The very notion of a signature scent is shrouded in notes of romanticism, idealism, and intimacy. It’s traditional. It’s undeniably chic. It’s your soulmate in fragrance form. It’s a scent that’s an extension of you. It’s something you define as much as you’re defined by. And it’s for these reasons that a signature scent is alluring to so many—an olfactory fingerprint that creates a memory association for as long as your scent lingers, long after you’ve left the room.
“If you wear a different perfume every day, I do not recognize you,” Oscar de la Renta once said.My mom has a signature scent. Yours probably does, too. And celebrities are very good at profiting from bottling theirs and selling it to the masses—since 1981, in fact, when Sofia Loren launched her fragrance, Sofia (though it was Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds perfume in 1991 that saw tremendous success and changed the landscape of celebrity fragrances). Coco Chanel, the creator of so many women’s signature scents, strongly believed in the power of perfume. “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future,” she once firmly said.
Marilyn Monroe loved Chanel No. 5. Jackie Kennedy’s favorite was Joy by Jean Patou. Ava Gardner wore Creed Fleurs de The Rose Bulgare. Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy L’Interdit was created especially for her in 1957. (The scent did so well that the French house relaunched a second version of it in 2018.) The signature scents for these women were so sacred—even the ritual of application was done with deliberation, pride, and care; a contrast to today’s rushed act of spritzing on seconds before walking out the door.
And yet, increasingly, signature scents have (and are continuing to) fall out of favor. For something that was such an important fixture in a woman’s beauty regimen, why are we cheating on our signature scents?
For many, it begins with the journey in discovering one—or “the one”—which can feel just as hopeless as finding true love on an online dating app. There are scent profiles to navigate (florals, citrus, musk, woody). Between designers, celebrities, perfumeries, and retailers, the options are so endless, so overwhelming that it’s impossible not to be encumbered by decision fatigue. It’s much simpler to, well, not have one at all.And even when you do fall in love with one, chances are, especially in a digital age, you know someone else who has fallen in love with it, too. Or in the case of Glossier You, nearly all of Manhattan. Or Byredo’s Gypsy Water. As someone recently tweeted: “At this point it’s weird if someone doesn’t smell like Le Labo Santal 33.” Digitalization has made the discovery of finding under-the-radar perfume brands much easier, but it’s also cultivated a homogenous landscape. For every fragrance’s meteoric ascent to fame, its immense popularity and ubiquity have also incurred its downfall.
Because scent and memory are so inextricably linked, it makes sense for people to use a specific fragrances to mark a special occasion or location. Hotels have banked on this, tapping perfumiers to help them create bespoke fragrance so that travelers will be reminded of their accommodations even after they’ve left. “What hotels scents are trying to do is try to create emotional and memory associations,” Rachel Herz, psychology professor at Brown University and Boston College and author of The Scent of Desire, who has been studying scents for nearly 30 years, tells CR.
A few of my friends have the habit of buying new fragrances every time they travel to a new destination. Some brides purchase one specially for their wedding day. “Scent and memory are so connected,” says Sylvie Ganter, co-founder of Atelier Cologne. “Associating a scent with a place is, to me, common sense. Scents are not only comforting, but they also bring you back in time, a trip you had, an activity you enjoyed. I fully understand the need to associate scent with an experience.”
And maybe it’s a generation thing, too. Shorter attention spans, desire for instant gratification, and a non-committal mindset (to dating, to buying property, to brand loyalty) are the hallmarks of the typical millennial and Gen Z consumers. There could be a fragrance for every season (citruses in the summer, smoky woods the winter), a fragrance for every mood (light and crisp for happiness, ambers for somber moments), a fragrance simply for the purpose to execute a chicly curated vanity tablescape.
So for a single beauty product that used to personify us, our essence, and how we wanted to project ourselves, what does it say about our individuality when we have a rotation of 15? At a time where more people are championing fluidity, experimenting and embracing multiple scents sends a different kind of statement, one that refuses to be boxed in by labels—or by a single fragrance.END
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