Scents – like cars, clothes, and buildings – are designed. Perfumers always keep their finger on the pulse, sifting through emerging trends and aesthetics to find their next bottled opportunity. The recent rise in minimal perfumes like Glossier You and Byredo’s Elevator Music – or what the New York Times likes to call The New Softies – aligns with the Scandinavian wellness movement. The upswing in hygge, lykke, lagom and now Swedish death cleaning needs an olfactory equivalent, and no-perfume perfume seems to fit the bill.
It smells clean and unobtrusive, making it easier on sensitive noses. It’s heavy on the base notes and difficult to describe. Mass-market categorizations like floral, fruity, spicy and woody don’t begin to cover it. Glossier You describes itself as warm, creamy and salty, “like the smell of your own skin.” The barely-there, hardly detectable quality feels cozy and intimate; one needs to stand close to the wearer to get a good whiff. Like the fabled emperor, only you know you’re wearing it.
Why would you spend north of $100 on something that doesn’t smell like anything? The je ne sais quoi and effortlessness embedded in these high-end fragrances have been love at first sniff for many a millennial. It’s not much different from no-makeup makeup, where you need an arsenal of beauty products to help you look barefaced. Or the white T-shirt from an obscure designer that comes with one weird fold and probably costs a grand. Or even the sock-like sneakers that everyone from Nike to Balenciaga are putting on the market, effectively making it the “no-shoe” shoe.
Scents can stir emotions and activate memories. Perfumers have the opportunity to create powerful visceral experiences around our sense of smell. After Museum of Ice Cream, 29 Rooms and Color Factory, the next pop-up exhibition (maybe call it The Ol Factory?) could be a highly immersive, interactive smellscape. Museums and cultural institutions have the opportunity to elevate perfume to art. Eckhaus Latta’s shoppable exhibit at the Whitney has Waves by Régime des Fleurs wafting through the rooms.
The “no-perfume” perfume trend brings up more questions than answers. But the road ahead is clear. It’s time for the world of perfumery to go wild, think like artists and explore the most esoteric of themes. One Reddit user demands, “I want to smell like a bonfire please.” What do Thursdays smell like? Or sunsets? Fresh milk? How about a computer screen? The world is a perfumer’s playground. Whoever gets there first will enjoy the sweet, sweet smell of success.