They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And you know a perfume has cemented its place in history when many copycats suddenly spring up offering an identical pong for a fraction of the price. Of course, we need to support a flailing industry, and buying a perfume should be about the experience, the beautiful bottle, the packaging, yada, yada, yada...
But if someone can be introduced to the classics without spending their food money for the week then we’re not going to stop them. The perfume world is full of snobs, especially those who like to bang on about people who smell of “cheap perfume”, but the joke is on them, as many of these dupes are indeed cheap yet often indistinguishable from the real deal. Even the names drop handy hints as to what famous fragrance it could be mimicking, a bit like its drag queen name if you will (it’s a fun guessing game if you’re bored).
We tested both side by side, in terms of top notes (what you smell when you first spray it), dry down (after it’s evaporated) and sillage (the trail it leaves behind). But let’s not kid ourselves – you definitely won’t get the same staying power with a dupe. However, for those who don’t like scents to be too heavy or cloying so that they linger on your clothes and coat, this might be an unintended benefit.
“The first sniff is often really similar, and the end of the experience might be similar too, although they are unlikely to last as long,” notes Sarah McCartney, perfumer and founder of 4160Tuesdays (whom it must be said, is not a fan of copying). “Everyone who goes to perfume school or takes an apprenticeship learns to copy, in the same way as art students are sent to museums to make sketches of masterpieces. That’s how we get good at it and hone the skills. If you’re going to write songs, first you learn how to sing other people’s,” she adds.
With that said, if you’re in the market for a dupe, read on for our tried and tested favourites.
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The Perfume Shop lime & basil
Dupe of: Jo Malone lime, basil & mandarin
Given its name, you might think you’re only getting two of the three ingredients of the famous Jo Malone scent. But once you smell it – you realise they just wanted to name it something as similar as possible without getting sued. The copy-and-paste concoction boasts the same unmistakable combination of zesty lime, peppery basil and bright, glistening mandarin that made Jo Malone a household name. Yes, you won’t have the iconic yellow box tied with a black ribbon, but this square bottle doesn’t look totally hideous on a dressing table – and the scent inside is seriously indistinguishable.
Buy now £14.99, Theperfumeshop.com
Dupe of: YSL black opium
Don’t let the name deceive you, this isn’t some fair-weather floral fug – a few spritzes are enough to recognise YSL’s classic opium scent. For the price of a cocktail, it’s definitely a laudable attempt at capturing black opium’s rich and rather complex heart of jasmine, patchouli and vanilla. But smell the real McCoy and the signature black coffee accord (apparently one of the trickiest notes to work with in perfumery) definitely packs more of a fragrant punch – together with boasting one of the most marvellous bottles in recent history. This will whet your appetite while you save up for the original.
Buy now £14.99, Zara.com
The Essence Vault Fragrances no. 42
Dupe of: Giorgio Armani sì
While this is pricier than some of the other “cheapo” dupes, it’s still a darn sight less than a bottle of Armani’s famous fragrance. Essence vault is a company that specifically creates scents that are – ahem – “inspired by lots of the high street brands”, so they know what they’re doing when it comes to a decent dupe. And we seriously couldn’t tell the difference between this and the real deal. It’s one of the nicer bottles too. At eau de parfum strength, the recognisable notes of sharp cassis and rose also have serious staying power.
Buy now £24.95, Theessencevault.co.uk
Poundland fleur bloom
Dupe of: Viktor and Rolf flowerbomb
They really didn’t bother trying to mask the name with this one did they? It contains the same warm, floral fug as perfumer Carlos Benaim’s legendary creation for Viktor and Rolf, opening with the same rich notes of earthy patchouli, cattleya orchid and centifolia rose. As you would expect, the dry down isn’t nearly as mellow or nuanced as the original – kind of like comparing the final triumphant bars of Jerusalem performed in The Royal Albert Hall with the version you used to sing in primary school assembly. But for the princely sum of £1, you’re not going to complain.
