A master perfumer’s guide to finding your signature scent

Fragrance bottles
Cassie Steer,-Beauty Editor At Large

Finding ‘the one’ isn’t easy. Love at first sniff can be as elusive as love at first sight – here’s how to find your soul mate

They say the course of true love never runs smooth, and in the case of finding your signature scent this couldn’t be more apt. Maybe you haven’t found a scent you ‘click’ with, or the one that seemed to be your perfect match in the fragrance hall never quite made it past the second date.

‘Fragrance is a very personal choice,’ says Fabrice Penot, co-founder of Le Labo. ‘The important questions to ask ourselves when choosing a perfume are: “Does it make me feel empowered? Does it give me an edge when I spray it in the morning? What do I want to smell of? And what is the message I want to send to the world about myself?”’

And just like those never-worn jeans at the back of your wardrobe, don’t buy a perfume you hope to fit into, advises master perfumer and fragrance expert Roja Dove. ‘A person’s perfume is a sensory enhancement of their personality, not the other way around,’ he says. ‘It should transform you into a better version of yourself.’

Roja also notes that a lot of us are unfaithful to fragrances because we smell the marketing rather than the perfumes themselves. ‘Take the time to become well-versed in what is available to you to ensure you find a scent of true quality and individuality. The most important tip when buying a fragrance for yourself is to be thorough.’

And before you get up close and personal with any potential scent suitors? ‘Always smell the perfume on paper first to give the alcohol a chance to evaporate,’ advises Dove. ‘Spray a few options onto cards and take them home. When you’ve found your favourite, go back to the counter and spray it liberally on your skin, giving it at least 30 minutes to develop.’

Finding ‘the one’

When it comes to finding your perfect scent, perfumer and former president of the British Society Of Perfumers Ruth Mastenbroek advises being as open-minded as possible. ‘Start with identifying the feeling you want to evoke when you wear your perfume,’ she advises. ‘Do you want to feel energised, invigorated or calm?’ Feeling sophisticated? We recommend Creed’s Love In White. Fancy channelling your inner siren? Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium is the one for you. Or just want something to keep you feeling uplifted and energised all day? Try Jo Malone's classic Lime, Basil & Mandarin Cologne.

‘A signature scent is a statement about you,’ continues Ruth. ‘Perfume gives us an opportunity to highlight a part of our personality that some people may not even know about. What aspects of your personality do you want people to see? If you’re normally quiet but have a lion inside waiting to roar, why not go for a bold fragrance that will get you noticed?’ Covert lionesses may like the captivating D&G The Only One 2.

‘Be open-minded,’ says Ruth. ‘There are no hard and fast rules about which scent you will like. In store, smell as many different ones as you can to get a feel for which fragrance family you’re drawn to, for example floral, citrus, fruity, green or woody. But sometimes a scent will surprise you – the one that you identify with may not be the one that you would have chosen based on the description or ingredients on the box. Be adventurous, try lots of different perfumes and be open to discovering something new.’ Feel like experimenting with something a little unexpected? Try Kilian’s Love The Way You Feel or Acqua di Parma Cipresso di Toscana Eau de Toilette, with its notes of star anise, elemi, orange and petit grain.

Patience is a virtue when it comes to choosing your perfect fragrance. ‘I always recommend trying it on your skin and letting it develop before you buy,’ says Ruth. ‘Perfume will “dry down” after just 10 to 15 minutes and then again after a few hours as the various ingredients evaporate from the skin. Every person’s skin is slightly different and will therefore react differently to the perfume. If you can, try and take a sample so you can see how the perfume develops over the course of a whole day. Spray your fragrance on your neck and wrists to get the best effect – anywhere close to your veins, as the skin is warmer here and will help diffuse the scent.

‘Finally, trust your instinct,’ Ruth advises. ‘Perfume is personal and only you can decide what is best for you. I believe perfume is all about making you feel sensational and only you can be the judge of that. Consider again how you want your fragrance to make you feel – if it does that, then you’ve found “the one”.’

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