Help me find a perfume for my mom!
June 17, 2022 7:05 AM   Subscribe

My mom has asked me to buy her a bottle of perfume. She likes trying out new brands, so I don't want to just buy her another bottle of something she already likes. But I don't know much about fragrances so I don't know what to get her. Any suggestions? Perfumeheads of Mefi, this would probably be an easy one for you.

My mom is in her 60s. Her all-time favourites are:
Farouche by Nina Ricci
L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci
Shalimar by Guerlain
Sun Moon and Stars by Karl Lagerfield

I know a little about newer brands, but only in relation to what I like (muskier 'clean sheets' kind of fragrances), which is very different from what my mom likes. Any ideas, Mefites?
posted by unicorn chaser to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IMHO, what you need to do is to order a "Designer Perfume Sampler Set" or two. You get 10-12 TINY vial of actual designer fragrances to try.
posted by kschang at 7:35 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]

Perfumes smell different depending on who’s wearing them bc they react differently with each person’s skin. As the volatile ingredients offgas and warm up and oxidize, the scents of different ingredients become more prominent, so it can be nice to test a perfume first for a day and see if they still smell good on that specific person as they break down over time.

If there’s a Sephora near you, they’ll make little sampler vials for you… maybe take a few reccos from this thread and get samples, so she can try different scents. (Liquid samples are far superior to paper strips as the ingredients also react differently when they’re on dry paper!)
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:38 AM on June 17

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! Sorry, should have mentioned in the OP - she's in a different country from me where you can't find a very wide range of cosmetics AND the postal service is very unreliable. So I can't really take her vials to test and then send her a bigger bottle of whichever one she likes best. It's for me to take to her the next time I visit.
posted by unicorn chaser at 7:41 AM on June 17

In my never-wrong opinion, you can’t go wrong with Mitsouko (by Guerlain) which seems to be sold out everywhere. It was developed in 1919 and was Jean Harlow’s all-time favorite perfume.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:42 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]

I hate perfume has some great scents and is very different from a typical perfume maker. They used to have a location where you could smell the different scent "notes", which is why I know that the scents are amazing.
posted by amtho at 8:02 AM on June 17

Some niche perfume sample packs to try:
Luckyscent - multiple brands.
Some brands particularly loved by people who like classic perfumery:
Eris Parfums
Parfums Dusita
posted by matildaben at 8:09 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

I would look at Fragrantica to identify perfumes "like" the ones your mom enjoys already.

I looked up the four you listed and they seem pretty different based on the "main accords". I was hoping there might be a clear common thread, but it seems like your mom has a lot of different things she likes. That said, search for any of these perfumes, and towards the bottom, you'll see "perfumes like this".
Farouche: aromatic, white floral, aldehydic
L'Air du Temps: warm spicy, floral, woody
Shalimar: citrus, amber, woody
Sun Moon Stars: floral, powdery, woody
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:13 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]

I really enjoyed The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr, if you think your mom might enjoy reading about perfume and what goes into making it.

Since your mom likes Shalimar: all the Guerlain classic perfumes contain a secret scent blend called Guerlinade and hence will have some degree of similarity and familiarity. You could get her something like L’Heure Bleue or Jicky or the previously suggested Mitsouko.

I would also suggest a set of decants (samples) from a place like The Perfumed Court since perfumes are so personal. If she likes one in particular, you can bring a full bottle next time.
posted by music for skeletons at 8:40 AM on June 17 [7 favorites]

You can also try sellers stocking airport shop/travel sizes because that's usually a good source to get some coffrets (sets of minis basically) from the same perfume house, and a box of five or six scents might scratch the itch of exploration. Bonus being the portions are more generous compared to decants and with miniature versions of the original bottles or specially designed mini bottles. Marc Jacobs and Frederic Malle might have scents with similar notes (and available in minis) your mother could try.
posted by cendawanita at 9:33 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]

Your mom has great taste in fragrance -- very old school. (I'm 57, and her choices have a lot of positive associations for me.)

I also suggest decants; my favorite source is Surrender to Chance, which was started by a founder and former co-owner of The Perfumed Court and has better selection and turnaround time than TPC.

Scents like Farouche: Paco Rabanne Calandre; Van Cleef & Arpels First.

Scents like L'Air du Temps: Prince Matchabelli Wind Song; Guy Laroche Fidji Eau de Toilette.

Scents like Shalimar: Coty Emeraude; Dana Tabu; Avon Timeless.

