There’s a show of strength in the air and this season’s scents are flagrantly feminine: the big perfume is back. Sarah Halliwell celebrates perfume power …
“I am not an angel, and I will not be one until I die: I will be myself,” declared Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. And this statement echoes the prevailing mood in fashion and beauty this season. As women speak up and demand to be heard, this translates to a punk-chic vibe in fashion – an ultra-feminine yet feisty feel: pearls worn with biker girl eyeliner, leather with black lace, heavy black boots. And in its wake comes a wave of strong, seriously confident scents to voice this rebel yell.
As teens asserting ourselves in the 1980s, we graduated from pretty Anaïs Anaïs (and the odd flirtation with Eternity) to borrow a confidence we didn’t feel with our mothers’ exotic Poison, Opium and Samsara – the height of sophistication! And it’s these kind of strong, unapologetically feminine scents that are making a statement again. Look no further than Superstition for Frederic Malle (2016) by Dominique Ropion, ever in the vanguard; recent examples include Ralph Lauren’s Woman Intense, a vanilla-y floral oriental. Men are also braving stronger, more distinctive scents: forget watery eaux.
Rising to the challenge, perfumers are pushing boundaries with unexpected ingredients, quirky combinations and a shake-up of traditional structures – in fougères (typically a top note of lavender, with oakmoss and tonka bean), and chypres (foresty, ferny scents that are herby, mossy, woody), heightened with lush hearts of flowers or rich vanilla. There’s a rush on mysterious, hard to pinpoint notes like geranium, patchouli and spice that add a new twist – and make a scent impossible to ignore. For autumn, we’re drawn to Anima Dulcis, a smokey, spicy blend that’s perfectly rich and strange; and evocative Morrocan Leather by Memo Paris.
More than half of all fragrances launched now are unisex (an increase from the previous decade). But Margaret Mangan of Cloon Keen Atelier says she’s seeing a big change in buying behaviour. “This summer, for the first time ever, my customers rebelled against gender-neutral fragrance, going for more traditional scent,” she notes. “Our Lá Bealtaine scent, which has a full-blown heart of rose, jasmine and tuberose, outsold all of our other fragrances.” Maybe it’s a reaction to the #MeToo movement, she suggests, inspiring women to assert their femininity in the workplace rather than play it safe. Other industry experts confirm there is a new demand for more gender-specific fragrances.
We’re also seeing a new positivity in perfume. “Solar” (bright, warm) notes are popular, with uplifting notes like mandarin injecting optimism. At a time of upheaval, we crave comfort and warmth and positive vibes in a world turned upside down.
HIT THE NOTE
The most striking notes now are herbs and spices: from ginger (Memo Paris’ Moroccan Leather and Hermès Twilly Eau Poivrée) to juniper, clary sage (Acqua di Parma’s Camelia) and pepper. The just-launched Tiffany &Love duo feature blue basil, while new scents by Diptyque and Calvin Klein celebrate green notes like mint and sage.
BIG IS BACK
Make a statement with cool leather. Master perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena features a “rebel leather” molecule, Isobutyl quinoline, in his new Rose & Cuir for Frederic Malle. This molecule stars in Bandit, created by perfumer Germaine Cellier in 1944: Margaret Mangan says, “I’d be hard-pushed to find a perfumer or creations that expressed rebellion more.” It also drives Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, a forever signature scent that you can’t get enough of; celebrity make-up artist Zoe Taylor sprays this on scarves, clothes and skin.
Traditional notes like lavender are heightened for maximum impact: see Memo Paris’ Oriental Leather, pairing it with patchouli and geranium;
Tom Ford’s Lavender Extrême and YSL Libre. Try also Molton Brown Geranium Nerfertum eau de parfum, by rising star perfumer Carla Chabert (creator of several Tom Daxon scents).
STAND OUT IRISH SCENTS
The Hermetica Paris collection features compelling, alcohol-free scents that are incredibly long-lasting: if I had to pick one, it would be Patchoulight (at Brown Thomas and The Loop at Dublin airport). Stories by Eliza Grace, created by Tonya Kidd-Beggs, is now at Harvey Nichols. Try creamy, delicious No.02; the honey tobacco notes make it entirely compelling. www.elizagrace.com
WHAT WE WANT NOW It’s not just about a great smell: it’s about the ethos of a perfume brand. Is your scent sustainably produced? Cruelty-free? In eco-conscious packaging? We want to see less waste, and more practical, refillable solutions (follow the lead of brands like Rituals, Memo Paris, and Kilian). US perfumer Douglas Little describes it as “clean glamour”: his Heretic perfumes are “all-natural”, avoid toxins and are vegan and cruelty-free; try Dirty Jasmine (at Liberty London and www.hereticparfum.com).