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10 Best Smelling Perfumes in 2020

Women’s perfumes are a lot like wine: you don’t have to be an expert to know what you like. Still, a little bit of knowledge helps when you’re navigating the immense variety of fragrances on the market, trying to narrow it down to the best perfume for you. Whether your taste runs to floral, woody, Oriental/spicy, or fresh, we’ve sniffed out some of the best perfumes for women to assist in your search for that signature fragrance.

On the way, we picked up some valuable tips and terms from the experts on the science behind the scent; see the women’s perfumes Buyers Guide below our top 10 best perfume reviews for more.

View The Best Smelling Perfumes Below

1. Amarige By Givenchy

Amarige By Givenchy

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A white floral with a sweet (but not sugary) side – Amarige takes an ageless turn with this eau de toilette. The fruity, juicy top notes – you’ll smell these first – give this one a vibrant start. Once it dries, you’ll notice gardenia, tuberose, and gardenia, and the cedar and sandalwood base notes (the longest lasting) provide a breath of woodiness. This perfume is feminine without being cloying, and we think it’s one of the best choices for women of all ages.

Pros:
+A soft and well-rounded white floral that won’t overwhelm
+Longlasting perfume, with warm, defined woody base notes
+Sweet without being sugary
+Classic Givenchy lineage, updated for today’s tastes

Why We Like It – The Givenchy house is best at elegant, clean fragrances (Audrey Hepburn was their inspiration), and Amarige pays homage to that heritage with this updated, juicy, and woodsy take on white florals. It’s distinctive, but not overwhelming.


2. Santal 33 Eau de Parfum

Santal 33 Eau de Parfum

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It became a high-end classic right out of the gate: when Santal launched this distinctive scent in 2011, its woody, leathery notes appealed to both men and women on a grand scale. Now it’s one of the most popular splurge perfumes for women, but don’t let that dissuade you – the sandalwood, iris, leather, and amber notes wear differently from person to person, so you’ll stand out from the crowd.

Pros:
+Created for both men and women
+Leathery, woody tones create rich base notes
+The best sillage of our top ten (that’s the range at which a perfume can be detected)
+A little goes a long way with this indulgent Eau de Parfum

Why We Like It – A little smoky and a little spicy, with undertones of leather and violets, it’s no wonder Santall 33 took the perfume world by storm. We were intrigued by the hoopla – and impressed that this signature scent lives up to the fuss. It’s an investment, but one of the best you’ll make. Bonus points for its unisex appeal.


3. Marc Jacobs Daisy

Marc Jacobs Daisy

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Here’s an eau de toilette for women that you’ll want to wear every day – and luckily, you can afford to. At first sniff, Marc Jacob’s Daisy is as simple and charming as its namesake flower, but there’s more to come. Its berry-sweet top note is balanced with grapefruit, which then gives way to more florals and eventually a powdery, vanilla-musk finish. It’s an affordable fragrance that we’d still purchase at a higher price.

Pros:
+One of the best eau de toilette deals on our list
+Balanced top, middle and base notes
+Marc Jacobs’s Daisy bottle is as appealing as the perfume inside
+A soft but lively fragrance that’s sensational for everyday wear

Why We Like It – The fresh, cheery top notes are mellowed by the sandalwood and musk base. Daisy is one of the best values to be had, and it’s also a good choice for gift-giving: most women will appreciate its ladylike but upbeat vibe.


4. Estee Lauder Beautiful

Estee Lauder Beautiful

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The quintessential modern floral, ‘Beautiful’ is a full, romantic bouquet of flowers presented in a sandalwood and cedar vessel. We love it for the extravagant array of floral notes, from rose, orange blossom, and lily to mimosa and marigold. Vetiver and amber anchor the botanical effusion and keep this perfume poised between traditional and contemporary.

Pros:
+A distinctive fragrance in the crowded floral field
+Huge presence, but sedate enough for every day
+Designer quality fragrance at an affordable price
+A modern-day classic for all ages

Why We Like It – The aptly named Beautiful was composed to capture the essence of “1,000 flowers,” and it has stood the women’s perfumes test of time. The orange blossom provides a heady note, and there’s just enough woody vetiver to cut through the floral profusion.


