19 best women’s perfumes: From sandalwood to delicate florals

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Buying perfume can be a gamble, but it doesn’t have to be. Rather than making a purchase on the spot, spray a sample of the scent on your wrist and see how it develops on your skin throughout the day – you may find it’s too light or too strong.

If you can’t get to a bricks-and-mortar store, many online shops offer trial sizes as well as miniature “discovery sets” – which you can spritz and sniff at leisure before investing in a full-size bottle.

There’s no right or wrong way to wear perfume, but as a rough guide: citrus and light floral scents are good for the warmer months when you don’t want anything too heavy or cloying (sweat and heat will amplify your perfume).

But, if it’s chilly then your scent needs to work a little harder to cut through the cold – so rich, smoky numbers are a better bet for this time of year.

There are plenty of decent mass market and designer perfumes around, but it’s a mixed bag, and lots of them tend to smell very similar. But a good perfume costing upwards of £100 should have a distinct character and something to say (even if it’s in hushed tones).

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It should be smooth and mellow without any notes overpowering or jarring with the rest of the bouquet. It should also evaporate delicately on the skin, revealing different layers rather than coming to an abrupt halt. But of course the nose wants what it wants – and at the end of the day, it all boils down to personal preference.

Here are some scents that work hard for their money. And although some of these are an investment, you will smell every penny of it on your skin.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Floral perfumes

The most recognisable and feminine fragrance family there is – floral scents usually comprise a heart of jasmine and rose, and are enhanced by sweet, creamy or powdery notes such as gardenia, tuberose and lily of the valley.

Nancy Meiland rosier, 100ml: £105, Nancymeiland.com

Like some cuisines like using the whole animal, from snout to trotters, this scent captures the whole rose – leaves, stems, thorns and all. It’s what’s known as a soliflore, and rather than a “pretty and delicate” rose, it has lush green accords to make you feel like you’re walking through the rose gardens in Regent’s Park. The thorns are depicted with spiky notes of pink pepper, while sparkling Italian bergamot and tangerine depict the morning dew on rose petals. As rose scents go, this one is a work of art.

Marc Jacobs daisy love spring, 50ml: £59, Boots.com

Of all of the perfumes in the “Daisy” series, this new take on Jacobs’ beloved classic will no doubt chime with the current global mood, with a cheery greenness connoting new beginnings and a fresh start. The original Daisy was created to be cheeky and playful – an antidote to the so-called “granny” florals on the market – hence its tongue-in-cheek name (daisies have no smell). And this latest version is just as charming.

Featuring a soft floral heart of rosebuds and rosewood, it stars ever-so-subtle notes of green cardamom spice to evoke the verdure of spring. Super easy to wear; this is a “happy” perfume that will see you through the entirety of spring and summer.

Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs, 30ml: £15, Superdrug.com

For young teenagers and perfume newbies, this classic cult scent is the perfect starter – while those who came of age in the Seventies might get a whiff of nostalgia every time they spritz it on. Created in 1978, it echoes the powdery floral scents of that decade, blending enveloping orange blossom with rich notes of hyacinth, before warming up to a buttery-sweet heart of rose, white lily and jasmine. Sandalwood and a dash of incense also give it an enveloping and slightly addictive “dry down” (where a perfume evaporates so only the base notes are left on the skin).

Coty l’aimant, 50ml: £14.49, Boots.com

Classic fragrances needn’t cost the earth. This gem was created in 1927, and although the formulation has probably changed a lot, its heart of rose, jasmine and ylang ylang, combined with a good glug of sparkly aldehydes (these give perfume the “twinkle” factor) will have you swanning around like a glamorous Demoiselle in no time at all. It’s “old-school” timeless perfume at its best, and many still swear that they can’t tell the difference between this and the considerably costlier Chanel No 5. (We’re not saying anything…)

Diptyque l’ombre dans l’eau eau de toilette, 50ml: £75, Libertylondon.com

If the last time you smelled like blackcurrant was when you spilled Ribena down your white school shirt, don’t let that deter you. This beloved perfume takes that humble berry to dizzy (and highly sexy) new heights, blended with enveloping rose and luminous herbaceous accords, resulting in a multi-faceted and intoxicating concoction that lives up to its name – which translates to “the shadow in the water”. Fans of this timeless and alluring scent will instantly recognise anyone else wearing it – and from the first spritz, it stays faithfully on the skin around the clock.

Sweet perfumes

Sweet perfumes can be characterised as citrus-based colognes, which are light, refreshing and perfect for summer – or “gourmandes” that are far richer, with confectionary/vanilla-based accords, making them best for the winter.

Escentric Molecules molecule 01 + mandarin, 100ml: £95, Escentric.com

Considered a modern classic, Molecule 01 shook the world of perfumery when it launched, and for good reason. Based around a single synthetic molecule “iso e super”, it’s a cosy, warm, fuzzy kind of a scent that mingles with the wearer’s skin, so that it smells unique on everyone. Many consider it to be highly aphrodisiac too.

