Monday, August 26, 2013

How To Sample And Test Perfume

A couple of decades ago I used to visit a perfume counter, get sprayed with either the fragrance I came for or whatever the store was pushing that day, sniff my wrists a couple of times, and sometimes make a decision right there if I couldn't convince the SA to part with a sample. On those occasion I was lucky enough to obtain a sample I'd wear it for the next day or three, and if I drained it and was still yearning for more, it meant I needed the full bottle. Obviously, things have changed and I don't mean just the size of my perfume collection. The number of perfume releases and interesting brands has been increasing exponentially since the early 2000s. Then I started this blog and eventually found myself publishing about 16 perfume reviews every month. This means a lot of sampling and testing. Lots and lots and lots of sampling. It also means that I've picked up some good habits and learned a thing or two in the process. Here are six tips for testing a fragrance before making  a purchase:

1. Try to get more than a 1ml sample. It's important to me as a blogger to do that before forming a semi-educated opinion whenever possible, but it's just as essential if you're about to spend over $100 (I'm being modest here. We all know some highly covetables at double, triple or six times that price).

2. Some samples come as tiny sprayers, but many brands are still only giving away dab-on samples. When you spray, the fragrance is distributed more evenly and covers a larger surface, so the impression it gives can be very different. If possible, decant some of the juice into a sprayer to try it that way. Also try dabbing if the fragrance you spray seem to strong or too volatile. It might change the way you think of it.

3. Only testing a fragrance when staying indoors can skew the impression. Some perfumes feel different (for better as well as for worse) when you smell them in the open air. Go outside. See how it smells when the air has some movement. I didn't fall so completely and hopelessly in love with  Dans tes Bras until after I wore it for several days of  walking around the city wearing it.

4. It's not very likely that you'll get to test a perfume in several extreme weather conditions. But you do want to know how you're going to smell when the heat is on and the sweat is pouring. I'm not telling you to go and fumigate your fellow gym goers with Angel, but try to do a quick workout at home, go for a brisk walk or just carry your laundry up and down the stairs enough times to work up a sweat. Does the perfume still work?

5. The dainty dab on the wrist in the morning is nice, but not enough to show you what the fragrance can do. Spray other body parts and try it at least once in the evening or right before bed. See if the mood changes, if the perfume is more suitable for work or for dancing the night away. Does it help you relax? Is it energizing? Do you need another hot date scent?

6. Let's assume you've done all of the above and you're still smitten. But just how smitten? How big is your collection? Are you going to wear the new perfume every day? every week? Do you need the biggest bottle available? Will a 1oz suffice? Also consider getting a large decant (5-10ml. There are several decanting services on the web- The Posh Peasant, Surrender To Chance, The Perfumes Court, and several others on eBay)  before going all the way. After draining about 5ml of anything, even Secretion Magnifique, I'd say it's really time for a bottle.

Do you have sampling tips? Please share them!

Image: Model Amber Anderson by photographer Simon Burstall for Elle France, November 2011.


  1. Thanks for the tips, Gaia! I have a question for you/maybe your readers: is there anywhere in the U.S that sells decants of Jo Loves perfumes? I really want to try them but cannot justify shelling in big bucks on things I haven't tried. Any pointers will be appreciated.

  2. At my earliest age I remember My Moms perfume of Chanel #5, Lanvin, Joy, just sitting on her dressing table. They were saved for special times, but every day she would wear Revlon's Intimate, Or Avon's Topaz. So when I was in High School in the early to mid 60's I wore the Intimate, it just suited me. Then the Cologne for men was Canoe, all of us girls would put our brothers Canoe on a cotton ball, wrap it in tinfoil, and after gym rub it on! Oh the smell lol. Then at 19 a very dear Lady friend gave me a bottle of Germain Montiel's Royal Secret, I have never stopped using this fragrance. It is my signature, I get compliments every time I leave the house, It is a running joke with my Granddaughter, because no matter where we are someone will comment on my perfume. I now have to get it online as Germain Montiel is no more. Some group called five star still makes it, but it is just not the same.I just can't give it up. I am a perfume mixer, I will put on Shalimar on my neck, then On the side of my face I will spray the Royal Secret, If I don't use Shalimar I will use the old fragrance of Emeraude by Coty, it has that nice heavy vanilla note that goes so well with the spicier vanilla of Royal Secret, I will sometimes finish with the lighter Vanilla Fields right on my chin/lips. That lilting lightness of Fields gives way to the Royal Secret as it blends with the deep note of the Shalimar or Emeraude. So when people want to know what I'm wearing, I don't even try, I just say Shalimar. But really it's Royal Secret I can't live without.

  3. Aside from the places you've mentioned, I've also bought decants or splits on and
    I also love getting the perfumers sample sets and I have many: Ineke, Ormonde Jayne, Slumberhouse, Olfactive Studio to name a few. And on my list to buy is a Maria Candida Gentile sample set.
    Aedes de Venustas and Kriegler at the Plaza also each sell samples online.

  4. Hi Gaia! After years of reading about sampling, I bought a slew of samples from LuckyScents. far a huge waste of time and money. All duds. They smell great in the little (and I mean LITTLE) vial, but most didn't last more than a millisecond on my skin and broke down to the most basic one note. Blah. I've been very resistant to buy any "new" fragrances and have relied on my hoard of vintage and older I remember why! Guess I'll douse a bunch of cotton balls and stash them in my undies/socks drawers with those least my drawers will smell nice! Think I'll go spray on some vintage Azuree....awww, now that's a fragrance! Next purchase (per your suggestion) is Eau Savage Extreme Concentrate vintage. I adore Eau Savage and look forward to trying the Extreme Concentrate! Love your blog!!!

  5. Great post. I am currently in the very throngs(?) of perfume testing for the first time in my long life. I found Perfume Shrine, and through her, The Non-Blonde (BOTH wonderful sites). I have found it extremely difficult to find suitable scents, even though I like many. These tips will surely help me so I can order the illusive FB that everyone talks about...a bottle or twelve! THANKS...

  6. When I first started sampling fragrances I went with the vanilla-based group because that's what I loved at the time. I then expanded and tried sampling from the "Best Of" fragrance lists, then vintage fragrances, favorites of bloggers, oh my gosh, it's a rabbit hole :)))) I've had really great luck with perfume samples from all of the great decant businesses you mentioned here, plus Indiescents (I don't think that's been mentioned yet) and have gotten a couple oddball ones off ebay as well.


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