Is your scent in ‘beast mode’ yet?
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The modern lipstick “wardrobe” probably contains at least three or four colours. You might have a shade that’s just a little deeper than your natural lip tone; maybe a brownish-pink; and then a bright red for when you feel like turning up the volume.
With perfume, there’s less variety when it comes to making an impact. Since 1980s blockbusters such as Giorgio Beverly Hills, Dior’s Poison and Obsession by Calvin Klein, fragrance trends (with a few notable exceptions, mainly courtesy of Tom Ford) have been understated to the point of barely audible. Candles have taken care of the need to scent our space, and perfume has been more intimate.
But now, the vogue for subtle, tasteful “second skin” fragrances is giving way to a new olfactive mood — and it’s one that is unapologetically louder. It’s a newly ignited love for perfumes with punch; the ones that appear to have been ladled rather than spritzed on; that enter the room well before you do. Scent bloggers call it “beast mode” perfumery. For men, it’s a way to describe fragrances with extreme staying power — 24 hours being a common benchmark — that are also determinedly “irresistible”. Typical examples are the bestseller Paco Rabanne 1 Million (from £64), as well as Armani Stronger With You Intensely (£62) and Versace Eros (from £64).
For women, it’s about smelling confident and expensive. Both were the dominant descriptions used on #PerfumeTok (the most fragrant corner of TikTok) to describe Francis Kurkdjian’s Baccarat Rouge 540 (from £155), which launched in 2015 but has had a resurgence thanks to a frenzy on social media. It’s a complex, gorgeous and attention-seeking scent that the perfumer describes as “powerful without being heavy”. It contains some of perfumery’s biggest hitting ingredients — saffron, jasmine and ambergris, underpinned by woody notes — and its re-emergence put bold, complex perfumes back on the map.
What does expensive smell like? A common palette of notes runs through many of these new scents: patchouli, saffron, oud, woody and smoky notes, and spices. Whereas the big perfumes of the 1980s often overdosed on big florals, these new perfumes have a sleeker feel; the woods and spices impress themselves firmly but gently. They are big, but they are also clever. From LBTY, Liberty’s new own-label perfume collection, Tudor (£225), by perfumer Pierre Negrin (who was behind Black Orchid and White Patchouli for Tom Ford) is sophisticatedly self-assured.
Beast mode is partly about intensity (Guerlain has introduced a new Forte strength for some of its traditionally refreshing Aqua Allegoria scents), but more than anything it is about enjoying a sense of maximalism. Écrin de Fumée (from £125), the new perfume from Serge Lutens (never one to shy away from intense), features sweet tobacco, which the brand describes as being for “those for whom excess is a way of life”. And Byredo’s latest addition to its Night Veils collection, Rouge Chaotique (£250), is about “accepting the chaos within any creative process”. Meanwhile, the makers of luxe French lipsticks La Bouche Rouge have created a collection of fine fragrances: Rouge (£195), centred around patchouli and benzoin, is described as “anything but reasonable”.
The trend looks set to last. There’s a confirmation bias in wearing big scents that is akin to listening to your headphones at the very highest level; once you’ve made the decision to go louder, the only way is up.
“We’re definitely living with a global trend in perfumery where things are getting bigger,” says Nick Steward, founder of British perfume house Gallivant. “Some would say screechy. The reason I chose travel as a theme is that I think one of the powers of perfume is that it can transport you.” (His new perfume oils, in scents that conjure Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, London and Los Angeles, are a potent way of celebrating the bold beauty of those respective cities.) “I would love people to enjoy a beautiful perfume in the same way they would enjoy a fabulous meal. Sometimes a real sense of theatre is what you need. But sometimes less is more.” Douse sparingly.