Looking Back: 10 Top Fragrance Trends of 2022
2022 was quite a year in the fragrance world. Despite the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are wearing fragrance products than ever before, and they’re talking about it in new places and trying some new things.
This year, we built fragrance wardrobes, went on #FragTok, and maybe — just maybe — we vabbed.
In celebration of a deliciously fragrant year, let’s look back at ten major trends from the perfume and cologne industry in 2022.
More is More
Way more people are buying fragrance than they used to, and they’re buying more of it. Just a few years ago, having a single signature scent was still typical for most fragrance wearers.
But over the last years, the idea of a fragrance wardrobe has become more mainstream. It’s no longer unusual to own a number of different perfumes or colognes for different moods and occasions.
One of the major appeals of the fragrance wardrobe is seasonality. Scents can be versatile, but generally, people often prefer fresh scents in hot weather and cozy ones when it’s chilly out.
This idea is often the gateway to collecting multiple perfumes and colognes. It’s also fuelled the increasing popularity of both ultra-fresh scents and cozy sweet gourmand scents over the last few years as people look for both warm and cool weather fragrances.
What’s In Your Wardrobe?
While we’re talking about fragrance wardrobes, what sorts of perfumes and colognes made it into everyone’s wardrobes this year?
Super-sweet musky scents like Maison Francis Kurdjian’s Baccarat Rouge 540 and Mugler’s new Alien Goddess were some of the top sellers of the year, while ultra-cozy By the Fireplace by Maison Margiela was a unisex TikTok favorite.
Besides super fresh scents and cozy baked good smells, powerful florals had a moment in 2022. Rose-based flankers of existing popular perfumes, such as Narciso Rodriguez’ Musc Noir Rose for Her and Chloé’s Rose Naturelle Intense, were released in high numbers. Yves Saint Laurent’s lavender perfume Libre and its flankers remain popular, including the new Le Parfum.
Both tropical and juicy fruity scents had a good year in 2022, with interest peaking in the summer. The idea of traveling through scent has been catching on, with more new releases seeking to represent a certain location or environment. Brazilian Crush Cheriosa ’62 fragrance mist by Sol de Janiero proved a surprisingly popular tropical gourmand fragrance this summer on social media.
Kayali’s Eden Juicy Apple | 01, on the other hand, proved one of the most popular designer fruity scents of the year. The December 2021 release harkens back to bright, loud body spray aesthetics of the 90s and early 2000s, reflecting the general Y2K nostalgia sweeping the fashion world this year.
And, of course, very fresh, cool, blue men’s fragrances continue to be popular. These sorts of colognes are light, airy, and ultra-fresh, relying on molecules like calones to deliver a cool sea breeze, and are frequently topped with a juicy sparkle of fruity notes like apple or bergamot. The blue fragrance trend got its start in the 90s and has been steadily growing in popularity ever since, and 2022 was no exception.
Fragrance Tiktok, or #FragTok for short, has emerged as one of the most popular forums for discussing fragrances. Gone are the days when written blogs dominated the space (sobs). YouTubers continue to be popular, but are facing some serious competition from the more casual, short-form perfume posting on TikTok.
Reviews and roundups are popular, but perhaps the most viral form of FragTok content is the first reaction video, in which posters smell a fragrance for the first time and record oftentimes vividly emotional reactions.
Wearing It For Yourself
More than ever, companies are appealing to consumers not with the promise of sex, but that of an individual emotional experience. Perfume is pitched as a venue of self-expression, an opportunity to be unique, and a comforting ritual that makes your day better.
Just a decade ago, this sort of individualist messaging was lost in the sea of promises of sex appeal. Fragrance was an ultra-gendered phenomenon, and its appeal was sold along strictly heteronormative lines. Traditionally feminine scents were pitched as appealing to men, and vice versa.
Even people outside the world of fragrance took note of the evolution: A New York Times article published in June covered the journey of perfume from mating ritual to self-care.
Your Skin But Better
Subtle, versatile, musky scents thrived in 2022, especially on fragrance TikTok. These sorts of perfumes are often described as “your skin but better” — hard-to-pin-down compositions that blend with the scent of your own skin to muted or powerful effect.
