The Top Ten Female Designer Fragrances Every Beginner Should Sample
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12th August, 2016

This title is a bit misleading. The truth is, if you’re a woman reading this, then you’ve probably already sniffed your way through 95% of the stock in your local drugstore, and can therefore hardly be called a “beginner.”

Women are inveterate consumers of fragrances, cosmetics, and skincare. We are probably as familiar with the products on offer in the local department store as we are with the contents of our own bathrooms. And because we don’t really need to smell good for mating purposes, we have the luxury of pleasing only ourselves.

So we take our time and we test things. We up-end tester bottles, swipe lipsticks on the backs of our hands, beg for samples, lick the strawberry-flavored lipglosses, and generally annoy the living daylights out of the sales associates before we open our wallet.

In fact, you may be sure that any woman plonking down hard-earned cash for Alien has already methodically worked her way through Angel, Womanity, and all the flankers on the shelves before honing in on her final choice.

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So this article is kind of like teaching your grandma to suck eggs.

But say you want a more structured guide through the drugstore? It’s nice to blindly pick up bottles and spray a little bit, but we only have so much skin real estate to spare. Maybe you already know you love Chanel No. 19 or Angel, but want to explore more in that vein and don’t know where to go next.

Maybe you want to know which of the perfumes available to you locally are considered benchmarks or turning points in perfumery.

Or maybe you just want someone to tell you how to separate the wheat from the chaff. God knows, there’s an awful lot of chaff. But speaking as someone who for years trawled for gold in a country where niche didn’t yet exist, I can tell you that there are fantastic, glorious, game-changing examples of perfumery just waiting for you on those shelves. You already know this – you probably already own 50% of the stuff on this list.

This list is just a little reminder that olfactory heaven isn’t always a hard-to-find perfume that you have to order from Japan or pay someone to mule back from Paris – sometimes it’s just sitting there on the shelves of your local Sephora or dusty, corner-shop pharmacy waiting for you to come by and adopt them. Or already in your collection and waiting for you to gently remove their glasses and free their hair from that bun, and murmur, “Why, Miss Jones, you are beautiful.”

Oh, and of course, if you’re a man, you should try these too, if you haven’t already. Most if not all of the fragrances on this list are perfectly unisex and can be worn confidently amongst other manly men. Even Angel.

(Well, maybe not Angel).

Click through to find out which I’ve selected as the top ten female designer fragrances every beginner should sample:

About the author: Claire Vukcevic

Claire Vukcevic is an Irish freelance writer, contributor at Basenotes,, and author of the blog



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      • hednic | 12th August 2016 21:11

        Have to show this to my daughter.

      • Bon et Copieux | 13th August 2016 01:23

        A brilliant and ever so practical feature. Thank you Claire!

      • Darjeeling | 13th August 2016 03:02

        A great list, no matter where on the perfume gender spectrum one's tastes lie.

        Certainly I've started exploring Iris along the Infusion d'Iris, 28 La Pausa line, as well as the cold green joy of No. 19.

      • PerfumedLady | 13th August 2016 03:33

        I've been waiting for this and it does not disappoint! I love it, what a great list! Thanks Claire!

        Died laughing so many times you should be arrested. Agree with you that so many women are natural born perfumistas (whether they know it or not). I think most of my group of high school pals would have qualified as semi-advanced perfume lovers with their Anais Anais, Poison, L'Air du Temps, Beautiful, Meteorites, Samsara, Coco, and yes No.5 and Shalimar. Even the original Liz Claiborne, Sun, Moon, Stars and good old Love's. Most girls had at least a few scents on their dressers. And that was before we had any money. I suspect that many of those girls are now grown women who have a better nose for perfume than they realize. And their bank accounts are surely better off that way.;)

      • Kiliwia | 13th August 2016 03:54

        Thank you for the great article, Claire!!

      • Vernona | 13th August 2016 07:40

        Thank you, Claire! Great read, as always from you! XO

      • moroccanmelody | 13th August 2016 18:13

        Wonderful, useful article. Loved the wit - Papillon needs its bottom spanked. ha ha

      • freewheelingvagabond | 13th August 2016 18:28

        Great read!

