A look at the best department store perfumes

Left to right: Yves Saint Laurent, Shalimar, Terre D'Hermes and Bottega Veneta. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Most of us have a vague awareness that Mother's Day is coming up (Sunday, May 11). But will we shop in a timely fashion—or will we race to the mall on May 10? Just in case you're a planner, what follows is a guide to some of the best department store perfumes. (And if you tend to procrastinate, we suggest you save this in an easy- to -find place—for that last-minute spending spree.)

Name: Bottega Veneta

Distinguishing Characteristics: An incandescent 21st century floral with light lashings of leather (to remind us of their handbags) that envelops you like a sheer luxury veil.

Why It Matters: Rather than go the ubiquitous fruity floral route of so many contemporary perfumes, BV created a smooth, elegant composition that is unlike anything else on the market.

Why We Love it: Light enough to wear to the office, but will radiate subtly for hours. Men, there's also a great Bottega Veneta Homme and even an Eau Legere for women who want something more evanescent.


Name: Paris by Yves Saint Laurent

Distinguishing Characteristics: This 1983 creation by master perfumer Sophia Grojsman is a perfectly balanced essay in rose-- buttressed with violet, well-blended florals and green notes.

Why It Matters: As much as we like edgy, fashion- forward scents swirling with dark mystery, sometimes we just want to smell all girly like that Psychedelic Furs song that goes: "Pretty in pink, isn't she?."

Why We Love It: This isn't your grandmother's tea rose, it's the timeless rose of fairy tales and Francesca Lia Block novels.


Name: Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue, Mitsouko and Shalimar

Distinguishing Characteristics: Classic French perfumery from yesteryear with the complexity and eternal appeal of smoldering femme fatales, Deco lamps and Parisian couture.

Why It Matters: Guerlain has been making perfume since the late 1800s and its expertise shows in these masterful compositions whose influence has been eroded by shifting tastes and reformulation but, like a royal dowager, retain their elegant bone structure.

Why We Love It: After taking these grand dames out for a whirl, you might mistake your L'Eau D'Issey and Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue for tap water. Early 20th century Guerlains can be an acquired taste along the lines of caviar, Taleggio cheese, and single malt scotches. But oh the joys to be savored on this journey of discovery.


Name: Aramis by Estee Lauder

Distinguishing Characteristics: Citrus, oakmoss, clary sage and other Mediterranean herbs, vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood, leather.

Why It Matters: This 1965 composition by genius nose Bernard Chant is so old it's new again, just like Clinique's 1971 rosy herbal ambery Aromatics Elixir for women, another winner. But apply both of these potent classics lightly.

Why We Love It: Sometimes we get weary of metrosexual fragrances and want a man to smell Old School sexy, like Don Draper in the boardroom or Clint Eastwood riding off into the sunset. Bonus points because this classic hasn't been watered down or gussied up.