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An LA Perfumer's Guide to Finding Your Signature Scent

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You probably can tell a difference between a bottle of Two-Buck-Chuck and a Robert M. Parker-approved bottle of 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet. In this case, the premium price tag is a reflection of the thoughtfulness throughout the entire winemaking process: from cultivating the soil, to finding the optimum aging time in barrels that best nuance the flavor.

If this were true for perfumes (P.S. it is.), why the heck would you settle for less when it comes to picking your signature scent? Venice-based botanical perfume brand Strange Invisible believes your fragrance should complement you—not vice versa (we're looking at you, over-spritzers)—which is why the totally natural, wildcrafted, organic, hydro-distilled essences are turned into unique, inspired scents that won't just spark a sensory memory, but prompt you to create ones all your own.

With Valentine's Day approaching, we went directly to Strange Invisible's perfumer, Alexandra Balahoutis, who gave us her best advice to shop for scents that capture the spirit of either you, or your desired giftee (most scents here are gender-flexible). So start thinking about your inspo (ours was Jean Seberg in bed in Breathless) and read on before plotting your perfect perfume.

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What: Be fragrance free.

Why: You'll best be able to fully appreciate each fragrance if you come in with a blank canvas so try to skip strongly-scented lotions, sprays, and event haircare products. This will minimize the possibility of all the scents getting muddled, leading to serious sensory confusion and overload. Pro tip: you can also take a whiff of coffee if you feel like you need to cleanse your nose's palate. It will give you a better reset than just inhaling unscented air.

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What: Set the mood.

Why: You'll best be able to find a scent suited for you by first deciding how you want to feel. What mood or aesthetic are you embracing at the moment? What season is it? What is your fashion sensibility these days? What gets you excited about life and the future? Or maybe there was an art exhibition or film you saw recently you connected with. It might surprise you that these can be helpful clues in finding something that highlights you best.

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What: Avoid olfactory overload.

Why: Refrain yourself from diving in right away and smelling at random, as your nose will get exhausted before you get to the fragrances that might be right for you. Instead, utilize your salesperson by explaining some of the above clues. Don't let them even hand you a tester strip to smell until you feel like you've told them a bit about who you are and what you like. You can also have them tell you about the notes and themes of fragrances they offer before deciding what to sniff first.

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What: Be selective in what you apply.

Why: As another way to avoid sensory overload, make sure you like the scent somewhat before you put it on your skin.

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What: Wait for the dry-down.

Why: Scrutinizing a fragrance before the alcohol has evaporated and the scent has a chance to settle might prompt you to dismiss a lovely fragrance hastily on the basis that it is too strong. Give it a minute, and don't spray directly in a way that visibly wets the skin (or tester strip, for that matter). No perfume puddles! Mist the fragrance and quickly lift the top of your hand into it, letting it fall over the skin. This will be so much more palatable and will mimic the effect of the dry-down.

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What: Be open-minded.

Why: A fragrance you might not think you'd otherwise fall for can surprise you. Don't be afraid to branch out a little or experience the excitement of the "acquired taste." Be reminded, however, that you know when you like something. If you have to ask yourself too many times, you may not. Pro tip: Strange Invisible offers a "Perfume Minibar" that includes sample vials of each scent from the brand's signature collection, plus a $50 gift card, so you or your giftee can go to town test-driving several different options including those which might otherwise get passed by.

Strange Invisible Perfumes

1138 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291, USA