5 ways to give perfume as Christmas gift

I get this question these days:

I would like to buy my man/woman/wife/husband/someone perfume for Christmas, do you have any recommendation? Which perfume should I get?

I love the idea. In theory. But my answer is: no, I don’t have a recommendation for a specific perfume for your partner simply because I have no idea how your man’s/woman’s/wife’s/husband’s/someone’s skin smells like, feels like, what temperature it is, if they sweat salty or sweet, where they put on perfume, when… what makes them laugh or blush or swear… and a million other things. So my general recommendation is: buy something else.

There are however 5 exceptions:

  1. You are a perfumer and have created the perfume yourself.
  2. You are not a perfumer but have created the perfume yourself.
  3. The gift is a bespoke perfume. You give the chosen beloved person a session with a perfumer who will create a bespoke fragrance with them for them. Miller Harris and Mandy Aftel for example offer this service.
    Photo: Miller Harris
    A much simpler more popularized lot less expensive version is offered by the Perfume Studio. Mandy Aftel also offers bespoke perfumes, you can read more about how it works at Aftelier here. If you go to Paris you will find this helpful. 
  4. The person who the perfume is intended for has already tried fragrance x and wants it/has had fragrance x before and misses it/for some other reason really wants fragrance x. For example, if you went to Paris and she spent an hour at Guerlain falling in love with Spiritueuse Double Vanille but didn’t get it because you were in a hurry or maybe it was too expensive. Well, then of course it is very romantic if you call them and have it shipped right to her skin for Christmas. 
  5. The fragrance your buying is an icon or comes with a story that makes it an evidently interesting part of a perfume collection regardless of whether the recipient will wear it or not. It is just interesting to have. Examples of perfumes like this for women are Joy, Chanel No 5 and Shalimar. 

But generally, apart from in situations like the ones mentioned above, I do not really believe in giving perfume as a gift. The reason, is that wearing and selecting the ingredients that blend with your skin, its chemical composition and your soul – is a precious and intimate thing. Perfumes, like personalities, are not random, not generic and they are not about what is new or trendy or whose last name is on the bottle. If you think it is, that’s not very strange as this in fact is how the media talks about perfume. There are top ten lists, there are what’s new lists, there are perfume bottles that match the latest Marc Jacobs bag or Dior shoes. But perfume is not just something you put on yourself the way a garment is. A garment comes in a ready size that fits your body and the material is the same regardless who wears it. It wrinkles on you, it wrinkles on her.

Perfume is different – not just seems different – IS different on every person. It exists with you, blends with your temperature and skin.
You can guess, but you cannot predict with precision what happens to a fragrance on someone’s skin. That’s the scientific side of it. The other aspect is more emotional and profound. To discover your fragrance and your body’s own scents is intimate and sublime. Therefore if you want to give someone the fragrance that matches their skin as well as their soul you need to know that person extremely well. Who they are, who they want to be. Is it possible? Yes, I believe that one person can discover another so attentively and humbly and curiously that you can sense how that person’s soul would smell like if it was tangible. But still do not know how a certain perfume would react with their skin.

The point is, when you buy a perfume for someone you define this person. This is something that should be done with great care and tenderness. If you feel that you can do that…beautiful. It is possible that you can. Perhaps you are one of the halves of a couple like the ones that I wrote about a couple of days ago. But if you are someone who goes into a department store and asks for “something that smells nice” for you girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/mistress, and then specify it with a “yes, sexy, romantic, flowery, fresh” at most…then please just buy something else. Or accept that random generic perfumes were created for random generic tastes like yours. And you… have just not gotten at all what perfume is about. Hopefully, some day you will, and that will make your life more exciting.

There are however a number of ways to give someone fragrance without going to a department store to get some random recommendation. For example, if you know that your favorite person has a favorite perfume house but has not found a favorite fragrance – make a gift out of samples. Many perfume houses have a special gift set of samples though it might not be for sale in stores. This is a sweet thoughtful effort with a personal touch.

(And don’t even think about the easy sleazy option: some men seem to adopt the habit of letting their partner go out and getting anything they want and then they take care of the bill. So the gift is – the payment. I find this about as romantic as banana peel. If you are one of these persons please stop reading my blog. A moderated version of the above is “we will go try perfumes and then I will buy you the one you like”. Sorry. No. The only exception to this is if you are going for a weekend trip to a city where you have booked a surprise in the form of a private session with a perfumer at a prestigious perfume house and this person will guide you through their range in the search of an olfactory match.)

If you cannot or do not want to make that type of effort but want to get something that smells nice fragranced spa products like creams and lotions and scrubs work just fine – and then fragranced candles are actually a very nice option. But get one of the good ones with ingredients of high quality. Many renowned perfume houses have a range of fragranced candles. Byredo has a wide range of very VERY nice ones which you can also buy through their webstore. Another safe buy is Laura Mercier. If you’re looking for something more unusual or modern maybe try Le Labo Vinage Candles?


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