There’s a sort of #minimalmood taking over my life at the moment. I’m talking wardrobe, skincare, make-up, all streamlined, only what’s important, only what feels like it belongs. Are you on the same page? It’s a trend that fragrance houses are responding to as well because the thing is, while I want to smell more like ‘me’, I still want to smell magical.
Like that perfect illuminator that no one knows I’m wearing except that I look a lot closer to angelic than I feel, this new breed of skin scents are intimate, subtle, and unapologetically scientific. Recent Mecca Cosmetica discovery and case in point: NYC’s Nomenclature. They don’t call their brand minimal per se, but about “belong-ism”, and they create luminous scents based on synthetic molecules that co-founder Carlos Quintero calls “magical realism”. It's about dimensionality, Quintero explains. “A fully natural fragrance becomes almost solid and flat, same with a 100% synthetic one, as it loses connection with memories and spaces. A truly dimensional fragrance travels in all directions, like a hologram. This can only be done by mixing molecules with naturals, and it is modern perfumery’s biggest achievement.”
Lab-made molecules aren’t by definition harsh or cold (or likely to bring you out in a rash). In fact, thanks to their transparency and unworldly character, they tend to blend in with our skin better, and that's what creates that sense of intimacy in modern minimal fragrances. It’s what allows a scent to stay close, feel like it belongs. People might not be able to pick what you’re wearing, just that you smell like magic.
Over 10 years ago, fragrance maverick Geza Schoen launched Molecule 01, a fragrance composed of just one molecule, Iso E Super, and people lost their minds (partly because the rumour went around that the scent could work as an aphrodisiac). Molecule 04 centres on Schoen’s latest obsession: javanol, a kind of sandalwood synthetic. It’s warm, spiked with citrus facets and simultaneously woody and transparent. And it has killer longevity.
More proof that simplicity can be sultry, Clean Amber Saffron might be your comedown from an addiction to super fruity fragrances. Subtly tinted with a sweet raspberry note, this combination of warm, glowing amber and the intriguing subtle spice and leathery vibe of saffron is indulgent but intimate and never overpowering. It’s pretty but texturally, smooth as suede.
Olfactive Studio is a French niche brand with a curious approach - aligning photographers with perfumers to create atmospheric fragrances that evoke locations, emotions and perspectives. The cult release Lumière Blanche displays a bleached beach scene, and the scent itself is as shimmering and bright as a sun-blinded view from a hot towel across white sand. Exotic spices (cardamom and star anise) and sweet almond milk create a warm/cool contrast in this pale, skin-clinging scent, the ultimate all-white-errything outfit companion...
Violets are a notoriously difficult note for perfumers to master - the real things are shy and tend to disappear in a scent. Not so with Lumen_esce, which uses a synthetic violet to create an ultra-violet effect that’s pretty addictive. It’s futuristic and feminine, with a sheer aquatic character and hints of white florals that never overwhelm. The base features another increasingly legendary fractionated patchouli that takes the hippy out of the herb to leave a clean kind of hydroponic earthiness - perfectly in keeping with those hyper-real purple petals.
Ambroxan is what gives that skin-but-better feel to pretty much every modern fragrance. So why not just buy it, unadulterated? Not A Perfume contains only a certain formulation of the synthetic molecule that mimics rare natural ambergris, a fixative used to give warmth and length to traditional fragrances. To some, Not A Perfume is a gimmick. To those who’ve had strangers chase them down the street to demand why they smell so good, it’s worth every penny. Animalic, sexy, slightly salty and reminiscent of pale woods but at the same time clean and fresh, you can also use Not A Perfume to pimp other fragrances that lack longevity or depth.
A minimalist’s dream, Silver Musk is futuristic in its sleek, metallic impression on the skin when first spritzed. Like a beam of iridescent light, bright and citrusy, I think it’s impossible not to feel exhilarated when applying it. But then, more sorcery occurs. Musk molecules are like big fat raindrops falling onto the skin - it takes them hours to slowly drift away. So for Silver Musk, that minimal, modern, almost dewy opening transforms over the course of the day, becoming warmer, softer, and sexier - although still recognisably itself. Amorphous, amazing, super-hero skin will be yours.
Your favourite, perfectly worn out t-shirt. Freshly washed sheets, just brought in from the line. A fantasy washing line, that is - probably with those little daisies growing in the grass underneath, dappled sunshine and you definitely know there’s gonna be those wooden clothes pegs and that the sheets are going to be fluffy, soft flannelette and bright, bright white. Pure Grace is exactly that, with hints of pale lavender and waterlily: it’s the feminine, homely musk contrast to Nasomatto’s futuristic feel.