This is really a random collection of thoughts that I started pulling together (at my usual glacial pace) back when Angela wrote Becoming a perfumista. The subject: what I wish I'd known when I started out with perfume. Part 2 is coming next week, and I'm hoping all you Stage Four and Stage Five perfume addicts will add some advice of your own in the comments.
After you've smelled 100 fragrances, you'll have a hard time keeping them all straight. It took me a good long while to start keeping notes. When I finally did, I wrote my notes in a little bound notebook. Um, duh! If you're going to smell 100, there's a good chance you're going to smell 500 or 1500, and pretty soon that little notebook is going to be useless. I'm amazed at how long it took me to start keeping my notes on the computer. I now use a table in Microsoft Word (with headings for Perfume House, Fragrance Name, Notes, and Rating), but you could use almost any word processing or spreadsheet software. My notes aren't always elaborate (some are as concise as "Yuckola!") but they help me keep track of what I've tried, what I thought of it, and what I think I might want to try again.
Lists of fragrance notes aren't always accurate or complete. I've written about this in some detail already, but it's worth repeating — the idea that if a list of notes doesn't include vanilla (or whatever), there must not be any vanilla (or whatever) in the juice is one of the most common misconceptions about perfume that I can think of.
Almost everything is deserving of more than one chance. If you're on the road to serious perfumista-ship, your tastes are undoubtedly going to change, and it is likely they are going to expand rather than contract. I give most perfumes at least 3 shots before giving up, and many times, even after that I put them aside and try them again some months later. Granted, you can't do that with everything — life is short and perfumes are many. But don't assume that what smells disgusting to you now will still smell disgusting to you a year later.
Keep your samples! Early on in my perfumista career, I swapped away any perfume samples I didn't like. If I had a dollar for every time I ended up swapping to get back a sample I'd given up...well, I'd have a hundred dollars, anyway. Why should you keep samples? First, if you're serious about learning, you'll undoubtedly find them useful as reference — when someone says that Guerlain's Insolence recalls L'Heure Bleue, it helps if you have a few drops of L'Heure Bleue on hand. My second reason goes back to the prior paragraph: when you wake up one day and realize: wow! I really do like rose, you'll be awfully sorry that you swapped or gave away all those samples from Les Parfums de Rosine.
Think hard now about what kind of fragrance collection you want to have, and pace your buying accordingly. Will you be thrilled with a collection of 500 or more bottles? Can you afford a collection of 500 or more bottles? If the answer to both questions is yes, buy away! As for myself, I wish I'd imposed serious buying limits much earlier than I did, but it wasn't until my collection approached 50 bottles (a mere 50!) that I started to feel a little uncomfortable. Did I need that many bottles? Would I be able to use them up before they went bad? And what else could I have done with all that money? Now that it's closer to 100 (and no, I don't know the exact number and I'd rather pull out all my eyelashes than count them) and every so often I pull something out that I haven't smelled in a very long time and discover that it's gone bad, or that it really isn't a very good perfume and I can no longer remember why I bought it, I wish I'd been more discerning early on about what I added to my collection.
Note: the image shows a tray that reader Quarry Joy "caned" with red ribbon to hold sample vials. Nifty, eh?