CFA: Perfume Sense

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With Mother's Day right around the corner, you may think perfume would make the perfect gift. If so, you might want to consider a knock-off fragrance since it's a fraction of the cost. But is there a big difference between an imitation and the real thing? Betty Sexton sniffed out the details in this Call For Action---“Perfume Sense.”

Just about everyone is looking to save money these days. But does it make sense to cut corners when it comes to perfume? We learned there's a lot more to choosing a fragrance than just picking one that smells good.

Many women say perfume is more than just a pleasant odor. It defines who they are or an image they want to project. In fact, we found some ladies who buy one fragrance and stick to it:
"I've been wearing it for two years."
"Four years."
"My husband gave it to me 18 years ago and I've been wearing it ever since."

But how well do they, and others, really know their perfume? We decided to find out by conducting an informal, unscientific test. The goal: To see if these women could tell the difference between their beloved scent and an imposter.

We found the imitations on a website. Raffy Dolbakian of “Parfums Raffy” says his family's been in the perfume-making business for 20 years. He provided us with what he considered the best knockoffs available from his website,

"This is the real one." Five of the nine ladies we tested had no trouble sniffing out the genuine scent. They say the imitations of Estee Lauder Beautiful, Estee Lauder Pleasures, Calvin Klein Escape, and Gorgio Beverly Hills were simply not good enough.

”There was so much depth to the real one and the other one was a real light, surface smell."
"The other one had the same smell, but it wasn't as potent."
"It doesn't last long enough."
"It smelled bitter."

But four of the nine testers were duped. Two were tripped up by Givenchy's Amarige and two others---Tommy Hilfiger's Tommy Girl.

And while the scents may be hard to distinguish, the prices aren't. Talk about dramatic! In department stores, Amarige sells for $75 and Tommy Girl goes for $50. When you compare that to Raffy's $12 fakes, it makes even die-hard perfume lovers think about switching.

"It's a very good imitation. I couldn't really tell a difference, so for that much cheaper---Why not?"
"I’m not one to buy a lot of imitation, but I guess when you discovered that you've been wrong, it's worth a try."

But again, we're talking perfume. And for some, buying the real thing matters.
"I like the bottles better!"
"I probably would stick with the originals but buy smaller bottles."

To find out why the real thing costs so much more, we called those in the cosmetic business, but no one wanted to talk. So we visited with a Colorado Springs woman whose Parisian relatives operate and own a perfume lab and boutique. Noelle Rohde says a lot of time and research goes into developing a fragrance.

She says besides the marketing, packaging, fancy bottle, name and image, you're simply paying for better ingredients. "We get more of the essential oils in the perfume which are more expensive."

Noelle says a good, quality fragrance has a top or first “note”---what you smell when you initially open the bottle. Then, a “middle” or “heart” note---the stronger or more familiar odor you equate with the scent. And finally, a “base” or “lasting” note---a lovely, delicate scent that allows the perfume to last for several hours.

Noelle believes all of that is missing in a knockoff. "When they create a fragrance, they'll use between 50 and 80 different essences and stabilizers to create that perfume."

Fake or real, imitation or genuine---it's really a personal choice. One thing to remember is that no two people are alike. One scent can smell differently on other people.

We also learned some people can have reactions to the different ingredients in perfume. That's why some suffer headaches and even develop allergies to various fragrances.