Recent perfumes are tapping into revulsion, dark emotions and bad memories – but what’s behind this rise in area of interest scents?
Ever desired to smell like plastic bags, balloons, or priest’s clothes? We’d guess… probably not. But in the event you’ve got a lot as a passing interest in fragrance, you would possibly have noticed a growing trend for area of interest perfumes containing offbeat, evocative and even disturbing notes. Independent labels corresponding to Marissa Zappas, Universal Flowering and Toskovat are gaining traction on #PerfumeTok, as are web sites like Fragrantica where people dissect their unconventional aromas and conceptual scents.
A few of these seem deliberately designed to unsettle or confuse. But Not Today, a Hannibal-inspired fragrance by Filippo Sorcinelli, is designed to smell like fear and anxiety. One TikTok user said it made their “hair rise up on end. My husband recoiled when he smelled it… absolutely unsettling.” One other said it “smells like a torture chamber, indeed, I had to wash it off immediately.”
Filigree & Shadow’s Sui Generis has notes of the drug methamphetamine. One wearer wrote that it “smells just like the within a room that something terrible happened in… I used to be wearing this at a show that my friend met me at and when she gave me a hug she said, ‘Oh my god, did you pee yourself?’” James Elliott, the perfumer behind the scent, shared an email with Dazed from a customer who wrote: “I actually can’t consider the way you made that meth smell. I’m pretty sure my brain would light up like Christmas in the event you did a CT scan on it. You nailed the scent that secretes out of the body on the second day of use.”
Romanian perfumery Toskovat has attracted attention for its avant-garde scents, courtesy of nose David-Lev Jipa Slivinschi. Inexcusable Evil is one in all these. One owner of the scent, who’s 21 and from the US, discovered the brand on TikTok: “I saw a post about it and straight away was incredibly curious since the cologne had notes of blood, gunpowder, and ozone,” he says. “It pulls very spicy, metallic, and almost raw on my skin. It’s not unpleasant, though! I’ve been asked dozens of times what I’m wearing.”
Alongside jarring and boundary-pushing smells, other cult perfumers are tapping into the deep recesses of nostalgia, including NYC nose Marissa Zappas. Her Pink Bedroom Oil, created in collaboration with Portia Munson’s dildo and tampon-filled installation on the Museum of Sex, evokes being a woman within the 90s, complete with plastic doll head notes. Or there’s her best-selling Annabel’s Birthday Cake which emulates the sugar-fuelled excitement of a celebration, featuring balloons – a latex note – and white cake, with some reviewers saying they will smell melted candle wax. Toronto brand Universal Flowering has formulas with notes of white chalk and pencil shavings, with the scents being a “romantic extension” of founder Courtney Rafuse’s “memories past and future”.
Our brains’ olfactory memory links smells with memories and emotions, and it’s a strong process – studies suggest that after we smell something, our brains can take us back to that initial sniff. “Memories consist of multi-layered sensual impressions: smell, sound, textures, color waves and emotional encounters or triggers, all of which contribute to the moments we hold as souvenirs from the past,” says Niklaus Mettler, creative director at In’n’out Fragrances. He worked on last yr’s Jacquemus pop-up at Selfridges, putting together a scentscape inspired by Simon Porte Jacquemus’ childhood summer holiday memories, of “Marvis mint toothpaste, a fizzy electrolyte flavour harking back to a paracetamol tablet, and the chlorine-rubbery scent of a public pool,” he tells Dazed.
This experimentalism has cropped up in home fragrancing, too: DS & Durga’s Pasta Water candle includes a “faint umami depth”, saline, semolina wheat and a “chef’s secret” bottom note. Much more specific – and eerie – scent profiles exist for home scents: Bazaar Baltimore produce an ‘abandoned hospital’ candle with “oddly satisfying notes of mould, dust, decay with medicinal undertones”. Homely! Yet it’s value noting that unusual, object-based or hyper-specific scents are nothing recent – Demeter’s library of scents has long drawn on on a regular basis smells corresponding to vinyl records, kitten fur and even baby’s heads.
But why are fragrance heads seemingly less fascinated by cutesy floral, ‘basic’, or traditional gourmand scents? If “perfumery has all the time been very much the echo of the world”, according to fragrance luminary Frédéric Malle, then what does it mean that perfumes are getting weirder, more conceptual and delving into memory and unsavoury things? “This might be as a consequence of the constant changes – politics, cost-of-living – which might be increasing cortisol, or stress, levels and individuals are finding a source of comfort with nostalgic perfumes,” suggests cosmetic formulator Kyle Frank. At the identical time, “there appears to be a recent trend of ‘dark moods’ and an increase of exploring alternative identities,” he adds.
Some individuals are using perfumes to explore their ‘shadow selves’ and select smells that repel and trigger visceral physical responses. Others might use these area of interest scents to reject the gender binaries of classic perfumes, or as an extension of their individualism, a option to cut through culture that may sometimes feel homogenous. Glossier’s You and Santal 33 by Le Labo are much-loved scents for a reason, but identical to hit songs may be overplayed, oversaturation can result in staleness.
Greater than only a response against mainstream fragrances, some scents exist as a protest or critique. Toskovat’s Inexcusable Evil, Slivinschi explains, is a press release about modern-day conflict, with its notes of bandages, iodine and burning flowers. He tells Dazed: “Inexcusable Evil … applies to 1’s skin the trauma that has haunted our species since its dawn.”
The decline of the high street and e-com boom has made looking for recent scents trickier since you’ll be able to’t transmit smell digitally. Listing notes like ‘jasmine’ or ‘orange blossom’ might sound straightforward but often feels abstract and unclear in practice. It’s way more interesting, and effective, to suggest a vibe through hyper-specific items or scenarios. When a perfume is described as “sticky sweet waxed floors of an arcade, bells and chimes signalling your high rating, a sip of cola” (à la Pearfat’s Multiball), it’s more appealing. Long may the weird, emotion-led olfactory renaissance proceed!
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