want to unravel the various aspects of their preferences and personality. “Do they love matching their friends in a style tribe? Are they always following the latest viral trend? Do they love vintage and seek out heritage brands? Are they a strict vegan with a clean lifestyle? Maybe a beauty activist with a charity purpose behind every purchase? Once you've pinpointed their general lifestyle habits, you're on the right track,” she adds.

Some more questions you could ask yourself include any specific core memories you know they treasure, like their favourite holiday destination, or something as rogue as their “last-day” meal of preference. Of course then there are the more practical but essential questions like allergies and sensitivities. Also have you ever had a chance to check our their existing collection? What does it look like, and have you spotted any trends?

Where would I start when choosing a fragrance for someone else?

Alice's main advice is something we truly abide by: “Cut yourself some slack and don't stress too much over it! If you're wracking your brain struggling to choose something, step back, look at the bigger picture and pause. I can guarantee you've got enough on your plate to deal with this Christmas, so make your life easier.” Noted, Alice.

On the more practical side, we do recommend you start early and observe your giftee's preferences and lifestyle. Then try to find more specific traits.

If it all starts getting a bit too overwhelming, Alice suggests making things simple: “Buy a discovery set within a budget you can afford, and let them make the final decision as to their favourite one.” A few of Alice's favourites include Penhaligon's, Jo Malone London, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Margiela Replica, Byredo and Malin+Goetz.

However, if you're really set on buying a new perfume for a loved one, here's what to do according to Alice:

Take photos: (Or get someone who lives with them to take photos) of the perfume currently on their dressing table or bathroom shelf.

Shop the photos: Either go to a counter of a brand they like, or a store fragrance section which offers a lot of choice, and show the photo to a consultant. These are the experts and gatekeepers of perfume joy, and they'll be able to decipher a common pattern or flavour vibe, then suggest something spot on.

Study the photo: Alternatively, if you're quite fragrance savvy, you could do your own investigation work and research those perfumes in their collection. Find out the common ingredients and textures, perhaps even the names of the perfumers too, and make those your shopping criteria.

Alice's bonus tip: build on their existing fragrance wardrobe by introducing something in their style… but slightly different. “Are they sociable and go out in the evenings? Aim for something a bit richer and more night-time. Are they a morning-energy sort of person? Go brighter and zippier. Is there an 'Intense' or 'Extract' or Limited Edition version of a perfume they already own? They'll love that! If your budget is limited, see if you can find a travel/handbag version of one of their favourite fragrances, or a body cream or shower gel. Those tend to be more pocket-friendly than the bottle itself.”

What are the main perfume categories for gifting?

Fragrances have many families that expand and interwine: think ‘light floral’, ‘rich floral’, ‘fresh greens’, ‘oceanic’, ‘woody’, ‘bohemian’, ‘warm spiced’, ‘ambery’ or ‘gourmand’. Alice tells us that a lot of people tend to have a default comfort zone. “If they like a specific ingredient or flavour category, that's a great place to start. For instance if they have a preference for rose, jasmine, vanilla or citrus, that will really help with your shopping direction.”

Where are the best places to shop for fragrances?

When shopping fragrances, starting in store is a better option than hopping online and basing your choices off TikTok reviews (though we wouldn't blame you).

“I'd always go in store if you can; the consultants will be so helpful and suggest things you might never have thought of.” says Alice. However if you don't have the privilege of IRL shopping then check out some of the following websites recommended by Alice.

“It really depends on your budget, but I really rate The Perfume Shop, which has a ton of brands to choose from and gives amazing advice, plus there are always great discounts on. Marks & Spencer has upped their perfume game and sells beautiful brands including their own (excellent) in-house brands. Fenwicks and Space NK are great places to shop and there's a lot on offer from really well curated mid-to-luxury brands. I'd also check out Harvey Nichols' website (they have an impressive array of independent niche brands as well as big well-known ones), and Fortnum & Mason's perfume selection too. LookFantastic are brilliant too, and also have a look at if they love an iconic classic (for instance YSL Opium, Mugler Angel or Cacharel Noa) – they're usually discounted.”

If all else fails, what are some fragrance crowd pleasers?

Okay, so you've exhausted your options. How about going for a universal-ish, safe option?

Alice recommends: “A crisp, fresh, sunny, unigender cologne such as Acqua di Parma Colonia, or a soft, subtle skin scent such as Glossier You. I genuinely don't know anyone who dislikes either of these.”

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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