Help me smell good
May 8, 2012 8:56 PM   Subscribe

I would like to adopt a smell that will be My Smell. I want only a partner leaning in close or the person I'm hugging to smell me. I'm interested in hair stuff, perfumes, and all that other fragrant crap, with a strong preference for organic products.

Hi, guys. Although I've always been interested in smells, I recently discovered the oddity known as solid perfume and have since developed a scent fascination. I would like to be associated with a particular fragrance. At the moment, I don't use perfume or any hair products that cost more than $7 for the big tube at CVS. I want to change that. Seriously, I am genuinely interested in your fancy organic shampoos, spritzes, perfumes, lotions, and all manner of smelly goods.

I like scents that are:
- subtle, not overpowering
- not super floral, fruity, sweet, or vanilla
- on the slightly feminine side of neutral
- fresher than straight musk, earthier than fresh linens
- probably not identifiable with your grandma, i.e. no roses or Chanel No. 5
- not patchouli, which is too sharp

It's a vague list. This is because my palate is almost a blank slate, honestly. I am terribly overwhelmed and nauseated by perfume counters, so I haven't ventured very far into the realm yet. I'm prepared to do a lot of experimenting and shopping around before I find the scent that really works well with my chemistry, and because this is kind of becoming a hobby-type project for me, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to a price point.

So, tell me about that product with the scent everyone loves! I appreciate it.
posted by goosechasing to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (42 answers total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
I love everything by Oyin Handmade. It smells... well, like really good honey: lightly sweet and v. mellow.
posted by spunweb at 9:06 PM on May 8, 2012

Here's the link.
posted by spunweb at 9:06 PM on May 8, 2012

Chew mastic or frankincense resin. Better than chewing gum, has a subtle, natural scent.
posted by Nomyte at 9:07 PM on May 8, 2012

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has so many scents, many of which are made for layering, so you can really find something unique. They will also have some soaps/lotions/room scents as well. I love them, and if you want this search to become a hobby, this will be the perfect place.
posted by Vaike at 9:08 PM on May 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

CBIhateperfume. My favorite is probably their library smell, but that might be a bit musty for your tastes. I'd recommend getting a few of their samples and figuring out what sent you like best.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:08 PM on May 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm a big fan of perfumes! I love LUSH (they have lots of Earth-friendly and some vegan products), Philosphy's Amazing Grace perfume (It's light and fresh and smells sort of like sexy Ivory soap) and Demeter (their Snow scent might be what you're looking for. I have this one, it's a very fresh, snappy scent, not sweet at all).

With LUSH, you may have better luck with a scented soap, body wash or shampoo from that store. I'm not wild about most of the actual perfumes, but many of their soaps are lovely. If you stroll into the store, let the adorably enthusiastic staff get a bucket of water and lather up your hands with different products. Most of their bath products need to actually hit water in order for you to get the idea of the scent.

I adore Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. If you have time to wade through all their scents, you can find some lovely stuff. They tend to have themes around their scents, Shakespearean characters, the Seven Deadly Sins, H.P. Lovecraft (I've always been cautious with these. I don't want to awaken the Old Ones with my perfume!), etc. You can get 6 little vials of scent for $22 (and they usually throw in a free one) and if you don't like a scent, there's a whole black market, apparently, in trading them.
posted by Aquifer at 9:09 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Perfumes change and often smell slightly different on different people. Wander through department store, grab samples and rub on your wrist. Wait like an hour and then smell again and see if you like it.

Also, as a tip. I only apply ONE squirt of perfume when I'm out of the shower. That's it. It's subtle and remains only detectable by those who get intimately close.
posted by getmetoSF at 9:12 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a really nice-smelling deodorant from Jason that I picked up from Whole Foods a while ago. It says it's tea tree scented, but doesn't smell a huge amount like tea tree oil.
posted by naturalog at 9:15 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Aveda's Be Curly range is completely delicious. It's hard to describe, sort of...botanical? And they're all about organic ingredients. So if you have curly or even slightly wavy hair, try some! (It's also the only product I've found that makes my hair behave itself).
posted by embrangled at 9:21 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you live near a Bath Junkie, you can mix your own fragrance and have it blended to your ideal strength. You can also order online, but obviously, this is somewhat risky.

