The way we smell can make as much of an impact as a new haircut or lip color. Especially when meeting someone new, it can create a lasting impression—intentional or not. Science supports that idea, as studies show that our olfactory sense can be the most evocative, helping us to recall remarkably vivid memories. For that reason, some people choose to switch up their scent with each new year, while others have a different scent for every season. Then, with one drop of perfume, we can be whisked back to that scent's "era" as if it happened yesterday.
If you love fragrance, you've probably heard of Le Labo. The beloved brand boasts genderless, unique scents that have spawned such devotion, there's an entire Instagram account devoted to what people say about them. Its founders wanted to imagine sensuality as a concept before assigning it to a particular flavor or mood, and this ingenuity has amassed an empire of passionate fans, whether you're a Rose 31 person or prefer Santal 33. In the same vein, there's been a whole new slew of niche, smartly packaged fragrance brands with unique, intoxicating scents on the market.
Ahead, our 12 favorites. Go ahead, and get spritz happy.
Inspired by French refinement, fine fragrance brand Ex Nihilo offers beautifully underscored fragrance with an edge. Though it does offer some scents for women specifically, most of its products are unisex. Our favorites are Devil Tender, a pale-pink potion boasting notes of pink pepper, pink grapefruit, and seductive florals, as well as Fleur Narcotique, a bewitching concoction of lychee and peach.
D.S. & Durga
The founders of D.S. & Durga, a musician and an architect, made it their mission to use all the most beautiful scents they found in their travels. This has led to unique, distinctive scents such as the softly intoxicating White Peacock Lily and the new cedar- and cardamom-infused Amber Teutonic, which is perfect for the colder months. In fact, they have a story for every single scent they create, which might make the entire collection the best-smelling novel of all time.
Gender is no object for Carlen, a niche fragrance brand named after the female German name meaning “free man.” The brand extends this égalité to its sleek packaging and the fragrances themselves, which are inspired by art of all media. One scent called Men of Blame is inspired by Hollywood leading men of yesteryear with notes of black resin and pepper, while the basil- and neroli-infused Butch Femme is meant to reflect Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photograph of a young Sicilian man dressed as a peasant woman.
We're partial to Coco Flor, a heady mix of coconut, white lily, jasmine, and incense that brings to mind the languid, humid summer nights you'll always remember.
Created in Los Angeles, Dedcool is the perfect fragrance for the cool, conscious consumer. Whether the scents are rich, like Red (Dakota), or fresh, like Rocco, they're always made from natural ingredients in the form of nontoxic sprays. Also, the brand prides itself on being vegan, cruelty-free, and unisex.
Chemistry defines Escentric Molecules. Perfumer Geza Schoen produces scents in pairs from a particular chemical compound—one under the title Escentric and one as Molecule. The former accentuates notes that give the scent depth, but purists will prefer the Molecule line. For a fresh, juniper scent, try Escentric 02 Ambroxan, or opt for a more rugged version with Molecule 04 Javanol, derived from sandalwood with a hint of bitter citrus.
Goldfield & Banks
Owning a bottle of Goldfield & Banks means you'll be greeted by a bright, pastel-hued bottle every morning. But that's not the only thing distinctive about this rising fragrance brand. The line was inspired by the founder's home country of Australia and all its botanical wonders, which he's taken and infused into each of the scents in the collection. One inhale of Pacific Rock Moss, and you'll instantly be transported to Australia's impossibly blue beaches, while the bright-pink Southern Bloom honors the rare Boronia flower, which blooms only for a short period in the Australian island of Bruny.
Founder Douglas Little wanted to explore a fine fragrance based on natural scents that we typically only find in aromatherapy at spas. Thus, Heretic was born. The scents can sound tongue-in-cheek (Holi Water, Pistil Whip), but are always filled with Mother Nature’s best ingredients—flower and plant essences—and no synthetics.
The five elements and rules of feng shui govern the perfumes of The Harmonist. Your tastes will depend upon a particular balance of fire, water, wood, earth, and metal, which create beautifully complementary scents between their yin and yang versions. Desired Earth conjures energized determination, as though on a snow-capped mountain top, but if you prefer something warmer, Hypnotizing Fire is bewitchingly smoky and sensual.
Based in New York, Vilhelm Parfumerie centers scents around ideas—as whimsical and fantastical as you can imagine from all corners of the world. The perfume known as Black Citrus is described as a “clean breath of London,” hinting at its cardamom and bergamot profile. Dirty Velvet instantly transports you to your most illicit night with notes of pomelo, tobacco leaves, and sandalwood.
Hypoallergenic fragrance may sound like an oxymoron, but Skylar has managed to develop that very thing—and make it really, really good. Not only that, but the company is also vegan and never tests on animals. Each of its six scents has a unique style. For floral, summer vibes, try Meadow; for a warm, wintery scent, Arrow will be your best best.
The founders of Hermetica, John and Clara Molloy, spent two years developing their hybrid, alcohol-free formula. (They also happen to be the founders of another Byrdie-favorite fragrance line, Memo.) Greenlion is an assertive green musk we can't stop smelling, while Sandalsun has overtones of vanilla and hazelnut for a perfect winter scent. Other than being alcohol-free, Hermetica also happens to be socially conscious from the top down: It sources molecules sustainably to create its scents and package them in recycled glass.
Phlur, pronounced like the French word for flower, is a fragrance line that wants to reimagine the way you wear and discover perfume. Byrdie features editor Amanda Montell is a fan of its sustainably made packaging, its smart design, and the fact that it lists all of its all-natural ingredients online. “These perfumes smell expensive,” she said, naming the fresh Hanami and spicy Moab as her personal favorites.
Click here for the fragrances we wear that attract mega compliments.