The Niche Fragrance You Should Buy, Based on the Perfume You Wore as a Teen
For many a millennial or Gen X teen, the mall — may she rest in peace — was the place to be on a Friday night. Armed with the $10 we begged our mothers for on our way out the door, we set off for Bath & Body Works in packs of three to five, a truly terrifying posse of hormones on legs. Later we'd hit Victoria's Secret, where we hung out in the beauty section and sprayed each other obnoxiously with Love Spell while nervously eyeing the lacy lingerie and dreaming of a day when we might have a reason to buy some.
Over the years, I developed quite the collection of Bath & Body Works lotions, body sprays, and cheap perfumes. But the crown jewel of my collection was the bottle of Marc Jacobs Daisy that I had saved up to buy my junior year of high school. I displayed ite on my shelf proudly for my friends to see when they came over, and they did the same with their bottles of Vera Wang Princess, Clinique Happy, and Ed Hardy fragrances.
There was something about Daisy that felt more "official" than a simple body spray — perhaps it was the glass bottle or the gold hardware or the designer name. Wearing Daisy felt like stepping out of the shower in late spring after a long day of school work and soccer practice, something I'd put on before a beach bonfire with my crush. In a way, it represented an idealized version of who I wanted to be, someone who wears "light" perfume, but doesn't think twice about it.
While I'm pretty sure my bottle of Daisy is sitting somewhere at my dad's house, I'm now looking for something more intense, spicier. Maybe it's still floral, but not quite so universally appealing; something an Ingrid Bergman character might wear. A scent that announces itself, and was thought about.
To find my new go-to, I spoke to Mindy Yang, founder and CEO of Perfumarie, a retail lab and brand incubator in New York. But first, she broke down a bit of the history of the perfume industry, how women's relationships with scents have evolved over different generations, and what trippy fragrances the future holds.
What makes a teen scent?
Yang says youthful scents tend to be lighter and fresher than the heavy or spicy fragrances of our grandmothers' era. "The notes tend to be more of your brighter white-florals-meets-fruit profiles, more gourmandy," says Yang.
"We always have the orange flowers as very popular notes," she continues. "Your nerolis and grapefruits and citrus on top are really popular. And then you also have sporty profiles, aquatic profiles. Basically, the vibes are happy and fresh and invigorating." And it's not just a certain type of scent that appeals to younger women. "You see a little bit of a ritual in the experience of wearing it," she adds, "like, 'I'm wearing a perfume. I'm grown-up.'"
Boomers vs. Gen X vs. Millennials vs. Gen Z
Boomers, Yang explains, tended to look at their perfumes as their signature. Purchasing perfume was an event, and women wanted "really big, heavy perfumes, like your Opium and your Chanel No. 5s, and fragrances that have big designer houses behind them and usually a very high-impact signature." Or else they opted for scents they picked up at the beauty counter, a treat while grabbing the essentials at Macy's.
Gen X, on the other hand, came of age in the era of celebrity perfumes. "You have a Revlon, L'Oreal, all these brands, and they're basically all about the celebrity," says Yang. Popular celeb fragrances included Elizabeth Taylor's Pearls, the Spice Girls' Impulse, and Naomi Campbell's eponymous perfume. In this era, she explains, "fragrances smelled really similar, and they are mostly synthetic, and mostly fresh and inexpensive and brights scents."
By the time millennials arrived on the scene, we were seeking fresh fragrances and steering clear of celebrity lines (save for Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, both prolific perfumers who are in a league of their own). This is also the era when a scent was treated less like a signature and more like a lipstick — something that sets the tone for your day, says Yang.
Now that we've mostly aged out of the celebrity-crush stage of shopping, millennials and Gen Z are all about "artistic" scents and fragrance education, which includes an emphasis on sustainability and gaining a true understanding of where and how ingredients are sourced. Rather than buying a scent to fit in, this cohort is concerned with finding a fragrance that draws, "What's that? I've never seen it before." The urge to have what no one else has can be appealing at any age — as is the rush of finding the exact scent to match a specific vibe or mood — and Yang says artistic fragrances are growing in popularity for that exact reason.
"There's a huge collector base for something that is truly more like fragrance as art, which I love, because why isn't fragrance art?" she notes.
