Making a sound scent investment at duty free can be a minefield. Here’s how to walk away with something you love, not a dud, plus the insider duty-free fragrance tip-offs from the experts

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Something frenzied happens when you cross the barrier from security into the departures lounge. Many of us lose our heads in the maze of World Duty Free, lured in by discount deals, unlimited liquids opportunities, exclusive offers and a ‘last chance shopping saloon’ feel. Somehow you walk away to your gate clutching a giant Toblerone, a multipack of Touche Éclat and a litre of niche gin without being quite sure what just happened.

This heady shopping environment particularly affects the fragrance ‘wings’ of duty free- the scent discovery zones are often cavernous, filled with old familiars and jazzy unknowns, with sales assistants spritzing passers-by at every corner and deals a aplenty to seduce you into making a perfume purchase. Given that scent is one of the most personal elements of a getting ready routine and is so closely linked with emotion and memory, it pays to make a considered choice, but the allure of the duty-free fragrance hall can be overwhelming. Here’s how to navigate it like a pro, ensure you make a gem of a buy with no regrets, plus the duty free scent specials that the experts rate. Over to co-founders of The Perfume Society Jo Fairley  and Lorna McKay…

Shop strategically

You may get the most bang for your buck when buying fragrance at duty-free by sticking to familiar territory, as Jo underlines:

“Duty free is a great place to replenish fragrances you already love. It can be challenging to buy a new scent because with many styles of fragrance, the real base notes will only emerge when you're halfway to Bali, and you discover that actually no, you're not loving how vanilla-y the scent is on your skin…”

If you are using duty free as a field mission for new fragrance, be sure to prep first.

Do your homework

Lorna advocates fragrance forward planning so that you’re shopping with a game plan:

“Sample fragrances before departure, either in-store or by way of sample boxes . The Perfume Society Discovery Boxes  are really popular at this time of year- people buy and try before they fly, and we get lovely emails from customers to say thank you as they have either been saved making a very expensive mistake or they have found their next fragrance love and can buy with confidence.”

Don’t rush it

Adrenaline fuelled EDP purchases don’t always work out for the best. Jo recommends a far more leisurely, measured approach:

“If you're in a hurry and the departures board's telling you that your flight's boarding, forget about it. Just as with shopping in a non-duty Free environment, you need to give yourself time to smell a few different fragrances on blotters, allow them around 15 minutes to develop, and then eliminate any you don't like. Duty Free is generally quite good in terms of providing blotters, but we do sell special packs of these at £5 for two books of 50 , and we definitely don't leave home without them!

“Write the names of the fragrances down, because it's impossible (even for those of us who've worked in fragrance) to remember what you've smelled where. Then try up to three on your skin- two wrists and the crook of an elbow. It's hard to make a judgment on any more than that at one time. Again, write down what you've sprayed where– it's so hard to recall which wrist was the Elie Saab and which was the Marc Jacobs!.”

Think of it as fragrance swatching and let things sit before you head to the till.

Beware stress and sensory overload

Both are a recipe for impaired judgement according to Jo:

“Our sense of smell is happiest and tends to be most acute when we're calm and relaxed. When you're stressed, it's sometimes difficult to smell anything at all. So if it's bustling around you, take a few deep, grounding breaths before you embark on your scent shopping. Your nose will thank you for it, and you're more likely to enjoy the experience.”

Be prepared to walk away

Jo advises you to leave on that jet plane if something’s even slightly off:

“If you're 50/50 about something, walk away. Smell it in-flight and figure out how it's developing on your skin. Many fragrances are the same in duty free halls all over the world- you'll almost certainly get the chance to buy it on your way home.”

Go fresh

Certain types of fragrance are easier to buy than others, so a fruitful perfume buy could be one that fits into the following fragrance families, as Jo outlines:

“Colognes and very fresh fragrances may be a better bet at duty free. That's because they're heavier on the top notes, which are those that you smell straight away, with fewer base notes- those are the ones that take hours to unfold and show their true selves. Perhaps steer clear of heavier fragrances like orientals and woody scents, which are heavier on the base and take longer to develop on the skin.”

Try the exclusive to duty free Jo Malone Grapefruit and English Pear & Freesia Cologne Duo Set , £68.80, if you like zesty, fruity fragrance or Gucci Bloom Travel Collection Set , £80.95, if florals are more your thing (the rollerball is seriously handy for jetsetting too).

Don’t be a scent sheep

By all means be open to suggestions, but bear in mind that each of our perfume ‘fingerprints’ differ, as Lorna explains:

“Do not buy something because someone else likes it or because you like it on them- your fragrance odour ‘print’ is unique so it will smell differently on you.”

Other factors can affect how fragrance comes off too- Lorna notes that what you eat the night before can impact on how a perfume smells on any given day, with herbs and spices having the most notable impact on your natural odour. If you want to get a clear idea of how a scent works on your skin, keep bath products and body lotions fragrance-free and avoid pungent, spicy meals the day before.

Be savvy

Lorna urges you not to assume that duty free is always the cheapest option:

“Check prices in store first as it can sometimes be more expensive at duty free. It’s very rare, but it does happen, so have an idea of what you should be paying.”

Once you’ve done your research, Jo encourages looking beyond your standard bottle of EDT and making the most of duty free offers:

“If you are devoted to a particular fragrance, look for duty free exclusives. There are often great limited editions or minis available at airports. For example I love the  Elie Saab mini-set  for summer 2018, £40, which is a quartet of wonderful, light-filled fragrances that are brilliant for holidays.”

The fragrance expert’s duty free wishlist

Jo’s duty free desirables for summer 2018 include…

Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Nerolia Bianca , £41.60 for 75ml

“This isn’t new for this summer but it’s timeless and wearable by almost everyone. It’s the freshest and sheerest of white florals.”

Tom Ford Neroli Portofino , £184 for 100ml

“The most sunshine-filled cologne imaginable.”

Davidoff Cool Water Limited Edition EDT , £58.75 for 200ml

“I’d point men in the direction of this one- the collectible packaging is like a block of ice.”

My scent CV: three women chart their lives in fragrance

Follow Jo on Twitter  @JoJoSams  and The Perfume Society  @Perfume_Society