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Perfume experts' 100 classic scents

Anyone who's ever been trapped in a crowded elevator intrinsically understands: Few people are gifted with noses so finely tuned to fragrance that they can distinguish between scents that allure and ones that merely annoy. Scents that fall into both categories — and the entire spectrum in between — were chonicled in the 2008 "Perfumes: The Guide. " That book has now been culled to 100 classics in the authors' new "The Little Book of Perfumes," which is scheduled to go on sale Monday

The Go-to Perfume

Maybe you’ve had a week like mine: steady work at one job and three deadlines for two freelance clients keeping you at the computer until at least ten o’clock each night. The roses you cut a week ago that were so fresh and full of life now drop shriveled petals on the hearth. Emails from friends — the emails you really do want to respond to — pile up until they pass above the screen's window and into the island of lost correspondence. Mornings are so rushed you pick up something from the bedroom floor to toss on and hope cute shoes will make it all right as you dash out the door.

But of course you must wear perfume. What will it be? Your “go-to” perfume, of course.

A go-to perfume is a fragrance that you can grab and spritz on without thinking. It won’t interfere with your day, won’t offend, and goes with everything. It might even be a perfume you like all right but don’t particularly love. The main thing is, like a grilled cheese sandwich or a plain-cut white blouse, it satisfies without requiring a lot of thought.

For me, go-to perfumes are seasonal. When it’s warm, I tend to reach for Bill Blass Nude (pear, jasmine, and aldehydes), Parfum d’Empire Eau Suave (crisp rose chypre), or Annick Goutal Folavril (tomato leaf and greens). I’d add Rochas Eau de Rochas to the list, but it comes in a splash bottle, and when I’m harried it’s too much trouble to deal with. When the season turns, I like Bois 1920 Sutra Ylang (wood and orange), Chanel Bois des Iles (gingerbread sandalwood elegance), and L’Artisan Parfumeur Havana Vanille (skin vanilla). I cherish all of these fragrances and can’t imagine not having them around. But, I don’t really love any of them wildly.

One of the reasons they’re my go-to perfumes is that they’re easy to wear. They’re crowd pleasers. I don’t have to think about how well they’ll sync with what I wear, because I know they’ll work. I don’t have to worry about what friends or coworkers will think, because I know they’ll please.

You’d think if I’m that distracted I’d select a perfume that helps me focus (Serge Lutens Bois de Violette is good for that, for some reason, or ChanelNo. 19), but no. When things are crazy, even that’s too much work. I don’t even have the energy to seek a comfort perfume. Molinard Habanita, normally the exotic tobacco-vetiver custard that tranquilizes? Too much attitude. I just need something foolproof, something I can spritz in my general direction and leave on the dresser. The go-to perfume.

The fragrances I truly love tend to be more demanding. Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Woman insists on a stack of thick Bakelite bracelets and matte lipstick. Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower needs me to be ready to lock eyes with a man whose gaze is ready to linger just a second longer. XerJoff Irisssdemands I order a glass of Champagne instead of the happy hour deal on house white. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to live up to the perfume I love.

A good perfume collection, like a good wardrobe, requires more than masterpieces. It needs workhorses — perfumes that smell easy and versatile and don't butt in. Go-to perfume.