There are few fragrance trends that I can’t get on board with. I like strong, deep and woody perfumes, I like lightly floral perfumes and I can’t get enough of warm, citrus scents, too. In fact, I don’t believe in sticking to one fragrance family at all. The truth is certain notes smell entirely different at different concentrations and when blended with others. My fragrance mantra is to choose your perfumes with your nose, not your knowledge.
This makes my job hard. But that’s why, when writing about fragrance, I try my very best to ignore talk of notes completely and instead attempt (often poorly) to describe the perfumes as a whole and the feeling that comes with them. Personally, I don’t find myself leaning towards any one note and instead gravitate towards what I like to call “clean perfumes.” You know, the sort of perfumes that leave you smelling like you’ve just stepped out of the shower.
I have made it my life mission to become the sort of person that just smells clean—someone with a distinctive scent that leaves you wondering whether they’re wearing perfume at all. And, without wanting to sound sure of myself, I believe I might have finally achieved my goal. In recent years, enough people have asked me what the secret to my naturally clean aroma is (on days when I am feeling my sweatiest self) for me to feel confident enough in my clean-scented fragrance choices.
So if you too like fragrances that have that freshly-showered, clean-skin smell, keep scrolling to shop the 15 best perfumes for the job.
Maison Margiela has a wonderful way of naming its perfumes to describe exactly how they smell. When the Rain Stops smells like the first, air-clearing rain after a stuffy heatwave. It’s fresh, head-clearing and a little bit earthy. My boyfriend and I often have arguments about which one of us gets to wear it on any given day.
The latest launch from powerhouse perfumers Byredo, De Los Santos is potentially one of my favourite Byredo launches of the past few years. Unlike so many other summery scents, it’s not citrusy or balmy. Instead, it embodies a deeper, dry heat that lingers heavily in the air. Imagine you have spent the day in the sun in Tulum, popped back to your hotel room to shower, slathered on a golden body oil and are stepping out for dinner. The aroma that fills the air is most definitely De Los Santos.
When discussing clean-scented perfumes in the Who What Wear office earlier this week, Editor in Chief Hannah Almassi said she simply couldn’t relate to clean-scented perfumes. Instead, she finds herself opting for deep, woody scents. A few minutes later, she exclaimed, “Guerlain Terracotta!” And she is so right. Terracotta is the definition of a clean-smelling summer perfume. It’s luminous, powdery and totally sun-drenched. There isn’t a single summer holiday that I wouldn’t pack this for.
Clinique Happy is potentially one of the most-loved perfumes of all time. It is citrusy and floral but doesn’t really allow you to put your finger on any one note. Together with everything just smells uplifting, fresh and impossibly clean.
Blanche is easily one of the most-complimented perfumes in my collection. Every time I apply my Blanche hand cream, someone comments on it—even strangers on the tube. It is soft, comforting and wooly—like a freshly washed jumper that smells like expensive washing powder.
Remember what I was saying earlier about how perfumes shouldn’t really be categorised by their fragrance family? Diptyque’s Orphéon is the perfect example. On paper, you’d expect Orphéon to smell woody, deep and heavy. In reality, it’s light, powdery and melts into the skin to become one with your body. If I could choose to smell like anything naturally, it would absolutely be this.
Fun fact: Audrey Hepburn considered this to be her signature scent. It is a little bit citrusy but has a deep, warm twist that provides a certain richness that leaves it lingering on the skin all day long. It’s as though you’ve washed with a luxurious citrus body wash and applied a musky body butter straight after.
Am I prepared to say that this is my favourite perfume of all time? Perhaps. I suppose it’s floral but mostly it’s just fresh. A little bit zingy but not in the sort of way that makes your nose tickle with sweetness. Instead, it leaves you smelling clean, composed and rich as hell.
Another perfume that harnesses the fresh smell of summer rain, this sense-clearing perfume is an everyday staple in my springtime perfume routine. Mostly, it smells like a spring meadow that’s had a good shower, but it also has a warm muskiness to it that gives it a clean, skin-like scent.
Another scent that is difficult to dissect in terms of notes, Gentle Fluidity Silver smells like a stereotype of a freshly showered hunk. It’s luxurious and fresh in the best of ways. It’s also subtle enough on the skin that it doesn’t demand attention, but instead fills the room with a refreshing musky aroma that leaves everyone that smells it feeling suitably invigorated.
This week, I met my first person that wasn‘t totally captivated by the smell of Glossier You. I couldn’t believe it was possible to dislike this soapy, skin-like scent. So, for research purposes, I dug my beloved bottle out and spritz myself silly before heading out for the evening. As the drinks flowed and compliments became easier to make towards strangers, seven people commented on my fresh, soapy aroma. Even my best friend asked me, “How do you always smell so soapy and good?” Well, it’s Glossier You.
Okay, I’ll admit that this perfume is a floral scent. It’s light and airy, like a meadow in full bloom. Grassy, earthy and floral all at once, it’s how I like to smell after a rose-scented bath with the most luxurious body washes and scrubs I own.
It’s no secret that I am probably Aerin’s number one fan—all of the perfumes have an underlying clean-scented, freshness to them. My favourite by far is this one. Imagine you’re on holiday in the Italian Riviera, you’ve had your morning shower, air-dried your hair, put on your crispest linen shirt and headed out to the beach. On your way, you walk past the most delicious honeysuckle bush—that is Mediterranean Honeysuckle is a nutshell.
I’ll admit: It can be difficult to find a clean-scented perfume that’s suitable for the evening. Byredo’s De Los Santos is one and this one from Jo Loves is another. Golden Gardenia is the brand’s latest launch and possesses all of the freshness of the gardenia flower with a deep, enveloping warmth courtesy of suede cardamom. Personally, I like reaching for this when the sun is setting and I’m on my way out. It smells like freshly washed skin, only supercharged. Be warned, though, one spritz and you’ll have people nuzzling into your neck all night long.
If you’ve ever wondered what a cologne actually is, listen up. Essentially, any fragrance that is blended predominantly with citrus oils is typically called a cologne (although historically it referred to one particular citrus-oil scent produced exclusively in the town itself). Because of the citrusy nature of colognes, they tend to be light, fresh and impossibly clean-smelling. If you’re looking for a clean-scented fragrance, the word cologne on the bottle is usually a pretty good indicator you’re in the right territory. This particular cologne from Jo Malone London is mossy, floral and sea-like, with a silkiness to it that drapes delicately over the skin. I can’t get enough.