Scentless buying

Buying perfume online seems at odds with the essence of what a fragrance is: surely a person wants to smell the nectar before committing to it? But perfume has a strong internet presence.

First, there is the world of scent fans, with their nosing notes and passionate recommendations — and sometimes warnings. The enthusiasm of these aficionados merges as a resource of personal truths about the vast selection of perfumes on the market.

Yet the information you might be fed at an instore perfume counter has already been through a “broken telephone” — from perfume “nose” to perfume house, to the brand marketers, to a distributor and an agent and finally to the retailer and interchangeable and often undertrained retail staff.

The message gets diluted, the truths are feigned and the perfumer’s notes become a gloss on the generic. Pat descriptions like “fresh and floral” are substituted for “mandarin and osmanthus” or “heliotrope and tuberose”.

Online, one can learn many things about a fragrance. Who created it and when, why, what was the inspiration, are there thematic references?

You can find out from others whether or not a scent lives up to its claims. Does it dry down well on the skin?

Perfume bloggers and fans will often compare a fragrance with others on the market and, importantly, not just to products within only one cosmetics house. You will find suggestions of other perfumes that might entice or be more appropriate.

There’s a rich encyclopaedia of interviews with perfumers with a comprehensive analysis of each fragrance, and a portal of trends and current popular notes.

For quicker reference, try fragrantica.comScented Salamander or

Some of these perfume blogs are not polished publications, but the information represents the uncensored voices of a passionate public — a powerful and honest voice.

Then there are what I like to call the “oil-filled pens”, a collective of writers who love to craft words inspired by fragrances: the beauty and art of language webbed through scent imbues both boisdejasmin.comand

This list could not be complete without Chandler Burr, the erstwhile perfume critic for the New York Times. He captured the essence and intrigue of a perfume with crisp decision and a few concise words: “A sheer bergamot dissolved in warm Turkish seawater, diffusing in utter silence. Stunning.” Thirteen words to capture — and release! — the majesty of L’Eau d’Hiver by Jean-Claude Ellena (for Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle).

The point is this: the power of words used to describe fragrances makes one hanker after them, because it gives us more understanding of what exactly the perfumer hopes us to find in the nectar — what she or he has spent countless hours sourcing and crafting.

This is what drives the online purchase of perfume.

More importantly, perhaps, it drives us to explore; far more so than when blind-smelling a wordless juice under the stark lights of a brick-and-mortar retail counter.