Who are you today? No, this isn’t a therapy session, but it is a question that has taken on new weight in current times. We are increasingly encouraged to become more self aware, checking in with our mental health and our wellbeing as we navigate a world where many people are investigating the boundaries of their own identities.
Quietly and unexpectedly, fragrance is playing a supportive and growing role in allowing us to express who we are through our olfactive choices. We’re seeing brands realise we want more nuanced and personalised stories from our scent choices, ones that enhance who we are, rather than who we want to attract. Scent selection is now less about lust and more about lifestyle values, which means finding fragrances that reflect who we are and what we feel.
Gen Z and Millennials are positively embracing scent to reinforce their identity, just look at the success of #perfumetiktok’s 8.6 billion views and counting. From D.S. & Durga’s clever amplifier I Don’t Know What, which smells like a like a better version of your own skin, to Maison Crivelli’s Hibiscus Mahajed extrait – where its hefty sillage unmistakably tags you as part of a creatively scented tribe, fragrance is an important personality marker for young fragrance wearers.
Helping them make their selection is an abundance of young indie brands that reflect today’s customer’s passionate views on, for example, creativity, activism or sustainabilty, turning the simple act of buying fragrance into an identity reinforcer, it almost feels political.
Previous generations – looking at you, Gen X and Boomers – have clung to a more romantic notion of a ‘signature scent’, but this idea is also getting a contemporary make over, with innovations nudging us towards a portfolio of fragrance strengths which better reflect how we are feeling ‘in the moment’.
These innovations also offer us the freedom to break a few mythical rules around how we use fragrance. We’re now encouraged, for example, to layer up our scents to create the fragrance that best reflects our personality, or perhaps consult atmospheric energies to chose a scent that might better align with our chakras, or to pump up the volume of our favourite fragrances when we want a more empowering olfactive hit. These new scent rituals make the spritzing once a day tradition look very old fashioned and, well, dull.
Self expression through the simple application of fragrance is now a joyously exciting possibility and we can now refine how we present ourselves to the world via our perfume choices. And just as with clothes, we can be playful, offering a different view of our personalities depending on how we’re feeling. Here’s our guide to finding out more about yourself through scent.
The smell of me: Skin by Olfactive O
One of the most identity-related trends in fragrance style has been the success of ‘smells like my skin only better’ scents, which aim to evoke the clean, soft, musky notes we get from warmed skin. There can be few better ways to start your scent identity journey than amplifying and improving your own ‘au natural’ aroma.
And there’s lots to chose from, from the ubiquitous You by Glossier to TikTok’s favourite, Phlur’s Missing Person. But our top pick is Skin by Olfactive O, which comes with its own tiny ink pad and a gap on the label for you to embellish with your thumb print, literally stamping your identity on the bottle.
Olfactive O’s founder Olivia da Costa wanted to create fragrances that helped us feel confident in our own skin, so we don’t have to pretend to be anyone other than ourselves. Each of her fragrances nails a personality type through aroma, so if you are ‘elegant, effortless and romantic’, Olivia would send you to Floral, with its lightly ethereal notes of mimosa, rose and osmanthus.
But we love Skin for its unique ability to blend in with whoever you are and to conjure an atmosphere rather than a list of ingredients, it’s all sun-warmed skin and clean cotton sheets, salty breezes and confidence. It’s a fragrance that slips into your world to enhance rather than dominate, it’ll blend with your own aroma to present a familiar but slightly better version of yourself. Olivia also suggests wearing Skin over other fragrances, to make them more your own. It’s like a scented equivalent of that confident joy surge you get when you’re holding hands with a friend.
Signature Scent update: Commodity’s Scent Space Gold
Commodity’s Scent Space is a good place to start to find yourself, if you like the idea of a modern signature scent. But we can all have many sides to our identity, so Commodity’s collection offers you a beautiful olfactory autograph, but allows you to vary the intensity of each fragrance depending on how you’re feeling.
There are three Scent Space concentrations: Personal (subtle and intimate), Expressive (long lasting and noticeable), and Bold (designed to make your presence felt). If we’re feeling more vulnerable, thoughtful or quiet, then Personal may be perfect. When we’re feeling a bit more dynamic we can reach for the Expressive or even the Bold version to add a layer of energy.
