Fragrance is a powerful conjurer of scenes and memories, allowing us to travel beyond our everyday realities – which is exactly what we all need in the weird world of 2021.
There have been fewer new fragrance launches due to the pandemic with some brands delaying releases, but there are still some lovely newcomers worth trying.
Our favourites so far this year are those with a fresh, sunny feel, or with exotic opulence, evoking the travel that we’ve been missing.
There are also some new twists on classic, white floral feminine scents, and some unusual notes, from milky fig to soapy bubble bath.
Whatever your olfactory preferences, you’re sure to find a new favourite in our in-depth guide to the best money can buy, from cult favourites from Chanel to innovative new brands such as 27 87.
A luxury treat for the senses and yourself, perfume can also make a nice gift for someone special too. We’ve put a variety to the test to find the ones we think are worth every penny.
As well as having delicious scents, we’ve tested for how it developed on the skin and how long it lasted, and, of course, looked out for dressing table-worthy bottles.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Jo Malone fig & lotus flower cologne
With more than 40 fragrances to pick from Jo Malone London’s vast collection, this is the perfect summer-to-winter transitional scent: a luxurious, gently exotic perfume that warms up autumn evenings. It has the distinctive milky, leafy hint of figs, light floral lotus and rich, earthy vetiver at the base. Fruity and not too sweet, it lingers all day, starting bright and floral on first spritz and then settling down to the deeper, more complex sensuality of the figs. It has gone straight to the top of our Jo Malone London favourites along with other fantastic signature fragrances such as lime, basil & mandarin, pomegranate noir and blackberry bay.
Buy now £100.00, Jo Malone
Jusbox night flow EDP
The only thing more evocative than scent is song, and Jusbox brings together notes of both kinds in fragrances inspired by music. Night Flow is inspired by the New York City blackout of 1977 and its link to the evolution of hip-hop in popular mythology, paying homage to MC’s Grandmaster Caz and Disco Wiz. Inspired by the excitement and potential of the night, it blends spicy pink pepper and saffron with sweet raspberry, sensual osmanthus and a touch of leather. It’s housed in a square blue bottle too which would make a luxurious addition to your dressing table and worth leaving out on display so you can enjoy it even when you’re not wearing it.
Buy now £163.00, Jusbox Perfumes
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle l’eau privee
Coco Mademoiselle has been many women’s first choice of fragrance for the almost 20 years since it launched in 2001. L’eau privee is a soft, embracing play on the original, in which fresh mandarin and floral jasmine and rose come to the fore. It’s both relaxing and sexy – the ideal combination. Created specifically to be worn in the evenings, Chanel recommends applying it to the warmest parts of the skin including behind the ears and at the nape of your neck. You can apply as liberally or as lightly as you fancy. Perfect for post-lockdown outings.
Buy now £95.00, Boots
Acqua di parma colonia futura
Colonia futura is a blend of heritage and modern, with the traditional citrus bergamot, lemon and grapefruit of the Italian brand meeting lavender and sage, which cut through with an aromatic grassiness; expected and unexpected. Well known for its fragrances and scented diffusers, this bottle is part of its futura range which implements sustainable practices where possible and promotes responsible use of resources such as energy and water to minimise waste in order to control its environmental impact. It is made from an impressive 99 per cent natural ingredients, and everything but the spray dispenser is recyclable, including the cap.
Buy now £80.00, John Lewis & Partners
Byredo tobacco mandarin
Byredo was created in 2006 by Swedish perfumer Ben Gorham following a visit to his mother’s homeland India, where the spices, incense and distinct aromas inspired him to create his own fragrance line. Tobacco mandarin is the fourth of Byredo’s range of extrait de parfums (the most concentrated form of perfume, and therefore also the most expensive), Night Veils. This is definitely a night-time scent, and just reading its list of notes conjures opulent, old-world Morocco: mandarin, coriander, cumin, leather, tobacco, oud, sandalwood and frankincense. Luxurious, enveloping and dark. It’s no surprise then that it’s a cult favourite fragrance brand.