Buy now £1.00, Poundland.co.uk
Lidl suddenly madame glamour
Dupe of: Chanel coco mademoiselle
It’s not just champagne that this budget German supermarket excels at – they can knock out a few decent scents too (providing you’re not after anything original). This is the perfect perfume for lovers of coco mademoiselle, especially those who don’t have the lifestyle of Keira Knightley’s character in its famous ad campaign film – waking up in pristine white bedsheets in a chic Parisian apartment overlooking the Place de Concorde, deftly applying the perfume to her décolleté. But if she just took herself down to Lidl (coquettishly winking at the bouncers who patrol the Finsbury Park branch), she could get the same beguiling blend of bergamot, rose and jasmine – packing the same fragrant punch – all for just £3.99. This perfume is only available in Lidl stores, or you can pick it up at a slightly heftier price on Amazon.
Buy now £3.99, Lidl.co.uk
Primark PS love noir
Dupe of: Lancôme la vie est belle
People who love Lancôme’s cutesy classic la vie est belle are kind of like those adults who still watch Disney films – i.e. who enjoy savouring few sweet, colourful pleasures to distract them from the mundane chaos of everyday existence (so we hear). To put it bluntly, it’s a “girl’s girl” perfume that Primark’s version faithfully recreates, with the sharp sweetness of blackcurrant set against a perfectly mellow backdrop of orange blossom, vanilla and jasmine. Plus, its attractive disc-shaped bottle is reminiscent of Chanel chance, so really you’re getting two dupes for the price of one. This one’s only available in-store.
Buy now £3.50, Primark.com
Superdrug layering lab blossom
Dupe of: Mugler alien
A rich floral perfume at a pocket money price – what’s not to like? Layering lab blossom painstakingly recreates Alien’s sensual and slightly otherworldly femme fatale bouquet of jasmine sambac and white amber. If you really want to save your pennies, there’s also a body mist version (£3.99, Superdrug.com) which also smells equally similar – albeit with slightly less staying power. Superdrug’s layering lab series were created to be mixed and matched, so you can even create an original scent if you combine this with another one in the series.
Buy now £7.99, Superdrug.com
Aldi no. 3 pomegranate
Dupe of: Jo Malone pomegranate noir
Aldi has a whole collection which “takes inspiration” from Jo Malone: scents, candles, diffusers – you name it. While lime, basil & mandarin has many, many replicas, only a few try and imitate its other best-selling cologne, pomegranate noir. This does a pretty good job at capturing the beguiling darkness of this slightly bitter pomegranate fruit – with sharp notes of raspberry, plum, jasmine and smoky undertones of patchouli and sensual musks.
Buy now £5.99, Aldi.co.uk
Next summer sun
Dupe of: Estée Lauder bronze goddess
Next has a reputation for serving up a decent scent dupe and this does not disappoint. With dressing table-worthy packaging to boot, it’s summer in a bottle (as envisioned by Estée Lauder). Boasting the same sparkling top notes of bergamot and mandarin, and a heart of exotic flowers, it doesn’t have quite the same richness as the original, but it’s perfectly passable – if the original evokes feelings of sunning yourself in St Tropez, think of this as a perfectly charming weekend on the Costa del Sol.
Buy now £8.00, Next.co.uk
Avon eve truth
Dupe of: Marc Jacobs daisy
Budget perfume bottles often leave a lot to be desired – but this cheeky emerald flacon is just as delightful as the contents, which mimic the familiar violet, gardenia and jasmine notes that make up Marc Jacobs’s modern classic. Its powdery sweet top notes are particularly impressive, without any of the tell-tale “plasticky” undertones that come with a lot of cheaper scents, drying down with sweet wafts of strawberry, white woods and vanilla.
Buy now £12.00, Avon.uk.com
The verdict: Perfume dupes
If you’re going to get a dupe, choose one that’s uplifting, fresh and floral – the richer, more complex perfumes can never be properly captured in budget form. We couldn’t fault The Perfume Shop’s lime & basil– while its name hardly needs Alan Turing to decipher its meaning, its ability to replicate Jo Malone’s classic is uncanny, while its staying power is second-to-none.
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