Scents like Sun Moon Stars: Calvin Klein Eternity for Women Eau de Parfum; Elizabeth Taylor Diamonds and Rubies; Kenzo Kashaya.
posted by virago at 9:39 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]

I'm not really good at perfume, and real perfume experts may have more concise thoughts, but looking at the perfumes your mom likes --
Farouche by Nina Ricci
L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci
Shalimar by Guerlain
Sun Moon and Stars by Karl Lagerfield
Farouche is a white floral with aldehydes.
L'Air du Temps is a spicy floral with powder.
Shalimar is a citrus floral with powder.
Sun Moon and Stars is citrus floral with powder.

So! It sounds like a citrus floral with powder may be her thing, and that she doesn't mind a little amber or animalic note. Consistent with her age, she also likes older fragrances -- Google tells me that Farouche is from 1973, L'Air du Temps is from 1948, and Sun Moon and Stars was released in the 1970's. (Shalimar is an old-school blockbuster from the 1920's, which I know without looking up, not only because it's my MIL's all-time favorite, but because it's that big of a deal.)

One option, especially if you're in the US, is to try and buy a vintage bottle for her from eBay. Every single one of these perfumes was "reformulated" at least once since reintroduction for any number of reasons -- rising ingredient costs, EU directives as certain ingredients got classified as carcinogens or otherwise dangerous, or changes in who manufactured the perfume. Many people have very specific memories of the version that they fell in love with -- my MIL adores old-school Shalimar, and is lukewarm on new-school Shalimar. My mom loves the original 1980's Poison, but refuses to buy current Poison because to her, it doesn't have the same room-filling power.

And because of reactions like that, there is a booming trade on eBay for "vintage" or "retro" versions of those. There is a certain amount of worrying about counterfeiting/worrying about getting ripped off/will 40 year old perfume really smell the way my mom remembers, but it's part of the game. Your mom might also particularly appreciate it, especially if she has a new bottle, but finds it unsatisfactory.

You could also try looking on Perfumed Court for vintage perfume. They've been been rock-solid in my experience, whereas I've had mixed results from other well-known sample sites. And I note that they have retro Farouche in up to a 15mL spray bottle.

If you want to introduce her to a new perfume, maybe bring her this sampler pack? At the larger sizes, the pack approaches full-bottle prices. However, the samples are little and not particularly glamorous looking. So if packaging is important to your mom, it won't be the way to go.

Which leads me to say that if you want a fancy full bottle, maybe Bois d'Iris for being sweet with florals, while also powdery thanks to the iris? If you can find a bottle of it, my mother-in-law who adores original Shalimar got a sample of HdP 1826, which she loved enough to ask for a full bottle for Christmas.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:47 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]

OP, I just saw your update, regarding your search for one bottle of perfume to take to your mom.

I will review my suggestions, with an eye toward which one would most appeal to her, and I'll be back.
posted by virago at 9:49 AM on June 17

For some reason, I thought 1826 wasn't being sold by HdP anymore! But it is! It's become my MIL's everyday special occasions perfume wear to replace the last drops of the precious vintage Shalimar that she can now save for the specialest of special occasions.
posted by joyceanmachine at 10:00 AM on June 17

The new Le Lion de Chanel from the Exclusifs line seems like a modern, more "butched up" version of Shalimar. It seems she likes floral aldehydes so that might feel a little too "masculine" for her (even though it is unisex). No. 22 is an excellent aldehydic floral from the same line and one of my all-time favorites. Other Exclusifs to try would be Beige or Misia.

The Dior boutique line also has some great florals that would appeal to classic perfume fans. Jasmin des Anges, Grand Bal, New Look 1947 are some that I know are good.
posted by matildaben at 10:49 AM on June 17

You can't go wrong with joyceanmachine's suggestion of 1826 or with Calandre; Fidji; Eternity for Women; Timeless, or the clean, green and elegant O de Lancome (available here).
posted by virago at 10:58 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks so much, all. I don't know much about fragrance but I want to learn, so this has been really interesting for me! I will report back on what I eventually end up getting and how it goes down with my mom. Thank you!!
posted by unicorn chaser at 11:20 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

For more reading or an extra gift for her, I have given The Perfume Companion: The Definitive Guide to Choosing Your Next Scent to a few people as a gift and it is an enjoyable browsable read.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:05 PM on June 17

OP, I love this question, and your mom's faves read very classic-feminine-floral to me; jasmine backbones, with "powder" (violet, orris, etc.) notes. Her body chemistry may amplify other elements in her top-pick list, but newer perfumes she might like are Gucci Bloom (2017) or Gucci Bloom Profumo di Fiori (2020). Description of Gucci Bloom, plus some flankers.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:07 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

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