Simple musky ingredients like cetalox and ambroxan flourished, and not just as a layer in complex compositions. One of the most popular skin scents, Not a Perfume by Juliette Has a Gun, is composed entirely of cetalox, while Escentric Molecules’ hit release 02 is little more than ambroxan.
Some scents judged to be skin-like are more complex. Missing Person by Phlur was an explosively popular musky release late in 2022, with hints of floral and woody notes. Dozens of emotional videos of people reacting to the perfume in nostalgic tears created a powerful mythos around the scent.
Sustainability and Raw Materials
While there has been no systemic change towards a more sustainable fragrance industry, consumer interest in sustainability is steadily rising. More and more fragrance buyers are paying attention to details like the amount of wasteful packaging that comes with a perfume.
And, of course, greenwashing is responding to the trend. Fragrance brands are highlighting raw natural materials and their sourcing to connect with consumers. Smaller naturals-focused brands like Ormonde Jayne and Henry Rose are thriving.
Efforts towards raw materials and sustainable processes in the mainstream designer world were led by Chloé, who released a number of raw-materials-focused versions of their top scents this year, including Rose Naturelle Intense and Nomade Eau de Parfum Naturelle. The brand has also adopted a refill system for their fragrance bottles.
This push is due in no small part to Chloé’s new creative director, Gabriela Hearst, who joined the brand in 2021. In November of 2022, Hearst attended COP27, the United Nations’ annual climate summit, to advocate for fusion nuclear power, after bringing a fusion-inspired line to Paris Fashion Week just weeks prior. Talk about a nuclear inspiration on the fashion scene.
Pleasure, comfort, stress relief. All of these and more are things that functional fragrance marketing will offer you. In 2022 the fine fragrance industry took a leaf out of aromatherapy’s book and touted the mental health benefits of their scents.
Citrus for clarity, lavender for sleep, vanilla for comfort… these are old ideas, but their relevance in the mainstream fragrance market is ever-growing. The new word on the street is aromachology, the study of the influence of odors on human behavior and psychology.
More than ever, people are longing for stress relief, and fragrance makes a compelling promise. There’s little evidence pointing to any particular systemic benefits from fragrance, but that’s not stopping consumers. And, of course, perfumes and colognes are subjectively pleasant for many, so it’s a pitch that works.
On the corporate side, using fragrance as marketing and office management is also on the rise. Once the stuff of fiction in books like The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister, the use of smells in stores to make people buy more is now an explosive reality. Scents are also being piped into offices and workspaces in an effort to increase worker comfort and productivity.
Home scent products like air fresheners and candles continue to be popular, with the industry growing exponentially alongside personal fragrance products in 2022.
Gender Isn’t Real
Unisex fragrances are more popular than ever, and the gender labels on fragrances for men and women are increasingly being disregarded. In particular, more and more women are enjoying scents that are marketed as for men. Maison Margiela’s Jazz Club is one of the most popular fragrances among women on FragTok this year, and it’s all about ideas of traditional masculinity: tobacco, herbs, and sparkles of citrus.
With more people wearing fragrance for their own pleasure and emotional experience, they’re increasingly willing to look past gender labels. Wearing traditionally masculine scents as a woman, in particular, has become a not-infrequent cool girl gesture in the last few years on social media.
According to Statistica, in 2010, just 10% of the fragrance market was made up of unisex-marketed scents. In 2018, that number rose to 51%. I don’t have an updated number for 2022, but anecdotally it’s clear that the unisex trend is on the rise and here to stay. Florals aren’t just for women anymore.
With gender roles getting more flexible and being entirely thrown out the window, “for men” and “for women” labels are becoming increasingly rare, and are often disregarded entirely.
Return to Office
As of 2022, 49% of remote employees have returned to the office full-time. And plenty of others are working hybrid schedules. The times of full-on COVID lockdowns appear to be over, at least for now.
This means people are dressing up for the office more often, wearing professional clothing and fragrances. Personal fragrance-wearing numbers briefly dipped in 2020, but they’re now up and higher every year.
