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Perfume: Invisible Beauty in a Visual World by Isabella Brewer

Imagine you’re walking in a crowd of too many people; you’re surrounded by a crowd full of styles, faces, and personalities that are flowing, colliding, and then disappearing - never to be seen again. But suddenly, you catch the irresistible trail of someone’s perfume, and you stop walking. You turn around to the point that your head spins trying to figure out who the scent belonged to, knowing that you’ll never find out who they were. Sound familiar?

The magic of perfume calls to us in a way that no other form of fashion or beauty can. It gets close to us, wraps around us, and - if it’s particularly good - it makes us want to get closer to whoever is wearing it. Perfume turns our heads when we aren’t expecting it, and it makes strangers unforgettable; it even has the power to instantly remind us of moments in our past through scent memory.

Exhibit A:

(Photo Source: Gilmour)

In the playground of my childhood daycare there was a large fence; over this fence grew a waterfall of honeysuckle vines producing the most beautifully soft honey scent. The scent was made even fresher and purer by all the leaves surrounding it. Now, whenever I pass by a cluster of honeysuckle or smell that honey note in a perfume, I unconsciously feel happier. Somehow, I’m transported back by the scents to then sunny days of my childhood when I would spend my time picking the honeysuckle flowers apart to get to the tiny droplets of honey inside.

Experiences such as mine are possible because our sense of smell is linked to memory in a way that no other sense is. When we smell something, that smell is received in our olfactory bulb (our “smell center”), which is connected to our amygdala and hippocampus: the parts of our brain that house emotion and memory. In this way, a small flower might bring some people happy thoughts, while a particular food-smell like licorice might take another person back to a bad experience.

In all cases, a good perfume can elevate the style and mood of whoever wears it. At its best, it is like a magic essence or potion: unforgettable and transformative - an extension of your character that boosts your mood and greets people even before you do. And this is no small thing, because if every person were to be some kind of model showcasing some unique aesthetic and identity through outward style, then we all make for interesting pictures in a magazine. But how do we get that uniqueness to jump off the page? Perfume is three-dimensional; it animates.

In a world where our eyes are constantly oversaturated with media, advertisements, and people or things demanding our attention, we must allow for some blindness and let beauty speak to us in a different way - an intimate way - as our senses silently introduce us to the world anew through perfume.

And if your perfume were to speak to the world about you, what would you want it to say? Discover the elevated you among some of the popular categories of fragrance:

(Photo Source: R.A. Kearton/Getty Images)


The floral category is probably the one most identified with perfume, especially women’s perfume. Flowers are a classic fragrance note and remain very popular, especially notes like rose, jasmine, iris, and lily. Many people (men especially) have the idea that floral perfumes give headaches and make a young girl smell like an old lady. This idea is mostly a myth! Modern perfumes generally take one or two flower notes and create the perfume around them, as opposed to some older, more vintage perfumes, which made use of many more floral notes at a time. It would be too difficult to smell authentic flowers in order to familiarize yourself with their specific scents, so I recommend smelling these fragrances (which can be tested in Sephora):

  • Alien by Mugler: The jasmine note in this perfume is more of a conceptual, sensory jasmine than a green and authentic one, but this gives the fragrance a sultry and rich texture unlike any other kind of jasmine or floral fragrance that you could find on the market (one of the reasons for being called “alien”). With its amber notes, it projects strong and lasts pretty long. A great scent especially for a date night or a night out.

  • Bloom Nettare di Fiori by Gucci: This fragrance is an example of what is called a “white floral,” due to the presence of multiple white flowers of the same family - namely: jasmine, honeysuckle, and tuberose. These ingredients make it more of a traditional floral fragrance, but is more light-hearted and airy in tone, so it is marketed as a fragrance for younger women. Just picture a spring sundress!

  • Libre Intense by Yves Saint Laurent: This perfume has less distinguishable floral notes, but as a whole, it is a good example of warm floral fragrances; while the floral notes are not the star of the fragrance, it is still considered a beautiful floral fragrance as its subtle floral notes are sweetened or deepened by the warmer notes of its other ingredients. It is a more sophisticated, well-blended floral with lavender and vanilla. This scent was also very recently released and very well-received. See: businesswoman and wife-material.

