Perfume, by its very essence, is subjective. A scent can have the best marketing, reviews, and design, but if you don’t like how it smells, then you’re most likely not going to plunk down the cash to buy it. So how, then, do you explain the current rockstar status that certain popular TikTok perfumes have acquired, causing viewers to purchase them sight unseen (or smelled)?
On #PerfumeTok, an extremely engaged community of perfumeophiles have come together to share their love of all things scent. The stars of #PerfumeTok don’t talk about olfactive families and brand heritage, but rather wax poetic about the fragrances that haunt their dreams — scents that are “blind buy-safe,” and “most complimented perfumes.”
Unlike other social media platforms, #PerfumeTok, as David Moltz, perfumer and founder of D.S. and Durga points out, hasn’t yet been overrun by SponCon (sponsored content), meaning they feel more authentic in their recommendations. “It’s a democratization [of scent],” he says. “They’re not being paid to get into those scents — they’re the ones that they actually like.” Granted, with over 650 million views on #PerfumeTok and 2 billion on #PerfumeTikTok, brands have obviously started taking notice, but for now, the majority of the recommendations have a purity we haven’t seen since the early days of blogging. Creators aren’t afraid to call out overhyped scents or suggest budget-friendly dupes for big ticket fragrances.
According to Funmi Monet, a #PerfumeTok creator with over 155K followers, the videos introduce a wider audience to lesser-known and indie scents they may not have otherwise been exposed to. “PerfumeTok has allowed people to discover fragrance brands and perfumes that might have not been available at stores local to them,” she says. “Classic fragrances from Chanel, Dior, and the like are still top sellers in perfume departments because they’re safe and mass appealing, but for those looking for something fresh or new, #PerfumeTok is a great gateway to discovering new gems.”
Curiously, the same perfumes have started popping up in these organic videos, and they aren’t the usual suspects you might be thinking of (sorry, Chanel No. 5). Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge and Amyris Femme, Maison Margiela Replica Bubble Bath, Ariana Grande Cloud, Tom Ford Lost Cherry, D.S. & Durga Debaser, Vilhelm Parfumerie Poets of Berlin, Versace Crystal Noir, Valentino Donna Born in Roma, and Etat Libre d’Orange You or Someone Like You have emerged as #PerfumeTok’s It scents of the moment.
This melange of perfumes doesn’t appear to have any obvious similarities, showing up in videos with a wide array of topics, from “perfumes that will have people chasing you down the street” to “perfumes I would gatekeep if I had mean girl energy.” Instead, their common thread is that they all serve as a form of status scent to the Gen Z set. But unlike the status bags that came before them (oh, hi Fendi Baguette), the popularity of these fragrances aren’t about exclusivity, celebrity cache, waitlists, or exorbitant prices. Instead, they’re a form of identifier — a way for wearers, creators, and viewers to communicate who they are to the community.
“Ultimately, it’s all about how people want to be perceived,” says Emelia O’Toole, a popular creator on #PerfumeTok who goes by Professor Perfume. “Each of these fragrances fit into some sort of TikTok aesthetic, which is a way that Gen Z organizes themselves — by which side of TikTok they’re on.”
Here’s how she describes the difference between a Maison Margiela Replica Bubble Bath person and a D.S. & Durga Debaser fan: “If you’re on ‘clean girl/Dyson Air Wrap/Olaplex bun/gold hoops/matching leisurewear set/iced coffee’ TikTok, you’re probably in on the Bubble Bath hype. If you’re on ‘cottagecore/Sally Rooney/tote bag/bookstore/Hozier stan’ TikTok, you’re probably going to like Debaser. It’s like the beast that is the TikTok algorithm has built these archetypes that people are sorting themselves into, and matching fragrances to hyper-specific aesthetics has really taken off.”
Granted, that’s not how the fragrance creators would have initially billed their concoctions. Debaser was inspired by the iconic Pixies song and Moltz’s memories of hanging out at a skate park with older kids, listening to these provocative punk music lyrics without yet understanding their meaning. We can’t say Black Francis really strikes us as the cottagecore type. But the beauty of #PerfumeTok is that it strips away the story being told by brands and perfumers, and instead lets individuals create their own interpretation and identity around what they experience through the scents.
While many of these scents skew towards the pricier side of the spectrum (Lost Cherry rings in at $375, while the rest of the list ranges from $45 for Ariana Grande Cloud to $325 for Baccarat Rouge), #PerfumeTok content will often acknowledge and even lovingly poke fun at itself for being so spendy. But even those price tags are still more in the realm of possibility for some than those Y2K It bags we coveted, but knew were never going to happen.