The idea of an office fragrance feeds into the popularity of the modern fragrance wardrobe. Consumers love their intimate musky scents, their intense sweet gourmand smells, and their highly unusual niche stuff, but everyone’s on the lookout for a fresh and polite office fragrance they love that won’t irritate their coworkers.
While some weirder stuff has definitely been thriving on social media, traditional designer fresh and floral scents still saw high interest as people dressed up for more conservative office environments again in 2022.
Pheremones Had a Phere-moment
So-called pheromone perfumes and colognes have been a thing for years, but in 2022 they had a viral moment on social media. YouTubers and TikTokers swore by the effectiveness of the scents as an aphrodisiac (thanks in no small part to pheromone fragrance companies’ generous affiliate programs and the hazy transparency of social media).
To date, it’s still uncertain whether humans have pheromones at all. Possible pheromone effects have been observed in phenomena like menstrual cycle syncing, but to date, no actual human pheromones have been identified. There’s also little evidence humans can meaningfully detect pheromones, though one 2000 study did find what they posited was a pheromone receptor in the nose.
But that hasn’t stopped synthetic pheromone companies from having a great year. Even though no human pheromones have even been identified for synthetic fragrance labs to imitate, companies are releasing scents they claim have pheromone-like effects.
And, of course, synthetic formulated pheromone perfumes and colognes weren’t the only producers in the picture. In August of 2022, TikTokers took to “vabbing,” a portmanteau of “vagina” and “dabbing,” which is exactly what it sounds like.
I can’t speak for its effectiveness, but at least it’s free?
Niche Luxury Brands
Smaller, more expensive niche labels owned by large corporations have exploded in popularity in the last years. Labels such as Byredo, Le Labo, Creed, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, and Parfums de Marly have lapped more inexpensive designer and celebrity fragrance brands in popularity.
(While we’re on the topic of Byredo, they turned heads by releasing an NFT project in June, a thing nobody asked for that made headlines when it came out and was promptly forgotten.)
These brands tout unique, high-quality formulas and exclusivity, along with the luxury and prestige that comes with their hefty price tag. Unlike independent perfumery houses, though, these brands are still well-positioned for popular appeal, launching at stores like Ulta and Sephora rather than on tiny blogs.
Mind you, these aren’t actually independent fragrance brands. They’re pricey luxe lines manufactured and positioned by large, powerful corporate entities. Still, these Veblen goods enjoyed remarkable success in 2022.
This movement was helped along by luxury brands being absorbed by even bigger companies across the board. Mergers and purchases and acquisitions, oh my! Puig bought a majority stake in Byredo, Estée Lauder acquired Tom Ford, and a number of smaller purchases were made, consolidating large swathes of the designer fragrance industry under just a few roofs.
Actual independent niche perfumery still had a pretty good year in 2022, though. There’s much less corporate research on the matter, but independent perfumers on Etsy and on their own sites continued to enjoy small but dedicated fanbases.
So what now?
2022 was a big, busy, beautifully unusual year. It was the year I started this blog, and it has been such a fantastic journey. I’m very grateful for this community and for every one of you, dear readers.
It’s also the year I wrote the piece I’m most proud of thus far, Proving the Existence of Chanel No. 9. It does exactly what it says on the tin: tracks the cultural influence of a supposed Chanel No. 9 perfume over the years through references in literature, music, and media, before tracking down a 1924 New York Times advertisement that definitively proves the mythical perfume did, in fact, exist for at least a short time.
It’s been a great year not just for the art but also for the science of perfumery. Aside from all sorts of new releases, some fascinating relevant research was published this year. Two of my favorite stories from this year are the discovery of the human oxidation field, a sort of chemical halo around us that could very well be a large part of that hazy concept we call “skin chemistry,” and the use of artificial intelligence to discover new fragrance molecules.
Here’s to a great 2023! I hope your year is full of discovery, self-expression, and gloriously good smells. Wishing you a very Happy New Year from
my concerningly large sample collection, my dog, and me the editorial staff at The Scentaur.
What was your favorite fragrance moment in 2022? Was there a new release you loved? Did you find your signature scent this year? Are you just really into that Burberry Hero ad where a very shirtless Adam Driver becomes one with a very shiny horse? Let me know in the comments!