The people I hang out with and work with generally think of themselves as reasonably sophisticated. Yet nearly all of us, when asked about perfume, scent, fragrance, call it what you will, confessed to some intimidation at the prospect of buying it. To be honest, most of us are a little overwhelmed by the choices, and we don’t have time to educate ourselves. So we tend to stick with the same scent, or a rotating handful of scents, for a very long time.
In an attempt to embolden ourselves and others, at Dandelion Chandelier we’ve been prowling the fragrance aisles recently. We’ve been on a quest to decipher how to shop for scent, and how to determine whether the most expensive scents are actually worth the price. Or perhaps to be more precise, we’ve been trying to learn how the best fragrance brands convince people that they are in fact worth the price.
Fragrance is a part of most people’s lives: according to the NPD Group, 59% of American women and 54% of American men wear scent on a daily basis. But that’s where the commonality ends. Some of us want to smell expensive. Some of us want to be surrounded by a scent that makes us feel happy and calm – a personal protective bubble that we can recreate on a daily basis. Some of us are out on a hot date (or hoping to be, soon). A handful of us are adamant that we don’t want to smell like anyone else. Others just want to be provocative. The good news? All of those needs and more can be easily met, given the plethora of luxury fragrances on the market.
We found it great fun to go exploring at retail, but if you’re pressed for time and want to find the right new scent for yourself, the tech world has you covered. Pinrose.com was founded by two business school friends, and the site utilizes a “science-based quiz” to help you find your perfect scent. Scentbird.com is the new “Netflix for fragrance” – for $14.95 per month, you can try a 30-day sample of over 450 designer scents. Boisdejasmin.com is a great place to read about new launches, as well as the history and literature of fragrance. There are many beauty bloggers who are deeply knowledgeable about scent, and the beauty category is way ahead of the rest of the fashion world in e-commerce, so you can find hundreds of fragrances online.
Whether you go shopping old school or new, the great thing about experimenting with fragrance? Even at the high end, it’s a reasonably affordable luxury. And like a temporary tattoo, there are absolutely no long-term consequences for getting it wrong, or for changing your mind. Don’t like it? Just wash it off, and try again.
When reading about fragrance in articles written by experts and those in the know, you’ll be told that a scent can have a voice, and a presence. It can even be described as handsome. It’s a certainty that every single luxury fragrance brand has a story behind it that may beguile or amuse you.
With that preface, here are some things we loved in the fragrance category, and some things we’ll always remember. I swear to you that all of these stories are true, and neither apocryphal, nor a figment of our imaginations or the product of a fever dream:
–At Bergdorf’s, we were drawn to Ex Nihilo, a luxury fragrance line based in Paris, founded by three young friends. What caught our eye was the brand’s Scent Table, a futuristic Lazy Susan that allows one to smell the entire line of fourteen fragrances via a series of tall glass tubes on a wooden base lit from beneath and arrayed around a revolving marble table. Once you’ve narrowed down your favorite scent, you can customize it if you like by adding one of three secondary notes. A second futuristic contraption with glass tubes adds your customized element, and you’re good to go with a scent that is very nearly unique, based on what you loved. The scent names are extremely well-chosen: “Love Shot” and “Venenum Kiss” were my favorites – “Fleur Narcotique” is the number one seller in stressed-out Manhattan. Other options include “Sweet Morphine,” “Jasmin Fauve,” “Amber Sky” and “Rose Hubris” (if I were a spy, I would totally want Rose Hubris to be my code name).
–The Fragrance Kitchen (TFK) is a line founded by a Sheik in Kuwait who awoke one day and decided to start his own fragrance line (I mean, why not?). There are about twenty scents to choose from, including Petals of Salt, Amber Alert, Wild Recall, and Arab Spring. The best-selling scent in New York is called “A Rose with a View” and it costs $320 for 3.4 ounces.
–Strangelove NYC, founded in 2013, is apparently one of the hottest fragrance brands in New York right now. It’s $780 for 3.4 ounces. The wonderful saleswoman who showed it to me kept telling me that it’s not for everyone, it’s very unusual, but I was keen to try the line. We started with “Melt My Heart,” which was pleasant enough. Then she gave me “Dead of Night,” and stepped back slightly while I inhaled it. I looked at her and she started laughing as I stammered “It smells like –“ “Cheese,” she interrupted. “Like bleu cheese.” Actually, it smells like a decaying plant or a dead animal. Are we surprised that this is the hottest fragrance in New York? No wonder people are so standoffish on the subway.
