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Editor's Perfume Pick: Vera Wang's Look Eau de Parfum
Editor's Pick: Vera Wang Look Eau de Parfum

How to Buy Perfume

By Lisa Cohen LeeSHOP.COM Beauty Editor

Finding a perfume is a lot like falling in love: You let the aroma sweep you off your feet until you are happily head over heels about it, and vow to be faithful from this day forward . But sifting through hundreds of potential perfumes to find the one that suits you best can be a daunting task. No worries, because even if you're looking for the one or a wardrobe of fragrances to suit your mood, we've got these handy tips to help you sniff out a signature scent:

The Basics

Step 1Concentration: The strength of the essential fragrance oils and how much they are diluted makes a difference in the type of fragrance you buy. The higher the concentration, the longer the scent will last on your skin. Perfume or parfum is the fragrance in its purest form, with 20% concentration or more; eau de parfum is next, around 15-20%, while eau de toilette has a lower amount, like 8-15%, and cologne or eau de cologne has the lowest amount, about 4-8%.
Step 2Classification: Fragrances are usually divided into two families, either traditional or modern, and identified that way. Traditional scents are based on classic perfume categories from the turn of the century, like single floral, floral bouquet, amber, wood or leather. Modern aromas are newer, and include bright floral (a combo of single floral and floral bouquet), green, ocean or marine, citrus or fruity and gourmand, scents with a sweet, dessert like aroma.
Step 3Notes: The components of the fragrance. Notes work together during the evaporation process to create a complex aroma. Top notes are lighter, middle notes are the heart of the fragrance, and the base notes provide the depth and richness to the scent.
Step 4Packaging: Fragrance packaging can be as elaborate as a cut crystal bottle and jeweled topper or as simple as a spray top and bottle. Perfume usually comes in a special flacon, with ornate detailing to put out on a dressing table. Eau de toilette and cologne are mostly packaged in spray bottles with less detail.
Step 5Aroma: Take time to become aware of scents around you before you buy, and you'll soon develop a nose for your favorite. You may be attracted to a fragrance, like gardenia or amber, because it triggers a wonderful memory. Or you might simply like the aromas you're exposed to every day, like lemon, grass, tea, vanilla, roses. Once you identify your likes, id the classification (ie, green, oriental, or citrus), then read the specific notes, to help you hone in on your perfect match.

The Lingo

Essential Oils: Aromatic oils that are extracted from plants through distillation and are generally used in aromatherapy. They are pure, and only have a single scent; therefore, they don't have the complex aroma or note makeup of a perfume.
Oriental: Notes that are soft, exotic and sensual, sometimes heavy, including musk, vanilla, patchouli and spicy florals.
Green: Unisex notes that are crisp and refreshing, including the essences of freshly cut leaves and grass.
Floral: Sweet, heady notes from flowers, such as freesia, gardenia, jasmine and white honeysuckle.
Citrus: Light, juicy, tangy scents from fruits, including lemon, orange, lime and grapefruit.
Dry-down: The process of how the notes evaporate, resulting in a change to the scent during the progression; i.e., the top notes give way to the middle and finally the base notes, which linger the longest.
Solid Fragrance: Perfect for on-the-go, this is essentially a scent that's in a solid state, usually housed in a compact, that can be dabbed on pulse points.

The Experts

Allure Magazine says about Annick Goutal Myrrh Ardente: ""Some myrrh scents are a little masculine for us, but this one, even with its notes of soft tobacco and amber, attracted us with notes of sweet vanilla, beeswax extract, and refreshing mint. The balance is so intoxicating we wouldn't care if it was designed for a lumberjack."
Now Smell This, the perfume blog, loved the Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, for its "very soft fragrance, not in the sense of being light or close to the skin, but in that all the raw, exotic edges of the tuberose and gardenia have been polished down and smoothed over. It is simply beautiful, and beautifully done. The lasting power for the Eau de Parfum is excellent."

The Brands

Chanel Famous for the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume, and the beautiful, minimalist square bottle that's used throughout their fragrance collection.
Annick Goutal Created in 1981 by a former pianist, this brand uses only fine, high quality materials and produces creative scents that favor authenticity over mass production.
Guerlain More than 626 perfumes have been created since Guerlain was founded in 1828; they are known for their beautiful sculptured bottles and sensuous scents.
Jo Malone This brand produces intoxicating colognes that are meant to be worn alone or in layers, to create your own personalized scent.
Serge Lutens This niche line is from a renowned French perfumer, whose fragrances are coveted worldwide for their modern, sophisticated aromas.

The Price

$: You'll find mostly eau de toilettes and colognes in this price point, since they have the least amount of fragrance oil concentration. Try Believe by Britney Spears Eau de Toilette, $31.95
$$: Most eau de parfums are priced in this range, because the oil concentration is higher, as is the designer label. Try Eau de Parfum II by Gucci, $65
$$$: True perfume or parfum commands a high price because of the premium exotic ingredients and exquisite packaging. Try the 1000 Parfum by Jean Patou, $255