Holiday gift shopping and fragrance: Avoiding the pitfalls.

Holiday gift shopping and fragrance: Avoiding the pitfalls. Myths, truths, and our thoughts on making the right purchasing choices.

Holiday gift shopping and fragrance: Avoiding the pitfalls. Myths, truths, and our thoughts on making the right purchasing choices.

Holiday gift shopping and fragrance: Avoiding the pitfalls.

We’re in the holiday shopping season home stretch with about two weeks before Christmas. And every year around this time, some journalist will publish an article on the ‘must-have’ fragrance gifts for that year, under the pretense that these are scents that the gift recipient will love, cherish, and never exchange or re-gift.  The most recent I noted was a piece in Britain’s Daily Mail citing a series of so-called experts — mostly sales associates in the major retailers — extolling what you should buy that special person for the holidays.

Anyone who is a regular reader of my site will understand my view on these pieces: They’re generally total rubbish. I could easily end this exploration here and save another several paragraphs with that answer, but it’s not the whole story on why the notion of “fragrance as a holiday gift” isn’t often advised (and I’m a both a victim and former offender, as well as a regifter of some of these). Those who know me well already understand my thoughts on the English Leather Holiday gift set, as well as most of the holiday packages of fragrances designed for the cost-conscious shopper. Nonetheless, an exploration of this is in order, especially if it keeps just one more drugstore gift-with-purchase box from appearing beneath one more tree.

The dreaded “holiday gift-set”.

 Holiday gift shopping and fragrance: Avoiding the pitfalls.We’ve all seen these. It’s a cologne, after-shave, or eau de toilette in a box, possibly accompanied by a deodorant, a soap, a body wash or any combination of the above. You could probably purchase the cologne alone for around $50, but the enticement of spending just $15 more for some watered-down add-ons is just too persuasive for our consumerist minds. “We’re getting/giving more”, we think, so we pull out the charge plate and add a bit more to get the nice box of something that smells…acceptable. Wrap it up and give it no further thought. Uncle Hank has his present for the year, one more crossed from the list.

And yes, it’s usually rubbish, but if the recipient normally smells of 3-day worn t-shirts and spilled beer, he’s either not likely to care (because it smells better than the six pack) or won’t bother wearing it (because he’s already accustomed to smelling like the six-pack). It’s the liquid version of holiday fruitcake, and most shoppers just don’t realize the poor choice it is yet succumb to the sales pitch. But here’s the big secret no one wants to say out-loud that I’ll share here.

No one wants the English Leather Holiday Gift Set. They’re simply too polite to tell you, so they shove it away in the closet until next year and regift it to someone else. Either that, or they may add it to the toilet tank for a more aromatic flush, which adds a new twist to “eau de toilette”. So for the sake of friends and relatives around the globe, I’ll just tell you now:  Please don’t do it. Repeat the following mantra after me:

Fragrance is a personal preference.

sugar daddy gift 311x312 Holiday gift shopping and fragrance: Avoiding the pitfalls.Meaning, unless you are absolutely certain that your intended recipient loves a scent and is running low on his bottle, you’re probably not doing him any favors. And that means I should debunk some myths:

  • “It’s a really popular scent, so it must be good.” Pet Rocks, Earth Shoes and shag rugs were also popular once upon a time, check out a garage sale if you have any doubts.
  • “They seem to sell a lot of them.” Yep. There’s a ton of rubbish sold to consumers every day. Popularity doesn’t make it any better.
  • “He can always exchange it.” So your best answer for a gift is making the recipient stand in line the day after Christmas and exchange the crappy present you gave to him, thereby also letting him see how thrifty you were? Novel concept, but you might as well have given him a gift card and saved him a step.

“Fine, I give up, I shouldn’t purchase anything from the perfume counter then.

Not so fast. While there are no ‘Holy Grail’ fragrances — something everyone will absolutely love — there are some things you can do to prevent disappointment or dread from the recipient.