–Atelier Cologne, based in Paris, offers almost thirty different scents. I’m a floral person (as are about 40% of all perfume consumers), so the kind salesperson started me off with “Rose Anonyme,” which is lovely. Then she mischievously teased me into trying a citrus, despite my protestations that I don’t like citrusy scents, and I fell in love with Pomelo Paradis, which has grapefruit, black currant, orange blossom, mint and amber. The home-run for us was that every fragrance is available in travel size, and you can get the leather travel carrier embossed with your name or your initials on the spot. No more fragrance-free days when traveling! Another everyday luxury restored.
–Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris was founded by the perfumer behind over 40 other fragrances, including scents for Burberry, Gaultier, Elie Saab and Narciso Rodriguez. His eponymous line was launched in 2009, and it’s very special. It’s the only fragrance house that can legally use the fragrance name “Oud” without any modification. (Oud comes from the wood of the agar tree, and because only 2% of wild agar trees produce it, it sells for $5,000 per pound or more). In addition to oud, the core fragrance, “Oud,” has saffron, cedar and patchouli. There are several variations, including “moods” silk, satin, velvet, and cashmere. There is a scent exclusive to Bergdorf’s called 754 (the store’s address on Fifth Avenue) and a second one exclusive to Barccarat Crystal called Rouge 540. Sign us up for Oud Mood Satin. That sounds very 1940s chic.
–Maison Louis Vuitton is back in the fragrance market after almost 30 years with seven new scents meant to evoke the emotions of travel. At $240 for a 100 ml bottle, the line launched a couple of weeks ago with limited distribution, in about a third of the brand’s own stores. The “nose” behind the endeavor was Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud, and it took four years working in Grasse, France, for him to settle on the final seven fragrances. I smelled all seven, and my top three were “Rose Des Vents” (meant to evoke navigation and the anticipation at the start of a journey,) “Apogee” (to remind you of the highest and best part of the trip), and my favorite, “Mille Feux” (intended to be the scent of a triumphant return and a new beginning; it combines raspberry, leather, the white flower osmanthus, iris and saffron.) If you fall in love and can’t decide on one, you can purchase a 3-bottle set in a leather carrying case for $5,000 (note to Santa: we would love to find this under the tree at Christmas!)
–But my favorite of all was Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums. The 15-year old line is exclusive to Barney’s (at least in New York), and it features perfumers who have created legendary scents for large corporations, but who here are free to craft a fragrance that expresses their core sensibilities. Black-and-white photos of the perfumers line the walls of the boutique, and the scents are remarkable. We loved Carlos Benaim’s Eau de Magnolia and Jean-Claude Ellena’s Cologne Bigarade. The one I liked best of all was Olivia Giacobetti’s En Passant, with notes of orange, cucumber and white lilac (yes, that’s right, cucumber – trust me, it works).
We didn’t get around to sampling these fragrances personally, but this will give you a sense for what else is out there:
–Italy’s Nasomatto has created a perfume series around narcotics. His “Hindu Grass” smells of marijuana, and “Black Afgano” smells of hashish. Either can be yours for $150 for a 30 ml bottle.
–Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 is an “insider’s” secret scent. With no advertising support and a minimalist bottle, it contains only the molecule Iso E Super, a common synthetic ingredient used in many scents. Launched in 2005, it has very little scent on its own, and it seems to vanish and re-appear randomly when you wear it. It costs $80 per ounce. People who wear it claim the fragrance drives others wild with desire, and they affectionately refer to it as “Love Potion Number 9.” It seems to work best when layered with your favorite fragrance. Just be sure you’re ready for all that attention.
–According to Refinery29, a hot trendlette with cool girls right now is fragrance that smells of booze, including bourbon, rum, and gin. Tom Ford’s Costa Azzurra is said to smell like a martini. Byredo’s Oud Immortel is like a whiff of limoncello. Maison Martin Margiela’s Jazz Club smells of tobacco leaves, leather, and rum. Perfect for the office!
–A few years ago, three artists in Australia produced a fragrance based on the smell of an Apple computer being unboxed for the first time. Sadly, it was only used for an art exhibition, and never went on sale. It’s possible that this is an idea whose time has now come.
We’re drawing our studies here at Dandelion Chandelier to a close for now, with one last thought. A luxury fragrance can both elevate and ground you. It can bring you deep into the earth, or take you out to sea, shelter you in a garden of roses, or return you to a familiar warm kitchen that smells of vanilla. What price would you pay to be transported for a few moments every day? It’s a lot less than a plane ticket. When you think of it that way, luxury fragrance is a relative bargain. Just proffer your wrist, and off you go.