Perfumed lockdown: The best websites to buy luxury perfume samples

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What have you missed most about everyday life during lockdown? It’s a given that we’re all missing our loved ones, but do you find it’s also the little things, such as meeting a friend for coffee, special events or eating out?

As a perfume lover, I miss sniffing my way around perfume departments. Perfume can have such an uplifting effect on mood, and recently that gave me a little idea. I decided to track down a bottle of vintage Miss Balmain eau de parfum for my mum (it’s her favourite and she’d run out) and post it to her as a surprise. I also sent off a sample of Prada Homme to a friend, who commented in response; “it’s really amazing the effect a little perfume can have – I had to organise a work-related Zoom meeting and it made me feel ready for the day.”

As for my mum, she was utterly delighted with her gift, describing the excitement she felt when she noticed the familiar scent emanating from the little package before she even opened it. Hound-like noses run in our family!

I know I’m not the only one who finds it difficult not to be able to visit relatives and friends just now, so needless to say, it was equally as uplifting for me to bring that little bit of glamour and pleasure to two people I care about. So, if this inspires you to send a similar gift to your loved ones, read on for my top tips on where to buy online.

It’s always tricky choosing a perfume for someone if you’re not quite sure of their taste

It’s always tricky choosing a perfume for someone if you’re not quite sure of their taste, and that’s where samples or decants come in useful. It’s great fun to receive a variety of samples to try, then if the giftee likes one, well, you can always splash out on a full bottle for them.

Samples are usually anything from 1.5 to 2mls, giving you a few sprays. A decant is usually anything from 5mls upwards. Decants are great if you want to buy a rare, vintage or discontinued perfume – a full bottle of which may not be available.

Websites where you can buy samples

Being housebound need not restrict your perfume enjoyment as there are numerous websites which sell perfumes from all over the world. Bear in mind, though, that perfumes can be a restricted postal item. However, buying samples and decants gets around this problem as it’s OK to send perfume overseas if it’s less than 150ml.

My two favourite (reliable and reputable) perfume sample websites, which sell some of the world’s most interesting, high quality samples and decants, are the German site; First in Fragrance/Aus Liebe Zum Duft and the UK-based samples website Les Senteurs. Both of these sites have a good range of products by some of the world’s most excellent perfume houses.

Les Senteurs
Les Senteurs is fragrance tranquillity, a place to fall in love with perfume

Where to buy vintage perfumes

Vintage perfumes are quite big business these days. This is because, pre 1980’s, perfumers were allowed a wider range of natural perfume materials. Nowadays perfumers are quite restricted on materials such as oakmoss or bergamot, for example, both of which are quite photo sensitive (not good to wear them on bare skin in hot sun as it might encourage burning).

If you, or someone you know, has enjoyed perfumes such as say, Miss Dior, or Chanel 19, pre 80s and are flummoxed as to why it doesn’t smell the same anymore, there’s nothing wrong with your nose; these perfumes are different now, not as rich or complex, due to restricted perfume materials.

Luckily, you can usually buy the original versions online. Perfumes don’t go off if they’re kept well, out of direct light and in a cool-ish maintained temperature.

Surrender to Chance and the Perfumed Court are two websites which specialise, not only in niche, luxury edition or mainstream and popular perfumes, but also vintage perfumes. Both are based in the US, so be aware of extra postage charges if you’re outside the US. On both sites you can search for perfume under useful categories, such as ’10 of the best men’s/women’s perfumes’, or ‘the best leather perfumes’, ‘5 of the world’s most romantic perfumes’ and so on.

Surrender to Chance (pictured above) and the Perfumed Court are two websites which specialise, not only in niche, luxury edition or mainstream and popular perfumes, but also vintage perfumes

Ebay will often sell samples or decants of vintage perfumes, but be wary – what a seller describes as vintage may not be much older than a few years. If there’s a particular vintage perfume you’d like to find, have a look online for the original packaging. A reputable Ebay seller will show the packaging alongside the photo of their sample or decant.  You can also look up things like barcodes and ingredients lists on older perfumes if you want to get a little specialist about it.

Also, of interest perhaps for those of you looking for perfume inspiration, is the excellent Fragrantica. They don’t sell perfumes on their website, but it’s no exaggeration to say that you can find out almost anything you want to know about perfume; including an encyclopaedic searchable database of perfume ingredients and almost every perfume that’s ever been made from the 19th century right up to the latest releases. There are thousands of perfume reviews by members, no marketing gimmicks, just honest and often quite amusing perfume descriptions. Anyone can write a review and if readers like it you get a little balloon next to your review, which all adds to the party atmosphere.

Lastly, on the joys of vintage perfumery, my recent and most rewarding perfume purchase during lockdown was a decant of Cacharel Pour Homme, pre 80’s version which I bought for my partner. The scent of nutmeg and juicy lemon in this vintage version is just heaven. The contemporary reformulated version, on the other hand, is like instant coffee and UHT milk after fresh ground coffee and cream!

What a pleasure it was to experience this scent on my other half, we can’t have a night out just now, but we can have a beautifully fragranced night in.

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