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How Not To Spend $395 On A Bottle Of Perfume

Lush Gorilla Perfume And I Hate Perfume

Last year I bought perfume for the first time in 30 years. In an Alice-in-Wonderland sort of experience, I spent inordinate sums of money on a perfume named Rose Oudh. It was the only scent I found that was a) non-synthetic b) complex enough to enjoy.

Were you not terribly kind people, I would say, “Rejoice in LPC’s floundering!” Why?  I have made a discovery and returned to report.

But first, an important question. Have you ever read about “layering” perfumes and then recoiled in horror, assuming that such an act would lead you right down a rabbit hole of overwhelm? Alternatively, have you tried to layer scent at a perfume counter, and woken from a faint, scented, surrounded by whispering gawkers? High WASPs in particular are prone to sensory overwhelm and the occasional swoon.

No more.

You may recall that on a trip to Washington, my best friend impulsively bought me a stick of Lush Cosmetic’s Lust. It was only $8.95/.4oz. What you will not recall, since I never told the story, was that after I bought the Rose Oudh Lauren counseled me to try CB⎮I Hate Perfume. I impulsively bought a small vial of Lavender Tea. $12.00/2ml.

“Lust” turned out too sweet. (And if that isn’t the line in someone’s novel, I’ll spend the day wearing a perfume by Britney Spears.) “Lavender Tea,” too acrid.

Rose Oudh, however, I love.

In a moment of insight, I realized that Rose Oudh is a) a floral with acrid undertones b) made of essential oils, lacking chemicals. Duh. Et voilà. “Lusting For Lavender Tea” was born.

The strategy for creating one’s own perfume is as follows. Do not layer blindly, starting from the unknown and moving towards the incomprehensible.

  1. Use expensive perfume counters to figure out which one-two punch appeals to you. Most of us don’t care all that much about 3 layers of scent, and dry downs, and all those incantations of perfume salespeople. What do you like? Floral/acrid? Floral/musk? Citrus/Sweet? Or even, Sweet/Sour? Sweet/Rough? Sugar and vanilla are everywhere these days.
  2. Replicate with low-cost, high quality scents, in small quantities. You can even try several different combinations, for the elusive feeling of abundance.
  3. Rinse and repeat.

So anyone who also likes Floral/Acrid could try Imogen Rose, $15.95, with Burning Leaves at $12.00. For Floral/Musk, Orange Blossom, $9.95 and Old Leather Premium Accord, $12.00.

All you lack is the cut glass bottle, black velvet bag, and lacquered, locked wooden box. However, $400 in your pocket and the clear red of Lush’s solid perfume more than compensate. No fainting required.

Those of you wiser than I, what scent combinations had you already discovered?

Images: Me
Compensation: No one

49 Responses

  1. You are way more adventurous in the perfume department than I am. I’ve been wearing Marc Jacobs perfume for at least 7 years and I still love it’s green/gardenia scent. The $60 a bottle price, not so much.
    But I’m intrigued to try the Orange Blossom that you suggested…especially at $9.95!

  2. Please care about the drydown, it reveals the notes of the fragrance! The first wet blast is as misleading as the curly lashes of that college quarterback.

    Some women love playing with scents, I leave it to the masters- but am always on the lookout for a wonderful scent that’s not wildly expensive. Lush is not it… anyone have suggestions?

  3. I tend to like scents in a certain family, so I have versions for day and night which I layer– the night one goes on top of the day one. For example, in winter, I like L’Occitane’s Cedar for day, and put something incense-y, like Laura Mercier’s Nuits Enchantees on top, for evening.

    Since I switch my scents by season, I don’t like to have a great big bottle to use up — even though they cost more per ounce, I usually buy a small bottle of something like Jo Malone’s Blue Agava and Cacao for summer, and then get decants of other scents to wear on top.

    A great source for decants (a fun, inexpensive way to try out scents without a long-term commitment) is — I especially like their themed samplers. You could get a “green sampler” including six different scents to play with. Everyday version about $20, luxe version about $40.

    And I love to read “Now Smell This” — a blog that reviews perfumes and scents from all over the place. Gives me a lot of inspiration and information.

  4. When I was a teenager, I made an amazing discovery: If it looked bad on a hanger, it was probably going to look good on me. The same is true for perfume; I have been given and bought many scents since I was an adolescent, and I’ve learned never to judge a smell by its bottle – put it on, first. So, no, I’ve not mixed scents; this is exacerbated by the fact that I’m extremely sensitive to odors and too much perfume, on me or anyone else, can cause headaches and nausea in very short order.

    Elevator rides can be contests of endurance.

