First Choice Blog

    how to choose a perfume

    Planning a duty-free spree? Here’s your handy guide to picking the right scent…

    We’ve all been there. Standing at the perfume counter in duty-free, staring at dozens of brightly-coloured bottles. It’s hard enough to decide which ones to try, let alone buy. So, to help you along, we’ve put together a quick guide to help you avoid any expensive mistakes…

    I liked it in the shop – why don’t I like it now?

    This may be because you bought it as soon as you tried it. The scent of a perfume changes continually when you’re wearing it, so what you love at first might not be your thing an hour or so later.

    Here’s how it works. Perfumes have three levels…

    Top Notes

    You smell these straightaway but, because they evaporate quickly, they don’t last long – half-an-hour max, and some only last five minutes. A classic top note is bergamot, which is very fresh and citrussy.

    Heart/Middle Notes

    These take longer to develop, so you’ll only start to smell them properly after around 30 minutes or so. Rose and jasmine are popular heart notes – they smell beautiful together.

    Base Notes

    The base notes are the heavy hitters. They take a long time to make an entrance, but they last for a good few hours – so if you don’t like what’s in the base, you won’t like the perfume. Sandalwood and vanilla are common base notes.

    So, the best way to choose a new fragrance is to wait a few hours before you buy – not easy in an airport when you’re pushed for time. One solution could be to ask the assistant for more details, so you can avoid scents you dislike. Or perhaps try a few in the weeks before your holiday, so you’ll know what bottle to pick up as soon as you hit the shop.

    It’s really nice, but it doesn’t last – I’ve used half the bottle already!

    Sounds like you bought the Eau de Toilette. It’s a lot cheaper, but it won’t last as long as the Eau de Parfum. Confused? Here’s an explanation…

    Empty Bottle

    Eau de Toilette

    This contains a lot of short-lasting top notes, but less of the heart and base, so you’re looking at two or three hours max.  It’s great if you like to change your perfume a few times during the day.

    Eau de Parfum

    Eau de Parfum has more of the heart and base notes, so it lasts much longer. It is more expensive, but you’ll use less and it’ll last for several hours.



    The most expensive of them all, parfum, or pure perfume, has a very high concentration of base notes, so it should last you all day. Don’t overdo it though – it’s the strongest stuff, so you only need a couple of drops.

    To maximise your favourite perfume, layer it. Use a scented shower gel and body lotion first thing in the morning, and apply a few drops of parfum before you dash out of the door. Keep the eau de toilette version in your bag so you can refresh the fragrance regularly throughout the day.

    But there are so many to choose from – I don’t know where to start!

    That’s easy. Fragrances can be divided into three categories – Floral, Chypré and Oriental. Work out which you like best and you’re sorted. Plus, there are a few classics that always go down well. Stick with these and you should be okay.

    Make sure you don’t try too many at once, though – most people can only cope with three or four before they become ‘fragrance blind’. If you overdo it, grab a fresh coffee – the smell of coffee beans help clear

    your nose.


    If you can barely walk past a florist without inhaling deeply, you’re probably a fan of floral fragrances. The

    Parfummost famous floral fan has got to be Marilyn Monroe, who famously went to bed wearing nothing more than a few drops of Chanel

    No.5. It’s still one of the top selling floral scents today, with a bottle sold every 30 seconds.

    Don’t assume you’ll like a perfume because it contains your favourite flower, though. Rose fragrances, for example, vary. Chloe’s refined and delicate Rosebuds is quite different to Victor and Rolf’s full-on Flowerbomb La Vie en Rose.

    For something really feisty, try Fracas by Robert Piguet – it’s a classic. It contains loads of tuberose, which is a very sensual-smelling tropical flower. Definitely not for the faint-hearted!


    Chypré fragrances were big-hitters in the 1940s, and they’ve been making quite a comeback in recent years. They’re quite earthy, and often smell like wood and green foliage. Fans of this fragrance are often very strong, powerful women – think Tamara Mellon, head of Jimmy Choo. In fact, she helped design the house’s signature scent. The Jimmy Choo perfume is a classic chypré, and as sexy as a pair of stilettos.

    Mitsouko by Guerlain is another classic. It feels very reserved at first, but becomes richer when the heart notes open – there’s a hint of peach in there. Chanel’s No.19 is very green and leafy. And, though it’s aimed at men, Dior’s Eau Sauvage has lots of female fans who love its citrus freshness.


    These are inspired by the scents you find in the Far East. They often contain sandalwood and vanilla, and they have quite a dramatic feel, like Gucci’s Guilty – it’s brimming with heady patchouli and amber. Guerlain’s Shalimar was inspired by the love story behind the Taj Mahal, and contains lashings of vanilla. Tom Ford’s Black Orchid is spicy, with dark berries.