When we interviewed re-founder Vicken Arslanian about this innovative idea, he told us that the fragrance signature remains the same but ingredients are tweaked for each level. So, for example, for Gold Personal, the vanilla note is dialled back to the base of the scent and Iso E Super, a more fleeting woody note, is moved to the top, with softening amber and sandalwood carrying the heart of this quietly lovely fragrance. Gold Expressive has sparkly juniper berries added to the opening mix, which adds a chatty brightness, with soft amber rounding out the vanilla. With Gold Bold, the vanilla is moved to the top of the formulation, so it makes its mark earlier, reinforced with smokier spice notes of nutmeg and saffron to add texture and heft. Oakmoss and patchouli provide longevity and glamour to the base, and the whole becomes a more smouldering, look-at-me version of the story.
It’s a clever idea, and allows us to take better control of our scent identity and pick the concentration that feels right for the moment.
Personalisation as self expression: The Allegra Collection by Bvlgari
The newish Bvlgari Allegra Collection offers another way to update the signature scent concept, by offering you an ingredient-based signature note, called a Magnifying Essence, such as sandalwood, bergamot or rose to layer underneath a portfolio of other eau de parfums all designed to work together. The results are a unique-to-you, mix and match kit you can play with according to who you are at any one moment.
If you’re the type of creative fragrance wearer who wishes they could ramp up the sensuality of a scent with a bit more patchouli, or who knows just a touch more rose in a favourite floral would make it absolutely perfect, then this is your range. It allows you to create, if not your own fragrance, then something that comes very close.
All the Magnifying Essences are artfully balanced and compelling, but Sandalwood offers a pleasingly compliant and creamy-soft signature base over which to layer any of its Allegra EDPs, we loved it over the sunny glamour of Riva Solare and the va-va-voom floral woodiness of Ma’Magnifica. It’s a luxury collection, beautifully executed, but the general idea of using your favourite ingredient to create a signature narrative via scent, is one you could play with at any price level.
Empowered me : Giorgio Armani’s My Way Parfum
Tapping into the zeitgeist is Mr Armani’s new My Way Parfum, one of our favourite from the brand for a while. Not only is this more intense version of the popular EDP a gorgeously warm and cheerful citrus floral created by master perfumer Carlos Benäim, but the parfum strength indicates a confidence from the wearer that has its own, empowering attraction, you know who you are when you’re enveloped in My Way.
Mr Armani’s original philosophy for the fragrance is ‘I am what I live’, urging a free spirited and individual approach to life and encouraging perfume to take a role in shaping it. When a fragrance is worn regularly, a bond of familiar confidence is established between scent and soul, that welcome spray of recognition becomes like an invisible final layer of self, adding a final finish of ‘me’.
We can imagine wearers spritzing this while looking in the mirror and smiling, excited to see what the day will bring and completely comfortable in their own sense of self. There has been a big rise in the popularity of parfum or extrait strength fragrance, indicating perhaps that as we find our sense of self through scent, we’re more confident in playing with a more sensual, intense version of our favourites. Crucially for any fierce supporters of a sustainable lifestyle, the fragrance contains upcycled and sustainable ingredients and the bottles are completely refillable.
Archetype action: Hero by Argentum
Of course there are many of us who aren’t really sure who we are, and welcome all the help we can get trying to make sense of ourselves. Which is where Argentum wins.
This luxury indie fragrance brand immerses customers in a captivating world of scented archetypes and storytelling, complete with magical illustrations and silver talismans, to help you discover your identity in scent.
Are you, for example, an Explorer, who’s looking for adventure and travel under your own authentic terms? If so the dreamy notes of incense and patchouli mixed over plumes of cardamom and Sichuan pepper may resonate with your inner Indiana Jones. Or are you the Caregiver in your world, strengthened by the earthy sweet woody notes of vetiver, elemi and cinnamon? The fragrances, all composed by natural ingredients expert Delphine Thierry, are held in an oil and water mix and so are soothing to apply, they almost feel like a body lotion.
If you can’t decide who you are, founder Joy Isaacs will encourage you to submit to a fragrance card reading -a little like a scented version of tarot -where your inner energy reveals your authentic self. Testing scents blind is also encouraged and when you find the right one, the connection can be emotional, even dramatic, Joy told us some people can be brought to tears when they connect with their scent identity, it can feel like you have come home to yourself.
Or of course, you can just pick the one you like the smell of, which we’ve done here. Hero evokes a feeling of being in C.S Lewis’s Narnia, with its Leonine illustrations in the box and hints of courage and discipline through soft notes of incense, clove and agarwood. It actually smells like the back of that magical wardrobe, and sometimes that’s exactly where you want to be.
Image by Josh Payne
Set design by Megan Mandeville