The evolution of fragrance – Next generation perfumes
The way we choose what fragrance we wear is evolving. There was a time when the perfume you picked came down to the fashion house you idolised, the celebrity du jour or possibly even the ad campaign – who could forget the Baz Luhrmann directed Chanel advert with Nicole Kidman or Charlize Theron stepping out of liquid gold on behalf of J’Adore by Dior. However, there’s been a seismic shift in scent and while there will always be a place for traditional fragrance houses, there’s an overwhelming amount of new, niche brands popping up that bring with them unique notes, sustainable innovations and an intricate back story.
“Traditional designers and fragrance houses will never disappear – where would perfumery be without scents like Chanel No5 or YSL Opium – but the fragrance world has been defined by these ‘designer’ scents for so long that there was a bit of a vacuum in the industry and a real hunger for innovative fragrances,” says Emily Cameron, creative director at Ffern, who produce four fragrances a year in line with each season, make each to order so there is zero waste and involve their ledger members (who get first dibs on each iteration) on the notes and emotions they want to embrace in the next fragrance. “It’s a collaborative process and their support and trust allow us the freedom to innovate. In return we give them a personal experience that doesn’t really have an equivalent in the current market.”
There’s also a change in how we’re choosing our fragrance. “Scent is deeply personal and I think people are becoming more interested in finding a scent that feels true to them, rather than a perceived brand persona. Our connection with scent is such an emotional one and there’s definitely a trend for scents to shift your emotions – whether it’s calming, uplifting, empowering or something more complex,” explains Beckielou Brown, perfume creator and co-founder of Altra, a new fragrance brand that defines itself as ‘profuture’ and has launched with five genderless scents designed to offer a new perspective on natural scent.
Perfumer and founder of her namesake brand, Ruth Mastenbroek agrees: “Covid has given rise to an enormous surge in creativity and exploration – both of self and of the world and we’ve learnt we need to be in tune with our emotions – and because scent links so beautifully with our brains and our memories, as well as emotions, it can trigger powerful positive feelings. That’s why I wanted to utilise the power of essential oils in my Magic of Nature perfume collection – for example peppermint not only smells fresh, zingy and divine, but it can help reduce anxiety so why not tap into this hidden power?”
Four years in the making, new brand Edeniste has taken it one step further and created seven Eua de Parfum’s that fuse olfaction and neuroscience to create ‘active wellbeing’ fine fragrances that have been clinically tested to improve your emotional state. Singling out specific olfactive molecules that have a proven impact on the body’s limbic system and using tests such as fMRI scans, EEG analysis along with a biosensor and saliva test – everything from heart rates to cortisol levels to muscle tension were analysed to ensure the fragrances actively altered the wearer’s responses to ensure they settled into a more relaxed and destressed state.
A rise in natural notes
The power of aromatherapy along with more natural ingredients is another common denominator in these new scent shape shifters. “Naturals are nuanced, volatile, complex and alive – they carry the imprint of the specific country and territory they grew in, the hands that harvested them and the distillation process, all before you even get to work them into a composition. I find it magical to have that connection with nature whenever you wear your scent,” says Brown.
Their composition also means that they smell completely different on everyone – which is perfect when personalisation is dominating beauty right now. “Because they contain hundreds of different scent molecules (as opposed to a synthesised ingredient which contains only one scent molecule), plant-derived ingredients interact together in an unexpected way. They also react with the wearer’s skin chemistry which means they have a very unique scent on each person,” continues Cameron.
Taking the bespoke method and using it as part of their USP, Experimental Perfume Club have off-the-shelf fragrances you can purchase but they also offer simple blending consultations all the way through to more intense courses where you leave as a perfumer. “For years perfume has been a ‘one size fits all’ market but people are unique and they want to reflect that and be involved in the process which is why we invite everyone to get involved in the creation side,” says founder and perfumer, Emmanuelle Moeglin. Even if you can’t get to their online store you can curate your own fragrance virtually using their scent designer tool which lets you choose your own base, mid and top notes.
