A good scents of smell: Picking perfume for yourself and others

FAIRFAX, Va. — Thinking about buying someone a scented gift this Valentine’s Day?

It’s a popular present, and a common mistake, says Arielle Weinberg, owner of Arielle Shoshana, a boutique fragrance store in Fairfax, Virginia. Weinberg began on the chemistry side of the perfume industry, in New York City, but opened her own store in the Mosaic District this fall.

At the back of Arielle Shoshana is a gift-wrapped box full of unopened perfumes. Weinberg is collecting perfume donations for Dress for Success, an organization that provides women with clothing and accessories for job interviews. Women (and men) who received fragrance gifts that weren’t a perfect fit can trade them in at her store.

“The reason we have this box is because it can be so difficult to find the right fragrance for someone. It’s so personal.”

Weinberg says wearing perfume can be a way to communicate, or to tell a story.

“We say ‘I’m feeling tough today’ or ‘this is what my mother smelled like when she tucked me in at night.’”

While having the person pick out her own scent in person is preferable, Weinberg says offering a variety of options is a good way for them to shop around.

“What we recommend here is a discovery set,” says Weinberg. “Some people might say it’s less romantic than committing to one bottle, but there’s nothing romantic about a fragrance that gets returned.”

This also allows the person to scent-test her desired fragrances.

“The scientists still debate, but many people find, anecdotally, that chemistry can play a huge role in how fragrances work on every individual,” Weinberg says. Buying a perfume or cologne without wearing it on your skin is like buying clothes after seeing them on the mannequin.

“Everything looks good on the mannequin, just like everything smells good on the blotter paper, but you’ve got to try it on yourself to make sure it suits you.”

She suggests waiting at least 10 minutes for the top notes of the scent to settle in.

“For many fragrance formulas, all of the money is in the top notes. They want you to spray, fall in love immediately, and run to the register. You’ve got to make sure that after those top notes run out, you’re still happy with what’s lurking underneath.”

Above all, Weinberg says, don’t be afraid to spray, smell and try it all on.

“Every perfume on our shelves, on Sephora’s shelves, on everyone’s shelves, can be bought online for the same price or even cheaper, so the only reason anybody has to get off their couch and come in, is if this is the most pleasant fun experience,” she says.

“We’re not the perfume police, there are no rules. As long as you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.”

If your heart is set on a fragrance gift this holiday, Weinberg has a few recommendations.

Arielle’s signature: Weinberg turns to a warm, uncomplicated scent: ‘Safran Troublant‘, by L’artisan Parfumeur. “You’ve got saffron, rosewater, sandalwood. It’s relatively simple but it’s just gorgeous.”

For someone with a sense of humor: “We do have a perfume called ‘Chocolate Box,’ and I think, paired with an actual chocolate box, it could be a winning gift.”

The surefire winner: A perfume with notes of vanilla is a safe choice for pretty much anyone on your list. The best-selling scent in Weinberg’s store so far is a Swiss perfume with notes of vanilla, pipe tobacco and patchouli. “It’s delicious,” says Weinberg. “Like something you could mix with bourbon.”

For the non-perfume wearer: Think clean, Weinberg says. The best-selling unisex scent at her store has a “fresh from the shower” smell. “Maybe 80 percent of the people that come in say ‘I don’t want anything too strong, too heavy or overwhelming.’ This is the fragrance for them.”

There’s a rose for every nose: A perfume with rose notes has a wide appeal, says Weinberg, and can be as fancy or as simple as you’d like. Her store carries one perfume made with Rose de Mai, what she says is the most prized rose used in perfumery. “The bottle is pretty irresistible as well,” she adds.

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