The best things in life are free, as they say. But these luxury fragrances are…not.
Perfume is one of those universal luxuries in that the very idea of it is glamorous, no matter the price point. Even the ritual of putting on your favorite scent before stepping out of the house can feel luxurious in and of itself. We can thank the fragrance industry’s notoriously over-the-top marketing for its well-established reputation for opulence, even as perfume has become more accessible (and slightly more transparent) than ever.
“Lasting power, high-end ingredients, and outstanding performance are all extremely important when it comes to luxury fragrance,” says DSM-Firmenich perfumerAlexandra Monet , who’s created scents for Jaguar and Courrèges.
Responsibly harvested and processed raw materials, “clean” formulations, high percentages of perfume oil, and sustainably sourced packaging, to name just a few, are quickly becoming tenets of what’s considered luxury fragrance, aside from the designer brand or prestige name. It’s not entirely the smoke and mirrors of marketing, either.
“Luxury fragrances tend to be exceptional in their composition and elicit an olfactive vision through the premium ingredients used,” Geraldine Nicolai, Givaudan Global Head of Fine Fragrance Development, tells me. “The specific ingredients used and how they are cultivated and processed all determine the price of the final product. They might include high-quality natural ingredients or unique combinations of exclusive molecules specific for the designer or brand.”
And it’s not just vision — scent has a unique ability to elicit strong emotions. The more complex and rich the scent, the more powerful its emotional effect. Aside from luxury fragrances’s signature diffusion and longevity, “what consumers ultimately value are the emotions a fragrance evokes when wearing it,” Nicolai says. And as you’ll find with these fragrances, longevity, complexity, uniqueness, and quality all make them well worth the splurge.
Warm and buttery, this musky overdose of suede, violet, mimosa, and amber is reminiscent of a lushly oversized, expensive cashmere sweater — the kind most likely worn by an Olsen twin. It smells like an expensive leather jacket in the coat check at the Chateau Marmont. I wouldn’t necessarily call this kind of luxury quiet because its sillage leaves a rich and enveloping cozy trail accented with bold tobacco and leather, not a scent one easily forgets.
This rebellious modern rose scent from the House Of Creed is as unexpected as roses come — specifically Rose de Mai. With pink pepper, saffron, black cherries, and amber, this is a rose with thorns and all. Frankincense and myrrh add a deep, earthy base to the overall bouquet, creating a bold but well-balanced smoky floral that’s electric upon first whiff and dries down on the skin to a warm and woody musk that lasts well until your next shower (and even sometimes after that, as I’ve found).
Guerlain Tobacco Honey
As a part of Guerlain’s L’Art & La Matiere collection, Tobacco Honey is a sweet, smoky, and ambery extrait that concentrates its fine raw materials into a potent blend that wears with such delightful complexity and longevity. Guerlain perfumer Delphine Jelk explains, “An extract is particularly long-lasting with such a high concentration rate, it’s going to stay on your skin and clothes for a very long time.” It opens with a boldly smoky tobacco accord, sweetened with nectary honey, and it settles into your skin with the spicy warmth of amber, clove, and anise over time. “Luxury perfumes deserve an experience similar to buying a piece of jewelry,” Jelk says, which makes sense as to why wearing this scent feels like wearing a nicely weighty gold pendant around your neck.
Guidance may have been Amouage’s breakout hit as far as #PerfumeTok is concerned, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg of the brand’s whole collection. Amouage handmakes all its fragrances, adding each detail of the bottle by hand. The juice inside the bottle very often features the finest raw materials native to Oman, like ambergris, frankincense, and rose. Guidance is a scent that includes all three, plus saffron, jasmine sambac, oud, hazelnut, and vanilla. The result is a floral, ambery gourmand that smells like a five-star hotel on a desert oasis with night-blooming flowers, sun-scorched sand, and spiced cocktails. This is a scent that has people stopping me on the street to ask me what I’m wearing every time that I do.
Bond No.9 Chelsea Nights
This spicy floral gourmand is as bold and glamorous as that lady in a fur coat on 5th Ave who stole your taxi just as you hailed it (back when getting a ride required more limbs). It’s a big burst of saffron and amber, with creamy cocoa, nectar-y tuberose, myrrh, oud, vanilla, and suede forming a bouquet of indulgent sweet spice. It harkens back to the days of traditional French perfumery but with a modern gourmand kick, making it even more playfully inviting, but no less sophisticated. This is a scent that will chase you around all night long, leaving a trace of itself on your clothes (and the clothes of anyone you may have come in close contact with while wearing). It’s definitely a bit on the brash side, but in the most uniquely warm and spicy way.