  • Avoid that year’s trend. While it seem a safe idea to follow the crowd and buy the fragrance that seems in style that season, you have no idea whether the person receiving your bottle of juice will enjoy it. In fact, it’s more likely that your gift will be as out of style and forgotten faster than last year’s American Idol winner.
  • Just say “no” to the bargain. Cheap cologne is just that. Cheap. Low prices dash most expectations that a fragrance will be that good or enduring. The gallon size of any fragrance you can find in a drugstore for under $30 can be described with a number of terms that, unfortunately, I’m not able to reprint here.
  • Justin Bieber Someday 300x170 Holiday gift shopping and fragrance: Avoiding the pitfalls.Celebrity status is a nice thing to have. Celebrity fragrances? Not so much. Very few celebrities actually wear the fragrances they commission, and often (there are notable exceptions) these are rather weak fragrances that are inspired by notes they envision or might like to include in their notion of a branded scent. (For anyone who would like more information on this, many Creed counters in Neiman Marcus will show you the list of celebrity wearers, among them J. Lo, Sean “P-Diddy” Combs and Faith Hill. Trust me, there’s a Creed bottle or two in their closets) The temptation of purchasing a bottle of Justin Bieber’s “Someday” for the special niece who is a fan is probably fine if she isn’t finicky about a top quality scent.
  • Don’t do the gift set. The special-edition bottle of reduced-price cologne is bad enough. When it’s coupled with items that aren’t relevant or not normally used — body wash, deodorant, soap-on-a-rope — it just becomes comically bad. Even in the remote chance the recipient likes the scent, they won’t likely be walking into Macys in future months desperate for another deodorant and body wash.

You can make smarter choices, and here are some ideas:

Stick with tried-and-true fragrances that have withstood the test of time and aren’t completely a subject of ridicule.  Courtesy of, we’ve taken some of the more popular fragrances selected by men as overall good choices and positively reviewed.  First is the list of scents that are widely available in better department stores or on the Internet (all are eau de toilette strength):

  • Dior Homme 300x300 Holiday gift shopping and fragrance: Avoiding the pitfalls.Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme and La Nuit d’Homme (a woody/floral and woody/spice, respectively)
  • Hermes Terre d’Hermes (woody/spice with orange notes)
  • Dior’s Fahrenheit (iconic woody/spice/floral with hints of leather)
  • Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men (woody/spice with soft tobacco)
  • Dior’s Dior Homme (EDT) (woody/floral with hints of cacao and leather)
  • Guerlain’s L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme (citrus spice with strong lemon notes and sandalwood base)
  • Chanel’s Allure Pour Homme or Bleu de Chanel (wood accented with oriental spices and florals; and, fresh aromatic spice with florals, respectively)
  • Lalique’s Encre Noire (simple green vetiver and wood)
  • Dior’s Eau Sauvage (classic and timeless citrus spice)
  • Guerlain’s Guerlain Homme (fresh lime and woody aromatic scent, think mojito)

Next is the list of scents oriented more to a discriminating taste, available in boutiques and upscale retail, at higher price points. Be advised that buying these aren’t as casual a decision:

  • Creed – Green Irish Tweed, Aventus, and Millesime Imperial. Green Irish Tweed is the classic woody floral, accented by violet and iris, cedar and sandalwood; Aventus is slightly fruity with pineapple and berry, mixed with a smoldering wood base; Millesime Imperial is a fruity and woody aromatic scent.
  • Tom Ford  - Tuscan Leather and Tobacco Vanille. Tuscan Leather is a deep woody leather scent with saffron and berry; Tobacco Vanille is a creamy vanilla and cacao scent surrounded by wood and tobacco leaf and blossom.
  • Frederic Malle – Musc Ravageur. Wood, cloves and spices augmenting a clean musk base.
  • Bond No 9 – Brooklyn and New Haarlem. Brooklyn is a spice, citrus and wood mixed with gin and juniper berry; New Haarlem is coffee with vanilla amidst wood and patchouli.
  • Amouage – An entire line of well crafted, prestige fragrances available at upscale retailers (Min New York, on the East Coast and by Web Ordering).

Mindy Yang Holiday gift shopping and fragrance: Avoiding the pitfalls.One last idea, and a good one at that.  If you are completely insistent that you purchase that loved one the gift of fragrance, consult the experts that can provide a curated experience and more concierge service. Scentrist highly recommends our friends at Min New York, Chad & Mindy, who know more than enough about the fragrance experience and can help in providing a variety of recommendations from their curated line. They can be reached at 117 Crosby Street in SoHo, Manhattan (212.206.6366) or visit their website to tour their curations. Very high quality scents from Keiko Mecheri, Xerjoff, Frapin, Heeley, Montale, L’Artisan and many others live here.

Here’s another good opinion from Madeline over at Australian Perfume Junkie.  This list is focused more on niche scents with price not being an object.

Happy Holiday shopping wishes, and a Merry Christmas to all!


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About Andrew Buck

Andrew Buck is the editor-in-chief of, and a lifelong appreciator and aficionado of fragrance. He's also the author "(Not) PMO-in-a-Can", a practitioner's perspective on project management, in addition to several articles on the topic. When not writing or discovering new scents, he is a technology manager in New York's Wall Street financial sector. You can read more about him on the "About" page, or say hi to him on Twitter @scentrist.