        Though I'm sad that Opium didn't make the list. Perhaps the fall has been too much.

        P.S. A minor typo - at the end of page 3 it should be 24, Faubourg.

      • scentwaves | 13th August 2016 22:52

        Just realising gleefully that my tastes are all over the place😂😂I literally like EVERYTHING and I couldn't be happier😂

      • Eyas | 14th August 2016 00:54

        Great article, Claire! You've brought my attention to one I haven't tried -- Eau des Merveilles by Hermes. And I thought I'd tested everything available around here..

      • Sternaauparadis | 14th August 2016 03:35

        Superb article! Inspiring. Thank you!

      • Kagey | 15th August 2016 06:33

        Excellent article, thanks. Even owning or formerly owning eight of those, I learn something new.

        I'd only query the recommendation to smell JARdenia but not Joy parfum because the latter is difficult to find. :)

      • ClaireV (article author) | 15th August 2016 08:36

        Thanks very much to all of you who've commented!

        Kagey - good point, of course...sorry!

        freewheelingvagabond, I struggled with leaving Opium out but the current version is a pale ghost of itself.

        Perfumedlady, you are too kind! And I think you and your school pals had really advanced taste - we weren't allowed to wear perfume (or jewelry, makeup, nail varnish, black bras, etc.) at school so I'm pretty sure the only perfume we had ever heard of was Charlie, Impulse body sprays, and so on.

      • Funwithfrags | 15th August 2016 14:28


        thanks - I really like your columns and look forward to digesting this one fully.

        One question: I see this phrase, or something like it, a lot: "just sitting there on the shelves of your local Sephora or dusty, corner-shop pharmacy". In the UK, where are these places that randomly stock bargains that the initiated can hunt out?

        It's like the phrase "I get lots of compliments with X". No-one, I think, outside my family has ever complimented me on any fragrance. That could be connected to where I work, though. Where are these legions of compliment-givers when you need them?

      • ClaireV (article author) | 15th August 2016 14:51

        Hi Funwithfrags,

        Thanks for your question!

        In the UK, you can most if not all of these fragrances at Debenham's, Boots, John Lewis, etc. and you have a good online selection too with Escentual and Allbeauty. I was also able to pick up some of these fragrances in local pharmacies both in Ireland and abroad - I once got a vintage No. 19 silver canister EDT in a pharmacy for peanuts. Sometimes, they have old stock and don't know their value.

        But I never said anything about bargains......Unfortunately a bottle of Bottega Veneta or Infusion d'Iris can cost almost as much as niche. For bargains, I would stick to eBay (you guys in UK often have really cheap perfume on offer because the shipping regulations squeezed the market into something really small) or where they often have great deals on partially used perfumes. I almost never buy new, boxed perfume at retail unless I can get a good deal. But that doesn't mean that the perfumes on my list aren't widely available - they are!

        I'm in the same boat as you regarding compliments - never get them. But I don't care :-)

      • Diamondflame | 15th August 2016 15:08

        Love the Wonder Bra reference. How apt! Perhaps the lads should be stuffing socks down their pants and skip the 'panty dropper' fragrances altogether...

      • PerfumedLady | 15th August 2016 16:08

        What, no black bras at school? This would have totally ruined our giant sweatshirts with necks cut out DIY style and lacy Madonna tops. The black bra was the entire point, lol!

        Seriously though, we did have to save visible bras of any color for the weekends. But fragrance, make-up and nail polish were allowed, in abundance. This was anything-goes American public school. I don't think my pals and I were unusual by that standard; I had cousins and friends at other schools at the time who also had mini-collections. Many currently-young ladies I know do as well.

        For today's tastes though, yes I suppose we were advanced. Your point reminded me of that time as I do think any one of those gals I used to know could join BN right now and hit the ground running! I don't discuss perfume much with the current group of friends as we were just at a different place in life when we all met-grooming habits just don't come up. But I wouldn't be surprised to find that some of them also know a thing or two about perfume.

