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How to find your signature scent with the help of a perfume expert

Finding a fragrance can be overwhelming, but there are ways to make selecting your signature scent a more seamless experience.

What is a signature scent?


A signature scent is a perfume you wear every day. It has the potential to become such an integral part of your day-to-day life that leaving the house without it feels akin to heading out without your handbag.


“There are two schools of thought when it comes to perfume,” says Jo Fairley, co-founder of The Perfume Society and Editor of fragrance magazine The Scented Letter. “The first is a signature scent, which is what people recognise you by – they can walk into a room and know you’ve been there. People remember you by these fragrances, and when they smell them they think of you. It also means people aren’t going to screw up your Christmas present because they’re going to buy you something they know you love.” An additional benefit of having a signature scent is not having to put too much thought into your daily fragrance, as you’ll always have it to hand.”


The alternative is having a range of perfumes that you pick and choose from depending on your mood and surroundings. “I use fragrance like a toolbox,” says Jo. “I wear scents to put me in different states of mind or to change my persona. If you want to feel a certain way, you can put it on like a trigger.”


How to choose a signature scent


Not sure where to start when choosing a signature scent? Let these notes lead you.


Train your nose


You don’t need to be a fragrance connoisseur to determine different fragrance notes in order to discover what you do and don’t like. “There's an exercise you can do to improve your sense of smell, and if you do it every day for three weeks it’s phenomenal what happens,” explains Jo. “You wake up in the morning, spray three different fragrances onto three separate scent blotters and then sort of free associate. So write down, if each scent was a colour, what would it be? If it was a person, who would they be? If it was a piece of music, what would it be like? I got this technique from three of the greatest names in fragrance. After doing it every day for three weeks I realised not only was I able to identify scents better but the distance at which I could smell extended and extended.”


Consider longevity


Just as it’s going to be emotionally taxing to fall in love with someone who’s about to go and live on a desert island, don’t pin your fragrance fantasies on a perfume that’s likely to go out of stock. Of course it’s impossible to predict a company discontinuing a fragrance or going out of business, but the more of a household name the perfume is, and the more successful the brand is, the less likely this is to happen. “I think that when it comes to a signature scent, it’s quite important not to choose some really obscure, startup brand or a small perfume house in case they go out of business and you can’t get it anymore,” says Jo. “So when it comes to choosing a signature scent, I always recommend familiar brands.”


Let your emotions lead


You’re buying a signature scent with the aim of wearing it every day, so it needs to be something you feel connected to. Smell and emotion are instinsinctly linked, which is why we each react differently to scents. “You can smell something, and if it’s what your mum wore and your mum is no longer with you, it can make you burst into tears,” explains Jo. “It can time travel you. If I wear the perfume I wore on my wedding day then I’m back in that dress.” Think about the kind of feelings or emotions you want to convey – it might be confidence, calm or joy – and choose fragrances that evoke them.


Take your time


We’ve all gotten into the habit of rushing, but when it comes to choosing a signature scent, it pays to slow down. “Don’t rush it, because you end up making expensive mistakes,” advises Jo. Instead, follow her step-by-step:


Step 1

“Sniff the bottle head because the essential oils collect around the nozzle. This is your first introduction to the perfume and smells authentically of what the fragrance is like once it has dissipated.”


Step 2

“If you think, ‘I like that’, then spray it onto a scent blotter. Write the name of the fragrance on it, otherwise you’ll forget. Do this with a maximum of six perfumes.”


Step 3

“Take yourself off, have a cup of coffee and smell them again as they’ll smell different after 15 minutes.”


Step 4

“When you’ve narrowed it down further, go back and choose up to three that you want to dot onto your skin. Put one on your left wrist, one on your right wrist and one in the crook of your elbow.”


Step 5

“Walk away and don’t make an instant decision. All good fragrance consultants in stores understand that customers need time to think about it. They’d much rather you bought something you loved and came back and bought a bottle of it for a second or third time rather than you buying something that wasn’t right and you leave resenting the brand.”