  5. You know, I had to go back and re-read the “…stick of scent” phrase. (How old am I again?!) I actually am a simpleton when it comes to fragrance, very (*very*) boring. In fact, I’m still getting over the discontinuation of a Burberry scent taken off the market almost 25 years ago.

    Boring? Moi? You know what they say, give me a rut and I’ll decorate it. :)

    1. “I’m still getting over the discontinuation of a Burberry scent taken off the market…”

      This is precisely one of the most active figures in my anxiety closet, what will I do when Diorissimo simply disappears. I’m so boring I’ve worn this since high school, never wavered.

  6. I love perfume! citrus and sweet, and light and crisp and clean. Virgin Island water by Creed. Love these all … try on, and let them settle a bit to avoid costly mistakes

  7. I’ve managed to find several parfums in the mid-price range that I’ve been quite happy with. I love a rose or floral top note, with something woodsy or slightly sharp underneath, to keep the florals from going too cloying on me. YSL “Parisienne” is a current fave for spring, and also love Hermès “Kelly Caleche.”

    And yes, ALWAYS test perfume on your skin before buying, and wait a couple of hours. Some scents that I liked at first had me wanting to gnaw my arm off after a few hours to get away from the annoying stench.

  8. Being someone who attempts to avoid creating a market for things brewed in large vats, I haven’t bought a canned perfume in years. I found out that mixing essential oils for myself, and buying unscented base spray from a local seller of essential oils to carry them, made me quite happy, and was quite cheap. Favorites so far? Rose oil combined with lavender oil (very green) or lemon oil (crisp floral). For punch, age the rose oil for two to three years, but no more.

  9. I wouldn’t go so far as to trumpet my wisdom, but I enjoy layering Chloé with Bath and Body Works Midnight Pomegranate body spray. I also enjoy J’adore with B&BW Orange Sapphire body spray.

  10. I wear L’Air du Temp when getting dressed up (or whenever I remember) and Eau de Patsy the rest of the time. I will wear samples if the little vials end up in my shopping bag.

  11. hi lisa,

    i am so sensitive to scents. right now my house is full of freshly cut roses and the smell is almost overwhelming. a few vases are going to have to go on the porch. i’m esp sensitive to fake scents.

    a lot of people don’t realize that you can have a custom perfume made for you at aveda. they will give you a free sensory journey to help you pick a scent you love. and they are only $20 a vial and are so beautiful. they contain no extenders or fixatives so people can’t smell you coming and going. it’s a v personal scent for you alone and maybe someone else close to you. i love that about them.



  12. Aqua Allegoria Mandarine Basilic from Guerlain – a quick spritz of sunshine I look forward to in the morning.

  13. i LOVE CB scents. Burning Leaves is one of my favorites. Right now, I am mixing a few Jo Malone fragrances with my Burning Leaves!

  14. I have never thought to mix scents. I am obviously going to have to try…. (I don’t suppose cleaning products and nappy cream are going to cut it if I want to compete with the masters)

  15. Hummm. I never thought about this kind of thing.

    Since I don’t even know what I like I’ll have to try your combinations and see what I think.

  16. Lisa,

    I have never even considered layering scents. I have layered the same scent using different products like soap, talc and scent at the same time.

    I love Voyage d’ Hermes, and Belle de Nuit Orchidee (Moonflower Orchid) by Durance in Grasse France.

    I have had various scents over my life…never zeroing in on just one…Mother wore only Shalimar and Chanel No. 5.

  17. You know, your post about Rose Oudh had me all curious, so the next time I was in Saks SF to buy my beloved Trish McEvoy cosmetics, I stopped by the perfume counter to try to get a whiff of it.

    The counter salesperson was the cutest, kindest over-50 asian lady wearing a big fur collar and really funky glasses. Was that your salesperson? And she loaded me down with Kilian samples.

    My husband and I have been making our way through the samples to see if we like anything – about half of them are men’s. I find them very strong and wonder where to apply them.

    The one I really like is Liaisons Dangereuses (did you try it?, which seems a relative bargain at $225, but still.

    Kilian was nice enough to list all the notes in his brochure, so maybe I can go the alchemist route you suggest!

  18. I wear perfume so rarely, although I often lurk on jacky morgan’s website. She creates many of her own scents in tiny little vials, but I love the descriptions.

    It had never before occurred to me to layer scents.

  19. I never wear perfume, Jo Malone was horrified by this, the most I can cope with is bath oil. I can’t even have certain flowers in my home, I DVD scent overwhelming at times.