Shopping tips for every generation:
So how do you find the adult scent that matches the essence of what you loved in your youth? First, see if we've found its match for you below. If not, Yang has a clever hack: "If [your perfume] is by a well-known brand, there's always a perfumer behind it," she explains.
She likened the way a perfumer moves between brands to the way a fashion designer might migrate between luxury houses. When Raf Simons was at Dior, for example, his creations were very different than the pieces he designed for Calvin Klein. Though, for the most part, you could still feel Raf's hand in every collection. The same rule of tracing applies to the fragrance industry. Follow a perfumer's career, and you may just find they created scents that matured alongside your fragrance predilections.
But Yang hand-picked some present-day matches based on popular youthful choices you might love, too. Here, 10 scents for your perfume glow-up, based on what you wore as a teen:
Vera Wang Princess: Teisenddu
Princess's warm vanilla spice notes are elevated in Teisenddu, which captures that same sweet warmth with "a delicious heart of dried fruit and nuts macerated in rum and enveloped by honeyed mimosa, while an intriguing blend of leather and dark sugar crystals complete the recipe," according to the website.
Marc Jacobs Daisy: Eau Papaguena
"Marc's youthful, sunny floral scent is elevated with a burst of sunshine from the wild jungle of Bali," says Yang. "This dynamic perfume offers the same uplifting spirit, but its luxurious and luminous raw materials make Eau Papaguena feel exceptionally special."
Clinique Happy: Éclat de Joie
"Éclat de Joie features Happy's signature juxtaposition of fresh, vibrant and soft, subtle notes," Yang tells InStyle. "A rare perfume for a new generation, Éclat de Joie sports citrus, fresh-floral opening, but instead of mimosa, it confidently stars the iris — one of the most expensive raw materials in the world. Black peppercorns add an earthy, smoky edge to the sensual base of musk."
Miss Dior: Elixir Absolu
Not that you should judge a perfume by its bottle, but both Miss Dior and Elixir Absolu share super feminine energy with their pink color and classic shapes. Beyond how they'll look in your shelfie, though, both share rose and mandarin notes. Elixir Absolu's sandalwood base notes, however, make it that much more sumptuous.
RALPH by Ralph Lauren: Tudo Azul
RALPH by Ralph Lauren was a stand out in the hallways dominated by vanilla and floral scents. With base notes of vetiver, as well as top notes of lime and madarin oil, Tudo Azul is similarly show-stopping.
Bath & Body Works Warm Vanilla: Sesame Chan
"Creamy vanilla is comforting, good for layering, and easy to wear," says Yang. "Genderless, sophisticated, and a true aphrodisiac, Sesame Chan is one of my favorite new gourmand perfumes because it's so intriguing, exotic, nutty, and utterly delightful! Anima Vinci is new to the world, but Sesame Chan (along with Tudo Azul) has already won global fragrance and clean beauty awards."
ck one: Hydrogen
Maybe you remember the ck one ads of the aughts, maybe you don't. But if there's one thing I took away from the images of young, slender models in low rise jeans and cropped tank tops smushed together, it was the insinuation of sex. And Hydrogen is looking to hit that same, sensual chord. "Musk accords, the beginning of sensuality and sexuality," reads the description. With basil, vanilla, and oak moss notes, it's certainly savory.
Gucci Envy Me: Aventure
If Gucci's Envy Me could be described as a sweet, floral-fruity fragrance, then Aventure, with its bergamot, peach, and jasmine notes, could be described as the spicier floral-fruity fragrance.
Paris Hilton Eu de Parfum: Neon Graffiti
Paris Hilton is a DJ, and Neon Graffiti was inspired by M.I.A.'s "Sunflowers." If that's not enough to convince you to jump on board the Neon Graffiti train, then the notes of mint, mango, and cedarwood — a more refined take on Hilton's uber fruity scent — just might.
Britney Spears Curious: Nightingale
With top notes of sandalwood and frankincense, and heart notes of Japanese plum blossom, red rose and violet, Nightingale (by Zoologist, a brand which celebrates the affective profile of animals, including the dodo and the elephant) is at once woody and floral, a muskier counterpart to Spears's Curious.