5. Lancôme La Vie Est Belle L’Eau de Parfum Spray

Lancôme La Vie Est Belle L'Eau de Parfum Spray

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Jasmine and Iris are at the heart of this Eau de Parfum, and it’s surrounded by luscious pear, black currant, praline, and vanilla notes. The rich gourmand composition gives it a long life and range – this might be the best signature scent for foodies we found. If you like a sweet fragrance but are looking for women’s perfumes that don’t do honeyed with a heavy hand, La Vie Est Belle is one of the best.

Pros:
+Foodie-friendly notes, but mature on balance
+Good longevity and sillage
+Patchouli adds a bit of spicy revival on perfume dry down
+Guys love a gourmand perfume

Why We Like It – Gourmand perfumes can sometimes seem heavy-handed (no one wants to smell like a recipe-in-progress), but La Vie Este Belle blends its food notes with jasmine to achieve the best balance. It’s a tamed-down gourmand that will appeal to non-foodies, too.


6. Kenzo Flower Eau De Parfum Spray

Kenzo Flower Eau De Parfum Spray

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If you prefer your perfume on the clean, soapy side, you’ll like the gentle powder notes of Kenzo Flower. Fresh and uncomplicated, this Eau de Parfum is reminiscent of line-dried linen, with traces of violets, roses, and vanilla. There’s a hint of incense from the balsam resin. Most of all, it’s a powdery scent that lingers after the top, and middle notes have faded.

Pros:
+A powdery perfume with a little balsamic depth
+Clean and unfussy, but never basic
+The fresh scent is perfect for hot summer days (and nights)
+Unique bottle has great stage presence on your vanity

Why We Like It – This Eau de Parfum won us over with its easy-wearing appeal. It’s not a linear powder scent – there’s much more to unpack here – but the creamy, powdery essence places it firmly in the best slot of the understated, serene perfume category.


7. Michael Kors Wonderlust Eau de Parfum Spray

Michael Kors Wonderlust Eau de Parfum Spray

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Big and warm, its notes of pink pepper and cinnamon blending with its rich almond essence, Wonderlust is indulgent: a gourmand fragrance that’s rounded out with a resiny, woody base and middle floral notes. We like the richness that the almond milk and heliotrope notes contribute – their warm depth sets this Eau de Parfum apart.

Pros:
+Almond and heliotrope top notes for a warm, rich scent
+Lingers without overpowering
+A fall and winter favorite because of its warm, spiced character
+Soft but sensuous – may be the best date night Eau de Parfum

Why We Like It – This is a well-rounded luxe fragrance that’s vibrant, warm, and a little playful. We loved the pink pepper open, and it dries down to an almost-toasty essence thanks to the almond-milk note. A fragrance for work or play – this Eau de Parfum is an all-around best choice for daily wear.


8. Jo Malone Lime Basil & Mandarin Cologne Spray

Jo Malone Lime Basil & Mandarin Cologne Spray

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The fresh, top notes of this perfume for women make this the best citrus fragrance we discovered. A blend of lime, bergamot, and mandarin orange steer it toward tropical, and middle notes of basil and thyme suggest the Mediterranean. Another of the best women’s perfumes for summer, it’s cool, citrusy and a bit salty – like a good margarita.

Pros:
+Refreshing scent with a simple composition
+Mandarin orange sweetens the sharpness of the lime note
+Cologne spray is a light formulation, so it’s great for summer
+A hint of saltiness adds to the beachy quality

Why We Like It – Cologne spray is a more diluted version of fragrance than Eau de Parfum and eau de toilette, and it’s the perfect vehicle for this fresh fragrance. Women perfumes with simple compositions can be boring – this cologne is anything but.


9. Tom Ford Black Orchid

Tom Ford Black Orchid

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Bold, unrestrained, but just a bit mysterious – if this describes you, we may have found your signature fragrance. This Eau de Parfum doesn’t hold back: a rich medley of chocolate, amber, musk, and patchouli base notes are the launching pad for spice, fruit, and flowers. This sumptuous fragrance takes the best of these categories for a distinctive experience – Black Orchid is like no other perfume on our list.

