Ditch the Department Store and Find Your Niche: 5 Perfume Brands to Try

Whether you use perfume to reflect your mood or to change your mood, the transitory nature of scent makes for a fun fashion chase. On the hunt for something new? Before you go running off to buy the next bottle of pink celebrity juice, consider exploring the world of niche and boutique perfumes.

My personal journey away from the department store counters (except Chanel, natch) and toward smaller, niche-brand perfumes began about a year ago when I discovered The Non Blonde blog. Author Gaia reviews (mostly) high-end cosmetics and a wide variety of boutique and hard-to-find perfumes. Her descriptions of perfume, and her knowledge of the greater world of perfume, made me think about scent in an entirely new way.

These days I rely on LuckyScent for a large portion of my perfume purchases. LuckyScent is the online destination for cult-brand perfumes that spawned the famous Scent Bar in Los Angeles. LuckyScent is sometimes the only option for U.S. customers buying certain lines -- for example, Mona di Orio) -- and they also carry lines found only at high-end department stores, or in select cities. Even better? Many of the perfumes available through LuckyScent can be ordered in sample sizes which cost between $3-$6, so you don't need to commit before you buy. When you do make a purchase, free samples are always included.

There are hundreds of perfumes to choose from, but here are my top five obsessions at the moment, particularly as we move into fall.

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5. Parfumerie Générale PG's Bois Blond was my first Lucky Scent purchase, and it is a workhorse of a bottle. On the masculine side, this dry perfume was "inspired by an evening in August" and lists cereals, grass, galbanum, cedar, hay, blond tobacco, amber and musk as its notes. At $110 for 50 ml ($4 for .7 ml sample), Bois Blond is extremely affordable. PG perfume prices are at, or just slightly higher than, department store brand prices for "mainstream" perfumes. Bois Blond is my PG pick for fall, but its dryness works beautifully in the heavy heat and humidity of the Houston summer; a pan-seasonal fragrance that will please year-round. I've been testing their new almond milk and vanilla Tonkamande and it just might be my next purchase.

4. Mona di Orio I'm 100 percent obsessed with Mona di Orio at the moment. I splurged on her big, orange/vanilla/amber Jabu several weeks ago when she announced it would be discontinued. With my order I received samples of her three new scents: Vanille, Vetyver and Tubereuse. Vetiver -- a masculine, woodsy note -- is perfect for fall, evoking long walks in the woods. When I wear vetiver scents, I always think of that first ski of the year through the Alaskan woods, when there is enough snow to hit the trails but temperatures are warm enough to still smell the birch and spruce trees. Mona di Orio's Vetyver is $190 for 100 ml ($4 for .7 ml sample).

3. Andy Tauer Andy Tauer is a god in the perfume world, an untrained mixer of fragrance who somehow blends classical scent profiles to create something utterly modern. I describe each of his scents I have tested as romantic, but with an edge; the ultimate femme fatale. Tauer perfumes are so rich I dare not wear them June through August, as the Houston heat and humidity combine to make their rich, lush notes overwhelming. I am particularly looking forward to breaking out Le Maroc pour elle to see how the Moroccan petitgrain, French lavender and Moroccan rose perform absolutely in cooler temperatures. $130 for 50 ml ($3 for .7 ml sample).

2. Bois 1920 This line of Eaux de Toilette is great for couples who like to play with unisex fragrances. My husband and I have been testing the 1920 Extreme and 1920 Classic. ($180, 100 ml; $3, .7 ml sample) Considering these are all eau de toilette, and not perfume, the Bois 1920 fragrances are long-lasting; very evocative of your favorite grandmother -- or grandfather -- but in a crisp, modern way.

1. Serge Lutens The Non Blonde calls him "Uncle Serge." His perfumes are the stuff of perfume blog legend. Long before he was creating magical fragrances, Serge Lutens was a hair stylist and fashion photographer whose 1980s ads for Japanese luxury brand Shiseido made him famous. His apothecary-style bottles remind me of trips to the barber with my father when I was very young. Lutens's Un Bois Vanille ($120, 50 ml) is everything your Bath & Body Works "Warm Vanilla Sugar" is not: burnt, woody and complex. LuckyScent does not sell samples of Serge Lutens fragrances, but you can request samples with a purchase order.


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