There ought to be an adage: never buy scent for a stranger. Considering a gift for your new mother-in-law? Keep looking. Maybe a scent for your Secret Santa? You ought not ta. That’s because fragrance is one of the most personal gifts you can give. It’s an intimate choice that you shouldn’t make lightly, unless you’re not interested in making a good impression.

On the other hand, one of the best ways to say “I know the real you” is by choosing the perfect scent. And because scent is so closely tied to memory, the right fragrance could last in their mind long after the bottle’s gone — so soon-to-be valentines, listen up.

First, always remember the cardinal rule of gifting scent: it’s not about you. While you may have strong opinions about what you like or even how you like your partner to smell, the choice has to be about them. You’re just the messenger.

Now that we’ve gotten your preferences out of the way, there are two ways to approach your choice: the safe way, which will certainly please; and the daring way, which comes with greater risk, but also greater reward.


Going out on a limb is not for everyone, but your gift can still be meaningful. The easiest way is to sneak a peek at the perfume they wear now, and give it to them in a different size or form. Maybe a larger size in a limited-edition bottle. A gift set of scented lotions and oils. Or a candle, so the scent can fill a room—say, the boudoir, if the gift is meant to spark romance.

Can’t find out the name of the scent secretly? Try gifting a discovery set (sample sizes of various scents) by a popular perfumer so they can choose the fragrance they like best, with the promise of a full size to follow.


Looking to make a bigger splash (so to speak)? Then try your hand at selecting a new scent, but don’t go in blindly. Try asking yourself these questions, and when you have the answers, don’t be afraid to ask for help, because the way you experience scent is not necessarily how your partner, friend, mother, or other will experience it.

How do you want them to feel? Aromatherapy tells us that certain scent families (like citrus) are naturally uplifting, others are calming (like lavender or rosemary), some are seductive (jasmine, ylang ylang) and so on.

What do their personal care products smell like? Are they fondest of grapefruit body wash? A floral shampoo? Vanilla lip balm?

What are their favorite flavors? This may seem an odd one, but remember that smell and taste are intimately connected. According to scientific journals, smell is responsible for 80-90% of what a person tastes.

Are they daily scent wearers, or only on special occasions? This can help you choose between a light scent (it might be called airy, watery or fresh) that wears easily day and night, and a more intense one, which is best for a night out or special event.

Are there any scents they have negative associations with? It doesn’t matter if it’s a coworker they scuffled with yesterday or a teacher they hated back in grade school; if you know about it, steer clear.

Think about their personality. What experiences do they seek out? If they love walks in the woods, consider a woody, green fragrance. Are they whiskey in the den types? Warm, dark notes like amber or tobacco might suit them. Are they foodies? Maybe something with saffron or pepper.

Bottom line in gift giving, it is always the thought that counts—but the more you’re able to learn about their likes and habits, the more thought they’ll be giving you afterward. 

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