  20. I don’t layer scents but I hear you re artificial perfumes.

    The scent I wear generally is Tamdao by Dityque (who make lovely candles!). They don’t make eau de parfum because their eau de toilette is so well crafted, pure and lasting that the “parfum” version would distort the scent. They are also relatively inexpensive and have a good pedigree perfume-wise.

    Also, I have, at work, perfume from an ancient shop in Florence that mixed perfumes for the Medici (they’re not poisonous though!). The one I have is called Estrato Caterina de Medici and based on a recipe that the shop-owner’s ancestor made for her. I like a bit of history with my scent.

    Perfume is so important to me and certain smells can instantly transport me to a place or a memory of a person. They are my proustian madaleine!

    1. Sally,

      If you wouldn’t mind sharing, what is the name of the shop in Florence? I will be there in September and would love to visit it.

      Thank you!

  21. I wore Lauren during the 80’s and 90’s. I never liked the “new” formulation. I can’t find anything else I like as well.

  22. Anyone looking for an all-natural perfume- I recommend L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Cote d’Amour, a scent that transports me to the windswept beaches of Brittany.

  23. You raise such good questions and thoughts Lisa! I used to be a complete perfume lover, but one day I woke up and realized that after a few years of only using organic beauty products I had an allergic reaction to normal perfume. Thus, the foray into natural perfume and natural perfume school. You’d be surprised I think to learn how expensive natural perfume really is, only because the raw materials are so expensive. It is heavenly once you begin to find your right subtle combination. And it’s so much more satisfying than commercial perfumes. It’s kind of like wearing a really well-made pair of shoes–once you experience it, it’s hard to go back. Glad you wrote about this!
    xo Mary Jo

  24. Just yesterday I was thinking about going back to perfume. My desire just wafted away, I guess. Before it did, I liked Chanel’s “Allure.” And before that, I wore “L’Interdit” by Givenchy. Now I want something that does not smell like vanilla, which I love in icing, but cannot bear as a fragrance.

  25. I love cologne but most of them give me a headache. I choose the refreshing scent of lemongrass deodorant (toms of maine), and Bulgari Homme Soir, plus the reek of turpentine. I also like the original Burberry- no headache.

  26. I am a purest by nature, one scent at a time, but I will inadvertently wear a sweater to dinner and spritz one scent then wear the sweater again with another scent. My preferred scent is floral so they usually go well together. The Jo Malone fragrances are meant to be layered. I love anise and vanilla layered over orange blossom. This time of year the orange blossom alone is like stepping out on a warm California night. Heady.

  27. Hermes Caleche and Kate Spade’s Twirl make a nice pairing. Both answer my ying yang. One is down to earth and the other is more heavenly.
    I usually do not like too many scents, I love good old fashioned lavender soap.

  28. oh, i’m so pleased you found a way to work I Hate Perfume into your scent wardrobe! they do layer beautifully, and i love the combo’s title.

    i’m actually at a bit of a scent crossroads myself; i usually have a bottle of jo malone’s newest around (thanks to the beauty closet at the office), but my last one just gave up the (fragrant) ghost. i believe i have a gift card to her store kicking about the apartment, so i’ll probably head back for…pomegranate noir (an old favorite which layered well with, erm, smoke at clubs)? sweet lime and cedar? maybe the wild fig & cassis, to try something new? the joe is fond of fig.

    at home we both wear a combination of korres’s male and unisex scents (still unavailable in the US, bah) and annick goutal’s myrrhe ardente (which is considerably stronger and must be used sparingly). comme des garcons incense kyoto pops up in there sometimes as well. the overarching theme would be…lost in the woods?

  29. I dance Argentine Tango and wearing perfume is just too much for such a close embrace. So, I did this: I use a combination of oils for my really dry skin after my shower. I usually add an essential oil to give it a nice mild, fragrance…usually amber oil if I can find a nice one, warm and smooth, not too acrid or patchouli-like. I recently ran out of my best amber and have yet to find a replacement. So, I added about 1 teaspoon each YSL Opium bath oil and Dior Dune to 8 oz of oil. Perfection! A soft, barely-there fragrance that has a warm, woodsy-spicy headiness that doesn’t overwhelm one iota. Bliss.

  30. Belle – If I bought Orange Blossom, I’d probably look for something green to layer under it. Maybe this?

    Duchesse – When using scents without much alcohol, all natural oils, the drydown is infinitely less important. These perfumes smell very much the same, wet or dry. Also, fewer notes, less change.

    Rubi – It sounds as though you are a master of this technique. The small vials have been a revelation to me.

    Jan – The reason I didn’t wear perfume for 30 years was that it made me feel sick. I think now it was the synthetics more than the scent itself. The problem was that before I had no framework for building natural oils into a more sophisticated perfume.