(Photo Source: Oliver's Market)


“Gourmand,” a word of French origin, essentially is a fancier term for the kind of person we might call a “foodie” today. As the French greatly helped to popularize perfume in Western culture, we still use the term today to describe a subtype of perfumes that can smell especially delicious. To name a few, gourmand fragrances feature notes such as: cacao, vanilla, hazelnut, sugar, caramel, coffee beans, whipped cream, praline, and toffee. Because these fragrances smell as if they are edible, gourmand is an incredibly popular and desirable fragrance genre today. The release of the women’s perfume “Angel” by Mugler in 1992 is often credited as the penultimate designer fragrance that made gourmand so popular with the public, leading to the creation of more and more gourmand fragrances. Some would say that the Mugler perfume led to the over-saturation of these sweet-smelling fragrances in the designer world. However, my testing recommendations (available for testing in Sephora) are:

  • Angel Muse by Mugler: It smells like Nutella. You can look it up, everybody says so. It has a tiny bit of spice and earthiness in it, which gives it some dimension, but the unquestionable star is the hazelnut, which projects well, lasts long, and will have everybody wondering why you smell so delicious. A.K.A. “how to smell like a snack” ;) (Note: This fragrance is what they call a “flanker”, meaning a derivative or spin-off of an existing, original fragrance, often changing a few notes to create a new interpretation of that original fragrance. This is very popular in the fragrance industry: companies will see one of their own perfumes being loved by the public and create a new edition of it, like Angel Muse is a new edition of the original Angel).

  • Armani Code Cashmere by Giorgio Armani: Another flanker fragrance, this perfume smells just like the way a nice, warm, winter sweater feels. Its almond milk and white floral notes give it a cozy, soft, and inviting vibe. It is sophisticated enough for older women, but still romantic enough for younger ones. It is great for date-night snuggling, or just snuggling and sniffing your sweater because you can’t stop smelling yourself. (Now repeat that two times fast).

  • Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent: Its notes of vanilla and coffee beans - with a big, bold flavor - are sure to get the attention of anyone and everyone. Black Opium is a very famous perfume for its big projection; many times, I’ve had women pass me and I’ve been able to recognize almost immediately that they are wearing this perfume. You could call it a crowd pleaser, but it really favors the bold, as in: big boss energy.

  • For Men: Rich, Warm, Addictive by Zara: Just what it says! The honey and coconut notes of this cologne sweeten a tobacco, sandalwood, and cedar combination, which is slightly sharp and pretty deep. It’s very affordable and I gave it to my dad, who fell in love at first sniff. (Disclaimer: Cannot test at local Sephora, but cheap enough to blind buy - I did.)

(Photo Source: Enrique Díaz / 7cero)


The fresh fragrance category is one that has mass appeal. Many people who are casually interested in fragrance don’t want to have any specific scent, but simply want to smell “fresh” - especially men! The fresh and clean vibe is often created through citrus notes from fruits such as lemon, grapefruit, apple, pear, and orange. In men’s perfumes, these fruity notes generally take the more fresh route when combined with a musk and some light, natural scents (e.g., sandalwood, iris); on the other hand, women’s fresh perfume is more likely to embrace these citrus notes and add more fruits like strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry to go for the more “fruity” vibe. All in all, these fragrances are great for smelling clean and lively, and they work especially well in hotter weather (though beware, very fresh scents generally are harder to make last longer). My testing recommendations (still testable at Sephora) are:

  • Light Blue Intense by Dolce & Gabbana: A very classic and celebrated citrus scent (for men and women). With notes of lemon, granny smith apple, jasmine, and musk, it would be difficult to find anything to dislike in this fragrance; however, the softness and subdued freshness of the scent is probably more suited to older women looking for an everyday (or even office) scent. This is a clean, sophisticated fragrance, but it’s not a bubbly, juicy, fruity perfume for young girls. The vibe: reclining on a lounge chair under some shade sipping a cool drink.

  • Chance Eau Fraiche by Chanel: A different take on fresh fragrances for women, this perfume leans somewhat masculine due to its notes of cedarwood, pink pepper, and iris giving some sharpness, yet still having the same jasmine, lemon, and musk combination common to most fresh perfumes. I think this Chanel perfume could easily be considered unisex, but it is more marketed towards women as designer fragrace houses (like Chanel) rarely do unisex perfumes, and this one is a flanker. Woody but fresh: get you a fragrance that can do both.

