The perfect perfume present is not bought in haste an hour before high street shops close on Christmas Eve. This much I know, from experience. In my teens, I had a Saturday job at UK high-street retailer Boots, The Chemist, as it was known then. I have no idea why, but I ended up working on the beauty and fragrance counters two Decembers and the pleasure of inhaling copious tester spritzes of some powerful early 1980s’ scents; think Opium and Obsession. Iconic fragrances aside as aide memoires, I can remember the desperation of the last-minute perfume buyers.
The peak of the fug over the fragrance counter hit around 4pm when, after a brief lunchtime lull (pubs were open), what seemed like the small market town’s entire male population would rush in. With just 1.5 hours of shopping time left, men had woken up to the worrying fact that they needed a perfume for the significant other in their life to lovingly unwrap the next day. Act in haste, repent at leisure springs to mind to describe their desperate, rather than loving, perfume buying.
Nearly 50% of all perfume bought in a year is purchased in November and December, so fragrance companies need to make hay late in the year. Hence the volumes of fragrance advertising you see in Q4. Apparently, at least in the UK, most perfume consumers do little research before buying a perfume present and men especially are prone to panic buying one week (in my experience, one day) or less before Christmas.
Now the anecdote and perfume statistics are over, let’s deconstruct the meaning of giving perfume as a present, not just at Christmas, but at any milestone in a life or time of year. The tips here could save men a fate worse than giving no gift at all. But, my guide applies to any sex buying for any sex, and at any time of year. Clearly you’ll have a better perfume present buying experience in less frantic months than in the lead-up to Christmas.
Decoding Perfume as a Gift
Perfume as a luxury present
Those 1970s to ’80s’ gift boxes of Revlon’s Charlie or Lentheric’s Tweed with a body lotion bundled in and ribbon wrapped, didn’t quite yell luxury, though they were big panic-buy sellers in my time in Boots. I am not sure they spoke of loving thought; rather more of quick afterthought.
It’s easy to play safe buying mid-range perfume brands that can be worn daily supermarket shopping or in the office. The recipient is however likely to be aware of your ease in grabbing a high-street Christmas special offer. There are some fabulous mid-range fragrances out there in shops like TJ Maxx and Superdrug in the UK, and the Targets of this world. Buy them, but buy them meaningfully – I cover this further down – and your choice will be appreciated.
If you opt for top-tier perfumes, then you edge into perfume as a luxury present. You might feel that you are home and dry giving an expensive perfume. There is cache’ and reflected glory in gifting it and the recipient will see it as pure indulgence and a sign of their special worth in your life. But, before we go further, let’s think about these points.
Having the cash to splash doesn’t a perfect perfume present make. It’s just as easy to grab a luxe perfume as a cheaper one, without a thought for the tastes of the recipient. The sales’ assistant gift-wrapped perfume is another sure sign of a panic-bought perfume. Again, your lack of time and care in choosing a perfumed gift will be more pervasive than the fragrance itself, and certainly remembered long after its scent has vanished.
Perfume as Beautiful Memories
Among scent scientists and perfume pundits, there is some debate about whether perfume evokes memories, but for most of us, we feel that it does.
So, do you buy a perfume that your gift recipient loves and cherishes already or do you opt for a new release? Do you know what memories a certain perfume might stir? Get it wrong, and you may choose a perfume that brings up connotations of a dodgy other half in misspent years of youth or recall granny’s scent of powdery florals.
A Chanel classic is a safe bet that the flacon will remain in a bathroom cupboard after the recipient has said a few gushing remarks about how you shouldn’t have spent so much. I’ve added countless No. 5s and 19s to my closet over the years.
Perfumes Niche and New
Discovering an independent, niche perfume house and having the time and forethought to select one of their collection to suit your present recipient is clearly a niche option itself. The relatively recent survey on UK perfume shopping habits hints at very few Brits doing online research, nor even in-store live testing of perfumes before purchase. Few present buyers then will go the extra mile for niche at the last minute.
Having spent time trawling the many niche perfumeries in Paris, and seen the prolific number of independent perfumeries in Florence and Lucca in Tuscany a few months back, I hazard a guess continental Europeans are more cognisant of niche brands and actively seek them out.
The niche category often needs more time to appreciate and can be perplexing to a cursory, first-time buyer. Niche can be more avant-garde and suited to certain seasons or occasions. Niche perfumes may sport off-the-wall names like Bat’s Blood or similar.
However, it will hint at your having planned in advance rather than you having managed an 11th hour perfume grab-and-go purchase. And, it will show, hopefully, that you have considered closely the taste of your recipient. Niche perfumes are harder to find, less likely to be in a town near you and may need sampling rather than being a blind buy, even if bought online. They are less risky as the perfect perfume present if you follow these tips below. The same goes for all perfume buying in fact because as you’ve seen, luxury/expensive, memory-inducing and classically wearable aren’t safe bets either!
Tips on Buying the Perfect Perfume Present for Christmas
The key to best practice in perfume buying is to know your recipient well – really well. And that means you care about their lives and understand what makes them tick. Aspects like that, rather than a perfume’s adverting aura, should determine what type of perfume you gift them.
1. When and Where
Spend time working out when and where your gift recipient wears perfume. Are they daily wearers or spritz it just for special occasions? This alone will hint at their relationship with perfume and if they see it as indulgence or part of feeling good each day at the office. It’s no good buying a perfume suited to gala dinner do’s or clubbing venues if your recipient is a fragrance-free advocate when in confined public spaces. Nor will an office-friendly perfume suit the person who loves to paint the town red and feel special going out. Try to imagine the place and purpose of the scent in your recipient’s life.
2. Perfume as Beauty & Pleasure
There are perfume buyers who just love to collect and sample perfumes. Their desire is fueled, like a collector of rare books, by the discovery of a new perfume alone. They are content to behold it, and may not necessarily wear it. Does your intended recipient have a bedroom niche devoted to their love of scent? If so, what kind of perfumes lurk there? If you have insights into their private life of scent, work out if they seek out the niche or need to purchase a latest release or flanker from a known (aka) duty-free perfume brand? This will give you useful information about what may excite them in scent.
3. Gender neutral, a wise perfume choice
If you have less insight into your intended gift recipient, then you will need to play it safe, but not as we discussed earlier. A safe buy needn’t be a predictable perfume nor a latest release pushed by a fragrance counter sales assistant to earn more commission. Gender neutral perfumes have been in vogue a while now and release you from the worry about whether to buy feminine florals or woody masculines.
If you are versed in fragrance vocabulary and the so-called fragrance families, you’ll realise the beauty of the gender-neutral perfume. Centuries back, all perfumes were for men and women. Mid-century marketers saw the cash to be made in making the gender divide. Twice as many perfumes to sell!
The beauty of gender neutral is that you’ll tend to find the independent, niche perfume houses and stores creating them. This means you can gift a new and niche perfume that’s also likely to intrigue and be worn by your recipient. There are the more mainstream niche houses like Serge Lutens and Editions de Federic Malle, both of which are found in city stores like Liberty, London and online, and have good options. I mention some newer niche houses in my post on Pitti Fragranze perfume fair in Florence.
4. Time to buy
The last tip is one line: make time to make that perfume present purchase. The one finite commodity we all have is time. This is ultimately your most precious gift to your loved ones. You will show you care by taking time to buy a gift, whether a perfume or not.
To end on a practical note, time on your side means you can buy sample vials to test out and get a second opinion on before you buy. This is particularly useful if you are going to seek out the niche and new.
See also our post The Scent of a Woman: the Perfect Perfume for Mother’s Day.