Staying “true to family” proves a winning formula when choosing fragrance


Advertisement for Guerlain’s Shalimar featuring Natalia Vodianova

When it comes to commercial fragrance marketing, I like to think of myself as impervious to it (haha), and hope that I wouldn’t allow it to influence my decision to buy a fragrance. Commercial perfume marketing, to me, panders to the most clichéd and stereotyped notions of gender, race, age, class and sexuality, and most of the time puts me off trying a fragrance, rather than attracting me towards it! I find myself having to ignore such marketing, whether it’s the writhing of model Natalia Vodianova in a warm pool of water, almost naked, in a publicity video for my beloved Shalimar, or a celebrity like Kim Kardashian, who I have little respect for, advertising her latest “celebuscent”. I find such marketing embarrassing, and I’m no prude. The one advertisement that did capture my attention was the Brad Pitt campaign for Chanel no. 5. I was fascinated that a man (albeit a rather pretty one) was advertising one of the most famous women’s scents, and this intrigued me; the ad played with notions of gender and gained a lot of attention for it. Nevertheless, generally speaking, I dislike commercial fragrance advertising, while at the same time also understanding that I am probably unusual in my dislike of it and inability to be swayed by all the lifestyle promises contained within such advertisements.

Brad Pitt advertising Chanel no. 5

Brad Pitt advertising Chanel no. 5

And yet it seems that purveyors of fragrances still use such marketing, with its suggestiveness of a perfect lifestyle, with its dramatic moodiness and emoting, with its pretty imagery and lovely bottles, as the main tool to sell fragrances. However, contrary to this belief that such marketing results in great sales and more importantly, lasting satisfaction with the perfume purchased, researcher and fragrance consultant Laura Donna has proven that women actually prefer to purchase and wear fragrances based on previous favourites regardless of marketing, and that these fragrances usually fall within the same fragrance categories. Donna’s research (published in Perfumer & Flavorist Magazine, February 2012) suggests that perfume retailers would be best to ignore lifestyle marketing and trends, as well as in-store gadgets sometimes used to guide fragrance purchases, and instead rely on suggesting new fragrances based on preferences and the fragrance families that customers’ favourites come from. Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of The World, a publication that is produced yearly, and which includes most commercial fragrance releases, sorting them by scent family (Chypre, Oriental, Floral, etc.) and into sub-families, is the perfect tool to help retailers guide buyers towards satisfactory purchases. Laura Donna argues that there is no substitute for smelling a fragrance and that no amount of marketing or gadgetry can replace the olfactory experience of actually trying a fragrance in store or at home.

An anecdote of my most recent perfume purchase supports Donna’s theory that customers tend to buy fragrances that are similar to favourite, previous purchases. Last week I visited one of the most exclusive and best stocked niche fragrance boutiques in Melbourne. I was interested in trying Anima Dulcis by Arquiste, and also in checking out the mid-year sale stock. I expressed an interest in trying Baghari by Robert Piguet, and the store owner suggested I also try a couple of other fragrances that were similar to Baghari at the same time. One in particular caught my attention and really took hold of me: Ligea la Sirena by Italian perfume house Carthusia. It didn’t remind me overtly of Baghari, though it certainly shared a lightness with it and some citrus top notes, but I was very drawn to it nonetheless. Knowing to let a fragrance settle on my skin before purchase, I went for a walk in the area and kept sniffing the fragrance on my wrist. Fifteen minutes later, a lightbulb went off and I worked out why I loved this fragrance at first spray: Ligea la Sirena reminded me of my favourite perfume, Guerlain’s Shalimar, whilst also reminding me of two other favourite Guerlain fragrances: Eau de Shalimar and Jicky, both of which share obvious similarities with Shalimar. Ligea la Sirena’s similarity to these beloved fragrances convinced me to buy a large bottle, as I was certain I would enjoy wearing it, based on my preference for these other very similar fragrances, which get regular wear.

Anecdotes aside, Laura Donna’s research does ring true with my own experience of purchasing fragrances that are similar to one another. I own Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of the World, and am surprised to discover that many of my favourite fragrances do indeed exist in the same categories, and often in the same sub-category. While I do have broad tastes as a perfume collector and blogger, my favourites fall within the families of Oriental and Woody Oriental and are generally “Classical” in character, according to Edwards’ system. If you’re interested in Donna’s theory, or if this matches your experience, you will probably enjoy reading Laura Donna’s article and seeing how her research panned out.

I’m curious to know what you think of Laura Donna’s article and whether it matches your own experience of purchasing perfume. Do you like perfume advertising? Are you swayed by it, or do you find yourself naturally drawn to similar kinds of fragrances from the same (or similar) olfactory groups, over and over again? Tell me your experiences in the comments box below. (If you’re reading this post from the home page, click on the title at the top to go to the full post. The comments box is at the bottom of the page).


Donna, Laura: “The Case for Fragrance Family Loyalty: New Research Uncovers a Clear Method for Connecting Consumers to the Scents they will Love”, in Perfumer & Flavourist Magazine, Vol. 37, February 2012.


8 thoughts on “Staying “true to family” proves a winning formula when choosing fragrance

  1. I rarely swayed by the adverts. Some adverts, I like them purely for their visual effect but they won’t make me buy their perfume. Having said that, if the advert is complete rubbish, I wouldn’t even dream of trying their perfume… Usually, this is one of many reasons I normally stay away from celeb fragrances. Laura Donna’s article is fascinating. I do have a tendency to be drawn to the same olfactory characteristics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comments Magpie! I wonder if, as perfume enthusiasts, we are less swayed than other purchasers by ads, and more by the juice itself? I’m curious about which olfactory characteristics you are drawn to… can you tell me more? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m always drawn to Floral/Oriental/Wood. If I like the fragrance on my first sniff, usually it fits into these groups. I especially enjoy sandalwood, iris, incense, and big white floral. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I agree about the first sniff idea too! Big yum to iris, sandalwood and incense! Not sure I’ll ever love white florals, it depends on how they’re used. Indole can irk me!


  3. Ha, I recently had an uncannily similar experience to yours. I visited Melbourne on the weekend just gone and had a sniff frenzy of all of the Frederic Malles at Mecca Cosmetica in the Bourke St Myer. I was most drawn to Musc Ravageur, and got me a big bottle, perhaps unwisely for the old finances. I was racking my brains to think of what it reminded me of, but eventually I realised it was Ambre Russe, which I’ve owned before, but used up some years ago. Also Tobacco Vanille, which I’ve never gotten around to getting because I think it’s a bit pricey. Love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi and welcome Blue Squid! Glad you enjoy my blog! A very interesting experience isn’t it, choosing by type and taking a while to figure out just what it is that drew you in 🙂 Mmm Ambre Russe – must get me some of that one day.


  4. Ambre Russe is great, get amongst it if you can. Also, I thought the comment above about Musc R got eaten, so I wrote another very similar one, which may appear at some stage, sorry about that. Have a nice evening!

    Liked by 1 person

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