Pros:
+Elegant and full – this is a truly romantic fragrance
+Longlasting with powerful sillage
+Unique; makes a wonderful signature scent
+Suitable for women of all ages

Why We Like It – We selected Black Orchid because its complex blend covers all categories: the top, middle, and base notes include floral, woody, spicy, and fruity essences. It’s an Eau de Parfum with something for everyone – but the scent is one of a kind.


10. Chloe Eau De Parfum Spray

Chloe Eau De Parfum Spray

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This isn’t the Chloe you remember – the house has reformulated the classic tuberose-centric perfume that made it famous. The floral top and middle notes still dominate the new Chloe, but it’s been refined (and balanced) with lychee, amber, and cedar. The result is a well-rounded, chic perfume that hasn’t lost its classic floral heritage, but gives it a fresh perspective. For our money, this is one of the best “wear it every day” floral fragrances; we’re glad we revisited it.

Pros:
+Feminine floral with a balanced composition – the rose doesn’t overwhelm
+Vintage appeal, but updated for modern women
+Moderate sillage makes it suitable for office environments
+Inexpensive, but doesn’t smell that way

Why We Like It – This isn’t your aunt’s Chloe – rather than a blast of rose and peony, we found a fresh -maybe even a bit flirty – perfume in this vintage-style bottle. The clean lily of the valley note makes it a great choice for work: it doesn’t fill the room.


Smelling Perfumes Buyer’s Guide

Short of going to a fragrance boutique and smelling every women’s perfume on display, it’s difficult to search for the fragrance that will suit you best. And because the scent is subjective, reading perfume houses’ descriptions and buyer reviews may not help narrow down your options – at least not without knowing some terminology and being able to identify the ingredients that appeal to you the most.

But you don’t need to become an olfactory expert to gain an edge when shopping for perfumes – we’ve put together a brief crash course that’ll have you on your way to finding the perfect signature fragrance.

The language of perfume

Various perfume bottles, for sale in a bazaar.

Fragrance house descriptions (and some reviews) will offer information about the perfume’s longevity, sillage, and notes. Here’s what these terms will tell you:

Longevity: how long the perfume’s scent will last on your skin.

Sillage (pronounced seeyazh): How far the perfume will travel – its range in a room

Notes: The scents of the composition. Top notes are the first impressions you’ll get upon application. Middle notes become apparent after dry-down (the middle phase is typically the longest-lasting), and base notes provide the perfume’s foundation – they also are what linger afterward. Top notes may be floral, fruity, or spicy, and middle notes are often comprised of these categories as well. Base notes are often woody and rich, like resin, incense, and musk. (See “Making sense of scents” below.)

In addition, look for the following designations to guide you in each perfume formulation’s strength:

Eau Fraiche: the most delicate fragrance composition, an Eau Fraiche offers the lightest touch and dissipates the fastest.

Eau de Cologne: The next lightest formulation, eau de cologne, is a great choice for summer, as well as small workplaces. It lasts longer than Eau Fraiche and will offer a little more sillage.

Eau de Toilette: Often the most economical choice in a perfume line, eau de toilette has more staying power than cologne – you may not have to reapply during the day, and it’s more affordable than Eau de Parfum.

Eau de Parfum: Some fragrance houses only offer their scents in this strength – it’s the gold standard of perfumes. An Eau de Parfum will last eight hours or beyond – each note stage is lengthened, and because a little goes a long way, this formulation may ultimately be the best value.

