September 30, 2022

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20 Seriously Chic Fragrances That Go Beyond Perfume: Le Labo, Tom Ford, Chanel, and More

Scents hold power. For you, your family, your coworkers or friends, fragrances can document time and create interpersonal connections. Olfactory signals trigger the brain’s limbic system, a gateway to emotion and memory, according to Harvard studies. For fashion houses like Chanel and Gucci, as well as such musicians as Billie Eilish and Dolly Parton (both of whom launched perfumes in 2021), fragrance is also an invisible calling card. If a fan can wear merch that scientifically sparks feeling, the value is obvious. How, then, does one navigate the many fragrant ways of making memories?

“I don’t believe people should be limited to just one scent,” explains perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, making a case for multiple options “to suit different occasions and moods.” Though the French nose has spent decades designing fragrances for brands ranging from Burberry to Jean Paul Gaultier, Kurkdjian has lately become something of a household name, thanks to the ever-rising interest in his line’s Baccarat Rouge 540 eau de parfum—a blend of saffron, cedar, and amber that “causes unconditional love and addiction,” he says, with no apparent hyperbole. Kurkdjian has read that Rihanna appreciates Rouge 540, while Lamb star Noomi Rapace and designer LaQuan Smith have voiced their praise. (Rapace’s own N.C.P. Olfactive perfume necklace can also be found below). Of course, a great scent can appeal to all genders, especially when delivered by other means than a faceted flacon. Now that olfactory experiences arrive in an array of formats—an almond-and-neroli scented eraser from Astier de Villatte, a Kilian lipstick with notes of orange blossom and marshmallow, a Ouai leave-in conditioner infused with Byredo’s sandalwood-y Mojave Ghost—it’s easy to dip in without getting serious. 

That breadth is all the better for tailored gift-giving. A business contact might appreciate a stylish incense; an aromatic hand soap is fit for a relative, while a highbrow hair mist (a smart swap for more expensive eau de parfums) is an inspired idea for a member of one’s inner circle. “Fragrance is quite personal and subjective,” says Kurkdjian of the importance of knowing your audience. When in doubt, there’s always a candle: Even though they’re one-size-fits-all in their universality, “they can evoke beautiful memories,” he adds.

Matthew Harris, the Jamaican-born fine jewelry designer behind Mateo New York, agrees. An inviting home fragrance, like his label’s leathery Black Onyx candle, may cause an urge “to sit by a fireplace and get cozy under a blanket,” he says. But that won’t stop fellow fashion insiders from wondering what intoxicating scent is trailing in his wake. (It’s Matière Première’s Falcon Leather eau de parfum.) “I want my scent to leave a wonderful mark on your memory, like, ‘What is that scent? Where did he get it? It’s divine! I must find it! I must have it!’” says Harris. It’s the kind of fervor that sees a fragrance like Le Labo’s Santal 33—at one point the creative set’s de facto uniform—reimagined as a laundry detergent by The Laundress. 

It all adds up to a veritable buffet for the nose. Below, the cult fragrances and unexpected scent formats to surprise and delight just about everyone in your life.