Perfume Smell Test

Perfume Smell Test

What fragrances do you like? I’ve been wearing Santal 33 this year, and I’m always curious to discover others. As my friend Gemma once told me, “Life is too short for a signature scent, I want to smell like as many beautiful things as I can.” So, we invited our officemates to smell seven fragrances and gives us their unbiased reviews…

Perfume Smell Test

Perfume Smell Test

We sprayed each fragrance on slips of blank paper — so they had no idea which scents they were smelling. (They “cleansed” their noses with coffee beans in between perfume sniffs.)

Perfume Smell Test

Above, the seven very different scents we tested. And here were the panel’s findings:

Perfume Smell Test

Perfume #1: Coriander, by D.S. & Durga, a cool husband-and-wife studio based in Brooklyn. (Remember Kavi?)

Price: $175 for 50 ml.

How the brand describes it: “Sparkling leaf, cubeb, green pepper and cracked Ukrainian coriander seed. Cool spices and Mediterranean sea breeze — like the hills above Odessa.”

Our officemates’ reactions:
“It starts out sharp and green.”
“Did you dip this piece of paper in gin? Is this gin?”
“Smells nice.”
“It has a salty vibe.”
“The opening is very masculine almost barber-shop-y, like pine and herbal.”
“It smells like a hipster barber shop.”
“The gin smell is mellowing out.”
“It has a juniper/cedar vibe.”
“I love this.”
“I want to smell this in two hours; I bet it would spread out and get larger and woodier and smell amazing.”

Who they imagined would wear this: “A Scandinavian street style girl. It’s cool, like wearing oversized glasses.”

Perfume Smell Test

Perfume #2: Sole di Positano by Tom Ford, the super luxury brand beloved by beauty editors.

Price: $225 for 1.7 ounces

How the brand describes it: “A bright new dimension bursting with a luxurious mélange of sun-drenched citrus. The delectable new scent evokes the dream-like brilliance of the Italian coast with succulent bite. A masterful blend of Italian bergamot, petitgrain bigrade, lemon and mandarin gleams with the sharp contrast of shiso leaf, reflecting the sunlit vibrancy that evokes coastal paradise.”

Our officemates’ reactions:
“This is so floral.”
“More understated.”
“White flowers.”
“An abstract jasmine/tuberose kind of thing.”
“A classic.”
“Fresh, good for warmer weather.”
“Bright, happy.”
“I’d wear it on a hot day when you want something fresh but not typical.”

Who they imagined would wear this: “You’re going on vacation — you’d wear this at the hotel.”

Perfume Smell Testto

Perfume #3: Garden Rose by Aerin, a classic American brand founded by the granddaughter of Estée Lauder.

Price: $165 for 6.8 oz.

How the brand describes it: “Garden Rose Eau de Cologne takes you into the English countryside, filled with the irresistible sent of wild roses.”

Our officemates’ reactions:
“It smells like a flower, but I can’t place it.”
“A nice long bath, with a bar of soap.”
“I could wear this.”
“I would wear this, too.”
“I wouldn’t mind this on a date.”
“Smells like soap.”
“A nice summery fragrance.”
“It’s rose, a straight up-and-down rose.”
“It’s really nice.”

Who they imagined would wear this: “I would!”

Perfume Smell Test

Perfume #4: Paperback by Demeter, a fun brand sold in drugstores, with playful scents like New Baby and Kitten Fur.

Price: $17 for 1 oz.

How the brand describes it: “A trip to your favorite library or used bookstore. Sweet and lovely with just a touch of the musty smell of aged paper, Demeter’s Paperback harnesses that scent with a sprinkling of violets and a dash of tasteful potpourri.”

Our officemates’ reactions:
“I really don’t like this one.”
“Way too junior for me.”
“It’s like Nickelodeon.”
“It smells kind of fun, like first sleepover.”
“I don’t hate this.”
“Woody vanilla and a little bit of cocoa.”

Who they imagined would wear this: “A friend who is 15.”

Perfume Smell Test

Perfume #5: Chanel No. 5 by Chanel. Arguably the most iconic perfume of all time, Chanel No. 5 was the first fragrance launched by the famed fashion designer Coco Chanel in 1921.

Price: $125 for .25 oz.

How the brand describes it: “N°5 exudes the very essence of femininity… This floral bouquet composed around May rose and jasmine features bright citrus top notes. Aldehydes create a unique presence while the smooth touch of bourbon vanilla leaves an incredibly sensual trail.”

Our officemates’ reactions:
“Really strong to me.”
“Smells like straight-up baby powder.”
“If paisley could smell like something, that’s what it would smell like.”
“A classic floral.”
“Smells like bar mitzvahs because it’s what everybody’s bubbes wore in 1985.”