If you have more of an idea of things you would like to smell like, I like a bunch of the Demeter fragrances. Tomato is my favorite!
posted by honeybee413 at 9:40 PM on May 8, 2012

I really like Kiehl's coriander body scrub. Fresh smelling but not perfumey. Same goes for Dr. Bronner's lavender scrub.
posted by Gilbert at 9:49 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would suggest using fragrance-free shampoo, conditioner, soap and deoderant. Make your perfume/cologne be your only smell. The scent you describe sounds like any of a large number of modern unisex fragrances, so you are in luck. I suggest trying the recent releases from Hermes, specifically the "Un Jardin" series, for example "Un Jardin Sur Le Nil."
posted by conrad53 at 10:06 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nicely scented bath products are my favorite. I like Aveda or L'occitane things.
posted by oneear at 10:07 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

My preferences align pretty much exactly with yours and I love Eau d'Hadrien by Annick Goutal. You can get all kinds of samples at The Perfumed Court website (sorry, my phone is refusing to cooperate with linking.)
posted by corey flood at 10:51 PM on May 8, 2012

Seconding perfumed court. They do "decants" which are teeny little sample bottles for like 2-10 dollars a pop. I LOVE them! You can also filter by scents etc.
posted by Iteki at 11:36 PM on May 8, 2012

Make your own scent using a combination of essential oils (base, middle and top notes) and use it in unscented moisturiser, conditioner and perfume base.
posted by goo at 1:16 AM on May 9, 2012

I've been really wanting to get L'eau de Chloe (it's the green bottle, not the pink one) but have hesitated because it's a toilette and not a parfum, but it may fit your bill in this regard. It's really light and feminine. Also, try Sephora - if you find the right consultant they are really good at this sort of thing.

Another tip: I have taken to spraying myself in the back of my neck. This way it disperses through your hair (assuming it goes past your neck) and remains subtle and just like you say, you'd have to be hugged in order for someone to really smell it in full.
posted by like_neon at 1:46 AM on May 9, 2012

You would probably love Breath of God, which is now available at Lush since the original manufacturer has gone out of business. The bottle isn't as nice anymore, sadly. It is an amazing perfume, though. Luca Turin gave it 5 stars in his amazing A-Z Guide to Perfume - which is a book you should DEFINITELY read, along with this one, if you want to learn more about perfume.
posted by cilantro at 2:52 AM on May 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I thought CB I Hate Perfume as well. Black March is beautiful - earthy, complex, rain-like. Sadly it is expensive (and hard to get where I live). I find the library smell turns rotten fruit on me, so try them out first. The PErfumed Court is where I got my samples - you can also try Luckyscent. I've heard Demeter's Dirt is very similar to Black March, so whenever I next go to the US I may well stock up. Demeter have a lot of unusual fragrances, by the way - Laundromat, anyone?

Niche lines - as in, stuff that isn't sold at the local department store or is celebrity-marketed - might be the way to go for something unusual. A lot of mainstream perfumes are very fruity-floral which is probably why you haven't found anything for you yet. There's a shop in London called Les Scenteurs which is a good place to go to get advice, as is Liberty, because they carry a lot more small-scale stuff than the big stores. Do you have anywhere like that near you? You might well like Elie Saab's Le Parfum, thinking about it, as it's a very grown-up floral, not too old-lady, not too girly.

Finally, agreeing with Cilantro on Perfumes: The Guide. I'd also recommend Now Smell This and Perfume Possee, two blogs which are great for people who are just getting into fragrances and figuring out what they like; not as intimidating as Basenotes or other sites for people who really know their perfume and like debating whether the vintage Jicky is the same as the modern one etc. etc. Both of them are fun and the archives may give you a list of places to try that you might not have come across.
posted by mippy at 4:00 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

my suggestion is, if you really want to have Your Smell, to start getting into essential oils or any place where you can "blend your own" perfumes. Not only will you enhance and educate your palette, but you can see first-hand how different scents relate to one another and have the chance to build something unique and interesting.

Also, try - not only do they have a wide variety of stock, but everything they have is sorted by note so you can isolate what you like to wear more easily while browsing.

You also might like Bond No. 9 perfumes - pricey as hell, but expertly blended and very subtle. Try Creed and Bois 1920 lines also for this kind of thing. Especially Creed - very subtle work, but complex enough to not get boring.

Sephora is good - but very commercial, so you won't so much as have Your Smell, but A Smell That Hundreds Upon Hundreds of Other 'Fumeheads Smell Like, Also. They DO have however, a "three free" samples policy regardless of whether you buy something or not - so check them out to get your palette accustomed to the different families of scent available.

