This could be the end of the sweet, sugary fragrances that we know and love - here's why

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Fleur Fruzza
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Our obsession with sweet-as-sugar scents is on a come-down – but what’s next for our fragrance habits? Fleur Fruzza investigates…

Sugar. It’s become a bit of a dirty word, something of a shameful secret and more like shh-ugar in the current climate, as those of us who still take a (heaped) spoonful in our tea have discovered. 

And after the government imposed a new tax on sugary soft drinks in April, the fight back against sugar is only set to become more ferocious.

It’s not just our taste buds that have become too accustomed to the sweet stuff, though. We are also a nation addicted to fruity, foody perfumes, known by those in the industry as gourmand fragrances. 

The majority of the 10 best-selling women’s fragrances in 2017 were gourmand scents, including Lancôme’s praline and pear fest La Vie Est Belle, £52; the raspberry and honey delectation that is Paco Rabanne Lady Million, £43.50; and YSL’s Black Opium, £59.50, with its dark, delicious liquorice and sweet coffee notes. Experts from International Flavour & Fragrances (IFF) have found the overall gourmand trend currently represents 50% of the top 30 fragrances sold in the UK. 

It’s a style that many believe became more popular during the recession, 10 years ago. “At a time of financial crisis we look for comfort,” explains Judith Gross, Creative Director at IFF. “That comfort can be easily found in gourmand fragrances because they often contain vanilla (similar to a note in breast milk), or synthetic molecules that evoke toffee and praline. These notes take us back to childhood and offer a shield of joy and youth.” 

Social mood has had an impact on our fragrance choices before. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the aftermath of a previous economic downturn fuelled by city greed and hedonism, women ditched the big-haired-power-lunch scents. They instead looked to dreamy, escapist fragrances that evoked images of barefoot adventures on far-away islands.

But – comforting or not – as the pressure increases for our daily sugar intake to reduce, will we still want to smell like high-end pick ’n’ mix? Or will a healthier lifestyle approach and the subsequent changes to the nation’s palates usher in a new era for fragrance?

“The beauty industry as a whole has become very reflective of the current mood for clean living,” says master perfumer Roja Dove. “We’re seeing a surge in clean-feeling, natural, sustainable and, if you like, ‘detox’ fragrances. These are mimicking the greater trend for fuelling our bodies with produce that’s organically grown, carefully sourced and as nutritionally beneficial as possible.” He does add however, that perfume will always remain a form of escapism and is unlikely to be entirely consumed by this trend. 

Nevertheless there is evidence of a growing demand for organic, ethically sourced products, worldwide. At IFF, the team responsible for cultivating natural and sustainable fragrance ingredients (LMR Naturals) has recently seen double digit growth in its revenue. 

Its Rose Water Essential ingredient – a groundbreaking concentrated alternative to traditional rose water extracts – also won Organic Monitor Sustainable Product of the Year in 2013 and has since been picked up by brands like Lancôme, Jo Malone and Issey Miyake. “As we’re shifting to a more mature, global notion of care, natural ingredients cultivated with responsible, sustainable programmes are becoming increasingly valued in fragrance,” says Gross.

The super clean, lean and fresh qualities of colognes and aquatic scents are also having a moment. 

Some of the most recent scents from top fragrance houses including Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Tom Ford and Terry de Gunzburg have been inspired by water. Citrusy, crisp, marine-like – this is the opposite end of the spectrum to gourmands.

And then there are those fragrance designers being influenced by food, although much like our increasingly mindful eating habits, these flavours are more sophisticated, refined and nourishing than they were in the past. “Perfume houses are pursuing original methods of creating foody scents by experimenting with materials like olive, rice, salt, coriander and particularly teas – these flavours are growing in popularity,” says Dove.

Clearly, if saccharine scents do fall out of favour, there are myriad combinations yet to be explored.

The top five scents to suit the clean mood of perfumery.

Valentino Donna Rosa Verde Limited Edition 100ml

This has a fresh Mediterranean-style, as notes of zingy ginger muddle with refreshing mate tea. 


Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Celestia Forte 70ml

Sparkling sea spray meets solar florals in this sublime scent that contains lime, English mint, mimosa and jasmine. 


Floraïku I Am Coming Home 60ml

Delicate white tea is infused with cardamom and ginger oil in Floraïku’s beautifully crafted, travel-inspired scent.


Map of the Heart Clear Heart V1 90ml

Green leaves, citrus, watery notes and blackcurrant make this fragrance vibrant and calmingly crisp in equal parts.


Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey Pure 

Fragrances don’t come cleaner than this; a scent inspired by the vitality and purity of water, thanks to maritima, ambergris and white flowers. 


Main Image: Getty