Who they imagined would wear this: “A boho girl who got it from a thrift store, and it was 30 years old.”

Perfume Smell Test

Perfume #6: Beach by Bobbi Brown, the minimal makeup guru.

Price: $76 for 1.7 oz.

How the brand describes it: “An eau de parfum inspired by Bobbi’s favorite place — the beach. This best-selling fragrance captures the atmosphere and essence of summer. Designed with a lightly intoxicating blend of sand jasmine, sea spray, and mandarin, this fragrance is wearable anytime, anywhere.”

Our officemates’ reactions:
“Tea, sunscreen.”
“Oooh, it does smell sunscreen-y!”
“It’s the sunscreen scent!”
“Is this just sunscreen on a stick?”
“A little tougher smelling than the rest, it has an edge to it.”
“Equal parts sunscreen and candy, like SweeTarts.”
“It smells like my mom on a family beach vacation in 1983.”
“Definitely has the Coppertone vibe.”

Who they imagined would wear this: “Someone on vacation, or during the winter if you have seasonal depression.”

Perfume Smell Test

Perfume #7 (and the crowd favorite): Mojave Ghost by Byredo, a cult favorite brand created by a tattooed Swede who grew up in Toronto, New York and Stockholm.

Price: $150 for 50 ml.

How the brand describes it: “The soulful beauty of the Mojave Desert is as comforting to many as it is hostile to others. In this xeric wilderness, the ghost flower is a rare species that dares to blossom above this baked, hard ground. Mojave Ghost is a homage to this most bewitching flower — it has a woody composition with a light and graceful character that slowly discloses its true intensity.”

Our officemates’ reactions:
“Peachy, pleasant.”
“I just want to snuggle up in a blanket with this.”
“It feels like a daily perfume, not just for a special occasion.”
“It feels warm; there’s a warmth underneath it.”
“It’s daytime, I want to wear this in the morning.”
“It’s an easy wear, like jeans and a sweatshirt and your favorite sneakers.”
“Kind of green and watery.”
“I’m getting some sort of stone fruit; some woody stuff coming up.”
“It’s definitely unique.”
“I love it.”

Who they imagined would wear this: “A great laid-back gal.”

Perfume Smell Test

Perfume Smell Test

Perfume Smell Test

What do you think? Do you wear any of these? What is your go-to fragrance? Thanks to our officemates for playing!

P.S. My life in perfume, and an eyebrow before-and-after.

(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo at Friends Work Here. Thank you so much to our perfume testers: Tory Williams, Ben Wagner, Christine Sirois, Paul Jun, Wesley Verhoeve, Hayley Nichols, Amy Fuller, Jeff Beil, Hans Hendley and David Paul O’Brien.)

  1. Michelle says...

    I loved this post. Thank you for including some off beat perfumes. The magazines are always just promoting the mainstream brands (I get it $$$). I feel in love with the idea of a scent wardrobe after reading Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.

    With their help I found New York by Nicolai Perfume (available at lucky which is my hands down favorite perfume for work or when I need to seem grown up and sophisticated. Its not loud so your elevator neighbors won’t hate you. I also love anything by Serge Lutens (Again lucky scent for this one) but have worn Santal Majuscule the most. I prefer warm, slightly masculine (but not too much patchouili).

    For way less money I also recommend Cool Water by Davidoff. My SO wears it as often as his more expensive scents and I honestly love it. I picked up the Womens version for summer casual days but am not sure its quite as good as the mens. Which I would totally wear. For $24 bucks on Amazon though, its a nice gift for yourself or a teen you want to steer away from Axe or some other mall horror.

  2. i love to use roller balls of perfume oils.but sometimes i use perfume spry so i would to like some of one perfume like aerin…

  3. nicole says...

    I didn’t expect to laugh and cringe as much as I did for this post — bravo COJ. Thankful I didn’t spend the $ to make or buy some of these. Your team and your officemates are a hoot xx

  4. Shannon Haines says...

    Lately I’ve been introduced to Pinrose’s Wild Child which smelled like ylang ylang plus jasmine and gardenia(fresh florals). Felt so happy and although I thought it was strong, others said it was light and not obtrusive. Nice for a pick me up in the winter.

    For something slightly sweeter but still fresh floral, my go to is Jessica Mcclintock By Jessica Mcclintock For Women. That’s my signature Go-To used on my wedding day 15 years ago and still use to this day.

  5. JADE By JEAN RISH, is my favorite perfume. Smell is awesome. I loved it.

  6. jen says...

    Lady Vengeance, by Juliette has a gun. It may be discontinued. And Mitsouko. You can smell me coming for sure.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “You can smell me coming for sure.” = hahahaha

    • Michelle says...

