Don’t get me wrong. I love a heady, strong perfume more than anyone. Perfume is the perfect way to make a lasting impression. But here’s a totally counterintuitive notion: Subtle perfumes make the biggest impressions. I rotate perfumes pretty much every day, and I’ve found that when I wear a subtle, inconspicuous scent, people are always the most intrigued.
I think it’s because subtle scents inherently have a bit more mystery to them. They’re not in your face, but they definitely still make a quiet statement. That’s what makes them so appealing. A subtle scent will leave someone thinking about how good you smell, and it won’t seem like you tried too hard to smell good. Below, I’ve rounded up my favourite subtle scents, which are guaranteed to get you at least one “you smell so good” comment per wear.
1. Escentric Molecules Molecule 02 Eau de Toilette
Key note: ambroxan
Escentric Molecules fragrances are all about simplicity. This one is entirely defined by the aroma chemical ambroxan, which is a warm and elegant scent note similar to ambergris. It’s typically found in the background of perfumes, but this scent brings it front and centre, and it makes you smell effortlessly alluring.
Key notes: Iso E Super, pink pepper, lime, musk, and incense
2. Glossier You Eau de Parfum
Key notes: ambrette seeds, ambrox, iris, pink pepper
Glossier describes this perfume as unfinished because it’s missing a key scent note: you. This understated scent is made to play off of your body chemistry, so it manages to smell unique on everyone. It gives you an air of softness and warmth without making you smell like you’re even wearing perfume.
Key notes: ambrox, ambrette, musk, iris root, pink pepper
3. Juliette Has a Gun Not a Perfume
Key note: ceralox
Aptly named, this perfume is not really a perfume. Or at least, it’s not what you think of when you think of traditional perfumes. Like Escentric Molecules, it only has one note: ceralox, which is typically used as a fragrance base. Here, it’s the main event, which results in a perfume that smells different on everyone who wears it.
Key notes: raspberry, violet, iris
4. D.S. & Durga I Don’t Know What Fragrance Enhancer
Key notes: bergamot essence, Iso E Super, vetiver acetate, civettone, firsantol, ambrox super
This perfume gives the wearer a certain je ne sais quoi—it’s a scent that you can’t quite put your finger on, but it enhances the way you smell in a truly tantalising way. Wear it as intended as a fragrance enhancer or alone to give yourself a boost of “I don’t know what.”
Key notes: Russian coriander, pepper, juniper needle, geranium, clove stem, clary sage, musk, magnolia, mace
5. Ellis Brooklyn West Eau de Parfum
Key notes: blood orange, clementine, lemon, basil, pear blossom, water lily, ginger, vetiver, amber, oakmoss
Many citrus perfumes lean into cloying sweetness. This is not one of those perfumes. Ellis Brooklyn West smells like driving past a citrus grove with the windows down—it’s bright, airy, and fresh. This scent is an ode to writers in Los Angeles in the ’70s, and it’s not overpowering at all.
Key notes: ylang-ylang, violet leaf, Tahitian tiare, jasmine, magnolia, musk, amber, sandalwood
6. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris Gentle Fluidity Gold Eau de Parfum
Key notes: juniper berries, nutmeg, coriander, musk, ambery woods, vanilla
I’ve never met a Maison Francis Kurkdjian fragrance that I didn’t like. This one is warm and enticing, and it’s the kind of scent that inspires the question, “What perfume is that?”
Key notes: iris, violet, rose, jasmine, lily of the valley, orange blossom, vetiver, patchouli
7. Maison Margiela Replica When the Rain Stops Eau de Toilette
Key notes: aquatic accord, rose petal, pine needle
Maison Margiela’s newest scent is inspired by sunshine after a rainstorm. It’s delicate and simple, and it kind of smells like how it feels to dunk your head in cool water: refreshing and exhilarating.
Key notes: kalmansi accord, coriander, musk
8. Byredo La Tulipe Eau de Parfum
Key notes: cyclamen, freesia, rhubarb, tulip, blonde woods, vetiver
Tulips are likely not the first flower that comes to mind when you think of a good-smelling bouquet. Don’t let that fool you, though—the flower is subtly sweet-scented and hypnotic. This perfume is the essence of springtime in a bottle.
Key notes: pink pepper, Turkish rose petals, raspberry blossom, Turkish rose absolute, papyrus, white amber
9. Boy Smells Marble Fruit Genderful Fine Fragrance
Key notes: pear, pink peppercorn, nectarine, cinnamon, rose centifolia, jasmine, magnolia, ambrox, musk, cedar
An alluring blend of fruits and flowers makes this perfume irresistible but still subtle enough to wear and not feel overpowered.
Key notes: pomelo, saffron, lemon rind, fig leaf, ivy leaves, jasmine petals, olibanum, cistus, labdanum, clear musks, ambrox
Next up, 11 perfumes that beauty insiders agree are the best of the best.