Choosing the perfect gift for someone is not an easy task especially when it comes to something as personal as buying a perfume. With so many different options at the perfume counter, finding the right scent is more about the person you are buying for.

Over the next few days fragrance departments across the globe will become extremely busy with those who hope to find a unique gift to woo that special valentine.

We have asked one of the fragrance experts from Penhaligon’s in Edinburgh, what we should know before spending money on a bottle of fragrance for our loved ones.

Aga Galat-Bracken – What should we bear in mind when buying a fragrance for someone as a gift?

Euan McCall (Fragrance Expert) – Our sense of smell is one of the most powerful senses we have and it is the most emotive one too, it is directly connected to the part of our brain that deals with memory. With that in mind it is important to know the person we are buying for. The world of perfumery can seem vast and daunting.

When shopping for that perfect fragrance it is easy to walk into a department store and pick up the latest celebrity/fashion release without much care or attention but like any unique gift the recipient must feel like this has been a carefully selected choice. I always do my groundwork, what fragrances has the person worn in the past, age, how do they dress, occupation, do they even wear fragrance?

By painting this picture it makes the selection process that little bit easier.

Always test the fragrance with the provided tester strips and take the strips from the middle of the bundle. The first couple will probably have been used by someone else!! As all fragrances change and develop with the heat of the skin there really is no telling how your selection will settle onto the skin of others. Another challenge involved in selecting fragrances.

To help you navigate your way through the ocean of scents I recommend using the fragrance database


This website has nearly 15,000 fragrances categorized with descriptions and with helpful recommendations. Simply type in the name of a fragrance and use the information provided. It is good to do your homework.

A.G.B- What if we do not know what type of fragrance the person receiving the gift wears? Is there anything you can recommend as a “safe” option ?

E.M. There are a few safer options but it is always helpful to find out as much as possible about the gift receiver. Every fragrance wearer is different; some wear only one ‘signature’ scent. These people tend to be the hardest to buy for unless you find out what that signature scent is and find something to compliment it. Others have a day or work scent and another option for their evenings. I would always concentrate on one or the other. The final group are those who have several fragrances for different moods and occasions, they tend to collect a wide range of scents and love building up a fragrance wardrobe.

It is always hard trying to buy fragrance for someone you don’t know. In this case it really is all about your gut instinct. If you pick something up and you immediately think the person in mind will like it then go with it. The more you smell the more overwhelming the experience becomes.

Daytime fragrances are generally easier to buy as most people wear something lighter during the day, something citrus or “ozonic”. This family of fragrance is huge. Anything from Davidoff Cool Waters and Calvin Klein’s CK one to Acqua di parma Colonia and our very own Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet. Generally these are very non-offensive scents and are easy to wear for both ladies and gents. At least that way you will know your gift is going to be appreciated and used. Evening scents are a little trickier as it is very easy to choose the wrong type. Most people wear richer, deeper, darker and more sensual fragrances in the evening and unless you know exactly what your looking for you can end up in the wrong fragrance family completely, the line between families is fine but the wrong turn can have you in the “old person’s” category in the blink of an eye.

Like all art perfumery is subjective, we all perceive it differently and there is no right or wrong perception, what smells like an old ladies handbag to a 30 year old may smell sublime to a 19 year old, if it suits and makes the wearer feel that little bit more confident then I say wear it. This said, there are technicalities which make some fragrances better than others but most of the scents available in department stores are made by extremely talented perfumers, it may have a glamorous fashion name on the bottle but the real artists work in labs creating these things of beauty. Huge fashion houses aren’t going to let just anyone make products potentially worth millions of dollars. Behind each fragrance there is a secretive person, a master perfumer so what you buy in the stores are perfectly balanced works of art.

The perfumistas among us can be tricky to buy for, they don’t care about packaging its all about the juice inside the bottle. They love niche and high end and shed a heavy tear at any pure parfum. Many find them very hard to buy for but in many ways they are the easiest. Go for something timeless and classic, a lovely bottle of Chanel No.5 Parfum or any old Guerlain (Shalimar, Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue) will put a smile on their face. Even if it doesn’t suit them they will still appreciate it and love having a timeless addition in their collection.

A.G.B- should we risk buying something new or stick to a family of fragrances we know the receiver will like?

E.M. It really depends how adventurous and spontaneous you want to be, a lot of people like a dangerous element in a lover and in some ways it can pay off, it shows you are willing to introduce new things. It shows you have thought long and hard about them, carefully considering what they might like. Its always easier to play it safe but who wants to be safe??

