At least once a month someone asks me to help her or him choose a bottle of perfume. Since people probably know by now that you, too, like fragrance, you've most likely been in the same boat. Our friends may think we can lead them to a department store, pluck the five or ten "best" bottles from the shelves for them to test, and they will walk away an hour later with their signature scent. If only it were that easy.
Over time, I've developed a system for helping people find a perfume. I'm offering it up here for your use, and I welcome suggestions for improvement.
When someone asks me to help her find a scent, I first ask her what kind of fragrances she likes. (To keep pronouns simple, I'll assume that the perfume-seeker is a woman.) Usually she will tell me what she doesn't like — patchouli, for instance, or powdery scents. Then, I ignore what she says. I am, however, careful to avoid these hot-button words when offering up fragrances to try.
Next, I do a silent appraisal of the friend asking my advice. Is she likely to become immersed in perfume, or does she simply want something nice to spray on for special occasions? If her only perfume is a dusty bottle of Issey Miyake Eau d'Issey, and it seems like she'd be content with an unfussy bottle or two of something new, then I do another assessment. Does she want a bottle to brag about, or could she not care less who makes her perfume?
For the woman who isn't likely to ever want to know a green chypre from an aldehydic floral, and is happy to be able to buy it at a department store (a high end department store, in this case), I often suggest Jo Malone. People who aren't really into fragrance often seem to prefer smelling things they can identify. The simple but intriguing combinations that Jo Malone puts together range from fresh to romantic. What they lack in sultry complexity they make up for in friendliness. After wearing Jo Malone for a while, the friend might even venture into more "perfumey" scents. Either way, she'll smell wonderful. Other terrific gateway fragrances are the Guerlain Aqua Allegorias and Stella McCartney Stella.
For the woman who isn't all that into perfume but wants to feel she has the "right" scent and won't be looked down on by her fashionista friends, Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower, Serge Lutens Chergui, and L'Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia are good choices. They're easy to love for someone inexperienced with perfume, but hard to find, giving them extra cachet. But they're not so simple that she'd get bored with them or so hard to find that she won't be able to buy them. She might enjoy exploring the Comme des Garçons line, too.
The other direction to go with the image-conscious friend who likes perfume but isn't obsessed by it is to try a masculine scent. Not realizing that perfume lovers have been buying across the aisle for years, a lot of women find this idea appealingly anarchic. Guerlain Vetiver is a good jumping off point. If she recoils at the vetiver, try Knize Ten, Chanel Egoïste, or Christian Dior Homme. You'll look forward to spending time with her, she'll smell so good.
That leaves us with the friend who just might turn perfume enthusiast. This is the woman who can't resist crushing basil in her fingers, who has opinions about what tea is best in the morning as opposed to the afternoon, and who likes to point out when she smells a lightening storm in the wind. One test is to try L'Artisan Parfumeur Dzing! on her. If she's intrigued, even if she doesn't like it much, it might be time to get out your samples. She has a long and very enjoyable journey ahead.