Why Single-Note Fragrances Are Having a Moment
Why Single Perfumers are some of the world’s most sentimental people. If you ask (and we have), you’ll find that their favorite scents remind them of their mothers. Their proudest creations recall fond childhood memories, typically spent in the south of France (did we mention perfumers are also some of the world’s luckiest people?). Using highly technical methods, they manage to preserve those ephemeral moments and fleeting impressions that most of us eventually lose hold of: the silver glow of a Parisian afternoon, the metallic chill of a lonely coastline, the powdery softness of tangled sheets, the dewy romance of a bridal bouquet.Why Single
Why Single It may sound hyperbolic, but all of this imagery and emotion helps give fragrance its heady appeal and even affects the way we apply it. Think about it. We mist on perfume behind closed doors and dab it on hidden areas (our chest, wrists, neck, knees) as if we’re guarding a secret. And in a way, we are. But the latest trend in fragrance is changing all that, turning scent into an open and startlingly honest affair. Overt, uncluttered, and free of innuendo, these new perfumes have nothing to hide. And the result is pure magic. Our favorite new fragrances emphasize one thing.
And it’s not one emotion or one aspiration or one vacation destination—it’s one ingredient. They come with straightforward names: Sage, Rose, Blackpepper. What you see on the label is what you get in the bottle, which may not sound radical but borders on revolutionary for an industry that glories in the abstract and draws on our willing suspension of disbelief (very willing, if names like Alien and Beyond Paradise are any indication). “We wanted to see how pure we could get,” says creative director Marcus Wainwright of his mission in creating Rag & Bone’s first fragrances, an octet that includes Amber, Cypress, and Bergamot. “We started each one from a single note and built around it to get something that’s beautifully made but clean and uncomplicated.”
The lack of florid names or narratives doesn’t mean these types of scents are without imagination, but it does require us to approach each one with a fresh and unbiased perspective. “It’s like being handed a piece to a puzzle rather than the complete picture,” says Mark Behnke, the founder of the fragrance blog Colognoisseur. “Single-note scents allow freedom of interpretation, which is a very modern concept. People aren’t looking for a be-all, end-all fragrance. What they want is a scent, or several scents, to heighten their mood and represent an experience of their own.”
That’s not to say perfumers have less freedom with these fragrances. If anything, the formulas test their artistry and involve them in an even more profound way. “When you work around a single note, you must find inspiration in one ingredient and focus all your creativity on it,” says perfumer Carlos Benaim, who cocreated Ralph Lauren’s new line of ten perfumes, each named for one scent—White Tea, Magnolia, Orange Flower, and so on. “Your message has to be very clear and unobstructed.” In addition to a strong message, these scents require perfumers to break out some pretty advanced methods. Unlike multifaceted blends with built-in complexity, these spare constructions achieve depth in ingenious ways.
New isolation processes and extraction techniques coax every color and variation out of the primary note so that one accord can produce many different effects. Take, for example, the groundbreaking (and Best of Beauty–winning)Why Single
. To create what Behnke describes as an “effervescent, photo-realistic” portrait of a lime, perfumer Calice Becker used a technique involving a proprietary technology called FreezeFrame. With liquid nitrogen, she deep-froze the fruit to lock in its bright, green, and juicy facets, then placed a glass bulb over it (a method known as headspacing) to capture the scent molecules that emanated from the lime as it thawed.
If this sounds like a lot of effort to produce one accord, it is. But perfumers spend just as much time fine-tuning the notes that support the central ingredient. “We extract them in very specific ways so that they bring out the complexities of the primary note,” says Benaim. Several methods, such as molecular distillation and carbon dioxide extraction, go into creating one of these perfumes. And it’s easy to understand why. “If you’re going to present a scent centered on one note, that note had better be pretty astounding,” says Behnke. All of this suggests an inverse formula somewhat new to perfumery: The fewer the ingredients, the greater the skill and expense involved.
Also turned on its head is the notion that fragrances built around one note are inherently simple. In fact, these scents are so rounded and nuanced that they appear multidimensional. “It’s like a white, empty room in which you place a vase filled with one kind of flower,” says perfumer Daniela Andrier, who created Prada’s Les Infusions collection. “You experience the beauty, color, and smell of that flower in a very generous way.” To grasp just how dynamic a solitary note can be, consider Lancôme’s new fragrance collection, Maison Lancôme Grand Crus. Three of the line’s scents are different versions of the exact same note: oud.
And still, single-note fragrances have a stripped-down quality that’s impossible to ignore. Like Andrier’s example of a stark white room, they’re bright, wide awake, drenched in natural light. No memories, no secrecy: You’ll want to apply them out in the open—right where they belong.Why Single.