Another suggestion is to start hanging out on the blog sites that cater to perfume lovers - here are a few of my favorites:

- (Perfume Smellin' Things)

Above all - try everything and anything! It's easy and cheap to get samples online or at department stores and places like offer theirs for between 2 to 5 bucks a throw, so you can get a great library of perfumes to start with.

Good luck! :)
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 4:04 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have similar tastes in fragrance. I nth the Philosophy fragrances (any of the Graces, and possibly Falling in Love or Unconditional Love), Lush's Breath of God, Demeter's Snow and Dirt (though they don't last long), The Perfumed Court, and Luckyscent.

Lush specifically can be a gamble, since they have some real nose-punchers along with the subtle fragrances, their product line is a revolving door, and they really do expire so you can't stock up. But I really like the Snowshowers fragrance and Grass shower gel.

I've tried a few Black Phoenix oils and found them all overpowering, but I wouldn't rule them out. Ask for recommendations on the forums.

I love the Gendarme fragrances for everyday scents. I also really like Miss Marisa, which might be a touch on the fruity/floral side for your taste, but it's still clean and subtle and wearable.

I often find good smelling things at Anthropologie of all places. These fragrance pencils are especially nice, and inexpensive.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:46 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been wearing the same fragrance for 30 years, Chanel 19. When I first started I could get it in cologne, toilette, eau de parfume and the real deal, perfume. There was cream, lotion, dusting powder, soap and deodorant. Talk about layering. Now, I can only get toilette, at Christmas, in only a few stores. It's a real bummer.

My mom wore Azure (an Estee Lauder fragrance) for decades, in fact my friends still associate that smell with her. Then they took it out of the opaque, white bottle and put it in a clear bottle and it smelled different. The end of an era.

Having a signature fragrance is great. It's like a uniform, you wear it all the time and everyone associates that fragrance with you. But the years go on and the whole thing changes.

Now, I weave in O'de Lancome in the summer (it's lemon-verbena and delicious) and Lauren, the original in the square, burgundy bottle. Again, getting harder and harder to find in different permutations.

So my point is, you may be on this Odyssey throughout your life. What suits you today, may change, so be prepared to make changes.

Personally, I'd recommend checking out some really classical fragrances, Fracas for example. Pretty much anything French.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:54 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ruthless Bunny has a very good point in favor of using essential oils. Rose (or whatever) is rose regardless of the manufacturer--slight differences, perhaps, but not like a perfume, which is a highly specialized, patented scent which you won't be able to reproduce if it goes out of production.

For a long time I wore cinnamon. Odd, but fun. Unfortunately, I've developed sensitivities to a lot of scents that trigger my asthma so I can't wear anything anymore.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:00 AM on May 9, 2012

If you love organic products, you may already know about Spirit Beauty Lounge (online only). One time that I bought something from them, they included samples of perfume from a company called A Perfume Organic. The sample that I loved, and may treat myself to someday is Perfumed Wine Rose. I think of it more as a fall/winter perfume because it has a hint of clove and nutmeg. The Urban Organic, Green, and the White Majik sound like interesting possibilities for the spring/summer. I do find, at least with the sample that I received, that it doesn't have as much staying power as I'd like, but I think that might have something to do with them not using any synthetic scents. Spirit Beauty Lounge has organic perfumes by other companies that may be just as good or better, I just haven't had the opportunity to try them.
posted by kaybdc at 6:30 AM on May 9, 2012

Your strong preference for organic is going to put you at both extremes of the price range. Just about all the middle ground is filled with ingredients that light up the toxicity meter at Skin Deep.

Your first stop should be Whole Foods or your local hippie mart, to check out the lower end: perfume oils. These are far less likely to contain ingredients you're looking to avoid, but may be hit or miss on actual organic-ness. Perfume oils tend to lie close to the skin, so you'll get that "only people who hug me can smell me" effect. They're also nice and cheap: about $6-$10 for a small rollerball. Three larger brands you are likely to find are:

Kuumba Made (from your prefs, I'd suggest trying Egyptian Musk, Persian Garden, and Zen Rain)
Auric Blends (Egyptian Goddess is a must try for you -- right in the middle of the musk-linen continuum)
Rochelle Rose (Nostalgie, Sexie)

Body Time is a shop in Berkeley, CA that does a big mail order/online business in this sort of product. It's said that Jennifer Lopez ripped off their China Rain oil to make her blockbuster J.Lo Glow.