Something else you might have noticed is a move away from ‘gendered’ or ‘unisex’ terminology. In line with much of the rest of the beauty industry, gender neutral or genderless are being used by niche brands to prevent their perfumes from being prescriptive. “In the past brands have portrayed very different images when promoting scent and hyper masculine or feminine imagery in advertising has tied scents to a specific gender. Then you had ‘unisex’ scents like CKOne that could feel outdated with the current perfume trends. We refer to our scents as genderless as I’ve personally never subscribed to perfume being categorised in that way,” says Brown.
More sustainable scents
A huge area for development is the sustainability of scents. “People want more solutions that reduce waste, conserve energy and don’t drain the environment,” admits perfumer Nic Mastenbroek. So does this spell the end for over-extravagant bottles, layers of cellophane and plastic packaging that’s become synonymous with the perfume industry? Here’s hoping. “At Ffern we use mycelium (a combination of fungi and wood chips that are a byproduct of the timber industry) to make our bottle trays which can then be composted at home or reused. The rest of our packaging, including bottles, can simply be recycled,” says Cameron. “We also make a huge effort to be transparent about the ingredients we use and where we get them from, making sure we work with ethical suppliers who source plant materials in sustainable ways. For example our sandalwood comes from newly cultivated groves in Australia rather than from threatened wild populations in India.”
For new brand, To The Fairest they use packaging made from pulped coffee cups, are experimenting with bio-cello wrap and their entire supply chain is based in the UK to ensure they have the opportunity to support other UK independent businesses in every part of the production process – from sourcing materials to building creative partnerships.
Refills are another tactic that fragrance brands are leaning towards. Floral Street and Experimental Perfume Club both have refill fountains in store while Altra has refill cartridges so you never have to throw away the original bottle. “We felt that good design should be used to solve problems and that by creating an object of beauty and longevity you move away from a throw-away culture and encourage people to re-use,” continues Brown.
The upcycling of ingredients is one to watch too – even traditional brands such as Miller Harris are investigating how they can use ‘offcuts’ of ingredients that would usually go to waste – for example the rose water that is left over after distilling the oil has been added to its latest Myrica Muse fragrance, along with upcycled patchouli. Not only does it create more depth to the scent because more of the natural ingredient is used giving it a fuller fragrance profile, it prevents precious compounds being binned. Using leftover products from the fruit juice, timber and food industries to create perfume materials are also starting to appear.
Elevating perfumes via technology
Upcycling isn’t the only new trend in ingredients. Cameron at Ffern flags their use of unexpected and non-traditional ingredients like vegetables and black tea while advances in biotech mean that science is allowing for more nature-identical scents to be produced along with improved biodegradability. “Technologies that use things like fermentation and biocatalysis means that innovative ingredients that maximise performance while minimising environmental impact can now be created,” says Chriselle Lim, creative director of Phlur, a fine fragrance brand that became a TikTok sensation before it even launched into the UK.
The digital world is also having an impact with many of the larger fragrance houses entering the metaverse and creating scent experiences for potential consumers IRL. “Some interesting things are happening with AI and there have been attempts to link creative perfumery with the metaverse,” says Rebecca Rose, founder of To The Fairest. Just like your avatar can change every time you enter the virtual world and depict the mood you’re feeling at that moment, or the image you want to project, so too can fragrance. “Although nostalgic perfume will always be popular, interesting things are happening in creative perfumery where the scents are becoming a projection of our future selves and how we want to feel that day. Our choice of perfume can help shape the answer to that question,” she continues.
Altra are also eyeballing the digital opportunities. “I’m fascinated by how something as sensorial as scent can cross over into the virtual world. We wanted to find a way to translate our scent into a digital space for launch and worked closely with an incredible artist, George Jasper Stone to create these immersive digital scent moods offering a new way to imagine the experience of scent and evoke emotions for the viewer in an increasingly digital landscape,” explains Cameron.
The future of fragrance
Unconventional olfactory notes, ethical and eco-friendly production methods and a new way of wearing fragrance, be it via layering or choosing a scent to tell a story or convey an emotion, we’re entering a new era of perfume history. “The market is evolving in a really interesting way and while I can see the traditional brands continuing to grow, there is definitely a new breed of scents, spearheaded by challenger and ethical brands who offer a variety of truly environmentally conscious products,” concludes Nic Mastenbroek.