Most of us want to be alluring in some way, whether we’re single, partnered, or something in between. And there is perhaps no sense more tailored towards intimacy, or the prospect of it, than the sense of smell. Smell is a primal sense, hijacking memory and emotion, triggered by a poetic process in which a tiny piece of what you smell must breach your physical boundaries and enter your olfactory sensors in literal physical communion.
So, if attraction is the goal, how to harness the sense of smell?
First and foremost, we need something that makes us feel confident. A study showed that women rated men’s attractiveness higher when they were wearing a scent, even if they only looked at a picture of the man and couldn’t actually smell what they were wearing. In other words, scent helps us feel like we’re projecting our best selves. But while confidence is key, for Valentine’s month, we decided to dig a little deeper. We dove into the history of sensory research, discovering which raw materials have been shown to be attractive, stimulating, and emboldening. From there, we curated a list of scents that are sure to make an impression.
Musk was one universal choice. It mimics an animalic rush of intimacy, warm and slightly forbidden. Arquiste’s “Él” is like wearing a tailored suit to a glamourous tropical disco, and dries down to an intoxicatingly sexy musk; never veering too far into old-fashioned funk. For a more carefree sex appeal, all-natural brand Abel manages to capture an addictive salt-kissed skin musk effect in “Cyan Nori” – and perhaps there’s nothing sexier than effortlessness.
Speaking of effortlessness, the abstract molecular aura of “Escentric 02” by Escentric Molecules takes the magnetic skin-enhancing magic the brand is known for and adds an effervescent freshness. It features hedione, a molecule similar to aspects of jasmine, which has been shown to possess aphrodisiac qualities. And like all Escentric Molecules scents, it smells even better to those around you.
The history of perfume is filled with winking nods to intimacy. The fragrance “1725” by Histoires de Parfum is a modern reinterpretation of the seminal perfume Fougère Royale, a civilized scent for nobility which, as scent writer Luca Turin has noted, featured an irreverently dirty drydown. This version, suitably dedicated to Casanova, is cleaner and more delicious than its historic reference. It adds a layer of elegant vanilla to the composition, an ingredient also cited for its attractive powers.
In fact, for some people, there is nothing more alluring than waves of unctuous vanilla. For this reason, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include a fragrance tailor-made for sex appeal: “Absolute Aphrodisiac” by Initio. Unabashedly swooning, the fragrance glows with an eternal, narcotic vanilla warmth, deepened by amber and musk.
It surprised us to learn that fruity notes have also been shown to stimulate attraction. “Habdan” by Parfums de Marly contains one of the most surprisingly well-structured uses of fruit we’ve smelled in fragrance, using the crisp snap of fresh apple to enliven incense with devilish panache.
Fruity notes also enhance the plush textural symphony of “Phi: Une Rose de Kandahar” by Tauer. The fragrance is a velvety ode to rose, a material which studies have shown increases the perception of attractiveness. In fact, the natural Afghani rose oil used in the formula is so unbelievably rare the perfumer himself warns it is sometimes impossible to produce. Even if you didn’t know what went into making it, the scent feels like an intoxicating, ultra-luxurious cuddle, and would make anyone want to get a closer sniff.
Rose isn’t the only flower that has been shown to have powerful emotional effects. Lilies, even in synthetic reconstruction, have been shown to have a stimulating effect. Long the realm of classical, stately compositions, lily becomes vibrant, ultramodern and achingly fashionable in “Lys Sølaberg” by Maison Crivelli. A smoky, wood and amber undercurrent cements the allure and keeps it wearable for all genders.
For those who want to make a seductive impression, woods and resins are an excellent go-to. “Autoportrait” by Olfactive Studio blends musk, incense and moss with vetiver, an earthy ingredient that has been shown to heighten attraction. It’s a versatile, daily signature with a coy excitement sizzling beneath the surface. There’s something about it that smells youthful and commanding at the same time, projecting spontaneity and confidence.
In the same family, “Pachuli Kozha” by Nishane might be one of the most lusciously sensual smoky fragrances we can think of. Top notes of aphrodisiac ylang-ylang brighten a delicious current of black pepper and honey, which pours lavishly over the brooding embers of incense and patchouli. It’s impossible to wear and not feel your confidence soar.