There are two niche/cult perfume oils that are spendier (~$50-60 for a half ounce rollerball): Child and Kai. Both are very floral (jasmine and gardenia respectively), but totally removed from the hippie/headshoppyness vibe of the other suppliers. Kai has the benefit of being available in a zillion formulations, from perfume to bubble bath to laundry detergent.

At the way, way other end of the price range you'll find Rich Hippie. These are similar to the $10 oils in packaging, but are organic and about $250 for half an ounce.
posted by apparently at 6:34 AM on May 9, 2012

I can't tell where you're located, but if you go the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (BPAL, for the indoctrinated) route, they do sell in a small handful of brick-and-mortar stores. That can be preferable to wading through their gigantic catalog. Seconding asking in the forums for recommendations. If you try something that you don't like from them, you can definitely swap for other things through their forum. Because their oils don't have alcohol, I've found that many scents stick very close to the skin.
posted by sugarbomb at 9:20 AM on May 9, 2012

I absolutely love the smell of Tom's of Maine regular deodorant, no lie. It's very gender-neutral (smells amazing on men) and of course you can't smell it unless you get close.
posted by chowflap at 9:38 AM on May 9, 2012

Lush sounds right up your alley. Everything they make is organic or vegan, and everything smells incredible.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 10:36 AM on May 9, 2012

Lush sounds right up your alley. Everything they make is organic or vegan, and everything smells incredible

That may have been the case when they started out, but I don't think that's the case any longer and hasn't been for years. Look up lush on the Skin Deep database (link in apparently's post above). Their products really aren't all that green (most rate in the tan - moderate zone) and their fragrances are the worst offenders.
posted by kaybdc at 11:03 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you tried Badger Balm's Mind Balm range? They're marketed with a lot of aromatherapy woo, but they smell good (without violating any of your don'ts), they're relatively cheap, and they're 100% organic and cruelty free.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 11:27 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (aka BPAL) is my go-to. Imps (the little tester-sized things) are great: they're cheap, the company often tosses in a couple extras, and it's very common to trade the ones you end up not wanting to keep. And they last a surprisingly long time, especially if you want to go for a more subtle scent.

I have an allergic reaction to artificial scents, and I'd say one out of every ten that I've tried from them give me only a slight asthmatic reaction. I have a few favorites, but everyone's body chemistry is different. Best way to find out what smells good on you is to try it, which is specifically what Imps are for.
posted by Heretical at 12:04 PM on May 9, 2012

I really like the ginger-scented stuff that Origins sells. The scent is light, fresh and clean, but not completely ordinary. I bought one of the $17.50 rollerballs last summer and it's still half full, so the value is pretty good. (It's one of two scents that I switch between.)
posted by at 12:25 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

By "organic", do you mean mostly organic products that contain only natural scents? If so, you'll want to avoid many of the suggestions in this thread. Though BPAL and Lush include natural and organic ingredients, they use synthetics along with them. I'm not sure Lush will be your cup of tea if you don't want fruity, floral, or overpowering, because that's sort of their M.O., save for a few products. BPAL has a wide range and their forum reviews are pretty good. I used to search for single notes I liked on their site, read the descriptions of blends that contained them, and then read reviews. Of my favorites there, you might like "White Rabbit"- on me it's a fresh linen with notes of tea and lemon and a tiny bit of sugar.

apparently's suggestion of BodyTime is a pretty good one: their essential oil blends are all natural and can be added to any scent-able product. You should also check out For Strange Women whose blends are all natural. Here is the sample page. Naked Leaf also sells samples of their all natural perfumes. You can add natural perfume oils to unscented lotion and hair conditioner easily, so doing a search for "natural perfume oil" on Etsy might help you dig up other good things.

