The New Wave of Perfumes

Just like packaged foods, fragrance ingredient lists are shrinking.

When street style brand Off-White and cult-favorite fragrance house Byredo announced their collaboration, both beauty and fashion lovers readied themselves for the long waitlist that would inevitably follow its May debut. The name, Elevator Music, influenced quite literally by the sensation of riding in a crowded elevator, drummed up even more curiosity. 

The Byredo and Off-White collab is part of a growing trend: niche brands creating perfumes inspired by specific, often ordinary experiences. While consumers once reached for scents that conjured feelings of love, desire, and seduction, they’re now choosing ones with less emotional themes. To match this simplicity, perfumers are also making the scents themselves less complicated by including fewer fragrance notes, allowing singular ingredients to shine.
 
“These new fragrances reject the stereotypical dramatic and sexual messaging of the past,” says Linda G. Levy, New York City-based president of the Fragrance Foundation

Replica by Maison Margiela was one of the first brands to take off that really embraced the idea. The fragrance line, with scents like Lazy Sunday Morning, At the Barber’s, and By the Fireplace, is straightforward in its approach—to recreate familiar and happy memories through scent.
 
Creating their own sensory affiliations

In a report from the American Psychological Association, Johan Lundstrom, Ph.D., a faculty member at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, notes how hard it is to describe a scent due to the lack of language about odors. A study in Frontiers in Neuroscience also acknowledges that in all known languages, there are fewer words that refer to the experience of smell than other sensations.

But if Gucci can make one associate a floral scent with love, it follows that niche perfume makers could create ties to everyday experiences as well. “Of all our senses, smell evokes the most powerful sense memories; it is just the way we are hardwired,” says Mark Crames, perfumer and CEO of Demeter Fragrance Library in Great Neck, New York. The Demeter perfumery offers single-note scents made using the smallest combination of ingredients with names like Rain and Paperback.

Meanwhile, New York City-based perfumer Christopher Brosius realized he hated traditional perfumes when he was a taxi driver chauffeuring woman who wore scents so strong it made his eyes water. To create scents that were happy experiences rather than “obnoxious or overpowering,” Brosius started his own fragrance brand, I Hate Perfume. “I knew the profound connection between smell and memory was always an emotional one and I set out to offer that experience to anyone who wanted it,” says Brosius, whose line includes scents like In the Summer Kitchen, To See A Flower, and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, each of which are accompanied by the story of the fragrance.

Providing a personal edge

Unlike their designer counterparts, niche perfumes are made in limited-edition batches. Since many of these brands are smaller companies, the idea for fragrances comes from perfumers themselves rather than the product development teams of larger corporations, which leads to more specific, individualized scents.

“To trust a product today, you need to trust the person making the product. They want the real story behind the perfume,” says Creezy Courtoy, founder and chairman of the International Perfume Foundation in Brussels. 

The trend appears to be one that’s here to stay. While designer fragrances still hold a majority of the share for the $4 billion prestige perfume market, a report from the global consulting firm A.T. Kearney found that niche perfumes are a major contributor to the recent growth the industry has seen after years of flat sales. 

You can be sure the following options will give you a subtle boost—not unlike the music in an elevator which is meant to stay in the background without garnering too much attention—to match its understated name.