This new version combines the note with mandarin, great for those who love citrus scents but want more staying power, as this brings you the best of both worlds. The sharp, sweet freshness of the mandarin fruit, anchored to the skin by the subtle smoky warmth of the iso e super. Light and wearable, it’s the perfect scent for those who don’t like anything too rich or cloying, with just enough allure to make it worth spritzing on for the evening too.

Mugler angel nova, 30ml: £53, Boots.com

If you have a sweet tooth, this scent will send you on a serious sugar high. The original Angel was inspired by the fairgrounds that designer Thierry Mugler frequented as a child (think notes of toffee apples, candyfloss and coconuts). But rather than just being a sugary sweet treat, it’s combined with rich, smoky notes of patchouli to give it staying power and grown-up sex appeal.

Since its launch in 1992, it’s amassed a cult following and kicked off the craze for confectionary-inspired “gourmand” scents. This new incarnation in the form of Angel Nova adds sharp, tart notes of raspberry and lychee, with a dazzling damask rose. It wins several eco brownie points too, with a refillable bottle and up-cycled ingredient “supernatural rose”, derived from previously distilled petals. This is sure to please Angel newbies and devotees alike.

Maya Nije tropica, 50ml: £90, Mayanjie.com

This is an exquisite olfactory escape for anyone who’s been craving a tropical getaway for the last 12 months (haven’t we all). Tropica captures the soft scent of coconuts, combined with succulent sweetness of pineapple and figs on a balmy summer evening, blended with warm woods and musks. Think of the most expensive piña colada you ever sipped – minus the hangover.

All of Maya Nije’s fragrances are inspired by her Scandiavian and West African upbringing, and are blended and bottled by hand in her studio on the Isles of Dogs. Formulas feature fermentation-grade alcohol and 30 per cent essential oils – so they stick around for a good few hours, as opposed to just floating off on the breeze.

Gallivant los angeles, 30ml: £65, Roullierwhite.com

Creator Nick Steward created the Gallivant range to pay olfactory homage to his favourite cities. With Los Angeles he wanted to capture the city’s “bubble-gum breezy optimism”, and it certainly leaves that impression, with jazzy, sweet notes of mandarin, pineapple and tuberose.

Wearing its heart on its sleeve, it captures everything people love about LA’s steely determination and candyfloss charm. It’s the clubbing scenes in Terminator. It’s Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tap-dancing in La La Land. It’s Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, comparing her life to the plot of The Little Mermaid.

Amber perfumes

Amber perfumes can be characterised as warm, powdery and sweet – “nuzzle-worthy” you might say – making them great for the colder months. There’s actually no “amber” ingredient – instead it’s a combination of things such as vanilla, earthy patchouli and resins.

Floral Street arizona bloom eau de parfum, 50ml: £24, Floralstreet.com

If you’ve ever taken a hot air balloon ride across the Sonoran Desert (highly recommended), this scent conjures up the beauty of that arid Arizonian landscape when it’s bathed in the morning light. With warm amber, jasmine and the soft sweetness of fig with undertones of salted musks, it’s given a “second skin” effect.

While a lot of perfumes can be very “ladylike” and “grand dame”, this British brand burst onto the scene in a riot of colourful branding and punchy, original concoctions to match. Their completely vegan perfumes are made with sustainable, natural ingredients, while their cartons are made from 100 per cent compostable pulp, held together with a recyclable elastic band instead of plastic wrap.

4160Tuesdays tart’s knicker drawer, 15ml: £32, 4160tuesdays.com

Probably one of the best names for a perfume ever cooked up, this scent waltzes in flashing its wares like a can-can dancer, with a riotous blend of florals, enveloping musk and powdery notes which give it the cheeky charm of a vintage pin up girl. The scent is named in honour of perfumer Sarah McCartney’s Northern Methodist grandmother, who according to the perfumer: “would declare that anyone whose perfume you could smell on the bus was ‘up to no good’ and probably out to steal someone else’s husband.”

Bella Freud psycho analysis, 100ml: £165, Bellafreud.com

For people who typically loathe “fashion house fragrances” – usually consisting of some generic sugary blandness – this is the ultimate antidote. Named in honour of the designer’s prolific great-grandfather Sigmund (i.e. the founding father of psychoanalysis), this eccentric bouquet conjures up an analyst’s leather couch, pipe smoke and wooden furniture.

It begins batting its eyelashes with pretty neroli notes, before revealing a strong heart of tobacco flower, powdery dry amber and cedarwood. As a character, it’s a far cry from the archetypal “hysterical woman” – more like one who’s suffered a few knocks in life, analysed herself and managed to emerge stronger for it, without the need for some Freudian father figure.

Jasmine perfumes

Probably one of the most seductive notes in perfumery, this floral ingredient is more animalic than “pretty-pretty”, because of its dirty, slightly faecal undertones – due to a chemical called “indoles” – but rather than being unpleasant, it’s incredibly heady and intoxicating.