      Mitsouko! Such a classic! Despite the comments above, I’ll always have a warm spot for Chanel #5, as it was the only perfume my mom would wear. She had a very sensitive nose and complained bitterly whenever someone wore scent so I just assumed Chanel was the only quality perfume. Until I grew up and discovered other classic, like Mitsouko. and Shalimar and L’Heure Blueue (all by Guerlain). When all the best came from Paris.

  7. Lisa says...

    Late to the game but loved this. I actually wear Bobbi Brown “Beach” all summer – I’m originally from Florida and it’s the most comforting scent in the world to me. I’m sure strangers think I lathered myself in sunscreen before work, but it’s my favorite.

    Also, Jo Malone’s Nectarine Blossom & Honey is my signature scent – never get sick of it, never gives me a headache, and smells amazing.

  8. Catarina R says...

    Gipsy water, by Byredo, is my absolute favourite.
    Loved the article!

  9. I was given a sample of Santal 33 and I adore it. My main fragrance is Kiehl’s Musk and it’s become a signature. Hoping to add Santal to my collection to wear as well!

  10. Netta says...

    I love using essential oils as my fragrance! I switch between lemon and lavender, to keep it really simple.

  11. Joanna I know this is a bit off topic but are you wearing the Nisolo Ecudaor Huarache Sandal? If so, am thinking to order them…how do you like them?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! i love them so much. i get them half a size down because they stretch a little once you break them in. i’ve been wearing them for a year now and adore them!

  12. SassyinClifton,VA says...

    That whippet in the last photo looks exactly like MY sweet whippet Mildred! Love that photo.

  13. This was actually hilarious!

    All those comments about Chanel No.5! That’s exactly how I feel about it but y’know, it’s the classic.

    It’s nice to see so many positive comments about the Aerin perfume though. I can’t find a store near me that sells it so I’ve dallying with just giving in and ordering it blind off the internet.

  14. Cherie Sage says...

    I absolutely loved Miel & Citron (Honey & Lemon) by L`Occitane en Provence but it was discontinued. Recently tried (and wanted to love) Egyptian Musk, but the chemistry was not there. After 5 minutes, I was over it. I’m going to stick to the lighter scents, and this fun post and everyone’s comments gave me inspiration. Plus, this is such a great idea for a girls night in.

  15. Gaby says...

    I work in a no fragrance office (we’re sensitive to those with allergies), so after my shower I spritz myself with Heritage Store Rose Petals rose water. It doesn’t stick around like perfume, but it feels and smells so fresh and pretty for a few minutes and that is enough for me. Mood boosting, for sure!

  16. Dee says...

    I’m obsessed with Alkemia Perfumes on Etsy. The selection is limitless with new and seasonal oils constantly being rotated in. My favorite for summer is Douceur de Vivre described as “An exquisite sweetness of Antillian sugar cane, flowering ginger, hibiscus, white amber, green fig, and the delicate essence of fresh coconut water kissed by a careless splash of white rum.” I’ve received multiple compliments when wearing it. Order a sample pack and enjoy the scent journey :)

  17. Rachel* says...

    Aww…this smell-a-thon would have been so fun. Great write up of the reactions too! My go-to scent for the last couple years has been Elizabeth & James Nirvana Black. As an alternate, I recently picked up doTERRA’s Cheer oil blend and have been loving that warm citrus-y/clove-y/vanilla-y scent.

  18. Hi Jo!
    We are a huge fan of your “cup” and we specially like this post. We have a small perfume shop called Hunky Dory Laboratory in San Sebastian, in the north of Spain, and we work with very different niche brands, D.S. & Durga between others ;) And we have to say Coriander is one of our best sellers, one of those few cult perfumes that we have.

    We enjoy a lot reading this post and if you need information about anything relating perfumes, it would be a pleasure to help you.

    Best regards
    Eva & Maia
    Hunky Dory Laboratory

  19. Kathryn says...

    Your office mates seem like a hilarious fun bunch! They made me laugh!

  20. Shar says...

    I actually just started to wear straight up Ylang Ylang essential oil and have only gotten compliments, from “did someone buy fresh flowers?” To “wow what’s that smell, it’s different, but I love it!!!” I just dab some on my wrists and on my heart (it’s actually good for your heart!) And in the fall and winter last year I got (I know it’s not fancy but…) Tibetan Mountain Temple by Pacifica and it smells like vanilla and chai and its so cozy and warm, I love it! I had to hop on the essential oils and natural fragrance train because my sister gets terrible migraines with certain perfumes, and I love my sister, so… Also both these “perfumes” are definitely under $50. I want to try mixing the ylang ylang with a citrus or pepper though and see how that works too.

  21. Tess says...

    “Someone on vacation, or during the winter if you have seasonal depression.” made me lol.