smart spending

A guy's guide to buying fragrance

Belly up to the fragrance bar, boys! Mother's Day is coming up fast and there's no better way to show mom your love than with the sweet smell of perfume.

Unfortunately, most men don't know the difference between eau de cologne and eau de toilette, so approaching the perfume counter can be a tad unnerving.

Nothing's too good for the woman that raised you so, don't let the fear of spending scare you off. Fragrance, of course, is notoriously pricey, but the more expensive scents usually contain the highest quality ingredients. Manufacturers spend millions to develop new and innovative perfumes for clients who, in turn, spend more millions to market and advertise a fledgling scent. During the 1990s, more than 1,000 new fragrances were launched, some eventually to become classics worn by women worldwide. Not surprisingly, prestige fragrances can retail for more than $100 for just a quarter of an ounce. But price is just one thing to consider when deciding on the fragrance to buy.

The dilution factor

The costliest form of fragrance is pure perfume, which contains the highest quantity of essential oils -- generally 22 percent -- and the least amount of alcohol-based fixative.

Perfume is followed in order by:

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  • eau de parfum -- 15 to 22 percent essential oils
  • eau de toilette -- 8 to 15 percent
  • cologne or eau de cologne -- 4 percent
  • eau fraiche -- the most diluted version of scent with just 1 to 3 percent

If you're on a limited budget, you can get the same great scent in more affordable, yet luxurious, items such as perfumed body lotion, bath and shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, and body cream -- often selling in collections in the $40 to $50 range. Designer Donna Karan's fragrance group, Cashmere Mist, for example, even features a $25 candle and a deodorant for $17.50.

Rochelle Bloom, president of the Fragrance Foundation, the educational arm of the industry, points out that fragrance should be used and enjoyed, no matter the cost. "There are wonderful fragrances available at all price points, and many companies now promote special offers and fragrance sets at very affordable prices," she says. For example, Bulgari offers a Green Tea Eau Parfumee package containing cologne, bath gel and lotion, all for $75 on Sephora.com.

Size does matter

In addition, size usually gives a price benefit. In other words, the larger the bottle, the less cost per ounce. Yves St. Laurent's Opium is a case in point. Created in 1977, Opium became an instant phenomenon. A dazzling, refined blend of rose, carnation, sandalwood, lily of the valley, pepper and clove, Opium falls into what's called an "oriental," -- one of the basic six categories of scent. The 1.6-ounce eau de toilette spray, a popular form of the scent, retails for about $63. Yet, the 3.3-ounce size, with more than twice the content, sells for $86, only $23 more.

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