Five years ago, I wrote an article called 100 Fragrances Every Perfumista Should Try; since then it’s been the most-read article on Now Smell This. I was less than satisfied with it when I published it, and 5 years on, it’s really showing its age. This week I’ve made some corrections and adjustments to bring it up to date, but I’m still not satisfied with it and I probably never will be.1 Meantime, Angie and Kevin have joined in the list-making effort with 26 Vintage Fragrances Every Perfumista Should Try and 50 Masculine Fragrances Every Perfumista Should Try.
So this post is something of an addendum: 25 more fragrances every perfumista should smell. It’s in the same mold as the original article, that is, it’s not a list of the best fragrances, but rather, more fragrances that you ought to know in the interests of furthering your perfume education. Some of them are fragrances I wish I could have found room for in the original 100, some of them are just newer fragrances that I think are brilliant, and some of them are from brands that aren’t quite so brilliant but that I think you ought to be familiar with anyway. The list only includes brands that were not on the original 100 Fragrances post.
And as before, the list exposes the massive gaps in my own perfume education. You would think I’d be better informed 5 years later, but it’s turned out quite the opposite: every year they release more and more and MORE new fragrances, and every year I fail to smell more than a small percentage. It’s a losing battle.
The explosion of niche brands over the past 5 years has been astonishing, and whatever assumptions one could make in the past about the quality of niche perfumes are now best thrown out the window — niche fragrances are usually more expensive and less widely distributed than mainstream fragrances, but they’re not necessarily any more interesting or better-made. Jubilation 25, made to celebrate the Amouage brand’s 25th anniversary, is a good corrective when you’re feeling a bit cynical about niche. I happen to prefer the men’s counterpart, Jubilation XXV, and was happy to see that Kevin included it in his list.
2. Byredo Pulp
The Byredo line has lots of fans, but by and large the brand doesn’t appeal to me. Pulp got my attention for the simple reason that it’s great fun, and fun is something that is all too often missing from niche perfume. At least, I think the “huge burst of fizzy-sweet juicy berries + green fig + peach” is great fun, but admittedly, some people just find it disgusting. Consider yourself warned. More fun with fruit: Comme des Garçons Red Play.
Since I wrote the original 100 list, we’ve seen a sort of mini-trend of cosmetic powder fragrances, both niche and mainstream; Love, Chloé is one of the more notable examples of the bunch.
The French niche line Etat Libre d’Orange loves to shock, but the products don’t always live up to the hyperbole. Still, there are plenty of gems among the nearly 30 fragrances they’ve released since their debut in 2006, including this deliciously odd scent for the deliciously odd actress.
When I wrote the original 100 list, Indecence wasn’t easy to find. It’s back, get it while you can.
6. Jo Malone Lime, Basil & Mandarin
The Jo Malone brand soldiers on without its founder. After a brief “experimental” period (Blue Agava & Cacao, Sweet Lime & Cedar, & etc) they’ve mostly gone back to the sort of solid, well-crafted basics that fans have come to expect. I’m not always among the fans, and have especially disliked the inoffensive, dewy-clean florals they’ve emphasized lately (English Pear & Freesia, Sakura Cherry Blossom, Wild Bluebell, London Blooms trio, & etc).
I’ve selected Lime, Basil & Mandarin despite my abiding dislike for it; it’s a long time bestseller and probably as good an example of the brand’s style as any. Dark Amber & Ginger Lily (introduced as a limited edition and now part of the “Cologne Intense” collection) was more to my taste and is worth a try if you happen upon it, and the new Blackberry & Bay is a bit more lively than some of the other recent offerings.
7. Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey
One of many classic fragrances that really should have been in the original 100 if only I could have found room, although the fact that I don’t care for it made the omission less of a hardship. But you ought to know L’Eau d’Issey if only because of its historical importance — as Michael Edwards notes, after the success of L’Eau d’Issey, “the aquatic trickle became a tidal wave”. That it’s a grande dame of perfumery is not necessarily something you’ll deduce from smelling it, mind you. As Tania Sanchez accurately points out, it “reminds us mostly of Windex now”.2
If I were including vintage fragrances, the long-discontinued Le Feu d’Issey would certainly get a nod. If you happen across a botttle, buy it, and if you hate it, do just send it to me.
Another classic that ought to have been in the original 100.
More roses than you can shake a stick at — French niche line Les Parfums de Rosine is a rose-lovers dream. Many of them are wonderful, but it’s more rose than I have the appetite for. I picked Ecume de Rose just because of was one of my early niche favorites, but I’ll admit I have not kept up with all the new releases. When Jessica finishes her post on must-smell rose fragrances, hopefully she’ll tell us which Rosine is the best (or if you know, do comment).
L’Occitane, for the rare reader among you who might not already know, is another mall chain, perhaps a step above The Body Shop (see below) in price and ambition. Verbena is perhaps their longest standing best seller. It’s a pleasant if unexciting citrus, and most years they do a limited edition flanker or two (the last one we reviewed was Verbena Summer Secret). There are a few other standbys at L’Occitane, including the likewise pleasant if unexciting Thé Vert, but otherwise fragrances and fragrance collections seem to come and go, among them the occasional beauty — the lovely Immortelle de Corse, for instance. Invariably I find that everything is priced just a little higher than I expect or am willing to pay.
11. Lush 25:43
Lush has grown into a worldwide chain, but still has the feel of an operation run out of somebody’s garage, and that’s the way Lush likes it. All artifice, perhaps, but Lush’s fragrance range, under the name Gorilla Perfumes, lives up to the brand’s “we are different” ethos: they may come from the mall, but the perfumes don’t smell like it. The emphasis on ethically sourced, high quality materials is a bonus, as is the more than reasonable price for the finished products — the perfumes, oddly, seem far more of a bargain than some of the scented body products. If you can brave the intensely scented stores (and get over the stark black packaging), all of the line’s perfumes are worth exploring; if not, there are sample sets sold online. I should note that not all stores have all the fragrances, and some scents appear to be online-only.
