Scents can lift the spirit, bring back memories, and carve out moments of reflection, connection, and joy. For this Mother’s Day, we’ve selected a variety of products both nostalgic and forward thinking, and for both the body and home. From upgrades of classic perfume styles to new flights of fragrant fancy, these are sure to delight, surprise, and show how much you care.
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.
If you’ve never encountered the fragrances of Toronto-based Zoologist, you’re in for a wild ride. Each extrait de parfum is inspired by a different animal, invoking its personality and even, in the case of Hyrax, actual (humanely harvested) aromatics from the titular creature. But no animal, humans included, exists in isolation. They’re but one part of the web of flora and fauna which collaborate on the unknowable art project that is their respective habitat. This is why, at least to me, Zoologist perfumes aren’t really about animals as much as the scent of wild landscapes. Panda evokes a misty bamboo forest; Chameleon a tropical island fantasy. Now, with their newest scent, Zoologist turns its attention to a world under the sea.
When Pixar was developing “Finding Nemo”, the production team took scuba lessons to learn more about the look and feel of being underwater. They soon realized that even the clearest, cleanest water is filled with textures; little floating organisms, plant matter, bits of coral and sand floating by, glittering in the shafts of wobbly sunlight. Hours of painstaking animation ensued to add multitudinous sea stuff to each shot. This proved to be the elusive ingredient in making the underwater world feel real.
Zoologist’s new fragrance Seahorse is filled to the brim with “Finding Nemo” textures. You can smell the colours of a richly animated oceanic ecosystem, pulsating like a garden of algae and alien wildflowers. Blue orange blossoms sway in the airless breeze, tides sluice around glossy grass, and all sound goes underwater quiet. In fact, in my opinion, this stillness is key to the uniqueness of this fragrance. Many aquatic scents take the constant churning motion of waves as inspiration, evoking sea spray on the shore where humans can greedily inhale its vapour. But there is something more serene and grounded about Seahorse — still playful but meditative, lapping instead of crashing, like touring the palatial gardens of an undersea empire. This scent doesn’t just take you to an oceanside view, it invites you to be fully submerged.
On the skin, the scent can feel like bioluminescence, the green notes waxing and waning, a foamy floral warmth anchoring all that freshness. Transparent tuberose adds touches of neon coral, and vetiver and ambergris conjure a sheer vegetal earthiness, evoking the sandy sea floor at the base of everything. Those for whom aquatic scents are solely for the heat of summer, take note: the lifelike nature photography in this scent gives it enough depth to wear all year round. If each Zoologist scent is conceived as a voyage into an unknown world of unspoiled nature, Seahorse might be one of their most fully realized. It’s a transportive fragrance, thrillingly foreign and, perhaps from the films of our childhoods, also strangely familiar.
When speaking about perfume, we often use words borrowed from other senses. Ingredients become “notes”, like ones you might play on a piano (which is why a perfumer’s desk is referred to as an “organ”). A fragrance can be too “light” for us, and while it’s sometimes unclear whether we’re describing physical weight or colour, our noses can’t truly perceive either. Scent is steeped in sensory metaphor.
To me, an important sense to invoke in our understanding of perfume is touch. Obviously, smells don’t have physical textures or temperatures. But thinking about the tactile qualities of a perfume can be a gateway to their emotional heart.
Perfumers thinking texturally has led to breakthroughs in the world of fragrance. It often requires a metaphoric leap in the mind of each nose; if one forgets about what an ingredient actually is, what might it make you think of? Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena uses a signature green tea effect to create a luminous quality, like transparent flowing water, which made hits of fragrances like Bvlgari’s Thé Vert and Hermes’ Un Jardin en Méditerranée (you can sample his work at Etiket in Dia Woman and L’Eau D’Ambre Extrême). Similarly, Olivia Giacobetti pioneered the use of fig and other fresh effects to make fragrances that seem airy and subtly cool to the touch, as she does in Premier Figuier and Passage D’Enfer.
On the other side of the spectrum, perfumer Sophia Grojsman’s work often feels fuzzy and thick because of her trademark “hug me accord”: an abstract blend of synthetic jasmine, violet, musk and cedar molecules which makes her fragrances seem cozy and warm (like in Lancome’s classic Tresor). And Andy Tauer has created a rabid cult following with his unapologetic waves of hot spice, which add a dry crackling heat to scents like L’Air du Désert Marocain and Cologne du Maghreb. Composed with care, a perfume can imply closeness or distance; glass, cloth, paper, powder or liquid; warm or cool; movement or stillness.
The fragrances of Maison Crivelli make brilliant use of texture, and they do so in a modern way. Many of them have what I call a “holographic” texture: lifelike, shimmery, and light-reflecting. Creating fragrances with this effect allows the rich amber notes of Lys Sølaberg to feel approachable and relaxed. It allows bold ingredients like woods and spices to seem almost weightless in Santal Volcanique and Bois Datchaï. And it gives rose, which can smell surprisingly thick, even jammy in isolation, a new, breezy lifein Rose Saltifolia, as if the scent were dancing across your perception on a seaside summer wind.
Maison Crivelli fragrances also use textural elements to evoke extremes of temperature, which form surprising contrasts with classic ingredients. A sparkling, icy freshness makes the lavender, juniper and musk in Absinthe Boréale seem enrobed in a delicate frost. The juicy heat of chili and the earthy depth of vetiver makes the orange and bergamot inside Citrus Batikanga sizzle in the bustling heat of a tropical market.
If all this sounds a bit far-fetched, like those sommeliers who tell you you must be able to taste butter in your chardonnay, don’t worry. The ultimate truism of fragrance is that all scent is subjective. But asking yourself which textures, colours or temperatures you sense when you smell a perfume, regardless of what you come up with, can help make sense of a fragrance’s energy, which will, in turn, hint at what it might feel like to wear it. For example, while everybody’s skin is different, a cool, airy or watery fragrance might leave a more casual impression on your skin than something dark, syrupy, sandy or hot.
Finally, looking for textures is a way to rediscover ingredients or scent families you thought you knew. If you love earthy and smoky notes, but you can’t imagine wearing them to the office, you could step away from the hottest, driest Tauer scents, for example, and towards a more liquid and transparent scent like Smoke Show. If light floral perfumes often feel aggressive and headache-inducing, but you love the scent of real flowers, you could try finding scents that are less cool, bright and sharp and more velvety and warm. And if you thought you hated powdery fragrances because they always feel too “classic”, meet Crivelli’s Papyrus Moléculaire or Iris Malikhan, which both take the concept of powder in richer, darker, edgier, and more contemporary directions.
– David, Director of Fragrance at Etiket
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