      • Justin. | 16th August 2016 17:59

        Fantastic articles! I used this one, and the mens article, to go and buy a bunch of samples for us to try out. I used eBay to order samples, and it's crazy how the women's list choices tended to be significantly more expensive than the mens for the same sizes.

        Very fun read. I'm looking forward to trying things out, then referring back to the articles to see what it is about each one that we like, and then building out from there. As someone that just occasionally gets the bug to buy something new, and then just stands in the stores forever to find one that's good...and then ends up regretting it a few days later-this is real exciting.


      • crazycar | 18th August 2016 10:52


        lovely list there. my wifes big three O birthday is coming up, and ive been thinking of gifting her a nice perfume. shes is currently using 3 right now, shown in the order she likes them:

        Dahlia Davine(so so)



        In the past shes used these


        Jadore(really liked)


        while i could easily get her jadore or Chance, but im also inclined of giving her something different-Like Opium or Poison. any suggestions?

      • ClaireV (article author) | 18th August 2016 11:10

        Hi crazycar,

        Congrats to your wife and how nice that you are looking for the right present for her! Opium and Poison are both very opulent and striking - they both have a very forceful character. To be sure, I would have your wife sniff both of these before deciding to buy, because it could be love, but it could be hate too....these two perfumes elicit some very strong reactions either way.

        What I'd suggest is getting an extra special version of J'Adore, since you know she loves it. There is an Extrait de Parfum, 7.5mls, a very concentrated version of the original (pure perfume) which is very good, although expensive. The Absolu version of J'Adore would also be a nice option. Luca Turin says it is like the original J'Adore but done with much better qualities of both rose and jasmine.

        A personal favorite of mine is the Thierry Mugler Alien Essence Absolue, which is vanilla, jasmine, myrrh, and heliotrope. It is rich and smells amazing. It also lingers for days, and is seductive.

        Wish you all the best!

      • dunkybase | 18th August 2016 13:28

        Thanks Claire for another fantastic read! I really enjoy your writing :)

      • Suspended | 20th August 2016 14:07

        Great list!

        I've just come to the realisation that Miller Harris' Terre D'Iris is a modern take on Shalimar.

      • cornishlee | 20th August 2016 20:46

        I've always found no.19 to be distinctively feminine, despite its popularity with men on Basenotes. Today, I tried Penhaligon's Bluebell for the first time, and rather liked it. As much as Green Irish Tweed? Perhaps. I mention that fragrance not because I love it or because they're THAT similar but because it's my highest rated fragrance with connections to the green floral genre.

        Anyway, I think I might be on my way to becoming a Penhaligon's fanboy.

      • Oviatt | 22nd August 2016 19:27

        Well done, Claire! Child-bearing hips, indeed! Too funny and really right on the money.

      • crazycar | 23rd August 2016 09:54

        Hi Claire

        Thanks a lot for such a lovely detailed response. Your suggestions are definitely compelling and the Absolu Jadore definitely goes on my shortlist. However, I also want to love the perfume on her as I want her to love it. And the more reviews I read-basenotes, fragrantica, fragrancex, Macys, Sephora, amazon(with a little bit of caution)-the more i keep coming back to Opium and Poison and their flankers. Im especially drawn to Hypnotic Poison. Mysterious and sexy is the impression i get. And compared to the flowery and vanilla scents she has now, i definitely would go for something sexy. only thing that is slightly holding me back is the vanilla-all her scents and even some of mine have vanilla-something that is getting a little tiring now. Hope this makes sense.

      • Darjeeling | 28th September 2016 01:15

        Another great article, and the crossover with unisex and make scents means it's useful for guys who are a bit hesitant to hit the female side of the perfume section.

        Besides, it's always good to have one's own tastes and testing validated, so I was pleased to see that a number of the salty and Iris suggestions were on a similar track to my own exploration.

      • miss mills | 26th November 2016 13:11

        Wonderful! Just added another 30 or so to my test list. Another great article.

      • Louis Manuel Ramos | 15th October 2019 16:05

        For me, a man, I bought Shalimar (EDP) because it is one of the best leather fragrances that I know. I have both the EDP and the EDT. The later I bought first by mistake.