As Monet explains, the difference between a status scent and a status bag comes down to acquirability. “Perfume is reflective of what I refer to as attainable luxury. Acquiring the status bag of the season could cost upward of thousands of dollars, which might not be attainable for the average person,” she says. “A fragrance that costs a couple hundred dollars on the high end of the scale is often a more realistic goal that someone can save towards and enjoy wearing on special occasions.”
But it is important to note that price is not the point of a status scent, as status today doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as it has to past generations. According to Lana Glazman, VP of Marketing Sciences for Fine Fragrance at Firmenich, “[#PerfumeTok] is about being here at the right moment. It’s ‘I’m listening to the people who are in the know. I want to be in the know and I want to be unique.’ Modern status means having access to that. It means being influenced by this individualized, more considered, more honest approach rather than advertising speak and marketing plays.”
Which brings us back to the question of why these particular scents? Many of them are either from under-the-radar brands, or they are the older releases or less hyped perfumes that are now finding new life (see: Mugler’s Alien, an iconic, divisive early ‘00s scent that recently went viral again on TikTok). They are not trending on #PerfumeTok because they are already popular — #PerfumeTok is actually causing some of these scents to find a new audience and creating the kind of buzz around existing scents that is usually reserved for new drops.
“These specific fragrances are different — there’s something that stands out to Gen Z,” says Glazman. “It’s talking to them in an emotional way and that makes it more relevant and relatable on a very personalized and individual level. It touches them and brings some kind of emotion or memory.” And according to Firmenich’s data, says Glazman, when those consumers feel like they are being spoken to or that the videos or creator has spoken to them emotionally, they are three times more likely to buy the scent without smelling it. Scent, after all, is our sense most closely tied to emotions. If one whiff of a perfume can bring back joyful memories, or give an instant jolt of joy or confidence (or rather, give the impression of confidence to those who might smell you) — well, no wonder people are scrambling to purchase said scents.
There is also the sense of community that these fragrances can build — a way of identifying and communing with those who share your tastes. “I’ve always loved this idea of if you sprayed Debaser and I sprayed Debaser, we can both enter the same world together — even if it looks a little different to you than it does to me,” says Moltz. “There’s something in a very real way that we are existing together in the same space in this cloud of Debaser. [#PerfumeTok] is like that in if you’re showing Debaser [in a video] and I’m showing Debaser, we both know we like this thing. It’s like back in the days before the internet when you found someone who liked the same band as you — it just meant everything. You’d go to the same shows and you found your people and you’re like ‘holy sh*t, this whole world exists.’ Maybe this is like that.”
For her part, O’Toole agrees to that community bonding atmosphere, citing the comments she receives from her fans and the influence #PerfumeTok has had on the evolution of the category as a whole in creating a more welcoming atmosphere. “The messages I get from my followers telling me that they found their favorite perfume because of my videos are what keep me going — scent is so intimate, so personal, and is such a great way to preserve memories, and people are really catching onto how powerful fragrance can be,” she says. “Perfume has historically been this exclusive, expensive world that revolves around elitism, class status, and public perception. I won’t pretend that #PerfumeTok is the pioneer for progressive ideals in the perfume industry, because there are so many wonderful people that have been working for decades in the industry. But I do think that #PerfumeTok has been able to shine a spotlight on great voices and also call attention to some very prevalent issues.”
That said, both she and Monet caution their followers against spending hundreds of dollars chasing status scents in an attempt to fit into the “It girl” standard. “I think it’s important to step back and realize that the average consumer does not necessarily feel pressure to keep up with the latest perfume drops or ‘it’ scents,” says Monet. “There are fragrance collectors at every part of the budget spectrum, with some of the most popular and followed reviewers collecting inexpensive fragrances from Bath and Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, and other less expensive indie brands.”
Adds O’Toole, “The trend cycle on TikTok is so much faster than anything we’ve seen before, and the algorithm repeatedly rewards overconsumption and finding the next ‘new’ thing. It’s so dangerous when the latest trend becomes synonymous with spending money or when being an ‘that girl’ is conflated with owning a certain fragrance or brand of bag or clothing.” She emphasizes ‘That girl’ doesn’t exist, and never did, but instead serves as an “unrealistic standard designed to make you feel like you need to spend money in order to be a better version of yourself.” Her #PerfumeTok words to live by? “For any life-changing $400 TikTok-viral fragrance out there, there are 100 $30 indie fragrances that are just as good — don’t let the algorithm put you into debt. And always remember, I cannot stress this enough, please, for the love of God: sample it first.”
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