Hello annnnnd welcome to the marvelous world of Indie Perfumes! Now, if you're new here, you may be thinking... "Dear God, you need a guide for this?!" - But fear not! I will be as concise and straightforward as possible, and you will be happilly smelling your wrist and wondering "Daisy Marc Jacobs who???" in a short while. So, let's get into it.
Independant perfume companies are incredible. Many of them are made up from people who were unsatisfied with popular fragrances, and wanted to see what they could do - and boy, the things they can do! Different companies who make different scents are called Houses, and we'll direct you to lots of other popular Indie Perfume Houses, so you can shop around and find the very best fit for your preferences. But, what if you're so new, you don't know your preferences? That's why we're here: at the Start Here page. So let's jump in and chat about all the things you need to know!
How to choose?
The first step to buying an indie perfume is whittling down what you like. You may have a perfume that you love and but tired of, or have never had a signature scent that made you go "woooa". Either way, the best thing to do to figure out what scent you really like is... well, to smell things! What kind of fragrant objects does your home have? Candles, soaps, spices, plants - all of these things have a scent which you may or may not have ever really considered before. Also note, that you can love the smell of something (like cinnamon buns or roses) but not want to smell like that thing. An important difference!
Another thing to consider is what places make your soul sing or your body relax? Perhaps you always inhale deeply when you walk into a second-hand bookstore, or maybe you take an extra detour through the coffee aisle at the grocery store, just to get a whiff of those freshly ground beans. Have a good think about what kind of fragrances really speak to you, and keep them in mind while having a look through the catalogues.
Which to buy?
Almost all Houses, or all the ones I've seen, will have a fabulous option to buy sample packs of typically 5-10 scents, or individual drams (1/16 of an oz) of a scent so that you can sample many different ones without dishing out lots of $$$. This is a great place to begin! If you're brand new and don't have any preferences, try getting a scent from each type (floral, gourmand, spice, earthy, etc) so you can get an idea of what reaction you have to each category. If you have a perfume you love and are trying to replace, check out the notes it has and see if there is something similar. If you don't want to try samples, you can also "blind buy", which means to purchase a larger size of a scent without smelling it first. This is a bit risky, as words on a page can only convey so much, and body chemistry will affect every scent (more on that later), so be cautious! People tend to blind buy when they become familiar with a house or a note, and they can be fairly confident of liking it - or if they're feeling gutty! Woo!
How to sample?
This may seem like a silly category - I mean, perfume + skin = sampling , not too complicated, right? But, indie perfumes take a bit more finesse and there are things you can do so your scent smells the way it should.
1. Always let your scents "rest" for a few days hours in a cool, dry place (in a desk, or a box) before smelling them. Now, even the best of us will have the initial out-of-the-mailbox whiff, and while nobody can stop you, it isn't the best first impression of a scent. Fragrances will often get affected during hot and cold weather, and they often need some time to reset themselves after being in the mail. Notes will relax and change, and something which smelled acrid or powdery, after 48 hours, might morph and change - and if you're written it off as a bad egg it's such a shame! Many people will also age their perfumes, and let them rest for months at a time! It's all about preference.
2. Don't judge a scent from the bottle! This seems obvious, but had to mention it. Scents need skin to reach their full potential, and smelling one in the bottle means you're only smelling 1/3 of the notes. If you decide you want cake, but only eat flour, eggs, and sugar - does it taste good? Nope. Think of the perfume as a fully mixed and delicious cake batter, and your skin is the oven! Let that baby hang out and evolve on your body before you judge it too harshly.
3. Don't wear multiple scents at once. Now while you're eating your delicious cake that is perfume, you don't want to also be eating a crepe, a salad, and bowl of cereal, right?! (is this metaphor getting confusing...?) Anyway, despite most of us being guilty for this, it does confuse your nose! If you're trying to experience a scent, it is best to really take a full day and smell it over time, see how it changes, and see how you feel about it. If you've got one scent on your wrist, one on the back of your hand, and a different one in the crook of your elbow (c'mon, I know you've all done it) you aren't going to be able to pick up on the nuances and changes.
4. Notice the evolution of a scent: You've probably all heard about top, middle/heart and base notes. These are ways that the creator of the perfume will tell you how it will wear. Top notes are what you'll smell when the scent is wet on your skin, and likely for the first 30 minutes. They are kind of a... sexy headline for a scent! Meant to reel you in and give you a good emotional reaction, and a hint as to where this scent is going to lead, but which evaporate fairly quickly. Middle/heart notes give the scent it's main body, and is what you're going to be smelling 30 mins to - a few hours after the scent dries down. This are often full notes, that evaporate more slowly, and which mask the depth of the often powerful base notes. The base notes fully round a scent, and they are quite strong notes which give depth. All of the notes are important, and you should take note throughout the day that you're still enjoying how your scent wears!
5. Skin Chemistry - a gift or a curse! Now, this is kinda neat. Everyone's bodies will react differently to different notes and formulas. What may smell amazing on your friend, might react poorly to your skin chem and you may not enjoy it at all! This is no fault of yours - and I hate to say it, but there's no direct way to change it and there's also no way to tell what your skin chem is without trying out some scents. Once you're more familiar, you'll be able to know which scents may work for you. For example, you may see people saying they "amp" a certain note, which means that it become more prevalent on them than others, so if you like it: yay! If you don't like it: stay far away! You just gotta jump in on this one. Good luck!
If you aren't vibing with a scent - give it a rest! Literally! Let your perfume hang out for a few weeks and then try it again. You may be surprised how a few weeks in the dark can completely change them.
How to sell?
If you've bought samples of Full Sizes of scents that you no longer want to keep, there are some options for you - other than it gathering dust or giving it as a last minute present. On the Indie Makeup and More subreddit (IMAM, here) people often buy, sell, and swap their samples and scents for others! This way, you can save a bit of money, find out of stock scents, or just try some samples without having to place a full order! There is always a bit of risk in the buying/selling of products online, but the positive experiences outweigh the negatives by far. Check out the Sunday Swaps on IMAM, or the Perfume Exchange subreddits!
Sucreabeille has an awesome Beginners Guide as well, so please check that out to get even more fabulous tips (and amazing fragrances!).