Advertorial: A fragrance buyer’s guide to finding your signature scent

Anita Sheth,
Partner & copywriter

Navigate the complicated world of fragrance with tips from Madeleine Harries, Partner and Fragrance Buyer

How to find your signature scent: two fragrances John Lewis & Partners' buyer recommends

Fragrance is incredibly personal, and the idea of discovering a signature scent that people instantly associate with you is endlessly appealing – but finding The One can be tricky.

So how to start out on your own voyage of fragrance discovery? Madeleine advises you to, “Choose a signature scent which is versatile and timeless. Whether it's just one fragrance or a whole collection, whatever you pick should showcase your personality and style. It's a deeply personal choice, and it may even be an aroma that triggers a certain memory that draws you to a particular scent. It's important to smell a wide range of perfumes - don't be afraid to try out lots of scents and take time in making your decision.”

We’ve delved deeper into the fragrance world to share the best advice on what to look for and, more importantly, what to smell for when you’re searching for a new scent.

How to find your signature scent: Gucci Bloom

The science behind fragrance notes

When perfumers talk about 'notes', they are describing the components that make up a scent. These are split into three levels: top, heart and base. 

You will detect the top notes immediately. These quickly evaporate, whereas the heart notes will last from between 30 minutes to four hours. The dominant base notes provide an enduring and lasting scent on the skin, mingling with the heart notes to create the full body of the fragrance. 

“It’s important to discover how the scent evolves on your skin,” says Madeleine. “A top note is the first impression you’ll get of the fragrance and the heart will last for the better part of the day. So if you love a scent as soon as you spray it and still love it hours later, this could be the one for you.”

How to find your signature scent: A range of perfumes sold at John Lewis & Partners

Fragrance families decoded

Our simple guide to the fragrance families will give you the insider edge when you’re looking for a new perfume. “You should look for notes that resonate with you” Madeleine advises, “so that you can establish what you like and stay clear of those which might not be right for you.”

Citrus is the lightest and freshest composition on the perfume spectrum and features notes of lemon, orange, bergamot and grapefruit. You can expect the cooling and exhilarating scent to give you a burst of energy.

The floral family is one of the largest, simply because nature has provided perfumers with so much choice. Think delicate scents of peonies and blossom, as well as heavier notes of orchid and jasmine. Try Gucci Bloom Nettare, which showcases a sensual side to florals with notes of rose, ginger and patchouli and is perfect for those who prefer a stronger and more seductive scent.

From cedar and oak to sandalwood and amber, wood is a warm and aromatic base note. Woody notes are fairly unisex and are often the most intriguing on the fragrance spectrum. Take Santal 33: this eau de parfum from one of our newest fragrance brands, Le Labo (which quietly arrived on the scene in 2011 and has since gained cult-like status) is a fragrance powerhouse that features an intoxicating blend of sweet cardamom, iris and violet mixed with the smoky flavours of sandalwood, rich spices and leather.

How to find your signature scent: Prada

The importance of the right concentration

Madeleine advises you should “always pay attention to the type of fragrance you’re trying, which will help you distinguish the strength of the scent”. The concentration is simply a description of the balance between water, alcohol and scented oils and is generally split into three groups: cologne, eau de toilette (EDT) and eau de parfum (EDP).

Colognes are the lightest concentration and offer two to five percent of aromatics for a clean and airy formula. Colognes are ideal for a reviving splash in the morning or a pick-me-up in the afternoon, but they won’t hang around all day. If you like the idea of a lighter scent but want something with a little more staying power, try Atelier Cologne’s fruity and refreshing Clémentine California Cologne Absolue. The unisex fragrance is inspired by the lightness of colognes, but blends citrus notes with natural raw materials for even longer-lasting scent.

Eau de toilettes have a light wear on the skin and offer between five to 15 percent perfume oils. Ideal for everyday wear, they are designed to gradually fade down throughout the day. 

Typically offering 10 to 20 percent concentration of perfume oils, eau de parfums are potent and compelling, and will linger on your skin until late in the evening. If you love stronger scents, try out the powerful new fragrance from Hermès, Terre d'Hermès Eau Intense Vetiver. A fresh interpretation of the classic Terre d'Hermès, this scent focuses on notes of the tropical grass vetiver, which is known for its woody earthiness and deeply warming qualities, alongside which you’ll also find invigorating notes of Sichuan pepper and bergamot. Another new name to the fragrance scene is Diptyque’s 34 Boulevard Saint Germain Eau de Parfum. The fragrance encapsulates the scent of Diptyque's first store on Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris. Except to smell a complex mix of notes including velvety sandalwood, comforting vanilla and fresh berries.

How to find your signature scent: Givenchy

The concept behind fragrance wardrobing

Madeleine describes fragrance wardrobing as: “A collection of different scents to suit different seasons, occasions and moods.” Look for something classic that is guaranteed to stand the test of time – we recommend the new scent from Prada, Les Infusions de Prada Iris. The fragrance strikes the perfect balance between refreshing and deeply sophisticated, and features notes of iris, vanilla and orange blossom.

Next, look for an everyday scent that is comfortable and easy to wear. Choose a light and refreshing scent like our exclusive fragrance Eau de Givenchy Eau de Toilette. Inspired by Hubert de Givenchy’s home in the South of France, this uplifting scent combines zesty citrus with the smoothness of orange blossom and finishes with a comforting musk and cedar wood base.

And last but not least, you need the showstopper. We recommend the new NARCISO Eau de Parfum Rouge from Narciso Rodriguez. The bold and intoxicating fragrance features a heart of musk that is enriched with a warm bouquet of Bulgarian rose and iris and finished with notes of vetiver, cedar and tonka bean. This is the type of scent you’ll only get out for special occasions and it will remind you of those moments every time you spray it for years to come.