What Your Favorite Celebrity Signature Scent Says About You


I guess I should stop being surprised by anything to do with the Kardashian-Jenner clan. The juggernaut just keeps rolling along, the news feed keeps refreshing, and for the most part, I’ve learned to take plot twists involving any of the various Ks in stride. Kylie gave birth to a baby girl named Stormi? Sure, whatever. But I was nevertheless stunned to find out that Kim’s new Kimoji perfumes tallied up more than $10 million in sales in the four days following its February release. It’s not that I doubt the popularity of Kim Kardashian West. It’s just that I’d assumed celebrity fragrances had stopped being a thing.

I mean, when you get right down to it, what is the appeal of a celebrity scent? I was asking myself that question when I heard the Kimoji news, and I asked it again when I found out that the gym Equinox had collaborated with stylist Mel Ottenberg and the custom fragrance house 12:29 to create a one-off scent, to be auctioned off for charity, infused with the actual DNA of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Whoever posts the winning bid for that perfume—Eau de Blood, Sweat & Tears—will literally be putting a bit of her hero on her body. Which I guess is the point of a celebrity fragrance, unless it’s not.

A friend of mine used to wear J. Lo’s Glow. We were living together in 2002, the year the perfume hit stores, and I once asked her whether she thought the fragrance—a clean but distinctively sweet scent, with a furtive musky note—smelled like Jennifer Lopez. “I guess so,” she replied, “if she happens to be wearing Glow.” She just liked the way Glow smelled.

I liked the smell of Glow, too. But lots of perfumes smell nice, and given my druthers, I preferred one that came with no celebrity strings attached. Other women plainly felt otherwise. The stunning success of Glow set the stage for a generation of blockbuster celeb scents–Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely; Curious by Britney Spears; Paris Hilton’s original eponymous perfume, first in a series that now numbers 24 fragrances, three of which were just released last year. There are still enough Paris Hilton fans to support three new Paris Hilton perfumes a year! Who are they? I’m genuinely curious about that.

And I’ve always wondered, too, whether women buy these scents because they think they will smell like the famous figures they admire—which was the case with Givenchy’s 1957 hit, L’Interdit, based on a perfume designed for Audrey Hepburn, and the suite of eaux created by Elizabeth Taylor, who was known to wear only her own fragrances—or if they’re investing in an aura. Which is to say, you wear Rihanna’s Riri’s Kiss not because it smells like Riri, but because it smells like her personal brand—a sprightly blend of citrus, white florals and wood, apparently.

There’s a distinction there, one that KKW seems to understand. Kimoji is all personal brand—the cutesy heart-shaped bottles, the fragrance names Bae, BFF, Ride or Die. These are social media scents, touching off associations with the part of Kim Kardashian her fans really do get to interact with. I suspect that a woman purchasing one or more of these scents is doing so less as a way of honoring Kim, than celebrating the relationship she has to her. Which makes the Kimoji suite a smart evolution of the celebrity fragrance category, in that it captures the element that had been missing in previous iterations: Acknowledgment of the end-user.

As recently as late last year, it seemed as though the celebrity scent trend had completely inverted. Studiously anonymous niche brands were on the rise: Le Labo, Byredo, Regime des Fleurs, DS & Durga are only a few of the houses that emerged in counterpoint to the celebrity scent phenomenon, each of them emphasizing integrity of ingredients and sui generis complexity of bouquet. Meanwhile, celebrity fragrances had bottomed out, comprising a meager 4% of the market, down from about 10% in 2009. Granted, I was never a star-oriented fragrance consumer, but when I paid a visit to Lyn Harris’ Perfumer H boutique in London last fall, Harris told me that my aims tallied with that of her growing clientele. Choosing between the nose’s bespoke blends featuring notes of charcoal, velvet or ink, I was trying to pick out a perfume that personified me. And that, Harris said, was typical—her customer came to Perfumer H to find a scent that elaborated her own personal brand. “Sometimes it’s about nostalgia,” she explained. “Sometimes it’s about a perfume that—discreetly—puts forward the version of you that you want people to perceive.”

Luxury consultant Catherine Walsh says that the shift in our relationship to celebrity scents is due to a shift in the nature of celebrity itself. Walsh was a top executive for fragrance behemoth Coty, and in the years since she approached Jennifer Lopez to develop Glow, she acknowledges that there’s been a loss in cache. “A star used to be a star—there were only a few of them. Then comes reality TV, etcetera. And in the meantime,” she adds, “we’ve all gotten more wary of marketing. I mean, I can tell you, Glow came from Jennifer; if you meet her in person, she really does glow. And the scent came from my smelling her skin after she’d just gotten out of the shower. Would it be as big a hit today? I’m not sure, because now women are more interested in exploring their own identities.”

The success of Kimoji underlines, rather than rebuts, Walsh’s point. For the Kardashian-obssessed, their obsession is a component of personal identity—just sharing in the legacy of female athletics is for the woman who yearns to mingle her sweat with Kathrine Switzer’s DNA as she crosses the Boston finish line. Maybe, for the legions of Paris Hilton fans, wearing one of her new scents does the same, affirming a relationship of longstanding. I still don’t get it, honestly, but I have come closer to understanding. I must admit that I fell in love with a celebrity fragrance in the course of researching this story. Like This, a scent from the independent Parisian house Etat Libre d’Oranger, was conceived in collaboration with Tilda Swinton, and I swooned over its fusion of warm ginger and carrots and sprightly citrus notes. Was I also swooning, just a bit, over my admiration for Tilda Swinton? Perhaps. One of the things I like about her—a quality I seek to emulate—is that she is always, irreducibly, herself.



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