Fragrance is intimate: Each note is carefully blended and scent-layering is intricately curated. It's supposed to be striking; each nose picking up something different based on pheromones and body chemistry. Perfume has been a beauty ritual for thousands of years and has become a daily staple for many. Statista reported that in 2021 alone, fragrance garnered over $7.9 million in revenue, a clear indicator of the power of scent.
Yet with the sheer number of fragrances available, it seems we all gravitate to the same scents. Does that mean we all smell the same? Is fragrance suffering from a popularity paradox? Ahead, experts weigh in on how to make a fragrance stand out from the rest and the unique scents to have your eye on.
Can We All Smell The Same?
If we gathered a number of our friends and asked their favorite scents, they'd likely sing the praises of the same lineup of fragrances. Many fragrances have become cult classics, from the iconic Chanel No.5 to more recent scents like Byredo's Mojave Ghost. If fragrance promotes intimacy and intimacy stirs individuality, why do we all smell the same? And, is that even possible? "We can all smell similarly but not exactly the same, as our skin type, pH balance, hormones, and odors are all different," perfumer Maya Njie explains. "We all associate people with their natural smell, the products they use, and their perfume if they wear one. It's the combination of all of these things together that make up their scent."
We can all smell similarly but not exactly the same, as our skin type, pH balance, hormones, and odors are all different.
Developing a Distinctive Fragrance
If you want a fragrance to stand out on the skin, it depends on how the perfume is formulated and layered. Formulating perfume is different for each perfumer. "The driving forces of filling industrial voids and consumer needs is largely motivating," Malin +Goetz perfumer Matthew Marlin says. "We are all looking to create something beautiful that has never been there before."
Maison Sybarite parfumeur Antoine Lie operates with sustainability and scent intensity in mind while formulating. "Our process involves suspending fragrance oil in water to enhance the olfactory sensation and preserve the smell sensitivity," Lie says. "It is this conscious approach to perfume creation that links our scent to the earth and nature."
For others, formulation is based on experiences. "I tend to blend perfumes based on experiences, and I think in doing so, it becomes more personal and rather unique," Nije says. "You need to have an idea of what's going on in the industry, but I find it helpful not to focus too much on that. The fun part is sourcing and discovering ingredients you're not familiar with and exploring them in different ways."
For heritage perfume house Diptyque, communications director Olivia Grimaux says formulation has never been driven by the market or fashion but instead focused on arousing the imagination. "[The fragrances] only exist out of the desire to share emotion and or initiate a story," she says. "The years go by, and our spirit remains the same: inventive, free, amazed, and collaborative. We're here to bring enchantment and inspiration. Even if our scents seem simple, they are a sophisticated reinvention of nature, originating from this desire to do something beautiful and poetic."
The fun part is sourcing and discovering ingredients you're not familiar with and exploring them in different ways.
Finding Unique Ingredient Inspiration
With so many of us drawn to similar notes such as powdery, woody, warm-spicy, and sweet vanilla, it is refreshing when our nose is met with an unexpected scent. From a perfumer's perspective, this is what makes a fragrance stand out from the rest. For Nue Co. founder Jules Miller, combining these fragrance families enables individuality. "Combining notes can be linked back to a particular impact on the cognitive state," Miller explains. "Mind Energy, in particular, is a bright, fresh, and zesty fragrance that has become my go-to for sluggish moments, like after long-haul flights or afternoons spent working from home because of its awakening abilities on the brain."
Similarly, Lie likes to combine an unusual hybrid of woody and fresh notes in Maison Sybarite scents. For Malin, calling on unpopular ingredients ignites a beautifully bespoke response in fragrance. "Musk is unique and often carries a negative connotation," he says. "It is a standout, in my opinion, and adds such sensuality and sexiness to one's body chemistry and nearly every other kind of scent. Many base notes or carrier notes do the same but may not be popular on their own."
Perfume can also find its individuality through layering. Below, find some important tips to remember.
- Start by layering scents that exist within the same family. For Njie, "woody, aromatic, and vanilla work well together."
- If opting for a vibrant and fruity scent, layer a synthesized musk underneath, "It's soft with a warm dry down that is subtle enough to live in the background," shares Malin. It also accentuates the scent layered on top.
- For longevity on the body, massage a similarly scented body cream or oil before spritzing the perfume. It'll enhance the scent and linger for longer on the body.
- Spritz the strongest scent first to lay the groundwork and follow with lighter fragrances. This will allow the scents to blend without one overpowering the other.
- Apply your scent layers to the pressure points along the body—inside of the wrists, behind the ears and knees, and along the chest.
Bottom line: The art of scent layering comes down to what you are drawn to and what your pheromones blend with.
We can conclude that no matter how many people around us wear the same scent, we aren't at risk of smelling exactly the same. And even if we smell similarly, a perfume's individuality comes out through our personal experiences and memory tied to the fragrance. From the notes we use and scent families combined, no two fragrances are the same. And when layered, it unearths another level of scent that rids it of a popularity paradox.