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We like to think of perfume as the cherry on top of the sundae—that final finishing touch that pulls your look togehter. But there’s no denying that shopping for a new scent can be a challenging (not to mention headache-inducing) experience. To help guide your search, it’s a good idea to think of fragrances according to different categories—floral, fruity, woodsy, or clean—as most people innately gravitate towards one of those. That will help you narrow down the options…at least somewhat. But to really make it easy, we’ve done the hard work for you, sorting and sniffing our way through the options out there to select the best of the best in each of these categories—some of which happen to be our personal favorites here at Byrdie HQ.
Whether you’re in the market for a new signature scent or are looking to build out your fragrance wardrobe, check out our picks of the best perfumes for women, below.
Best Unisex: Le Labo Santal 33 Eau De Parfum
Le Labo Santal 33 is Byrdie senior social media editor Kelly Gallagher's favorite perfume of all time. "Every time I wear it, I get a compliment," she says. "I've actually had Uber drivers ask me to write it down for them so they can buy it for their wives. The fragrance is actually considered unisex, so everyone can wear it. Le Labo describes it as 'at once gentle, smoky, and leathery' and I agree. The fragrance has so much depth that the more you breathe it in, the more it changes. I'm a Le Labo Santal wearer for life."
Runner-Up, Best Unisex: Byredo Bibliothéque Eau de Parfum
A library-inspired scent may sound strange, but trust us, it works. Originally one of the brand’s best-selling candles, it was shoppers’ demand that inspired the fragrance version. Peach, plum, peony, and violet are at the forefront, though the base notes of leather and patchouli are strong enough to make it totally unisex, as is the clean and minimalistic packaging.
Best Modern Floral: Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower Parfum Spray
Combining floral tuberose (fun fact, this perfume contains the highest concentration of natural tuberose in the perfume industry) with fruity melon, green eucalyptus, sweet coconut, and deep musk may sound like a lot, but it somehow all works together. The end result is a sophisticated blend that’s definitely floral, yet intricate, nuanced, and totally modern. In other words, our editors are obsessed with it.
Best Soft Woody: Atelier Cologne Santal Carmin
Bergamot and saffron are the top notes in this perfume, adding an unexpected freshness to the middle and dry down notes of creamy sandalwood and powerful cedarwood. It’s woody but bright, a versatile pick for every day.
Best Fruity: Burberry Her Eau de Parfum
Black currant, raspberry, and blueberry make up the top notes of this fruity gourmand scent, hitting you with a punch of sweetness. Floral jasmine and violet keep it feminine and flirty, though, like all the Burberry scents, it still has a touch of the brand’s signature amber and musk.
Best Splurge: Bond No. 9 New York Greenwich Village Eu de Parfum
"I usually gravitate towards more niche fragrance brands with sleek fonts and minimalist packaging," says Byrdie editorial director Faith Xue, "But one spritz of Bond No.’s new Greenwich Village fragrance and I knew I had found my new favorite scent—even if it comes in a bright turquoise star-shaped bottle. The scent features top notes of heliotrope and bois d’encens, middle notes of tonka bean and amber, and a warm base of sensual musk and santal. It's all-around intoxicating, and I spritz myself whenever I need a confidence boost (and just want to smell like an angel). I think I might wear this until the end of time."
Best for Summer: Ex Nihilo Fleur Narcotique Eau de Parfum
Faith also loves this Ex Nihilo fragrance, especially during summer. "This is the perfect summer fragrance," she says. "It's light yet pungent and stays on all day. I'm obsessed with all things peach, so I was delighted to find out there were some peach notes in here, coupled with bergamot, lychee, orange blossom, and musk. If you want to smell like a sexy summer cocktail, you can't go wrong with this. I love that it doesn't veer too sweet or floral, either. It smells complex and sophisticated; one time when I was wearing it at breakfast with a publicist she wouldn't let me leave until I had sent her a link for where to buy it. Plus, Hailey Bieber says it's her signature fragrance."
Best Organic: Kimberly New York Artsy Eau de Parfum
This scent is the most popular offering from indie perfume label Kimberly New York—and we see why. Notes of candied red apple, violet, and marshmallow accord are anchored in creamy sandalwood for a scent that's equal parts sweet and sophisticated. Plus, it's made from 100 percent organic oils and sustainable materials. In other words, we're sold.
Runner-Up, Best Organic: Anu Essentials Vetiver Perfume
If you love light, cool, airy scents, this all natural perfume from indie beauty brand, Anu Essentials, might just be for you. The wild and fragrant Vetiver grass steal the scent show, but you can also gather other notes of cognac, bitter orange, juniper berry, and oak moss to name a few.
Best Classic Floral: Gucci Bloom
This full-on floral is classic without ever veering into grandma territory, blending jasmine and tuberose with Rangoon creeper, a south Indian plant with a slightly powdery finish that rounds everything out. The fragrance is strong and long-lasting—as many Sephora shoppers point out—though in a good way, and also wears nicely, fading slowly and gradually.
Best Woody Floral: Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540
Karli Bendlin, Byrdie's email editor, sometimes feels like an unofficial brand ambassador for this fragrance since she's had so many friends (and strangers) ask her about it. "The brand would say it has notes of jasmine, saffron, and cedarwood, but for me, it just truly smells like nothing else I've ever come across in the best possible way," she says. "Every time I spray it on I immediately feel like a more luxurious version of myself. It's not cheap, so I do try to save it for more special occasions rather than everyday wear—though sometimes I spray it on myself when I'm not even leaving the house, just for the joy of it."
Best Celebrity: Jennifer Lopez Promise Eau de Parfum
"I never thought I could love a celebrity fragrance as much as I've come to love this heady offering from J.Lo," says Byrdie senior editor Lindsey Metrus. "It's slightly sweet with top notes of pear, tangerine, and pink berries which are given a bit more muscle with musky base notes of woods and amber. It's super sultry—a true power fragrance."
Best Crisp & Clean: Jo Malone London Earl Grey & Cucumber Cologne
The perfect perfume for non-perfume lovers, this fragrance is simple and straightforward, with an emphasis on clean and crisp cucumber and bergamot, offset with the teeniest touch of musk. Bonus: All of the fragrances from this brand can be easily mixed and matched and layered if you want to play perfumer.
Best Earthy: Viktor & Rolf Magic Sage Spell
Sage and green tea leaf make this earthy, herbaceous, and green, made extra bright and crisp when balanced with bright pink grapefruit and peppermint. It’s fresh enough to be subtle, yet has enough heft to it that you can still tell you’re wearing perfume.
The best perfume for women largely boils down to individual preferences. Do you prefer floral notes? Woody? Clean? Fruity? The options are endless, making it even harder to choose a favorite. Team Byrdie stands by Le Labo's Santal 33 Eau de Parfum (see at Nordstorm) as one of the best perfumes of all time for men and women alike. Le Labo describes it as "at once gentle, smoky, and leathery," and it's guaranteed to score you compliments. Another great unisex pick is Byredo's Bibliothéque Eau de Parfum (view at Space NK), which boasts peach, plum, peony, and violet notes. You could share both of these with significant others, partners, and friends but chances are you'll want to keep it all to yourself.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough perfumes from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.