2023-03-23 14:50:56 By : Mr. bellen hou

When I was 13, I was invited over to my friend’s house to smell Taylor Swift’s Wonderstruck, a perfume she had received for Christmas and which I, unfortunately, had not. It wasn’t just a fragrance. It was, as per its ethereal advertisement that had Swift prancing in a field, “the beginning of something magical”. That perfume constructed a fantasy, one with hints of vanilla and peach, that made me feel as if I could conjure up Speak Now -era Taylor Swift herself, and all I needed was a shiny purple bottle to do it. Since then, Swift has marketed everything from cardigans to Christmas baubles – but none have felt as exciting to me as that one whiff of Wonderstruck. 

Fragrance has the power to transport you to a different moment, real or imagined. Add in the fantasy that a celebrity can evoke, and you’ve got the recipe for pure magical escapism. The first celebrity fragrances started emerging in the 1980s, but it’s generally agreed that it was Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds in 1991 which really launched the phenomenon. A sheer floral fragrance, a bottle of White Diamonds is sold every 15 seconds, and by 2018 had generated $1.5 billion. “I always wanted to be able to connect with people in ways other than through film,” Taylor told Kim Kardashian in 2011. “I had no idea that White Diamonds would become a classic when we began, but I am thrilled it has because it means we have really succeeded in giving women a little bit of luxury every day.”

Taylor paved the way for perfumes like Glow by JLo and Curious by Britney Spears to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars, and in the early 2000s it seemed every famous person on the planet had a fragrance, from One Direction and Justin Bieber to Mary-Kate and Ashley. With aggressively sweet scents, fluorescent colours, flimsy heart-shaped bottle caps and badly photoshopped advertisement campaigns, these perfumes were maximalist, decadent fun. But then, sometime around 2011, the mood changed and tastes shifted to more minimalist, niche brands like Le Labo and Byredo; playful, colourful bottles swapped for stripped-back designs with simple packaging and functional fonts.

At the same time, social media emerged in full force, changing the accessibility and, thus, the allure of fame forever. Platforms like Instagram gave the public access to every facet of celebrities’ lives, and fans no longer needed the illusion of closeness that perfume offered. Authenticity and reality became the currency of the day, replacing fantasy (perfume) with aspiration (digestive supplements). It’s as if we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that if we buy celebrity products, we can live like them too. If we buy Kim Kardashian’s nine-step SKKN routine, we’ll have skin like hers. If we buy SKIMS, we’ll have a body like hers.

There’s also the KKW perfume, which – rather than being a fun, maximalist fantasy – felt like a much more serious spin on celebrity fragrance. “The KKW fragrance was one of Kim K’s first big products,” says Kardashian scholar, MJ Corey who runs Kardashian Kolloquium on Instagram. “The bottle embodied Kim K, sending a message to its consumers that if they wore the fragrance, sprayed from an exact cast of her literal body, they have an actual part of her.” The Kardashians have capitalised on their parasocial relationship with the internet, branching out into endless ventures that sell you an unattainable dream. But as a billion-dollar empire, the Kardashians’ attempts at relatability just aren’t believable and, as Elizabeth Renstrom who runs Basenote Bitch says, they verge on harmful. “There’s something less insidious about another fruity floral to the market promising salvation, than a rich person selling me something they know won’t bring eternal youth without the additional proximity to wealth.” 

In a sea of supplements and skincare lines, the true excitement and the fantasy of fame have disappeared. Celebrities have been banking on authenticity to keep us enticed. But we don’t need that – we need fantasy, nostalgia and dreams! Gaudy, dopamine-driven aesthetics and Y2K nostalgia are coming back full throttle in fashion and make-up, and now it’s time for it to come to perfume. “I think our relationship to celebrity has changed, but I do think the style and notes typical of celebrity fragrance are making a comeback again,” Renstrom says.

The past few years might have allowed for perfumes like Santal 33 and Gypsy Water to thrive – and to be fair, they do smell incredible – but times are changing. The celebrity comeback has been slow, steady and sickly sweet. The other night, a friend told me she was wearing a sugary Billie Eilish fragrance at dinner. Dolly Parton’s floral debut perfume Scent from Above broke records in 2021, and Rihanna launched a much-anticipated celebrity fragrance via Fenty that same year. So far, however, only one new-era celebrity fragrance has truly cemented itself as a classic, with rave reviews from perfume die-hards and stans alike: Ariana Grande’s Cloud . 

A blue, cloud-shaped perfume with notes of marshmallow and coconut, Cloud has everything someone yearning for the nostalgia of the early 00s could dream of. And while some have attributed its hype to its similarity with Baccarat Rouge 540 , Renstrom believes it’s more than just a dupe. Branding it as such “dismissed its uniqueness as a celebrity fragrance,” she argues, saying that “it’s led the charge back to our desire for sweet gourmands again.” 

Our favourite celebrities are the ones that don’t seem to be selling you anything but escapism. We know that we can’t afford to look like them or dress like them. But fragrance unlocks something else, an aura of fame that MJ Corey describes as a “cheat code to make closeness with them feel more accessible.” Ultimately, we still want the celebrity dream, one that our increasingly online world seems to be diluting day by day. So, to any celebrity who’s desperately trying to find another way to make some money, might I suggest a fun fruity scent in a quirky bottle that we can display on our countertops – the gaudier, the better.

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