The days of wearing a single signature scent are long gone. Now, it’s all about putting together a wardrobe of fragrances that you can swap out depending on your mood—or better yet, choosing one that can change your mood altogether.
“Fragrance is an invisible but powerful accessory—a punctuation of personal style,” says Greta Pagel, the fragrance director at Good Chemistry and ILLUME brands. “Often, no one single form of self-expression or scent style defines our multi-faceted personalities and preferences.”
It’s exactly this ethos that has helped the scent world transform into what it is today: A place where people can find multiple different fragrances to meet their needs and enhance their emotions on any given day.
The evolution of the signature scent
Understanding how we reached this new era of “signature” scents requires looking back to the early 2000s, when the perfume world began to evolve with an influx of niche and indie perfume brands entering the market in full force. As a wider range of options hit the shelves, consumers started to search for unique scents that made them feel more like themselves instead of opting for the same legacy fragrances everyone else was already wearing.
“It was the tip of the iceberg in terms of mass markets and mass consumerism,” muses Ben Krigler, a fifth-generation perfumer at Krigler, a French luxury fragrance brand. “The niche perfumes told a different story. It was not about the latest trend—it was about telling the story behind the perfume.”
As consumers became interested in more unique offerings, the industry shifted to meet their demands—and now, there are more options on the market than ever before. According to Fragrances of the World, which is widely considered to be the most comprehensive resource serving the fine fragrance industry, in 1971, there were 20 new men’s and women’s fragrance launches; in 2011, there were 1,520; and in 2021, there were 2,746.
With so many new perfumes on offer, people are no longer limited to choosing one scent to make their own. “A desire for experimentation, curiosity, and play are all driving the shift away from locking into a single signature scent,” says Pagel. “Selecting scent to match or transform a mood or to transport you to a memorable place or time gives us a sort of shape-shifting superpower.”
Finding scents to match your mood
Speaking of those “transformative powers,” you don’t have to be a perfumer to know that a whiff of your favorite scent (whether it’s your go-to comfort food or your Eau de Parfum of choice) can transport you to tranquility. Case in point? A study published in the journal Neuroendocrinology Letters found that certain fragrances are linked to positive emotions and have been proven to lower stress levels and improve overall mental views.
“The physical system and structure of our sense of smell is handled by and fast-tracked to the same part of the brain that is linked to emotion,” says Pagel. “Given the close and literal association between our sense of smell and emotional response, any scent notes or perfumes that resonate for you personally are bound to lift or enhance your mood. For example, whether it’s the latest new drop from a niche brand or your bespoke, layered combo of a prestige fragrance with that no-name sheer floral note you love, either will take you to your happy place.”
With that in mind, “Switching fragrances is much more aligned with the way we live today: We don’t dress the same way every day, we don’t have the same activities lined up, so why shouldn’t our fragrances change as often as our moods?” says Miranda Gordon, VP of marketing for fine fragrance at MANE in New York City, a French, family-owned manufacturer of fragrances and flavors that was established in 1871. “Putting on a fragrance is like choosing a playlist. Sometimes you need your feel-good tunes to cheer yourself up, sometimes you need empowered music to increase your confidence, sometimes you choose a playlist with faster beats per minute because you need to boost your energy for a workout.”
While choosing the right fragrance is an entirely personal endeavor, there are certain scents that have been celebrated for their abilities to evoke emotional responses. Below, shop a slew of “signature” scents beloved for their emotions-enhancing properties, all of which you can spritz whenever the mood strikes.
For an energy boost
Forget another iced coffee—opt for an invigorating citrus scent. “Citrus is the right booster because it wakes you up,” Krigler says. “Orange can be good for that, so fruity scents are perfect.” Look for notes like bergamot and lemon for that pick-me-up. Spicy and warm notes will also do the trick. “If we imagine scent aligned with color, think shades of red, hot pink and juicy orange,” says Pagel.
Krigler Villa Bordighera 20 was inspired by the lemon trees that surround Bordighera, Italy, a favorite vacation spot of the Italian playwright and librettist Mr. Adami who originally commissioned the unisex fragrance in 1920.
For mental focus
“Many scent notes and ingredients can have a positive impact on mental focus, clarity and concentration,” Pagel says. “Again, citrus notes can lend to an awakening or energizing effect, and spicy, herbal combinations can help with alertness and concentration.”
When it comes to concentration, it’s not just about the scent itself. “Psychological research has been done on aroma and retention of information, to the effect that if you chewed cinnamon gum while studying, you should chew cinnamon gum when you take the final exam as it will aid in recall,” says Gordon. “That’s not about the cinnamon so much as it is about recreating the same sensory conditions under which you learned the material. If you were drinking earl grey tea, be sure to repeat that.”
The Nue Co. Mind Energy features clary sage, pink peppercorn, juniper, and clove, making it great for enhancing mental focus.
For a confidence boost
Since “confidence” is so subjective, it’s all about experimenting and seeing what works for you. “You want some warmth because that shows you’re comfortable with yourself and you’re welcoming,” says Krigler, recommending woody or sweet scents. You can simply wear notes and combinations you already love or play with new accords to see what helps you hold your head up high. “It can also be helpful to ‘borrow’ some confidence from a friend, a relative or even a celebrity you admire,” says Gordon. “Wearing their fragrance can help you feel like they’re right there with you, giving you a pep talk.”
As if the name doesn’t give it away, Good Chemistry Queen Bee can take self-esteem up a notch with notes of blackcurrant, peony, and amber.
You can’t go wrong with a classic rose fragrance, but less obvious options abound. “Loving, romantic emotions are frequently piqued by notes like comforting, nostalgic vanilla and creamy, soothing sandalwood,” Pagel says. Gourmand fragrances often check off that box. Byredo Rose Of No Man’s Land is an unexpected take on a rose fragrance, with notes of pink pepper, raspberry blossom, and white amber.
Lavender is a classic for helping you find Zen. Pagel likes to dab a bit of lavender essential oil placed on a cotton pad under her pillow at bedtime to help her nod off thanks to its calming, cooling aromatherapeutic effect. “Violet can also make you feel comfortable and relaxed,” says Krigler. White tea, such as chamomile, has a similar effect because it’s warm, soft and sweet.
“Musk is one of the best-loved yet least-understood notes in perfumery today,” Gordon says. “Consumers don’t really know what it smells like, and the word ‘musky’ is often used to describe something that smells strong, masculine or old-fashioned. These are all misconceptions. Musk actually smells like clean, warm skin—like a hug. Consumers love it in smell-tests where they aren’t told what they are smelling. I highly recommend musky fragrances for anyone looking to feel calm.”
Violet takes center stage in Boy Smells Violet Ends, an earthy, smoky scent rounded out with rhubarb and bergamot.
“Any notes that cue nostalgia and take you to a favorite memory are bound to stimulate positivity,” says Pagel. “A vast majority of us simply feel better thanks to those fragrances that cue any form of nostalgia—this can be very powerful and very subjective. Find notes that trigger your happiest forms of nostalgia and use them as a guide to find a scent that brings you that instant jolt of joy. Notes of neroli, orange blossom, and coconut always transport me.”
A fruity-floral musk, Philosophy Amazing Grace Eau de Parfum Intense was formulated to spark a greater sense of well-being.
Ever wondered how perfume is made? Check out the video below for a peek inside the process.
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