  • Her by Burberry: This is my favorite of this category’s list because it is one that I own and actively wear. It has the juiciness and punchy freshness that you think of when you hear “fruity,” but it is so beautifully blended with musk, jasmine, amber, and vanilla that it feels like you’re walking in a beautiful berry cloud. A very airy perfume, the smell is less sharp than your typical fragrance; it really has a cloudlike quality, where it doesn’t seem to be concentrated to the point where you spray it and it hovers around. The fragrance leaves a gorgeous, gourmand-like trail, with prominent notes such as: strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and black currant. It is very suitable for the young, although a more grown-up version of it might be Si by Giorgio Armani (which I also own and wore as a signature scent for 4 straight years). Her: need I say more about femininity?

  • Honorable Mentions: Sunshine by Amouage (apricot, white tobacco, vivacious, best fruit-focused fragrance I’ve ever smelled, but too expensive, niche, and can’t test in any local store) and Delina by Parfums du Marly (bubbly yet elegant, so feminine, gorgeous and light, sweet and tart, tiny spice punch, but too expensive, too exclusive, niche, and can’t test in any local store).

(Photos Sources: Grillseeker, purplle)


Musky, spicy, and smoky. Woody, earthy, and green. Miscellaneous, and more! The world of fragrance does not exist in a binary like feminine or masculine, sweet or deep; just as we walk out into the world everyday and our noses meet with an infinite number of smells, the perfume world is also limitless. The perfume world is a spectrum for the adventurous to create, sample, and explore. While the popular designer perfume houses (i.e., Chanel, YSL, Mugler, etc.) generally market their more mainstream fragrances under a gender binary (i.e. "for her" or "for him"), private collections in these designer houses (think: more expensive but more specialty) and especially niche perfume houses explore less typical scent profiles more often. That could mean anything from a bolder and spicier fragrance, to a perfume created specifically to be a "non-perfume" (see: "Not a Perfume" by Juliette Has a Gun, also testable in Sephora). Not only is there even a whole class of perfume created from a species of trees that became sick and produced a specific dark, nutty, and somewhat musty scent (i.e. oud - specifically popular in the Middle East), there also used to be perfume notes derived from animals (though these are much less common as ethical practices became much more widely observed). If it can be imagined, it probably has been created. But, some less-traditional fragrances (testable in Sephora) as a starting point are:

  • By the Fireplace by Maison Martin Margiela: The “Replica” series: where to start? This fragrance is so charming, so intoxicating, and just divine. The Replica series by Maison Martin Margiela seeks to recreate common experiences through olfaction - this one bringing a smokiness, a subtle spice, and an unexpected sweetness that really makes me want to light some logs on fire and roast a marshmallow. All of these Replica fragrances are marketed as unisex, so while I’d certainly love to smell this on a man, I’m definitely getting it for myself! The mood for this scent is really this line: “As we cuddle up next to the fireplace, we’ll be burning up our own flames.” - Sabrina Claudio, "Warm December"

  • Nomade Absolu de Parfum by Chloe: This is a beautiful, dreamy fragrance that makes me picture a fairytale forest. It’s incredibly uncommon for a woman’s designer perfume house to mass market a woody fragrance, since woody scents are so exclusively associated with men’s cologne by the general public; however, this perfume is so undoubtedly feminine and elegant. It has this light character because of its musk, a brightness from its plum, and an earthiness that overall just makes it feel like dreamy wanderlust. But why do I keep thinking of a princess sleeping on the ground of a fairytale forest?

  • Honorable mentions: Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford (dark, deep, gritty, but sweet, and unisex) and Aura by Mugler (bold, green, zany, lush-tropical-forest-attack). Both fragrances are not testable at Sephora, but the Mugler one is probably available for testing at your local Macy’s, and Sephora carries other Tom Ford fragrances.

These are just a few easily accessible fragrances to get you started, but if you want to learn any more about perfumes, I recommend, which is where I got information about fragrance notes and where you can find reviews, recommendations, and more! Happy sniffing, and remember: beauty doesn’t have to be just in the eye of the beholder, a beautiful mystery takes a good nose to sniff out!

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