If you were wondering why so many modern perfumes had vinyl flowers on the bottle, here is your answer. Packaging isn’t everything, a likable fragrance isn’t everything, and good advertising isn’t everything, but when all three mesh just so, you get Daisy, a cheerful, perfectly constructed and presented youth-oriented cash cow that Marc Jacobs hasn’t quite managed to replicate, although Lola and Dot have done their valiant vinyled best.
Even perfumistas need a cheap thrill now and again. It’s worth getting to know Pacifica, a reasonably priced and easy to find brand with 20+ fragrances ranging from French Lilac to Hawaiian Ruby Guava to Spanish Amber. Tibetan Mountain Temple, my personal favorite, can be found in a $9 solid perfume or a $22 spray, and is every bit as satisfying as incense fragrances that cost far more.
One of my favorite niche perfumes of the last few years, and one of the few fresh chypres (still) around that actually smells like a fresh chypre.
Parfumerie Generale is a niche house worth getting to know. They make fragrances in a wide range of styles, from basic-but-lovely cologne (Cologne Grand Siècle, on Kevin’s list) to a near-perfect tea (L’Eau Matale or the more concentrated Hyperessence Matale) to tropical florals (Gardenia Grand Soir, Tubéreuse Couture). But when I think of the brand, I tend to think of the unusual twists on the gourmand genre. Unfortunately some of my favorites along those lines (Un Crime Exotique, Praliné de Santal) are now out of production, but the lovely Felanilla is still being made, as are Musc Maori and Aomassaï, both also worth a try.
There was nothing by Prada on my original 100, and I’m happy to have the chance to correct that since it’s one of my favorite fragrance brands. Like Hermès, Prada has quietly built up a range of quality, well-built perfumes that eschew flash and blatant commercialism (ok, Candy had a little flash and blatant commercialism, but I liked it anyway). It’s way too soon to call Infusion d’Iris a classic, but I predict it will earn that name in time; if you like it, do try the lusher Infusion d’Iris Absolue.
I was not surprised that Prada Amber Pour Homme didn’t make Kevin’s list of must-smell masculines, but I’d call it a must-smell masculine for a woman, especially a woman who likes to cross-scent.
Sonoma Scent Studio is a small indie line with an avid fan base among perfumistas, and it’s easy to see why: the fragrances are well-crafted, reasonably priced, and have a grown-up, ‘modern classic’ aura that provides comfort when the pink fruity things at the mall seem so overwhelmingly pink. When owner Laurie Erickson reformulates an existing scent, as she frequently does, it’s usually in response to customer feedback, or just because she has found a way to make it better. Incense Pure is in my own collection, along with Vintage Rose, but try as many as you can.
19. Tauer Perfumes L’air du Désert Marocain
The Tauer brand is another perfumista favorite, and again for good reason. It’s also one of the great indie success stories; anyone who wants to know how to grow a viable perfume brand from scratch would do well to read owner Andy Tauer’s blog from start to finish.
I don’t happen to love L’air du Désert Marocain, but many people feel it is one of the brand’s best. If it turns out that it doesn’t suit you either, try one of my favorites, Incense extrême. Or just try them all, there’s a sample pack and it’s well worth the investment.
How many perfumistas grew up on fragrances from The Body Shop? The ubiquitous mall store is still selling the original White Musk 30+ years later, and they update it every so often, most recently with White Musk Libertine. Frequent discounts mean you don’t have to pay full price for White Musk or anything else, and explain why I own a bottle of White Musk Libertine myself. The other offerings vary, but some of them are really quite good for the price — Moroccan Rose is worth a shot.
This scent from perfumer Celine Ellena for French niche line The Different Company is (in my humble opinion, obviously) a little masterpiece.
You could substitute Violet Blonde for the Black Orchid, either is a good representation of the Tom Ford style: polished chic, albeit in a rather loud voice. Tom Ford does not tend (on the women’s side of the Signature line, anyway) towards quiet.
And I wanted to include at least one oud fragrance, insofar as we have seen so many oud launches recently that I was eventually forced to give them a tag in protest. Kevin stole Montale Black Aoud and Yves Saint Laurent M7 for his masculine list, so I’m including Tom Ford’s easier-to-wear (and closer to unisex) Oud Wood, from the expensive Private Blend line that I admittedly have little use for otherwise. Or, for a Westernized version of a traditional rose-oud-saffron blend, try Czech & Speake Dark Rose.
24. Vera Wang Princess
Proof, in case you needed it, that youth is wasted on the young. Princess and its myriad flankers (they may be over now, I can’t tell) are prime examples of recent trends towards pink girly-girl packaging with pink girly-girl juices to match, all reaching towards an ever-younger target market.
The little engine that could. Even more than was the case with Thierry Mugler Angel, Flowerbomb has made the brand widely known, rather than other way around, and again in parallel with Mugler, Viktor & Rolf have struggled to match that success with a subsequent offering (goodbye and thanks for the memories, Eau Mega) but have kept Flowerbomb alive with any number of special edition bottles, most involving some new use of ribbon. Anyway, Flowerbomb, while hardly massively original even when it launched, has been so widely copied that you might as well give it a sniff if you haven’t already.
1. And, while making those corrections and adjustments, I found 2 typos that had been sitting there for 5 years. Ack. So let me just take this opportunity to say please, if you find a typo, do us a favor and tell us about it!