If you have a Whole Foods or equivalent, I recommend going there to sniff single notes of essential oils and natural perfumes in order to get an idea of notes you might look for.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:44 PM on May 9, 2012

Just remembered that I left out French Girl Organics. They only have a couple of scents, but they are quite nice and the scents are often shared by a number of products.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2012

I highly highly recommend trying MCMC Fragrances which is a small-scale, independent perfumer. She sells sample sets of fragrances in the line ($24 for sets of 4).
posted by kitkatcathy at 1:24 PM on May 9, 2012

I like perfume more in theory than in practice (like you, I don't want to smell like candy, a grandma, or patchouli) but I am a huge fan of Aftelier perfumes. They are entirely natural, if that's your thing, and handmade by Many Aftel. Pricey but you can get samples for about $6 each. Their shiso, trevert, or haute claire might be right up your alley, and there are also solid perfumes, oils, and perfumed teas of various varieties too.
posted by zingiberene at 2:04 PM on May 9, 2012

I've recommended the Sephora fragrance sampler to several people, it's how I found my current scent, Coach Poppy. It's nice, b/c it gives you a week supply of 10-12 fragrances so you have a while to try them out and pick what you like best. It looks like they have several other fragrance sampler options, as well.
posted by echo0720 at 4:59 PM on May 9, 2012

I always thought I would only have one, but now I have two. I found an Italian perfume line called Il Profumo when my husband and I were on honeymoon, and fell HARD for a scent called Musc Bleu. It is a soft, clean "white" musk, a touch of floral, just the best ever smell. There used to be one place in NYC where you could occasionally find it, but they've closed. Luckyscent carries it, and will do a wee sample for you. I wear the Absolu, which is more of an oil base - the spray perfume does NOT smell the same. I try to pick up another bottle when we're overseas, and I think once I've ordered from Luckyscent.

I did not stray from this smell for YEARS, and then a co-worker with a very expensive perfume habit started sharing little bits of her favorites. I fell again for Narciso Rodriguez Musc for Her Oil - it's very different from the EDP, EDT, the "Intense", etc. It's like an amped, sexy version of my Italian perfume. Still soft and musky (not cat-pee musky), with a different floral note that is just a little more "evening" than "clean daytime". God, am I even making sense? Anyway, it's become really hard to find - not sure if it's being discontinued or reformulated or what, but I bought a backup bottle for my backup bottle on eBay just to be safe.
posted by ersatzkat at 7:58 PM on May 9, 2012

From The English Housewife (1620):
To make an excellent sweet water for perfume you shall take Basill, Mint, Marjorum, Sage, Balme, Lavender and Rosemary, of each one handfull of Cloves, Cinamon and Nutmegges, then three or four Pome-citrons [a citrus fruit resembling a large lemon] cut into slices. Infuse all these into Damaske-rose water the space of three daies, and then distill it with a gentle fire of Charcoale, then when you have put it into a very cleann glasse, take Musk, Civet and Ambergreece [OED: A wax like substance found floating in tropical seas] and put into a rag of fine Lawne, and then hang it within the water. This being either burnt upon a hot pan, or else boiled in perfuming pannes with Cloves, Bay-leaves, and Lemmon pills, will make the most delicate perfume that may be without any offence, and will last the longest of all other sweet perfumes.
If people ask, you could call it Eau de Huge Manatee.
posted by pracowity at 12:16 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

That may have been the case when they started out, but I don't think that's the case any longer and hasn't been for years. Look up lush on the Skin Deep database (link in apparently's post above). Their products really aren't all that green (most rate in the tan - moderate zone) and their fragrances are the worst offenders.

That's probably because certain notes in fragrance literally cannot be harvested naturally - iris is one that comes to mind. If you want to make an entirely natural (as in, no chemical accords - notes or chemicals blended to mimic a particular scent - or synthetic ingredients) fragrance, you are very limited. BPAL, for example, is often less structurally complex than your average Paris McSpears fragrance purely because fragrance oils have different properties to synthetic ingredients, and alcohol can make some notes last longer than they can in an oil-based formula. (BPAL do use some accords I think but they are much more dependent on naturally derived ingredients, hence scents going in and out of production as prices change).

Forgot - I've heard good things about Wiggle Perfumes on Etsy.
posted by mippy at 4:15 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, I started using the ritzy soaps they sell at Whole Foods. At $5 for a 4oz bar, I felt like I was getting robbed, as Irish Spring or Ivory soap is still $1.50 or so.

Then I noticed that some brands at $5... last a long, long, long time. Maybe $2/bar equivalent, but it's a luxury, and some of them smell quite good.

That said, someone gifted me some soap they bought on Etsy, and I was a bit disappointed in half of it. No surprise, but on Etsy, quality varies quite a bit.
posted by talldean at 6:55 AM on May 10, 2012

Do you have L'Occitane in the US? They do a lovely Lemon Verbena soap which is really crisp.
posted by mippy at 7:47 AM on May 10, 2012

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