Making sense of scents

Girl smelling perfume testers in cosmetics store looking for stylish fragrance

Now for the fun part: you probably already have some perfumes on your vanity, right? Choose one or two of the scents you reach for most often, fire up your computer, and do a search on them; you’ll find their top, base, and middle notes will put them in one of these categories, which will give you a starting point for shopping:

Oriental/Spicy: If your bottle of Opium is getting low, check out the descriptions of this fragrance to pinpoint what you like. The broad strokes? Opium is an Oriental/spicy scent. This is one of the major perfume categories, and it’s a catchall for warm, rich scents that may contain spice essences like coriander, pink pepper, clove, and many more. Orientals are also enriched with deep notes like amber, myrrh, and incense to create a mysterious aura and provide depth. Opium, Obsession, Tom Ford’s Black Orchid, and old-school classics like Shalimar are quintessential examples of Oriental/spicy fragrances. If you find your taste runs toward this full, complex category, look for notes that include spices, resins, and wood, along with intense florals like jasmine.

Floral: If your often-used Eau de Parfum or eau de toilette faves include Beautiful, you’ll want to look in the floral category, a deep field that can be roughly divided into floral and white floral. (Beautiful is an early example of a perfume that transcends this division, as it’s supposed to evoke a bouquet of 1,000 flowers.) White florals have a cleaner, softer profile: look for lily of the valley, gardenia, and magnolia (see Amarige in our top ten list above). Non-white florals will deliver a botanical top and middle notes like rose, violet, and orange blossom – or a hundred or so more flower species. The best versions will balance light and substantial floral notes and balance them out with woody or musk base notes.

Fresh: Maybe your favorite scents evoke a freshly mowed lawn or a freshly peeled lime – if so, your best bet is the fresh family of perfumes for women. Clean, herbal, sometimes citrusy, a fresh fragrance can be aromatic without being cloying – an ideal choice for spring and summer. Some fresh perfumes will be a touch salty, reminiscent of crisp ocean air. Look for perfumes with grass, citrus, sage, and galbanum notes for a fragrance that’s both green and clean – but make sure that these top notes are kept down to earth with wood, moss, or resin essences. The best green scents will not be linear – they won’t just be straight citrus or grass, for example.

Woody: Perfumes like Santal 33 are lush like Orientals, but these luxurious fragrances derive their complexity from cedar, sandalwood, and resins rather than spices and opulent flowers. Woody essences carry polo, White Woods, and many men’s colognes, and most women’s perfumes, in general, will have some woody base notes. An eau de toilette or Eau de Parfum with a woody theme can be overwhelming, so most perfume houses will carefully balance the composition with floral or spice notes that won’t get, well, lost in the woods. Look for base notes of cedar, sandalwood, spruce, and vetiver.

Within the broad categories of Oriental/spicy, Floral, Fresh, and Woody, perfumes can be further broken down into subtypes:

Orientals can lean toward woody, floral, or even gourmand (La Vie Est Belle, anyone?). But the heart of an Oriental perfume will always be sultry, deep, and intriguing – they’re perfect for special date nights and wear best in fall or winter.

Florals vary, too: some are soft and powdery – even a little soapy; others are nostalgic and romantic. For a ladylike perfume, look for a white floral with lily of the valley, honeysuckle, and maybe a little amber or musk in the base notes, just to keep things interesting. Modern takes on the huge mixed-bouquet perfume include Estee Lauder’s Beautiful and Daisy by Marc Jacobs. Florals and Orientals play well together – some scents overlap these categories to provide the best of both worlds.

Tasting different perfumes

Some fresh perfume imparts an almost bitter edge upon first smell – there’s a subcategory called “chypre” that’s something of an acquired taste. Galbanum, a resin, has a dry bite that calms down over time and provides a fresh perfume with both staying power and unusual green note. If you’re looking for a straightforward fun-in-the-sun scent, you may want to avoid this ingredient – plenty of green perfumes deliver citrusy, grassy notes without a learning curve.

Woody fragrances shine when they’re balanced with Oriental notes; look for a perfume with base notes of cedar and sandalwood and spicy middle and top notes (Joop! is a classic). Many of the best men’s colognes are a good balance of woody and Oriental, and perfume houses have borrowed from this legacy to create well-rounded crossover scents.

And since perfume makers aren’t afraid to cross the lines when creating their fragrances, you shouldn’t shy away from experimenting, too. Don’t be put off from trying a new perfume, even one outside of your typical category – you may find you have more than one signature scent!

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