A.G.B- Any tips when searching trying too many scents? Ie. Does smelling coffee beans in between help?

E.M. I never do the coffee bean thing as this introduces another aroma and a strong one at that. The best thing to do is have a bottle of water to hand (chilled preferably) and sipping it regularly, it helps cleanse the palette; much the same way a sorbet does between meals. In failing this inhale through your scarf or the sleeve of your jacket, the fibers act as an air filter helping pass cleaner air through your nasal passage, it’s a trick used when professionally fragrance testing and it works.

Always remember that expensive doesn’t always mean better, there are some stunning fragrances on the market for reasonable prices take for example the Lush perfumes or last years Prada Candy for ladies and Dior’s Fahrenheit, Eau Sauvage, Dior Homme or Penhaligon’s Sartorial for gents. Unless you are 100% sure that the person you are buying for will appreciate it don’t go buying £100+ bottles of fragrance, it’s a big risk a lovely meal and bottle of wine could mean a lot more.

Penhaligon’s offer a complimentary Fragrance profiling service in each of our boutiques, a unique and bespoke service which is designed to expertly navigate the customer through our eclectic library of fragrances, designed specifically to find the perfect fragrance for you and your partner. Throughout the year we also offer the same service online, which is also individually selected by our fragrance experts.

For more information on Penhaligon’s and our beautiful collection of ladies and gents gift ideas please visit us in store or online here


You can follow Euan’s passion for fragrance and all fine things on his blog at http://justanothermanabouttown.blogspot.com/

His Bio is given below
I have been surrounded by fragrance all of my life. My earliest memories are olfactory. My father scenting his leather driving gloves before leaving the house, my grandmother taking me on a pilgrimage to the Belle Epoque beauty of Maison Guerlain on the Champs Élysées in Paris, my mother liberally spraying her signature perfume in cafes, travelling through Asia absorbing the smells of an over populated metropolis or the immaculate garden maintained by my award winning gardener of a grandfather.

Personally I am moved by the world of perfumery and the wonders of our olfactory system. I use fragrance to immortalise places, people and times in my life. The technology of perfumery fascinates me, the history and emotive power fills me with immense joy and sadness. I am drawn to the cold powdered chocolaty and almost plastic like aroma of Iris, the petrolic heady micro perfume exuded by Rose absolute and Rose Oxide, heavy wafts of indolic white florals, sensual creamy vanilla and the perverse animalic aroma of castorium, propolis and civet. That playful childhood “kiss me quickly” bubblegum grape profile of methyl anthranilite. The protective caress of Johnsons baby products combining vanilla, lavender and citrus accords. My childhood is haunted by the grand Guerlain Guerlinade and Caron’s Mousse de Saxe, upon inhaling them now Im almost reduces me to tears.

I love observing how other mediums influence the fragrance industry. Fashion trends are the most powerful force. Luckily in my role as online fragrance profiler I have the opportunity to help people from all over the world find the perfect Penhaligon’s scent, its both enlightening, insightful and challenging.

Some of my favorite scents: Chanel Cuir de Russie, Dior Homme Intense and Hypnotic Poison, Caron Tabac Blond, Frederic Malle Une fleur de Cassie, Iris Poudre, L’Eau d’Hiver and Musc Ravageur, Penhaligons Night scented stock, Lily and Spice, Amaranthine and Sartorial, L’artisan Parfumeur’s Patchouli Patch and Traversée du Bosphore, Guerlain Shalimar (pre-reformulation), Habit Rouge (Eau de Parfum) and Vol de Nuit Extract, Kenzo Flower, Etat libre d’Orange Tom of Finland and Charogne, Serge Luten’s Muscs Koublai Khan, Tubéreuse Criminelle and Jeux de peau, Jean Paul Gaultier Gaultier 2, Nez a Nez Atelier d’Artiste. Each of these have imprinted themselves on my life, they act as an olfactory timeline.

My perfume hero’s: Dominique Ropion, Maurice Roucel, Edmond Roudnitska, Jean-Claude Ellena, Christopher Sheldrake, Bertrand Duchaufour, Pierre Bourdon, Annick Menardo and Ernest Daltroff.

If money were no option I would buy original bottles of Houbigant Fougere Royale, Guerlain Jicky and Dior’s Diorissimo alongside my long lost lovers Issey Miyake Le Feu, Shiseido’s Nombre Noir and Feminité du Bois…