Sana Jardin savage jasmine: £95, Sanajardin.com

Starring jasmine at its most raw and primal, if you’re looking for a dazzling evening scent (of course you can wear it whenever you want) this is the one. Blended with mysterious musk and tobacco (think Bette Davis on the poster for All About Eve, wry side-glance, cigarette holder in hand) it’s designed to capture the moment when jasmine petals first bloom to release their intoxicating aroma into the balmy night air.

A sweet, girly scent this is not – and is all the better for it. The brand is also conscious of people and planet, working with female harvesters in Morocco who up-cycle and sell on the floral waste products after the essential oils have been extracted for the perfumes.

Gucci gucci bloom, 50ml: £55, Theperfumeshop.com

If you want a scent with spades of sex appeal, but would rather side-step the more smoky, leathery “bar room broad” numbers, Gucci Bloom is a fresh take on jasmine, that’s wearable enough for the daytime without your colleagues, housemates or passers-by complaining that your perfume is giving them a headache. While it stars a good glug of jasmine, it blends this rather foxy ingredient with powdery white floral notes, resulting in a softer, understated take on sex appeal that’s more Sade Adu than Gloria Swanson.

IKON 914, 100ml: £60, Thefragranceshop.co.uk

The perfume world is full of weird and wonderful stories. How many of these are actually true is another matter, but one that sticks out is that Queen Cleopatra apparentlyused to scent the sails of her ships with Egyptian Jasmine to entice Mark Antony (who apparently fell in love with her on the breeze as her ship docked before he even clapped eyes on her).

Whether this actually happened doesn’t take away from the fact that Egyptian jasmine is a dazzling ingredient, and this new kid on the fragrant block uses it to its full advantage, blending it with rich oud and cedarwood, with bright notes of lime and bergamot. It’s a cosy concoction that you’ll no doubt want to douse your favourite scarf in.

Sandalwood perfumes

This is a woody note – as the name suggests – that gets used in about 50 per cent of women’s fragrances. Famous for its creamy, sweet and allegedly aphrodisiac character, it anchors the other ingredients and provides sensual undertones to floral and spice notes.

Le Labo santal 33, 50ml: £130, Libertylondon.com

This modern classic is a good choice if you tend to steer clear of sugary sweet scents, and want something with more soul and guts behind it. With enveloping accords of woods and smoke, it conjures images of the Marlboro Man – with just as much enigmatic charisma.

Warming up on the skin to a rich heart of iris, leather and papyrus, its tomboyish charm sticks around from dawn to dusk, before riding off into the sunset, in a soft haze of cedar and sandalwood. If you’re after perfume that packs a punch, this will come out swinging (so go easy when you first apply it!) and is wonderful for adding a little smoky allure as and when needed.

Maison Crivelli santal volcanique, 100ml: £75, Lessenteurs.com

For those who like their sandalwood with a little bit of spice, this beguiling blend is designed to capture “the scent of scorched sandalwood on the slopes of an erupting volcano”. Ginger, cardamom and coffee notes dial up the heat, while the sandalwood heart provides a mellow backdrop. All Maison Crivelli fragrances are unisex, and while this leans on the more masculine side, it won’t make you smell “blokey” like you’ve spent the evening snogging a hedge fund manager in The Ned.

LUSH dirty, 30ml: £20, Lush.com

This is one of those men’s scents that women like to borrow, so why not beat him to it and buy one of your very own? Its aftershave-y top notes might not be to everyone’s taste, but – wait for it to warm up and let the spiky mint notes evaporate – what’s left behind is sublime and seriously addictive. Aromatic tarragon blends beautifully with the warm sandalwood base – together with a faint trace of spearmint, which is less “toothpaste” and more like the bruised mint leaves you get in a mojito. This is great to spritz on after a shower to wake you out of your morning grump.

Tom Ford santal blush, 50ml: £174, Selfridges.com

While some perfumes tend to dial up the rich, creamy aspect of sandalwood, leaning heavy on its sensual side, Tom Ford decided that actually, less is more when it comes to this highly aphrodisiac note. Hence, Santal Blush starts out with a soft whisper of sandalwood, shy and unassuming – and barely traceable, mellowed by spices and the tiniest hint of white flower.

But soon makes its presence known – becoming a hell of a lot naughtier as the day wears on, exuding a subtly sweet, honeyed warmth that will slightly frazzle your brain – and anyone else’s lucky to get close enough (It’s always the quiet ones you need to watch out for).

The verdict: Women’s perfumes

We loved how Floral Street arizona bloom is unique but wearable – warm and enveloping but not overpowering. This scent is gentle enough to be spritzed on throughout the summer, but has enough staying power for the colder months too.

If money’s not an issue, Sana Jardin savage jasmine is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser – sparkling and oh-so-sexy, the scent equivalent of sporting a glittery tiara and floor-length gown.

And if you’re a fan of niche, indie perfumes, Escentric Molecules molecule 01 + mandarin will garner murmurs of approval from those in the know, while its beguiling bouquet achieves that rare feat in fragrance: a citrus scent with staying power.

For fragrances perfect for sunnier seasons, we’ve rounded up the best women’s summer perfumes

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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