Get Scentual

How to Choose
the Perfect Fragrance

How to Choose the Perfect Fragrance

Finding a memorable scent is a challenge that wavers between difficulty and simplicity. It's a personal challenge, something that we define on our own but requires a great third party effort to reach satisfaction. So how do you go about standing out by smelling good?

To help, Valet. turned to Steve Gontarski, the manager of fragrance destination Scent Bar in Los Angeles, for advice on entertaining the sense associated with scents. His advice, like the challenge, is as obvious as it is obscure.

Go where no nose has gone before.

When looking for a new fragrance, Gontarski has very simple advice. "Wear something that no one else is wearing, is the obvious answer," he says. "If you want to stand out, focus on things you haven't seen before. Stay away from the things you know everyone is wearing and be open minded ... What not to do is go to the obvious places."

This might take some looking though. Gontarski recommends drifting toward colognes and fragrances you haven't seen before when shopping and, if a specialized shop isn't in your area, you can still make it work at mainstream stores. He recommends Bloomingdale's—which now has a section devoted to niche fragrances—and even Sephora, who he says has upped their game in turning to smaller brands for stock.

Sample before you buy.

"How do you know it's the right choice for you?" Gontarski asks. "If you like it, if you want to keep smelling it on yourself, it's the right choice." But this doesn't mean sniff, grab, and go: you have to wear the scent out. As Gontarski says, every scent has a journey: it starts strong upon application and, if it is still noticeable throughout the day, the scent might be a good fit for you.

"You have to try something on your skin," he says. "You might read about it and it might sound interesting — You might even smell it on paper! — but, until you actually try it out and test drive, you won't know if it's the right choice for you."

Do some fragrant homework.

Once you've found a scent that you've worn out and enjoy, poke around to understand why you like it. "If you find a sample or two that you love, read about it," Gontarski says. "It's a learning curve." He recommends visiting websites that are designed for fans fragrances like Fragrantica ("The wikipedia of perfume.") and Base Notes ("Which is a little more technical, for hardcore people into perfume.").

Know fragrances have no gender

Some may get hung up on if a scent is for men or women. But you know what? That's all bullshit, according to Gontarski. "With perfume, it's as simple as 'Do I like it or not?'" he says. This is why, in his store, none of the fragrances are denoted by gender but by notes to the nose. "The whole gendering of fragrance is such a marketing thing," he adds. "They might say 'for him' or 'for men' or 'for women' but this is all a suggestion. It doesn't mean anything. Just put on what you want to wear."

Our Picks

From speaking with Gontarski and using his scent advice, try out something new—and consider these five colognes we recommend for standing out.

Orange Sanguine by Atelier Cologne

Orange Sanguine

Atelier Cologne is known for creating refined, everyday colognes and Gontarski's a fan. "It's a really serious brand," he says. "They've got top perfumers designing stuff there." One of our favorites is their bright, citrusy Orange Sanguine which, to be crass, smells like opulent Tang.

$75 by Atelier Cologne

Incense Oud by Parfums De Nicolai

Parfums De Nicolaï

Oud is another popular scent that has a delightfully stinging quality. Gontarski says that these scents are appealing because they fall into the trend of Middle Eastern inspired scents—and Parfums de Nicolaï's interpretation of this is quite effective. The Parisian perfumer balances stiff incense with backhandedly sweet balsamic and amber to make their very memorable Incense Oud.

$70 by Parfums De Nicolaï

Ombre Indigo by Olfactive Studio

Ombre Indigo

This bright blue liquid looks more like a potion than perfume, a mark that enforces its scented strangeness: the nose lands somewhere between salty leather and cooling fire. Olfactive Studio takes much of its inspiration from photography and Ombre Indigo is no different: Gustavo Pellizzon, the Brazilian photographer who took the cover art for this fragrance, perfectly captures the feeling.

$195 by Olfactive Studio

The Noir 29 by Le Labo

Thé Noir 29

Everyone seems to be wearing Le Labo's sweet amber wood Santal 33, to the point that it's become synonymous with Brooklyn cool kids and West Hollywood annoying elite. To take Gontarski's advice and wear what everyone isn't, try the Thé Noir 29: it's akin to a dark fig black tea cut with a touch of spiced citrus. It's an interesting, light wear that's perfect for warmer weather.

$78 by Le Labo

Safari by Ralph Lauren


Yes, it's a risk to wear mainstream, department store colognes since they literally are everywhere. However, something like Ralph Lauren's Safari is a classic, masculine scent perfect for everyday, all the time wear. Safari has a bit of everything too: sharp patchouli, soapy leaf, spicy citrus and crisp leather. This cologne is a catch-all cologne for guys who want to resonate classic manliness.

$58 by Ralph Lauren