    TPP – That’s an adorable saying, one which I had never heard. Consistency has its many virtues.

  31. Stephanie – Creed is such an appealing brand.

    Flo – Diorissimo is one of my family’s perfumes:). Grandmama, in fact. Again, consistency is part of our heritage, no?

    Deja Pseu – The small sample movement makes that perfume testing much more pleasant. One can try things on in the vicinity of a shower:).

    Vivienne – “Being someone who attempts to avoid creating a market for things brewed in large vats…” Well-put. That too drives my path here.

    Princess Lena – Oh please trumpet! It’s a veritable horn section round here. I learn a lot from you all.

  32. Patsy – Ha!

    Janet – Yes, I am sensitive too. And can no longer have roses near my face. Where does Aveda provide this service, at their salons?

    Golla – Lovely.

    miss mindless – Burning Leaves is the CB scent I’ve heard most about. I’m happy to find out I didn’t invent this method – although not at all surprised.

    A Farmer’s Wife – :). CB has a perfume called Greenbriar that is supposed to smell like this grandfather’s farm I think…

  33. RoseAG – Let me know. Take it slow – you may be surprised as I was.

    Hostess – Well, perhaps your rose journey will include fragrances:). I wonder what the perfumes you’ve liked have as their floral notes?

    rb – Dang, yes, that’s her! How fun that you visited. I also find the ByKilian very strong, so I wear it behind my knees only. Works just fine. I also liked Liasons Dangereuses. The good thing about layering is the additional control over strength of the scent.

    Chicatanyage – Rose and green. Nice.

    Terri – You might enjoy the experiment.

  34. Tabitha – I agree. It can all be terribly overpowering.

    Sally – I didn’t know Diptyque made scents for people, but that’s exactly the kind of brand that I’d expect to see doing this. I love the story about the shop mixing for the Medici. Isn’t life cool?

    DocP – I couldn’t find a commercial perfume I liked at all. No matter how hard I looked. Until the Rose Oudh and it’s inordinately expensive. Others agree with you about Lauren, BTW.

    Mary Jo – I followed your investigations into natural perfumes. I think they suit this classic but relaxed aesthetic. Luxury focused on natural materials and the presence of the craftsman – whether it’s the user or the designer.

    Miss Cavendish – The desire to return just hit me, having, as you say, “wafted away.” The key was determining what top note I wanted, and then what the underlying counterpoint needed to be. And that I couldn’t wear synthetics any more.

    Marsha – So nice to know the answer.

  35. Kevin – You might like to look up CB, especially if you like turpentine. That’s the kind of thing he does. And definitely no headaches.

    Pink Martini – The best sort of layering, architected by life, not artifice.

    pve – Lavender soap is my downfall. Have you ever tried Bonny Doon products? I discovered them at the Post Ranch Inn, years ago.

    lauren – Thank you. I get such a kick out of you and Joe making scents. Never stop. ;)

    Lara – Argentine Tango? Yikes, woman, I am jealous! And your perfume solutions sounds wonderful. Are there synthetics in those two? No?

  36. Oh, I just remembered something — you’re practically in Mandy Aftel’s backyard. She creates natural scents, too, available in small quantities, and quite unusual. I remember loving one called “Shiso.”

    Anyway, go find her at — I think you’ll have fun.

  37. Rose Oud is a perfect stand alone fragrance. As is Mitsouko.
    Better yet vintage Chanel #5. OMG perfection.
    Currently layering Shiloh (Hors de Monde) with Bergamote by
    The Different Company. (Spice/Citrus). Killian Oud with Fracas.
    (Skank with FLOWERS). Molinard de Molinard
    with Comme de Garçon Honiki. (Flowers /Pine/Wood.)
    Scent brings us back, leads us in, pushes us out. Scent
    powers, protects-as a prayer in the present and
    provides hope and beauty for the future.

  38. Thank you so much for the great article.
    I’ve worn the same two scents for centuries I think
    and it would be nice to give a go to the Imogen Rose. Is it a heavy scent or light . I love Guerlain in the summer Vetiver although por homme I wear it. Love also, Jicky and Chanel 5, and on very hot days a stand by splash of 4711 . What are your thoughts regarding perfume solids ? Do they still make them ?

  39. If you are interested in the more natural scents and liking the idea of layering, then take a gander at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. They sell their perfume oils in “Imp” size (sample size) and they have hundreds of mixtures. They are quirky so don’t be put off by the site. I particularly love the Wanderlust collection which is scents inspired by location. There is a forum dedicated to discussing all things BPAL at People are obsessed with this brand. It’s quite fun. I have about 40 Imps myself … it’s an addiction. :)

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