A renaissance within the fragrance industry is forgoing familiarity in favour of authenticity. Aspirational scents are dead; long live the eloquent perfume, writes LAURA KENNEDY.
There was a time when someone identifying the fragrance you are wearing was flattering; a symbol of brand loyalty and trend awareness. Now, the aim with fragrance is to be unique and a little subversive; impossible to box in. At a recent lunch with a friend on one of those idyllic, fresh and golden spring afternoons, her fragrance drifted across the table and pleasantly startled me. It was a scent I would associate with winter – rosemary, cedar and pine – disarmingly masculine, but somehow a beautiful contrast to the setting. It was Winter Woods from The Burren Perfumery.
Since then, I have been asking about fragrance when I nose an unusual one, and discovered that a quiet revolution is singing from our skin. Frederic Malle French Lover, a “male” fragrance, which is a symphony of oakmoss, cedar and white musk, whispered in the air around a casually dressed woman walking her baby when I was passing through St Stephen’s Green, so I stopped her to ask what she was wearing and what appealed to her about the scent. “It was a gift for my husband, and I love it. For a long time, I thought I couldn’t wear it because it’s a men’s fragrance. After a while, that seemed like a bad reason not to wear a scent that really speaks to me, so I’m wearing it anyway.”
The fragrances we wear have for some time been dominated by big-name branding and industry homogeny. There was a significant period during which consumers voted with their wallets for celebrity- endorsed, aspirational and “lifestyle” fragrances. There is nothing wrong with this, and it certainly hasn’t disappeared. Kim Kardashian’s fragrance lines are ingeniously marketed and highly successful. However, the new shift in appetite is timely. Even the safe-bet brands and fragrances are seeing a decline in consumer engagement.In the US, Coty, the third-largest maker of cosmetics, reported a three percent decrease in its luxury division at the end of summer last year. The drop was accounted for by declines in sales of Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein fragrances, but the shift toward interest in niche brands, in general, is undeniable. Fragrance enthusiasts have quite literally become tired of smelling like someone else and commenced the search for the fragrance that smells like them. If there is a trend in fragrance at the moment, it is individuality. We are moving away from more generic fragrances; even the enduringly popular ones. More niche and specialised brands like Byredo, Kilian and Atelier Cologne are gaining popular appeal and with it, industry clout.
It seems that we are all loosening up with regard to fragrance, and wearing what speaks to us rather than what is marketed at us. Rather than male and female, day and evening, light or heavy, there is a palpable move to embrace fragrance without categorisation. The “new” iteration of fragrance, championed especially by niche and artisanal brands, offers originality of scent and a high-quality juice composed of natural and notably fewer ingredients. The focus is on mood, memory and emotion; simplicity of content and complexity of experience. We want to wear scents with a sense of fun and a note of realism; scents with something authentic to say. Gone are the synthetic celebrity-endorsed and brand narrative super-scents. Short of commissioning our own bespoke fragrance, the ultimate act of deliberate personal statement through scent with a price tag to match, niche fragrances allow us to feel that we ourselves are writing the script.
This article originally appeared in the April issue of IMAGE, on shelves nationwide now.