Matiere Premiere Crystal Saffron
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world, which for this fragrance, comes from Greece. This is a crystalline take on the distinctly creamy and bright aroma, with musk, ambroxan, and incense helping to structure the overall composition of the scent to be glassy, bouncy, and deeply warm and golden. As the brand’s namesake implies, Matiere Premiere (meaning “raw material” in French) includes high-quality raw materials, harvested responsibly (if not grown by the perfumer himself) and dosed at a concentration to linger long into the next day. The saffron-forward diffusion of this is so uniquely amorphous it smells like seeing through an amber glass, making everything appear golden.
BDK Parfums Gris Charnel Extrait
This is a fig fragrance at its most multi-faceted (30 percent, to be specific). It takes the milky green fig note and gives it a darker, smoky treatment. With cardamom, black tea, Moroccan iris, tonka bean, Indonesian patchouli, Madagascar vanilla absolute, and bourbon vetiver, this scent is boldly bright with earthy undertones. Wearing this feels like wearing a leather jacket to sunset cocktails on the French Riviera — it’s got a buttery smooth texture and crisp angles, but it never feels too restrictive or serious.
Arquiste L’Or De Louis
Nothing says luxury like spraying on pure gold — 24 karat flakes of which are floating around in every bottle of L’Or De Louis. This orange blossom scent is an olfactive historical recreation evoking King Louis’s orangery at the Versailles palace. Firewood smoke, orange blossom absolute, honey, and pomegranate create a unique woody floral that bursts open with powdery orange blossom and then settles into a warm and woody dry-down that feels more modern chalet fireplace than 17th-century French palace.
Régime Des Fleurs Leather Petals
“What if flowers were made of leather?” is the premise behind Leather Petals, according to Régime Des Fleur founder Alia Raza. This blend is a bouquet of galbanum, osmanthus, davana, orris (and something called venenum flower which my research tells me means poisonous), balanced with rum, patchouli, cedar, and leather accords. The overall portrayal is quite literal to the name, in the most smooth and sophisticated way. No ingredients stand out too much to pull it in an overly dry or overly floral direction. I love the contrast of wearing this scent the same way I love wearing leather motorcycle boots with a silk slip dress — it’s feminine and delicate as well as tough and grounded.
MEMO Paris Inverness
Named for the Scottish Highlands, this scent creates such a decadent composition of speckled sea spray, dry woods, and a hint of dewy peat moss to evoke the feel of Inverness’s deeply green, cold seaside cliffs, and warm wools. Iris butter, mate absolute, cedarwood, amyris, sandalwood, and guaiac wood oils make up this quietly indulgent scent that feels as cozy and light as it does deeply enveloping. Whether you’ve been to Scotland or not, this scent is like a romance storybook version of visiting Scotland.
Maison Crivelli Patchouli Magnetik Extrait
Forget the name for a moment and think instead of a bolt of lightning during a tropical storm in Indonesia striking the Earth, and that is what I can say Patchouli Magnetik evokes for me. It’s an overdose of patchouli, vanilla, sandalwood, benzoin, and gardenia, that blends into accords of chocolate lava cake, well-worn leather, scorched earth, and dewy petals after rain all at once. At 33 percent concentration, just one spray of this on your skin or clothes will stay with you until you forcibly scrub it off in the shower (or laundry). And one spray is all you’ll need to radiate this deliciously deep and mysteriously alluring scent that has the effect of making everyone go in for a second, much longer hug. It’s earthy, gourmand, leathery, and totally addictive.
Ex Nihilo Fleur Narcotique Extrait de Parfum
For floral lovers, wearing this is like wearing a silk scarf that was delivered nestled in a box of dewy petals. It’s a softly powdery floral with a heady blend of osmanthus, jasmine, freesia, peony, orange blossom, sandalwood, moss, and musks. Yet, it wears translucently on skin, like a sheer, musky white floral. The sweetness of lychee and bergamot adds a buoyant freshness that keeps it from going too sharply floral. The whole composition is a milky veil of cashmere petals.
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