Buy now £235.00, Space NK
Giorgio Armani my way EDP
Giorgio Armani has made many perfume hits since 1982 and this is a classic pretty, feminine floral scent that’s sure to be popular. On first spritz you get citrus freshness from the bergamot, very closely followed by the white floral bouquet: tuberose, orange blossom and jasmine. We often find tuberose overwhelming, but this remains fresh and not too heavy. Best of all, the bottle is refillable, which remains fairly unusual for a mainstream brand. The opulent bottle is equally impressive too, and the ingredients are all consciously-sourced as the brand has committed to reducing its impact on the climate.
Buy now £55.00, Armani Beauty
Loewe Paula’s Ibiza EDT
Taking both name and inspiration from the famous Ibiza boutique known for its flower filled interiors, OTT fashion shows and customers such as Freddie Mercury and Donna Summer, fashion house Loewe has been releasing its Paula’s Ibiza fashion collection every summer since 2017. Designed by founder Jonathan Anderson and in-house perfumer Nuria Cruelles, it’s now available in a new EDT, in a gorgeous rainbow bottle that reminds us of ice lollies, this brings Ibiza to you at home. Laid-back, bohemian and extravagant all at once, it has notes of mandarin, driftwood, coconut oil and patchouli. If you don’t make it to the island this year,this is the next best thing.
Buy now £70.00, Selfridges
Louis Vuitton California dream
Louis Vuitton is a luxury fashion house that was late to joining the world of perfume, having only launched its first scent not long ago in 2016. Never mind its scent, California dream looks like summer, with its pink and baby blue, sky-inspired bottle, that’s also refillable too, so you’ll never need to part with it. Notes of bright mandarin is complemented by warm ambrette, balmy vanilla and soft pear; it’s the perfume version of a warm, long summer’s evening spent sipping cocktails and watching the sun go down. Everything we’re dying to do once the pandemic is finally over.
Buy now £200.00, Louis Vuitton
27 87 Wandervogel
27 87 is a brilliant brand that’s new to the UK; its scents are modern and unusual, and are sold in two sizes – 87ml and 27ml – for home and handbag, hence the name. In a year we’ve not been able to travel, this is a holiday in a bottle: Chinese basil and Moroccan mint and a sort of salty, fresh sea scent are at the top, with a more classic white floral middle and musk base. They also list fennel and anise as mid notes, but thankfully there’s no sambuca scent here. Blended by expert local Barcelona artisans, it’s a brand worth keeping your eye on if you’re a keen perfume aficionado.
Buy now £131.00, 27 87
Maison Margiela replica bubble bath
French fashion house, Maison Margiela, was first founded in 1988 by Belgian designer Martin Margiela. Its replica fragrances are formulated to evoke particular scenes or memories, with each one telling a story, such as lazy Sundays, beach walks and cosying up by the fireplace. Its latest, bubble bath, is all about that moment of warm, soothing self-care. It’s a clean and soapy fragrance with a few floral touches in the middle – lavender, jammy rose and freesia – and a little citrus from bergamot. There’s a lot to love too about its apothecary-style bottles and labels.
Buy now £98.00, Feel Unique
Tom Ford rose prick
Rose can often be a divisive scent that can be hard to get right without being overwhelming or creating an immediate association with your grandma. For those who love dusky florals, but don’t want something too sweet or powdery, rose prick has three types of rose at its heart: Bulgarian, Turkish and Rose de Mai. Sichuan pepper, turmeric and tonka lift it and add a slight spice, and it dries down to a more masculine musk over time. It’s inspired by the designer’s private rose garden We did find we had to spritz multiple times throughout the day to keep it fresh.
Buy now £228.00, Selfridges
The verdict: Perfumes of 2020
Jo Malone’s fig and lotus flower is just what we want at this time of year: fruity, sophisticated and gently warming. Another destined to enter common rotation in our fragrance wardrobe is Chanel’s new twist on Coco Mademoiselle, which is classic and sexy.
Discover the best summer fragrances and the best autumnal scents, picked by experts