In the beauty world, nothing feels more personal than fragrance. There's no rhyme or reason to what appeals to people — you either love a scent or you don't. And yet, many times — subconsciously of course — there are other factors beyond, well, scent, that guide our choices. Everything from the designer behind the perfume to the shape of the bottle can influence your decision, whether you realize it or not.
And since fall is traditionally the season when beauty brands launch the most buzzed-about new scents, we figured it was the ideal time to conduct a little experiment of our own. Inspired by Open Sky's Untitled Series project with Chandler Burr (each month the famed perfume expert chooses a fragrance, which is then sold in a blank, nameless bottle so users can judge it purely on scent) our blind sniff test consisted of seven new fall perfumes placed in unmarked tester bottles, which were all evaluated by our editors.
Here, you'll find their unfiltered first impressions of each scent, as well as picks for their favorites in the bunch. There are some pretty surprising observations and not all of our editors agreed on which ones they liked. But, they were all surprised when we unveiled each scent. Turns out, you really do have to throw all of your preconceived notions out the window when it comes to fall fragrances.
Once you take away the branding and fancy flaçons, a scent becomes much more personal — less about who you want to be or the image you want to convey and more about what truly resonates with you. Read on to see the surprising results, including what Lady Gaga's fragrance really smells like, and what less-than-luxe brand actually has a fragrance worth checking out.
Illustrated by Laurence Jaccottet
Mystery Fragrance A
Christene Barberich, editor-in-chief: "It smells like an old, classic fragrance. It's a little sweet and powdery. There's amber in it, maybe. It smells kind of grandma-ish. It's very feminine and classic. I see a more conservative girl wearing this."
Neha Gandhi, deputy editor: "It smells kind of strong and chemical-y. I feel like I would probably not wear this — it's too aggressive."
Kristian Laliberte, senior editor: "I smell a little vanilla in here. It's a heavy scent. It's very luxurious — reminds me of a glamorous socialite. Actually, it reminds me of my mother."
Connie Wang, global editor: "It smells like the stuff my grandma would buy at the drugstore. That's to say, not so good. I think no one under the age of 50 should wear this — it's too powdery-smelling."
Annie Georgia Greenberg, New York editor: "I feel like I've smelled this before; it's a very generic perfume smell — like when I think of perfume, this is what I think of. It's flowery and a little powdery. I wouldn't wear this myself, but it's like a power perfume."
Nicole by Nicole Richie
The first fragrance from Nicole Richie, this eponymous scent is inspired by Nicole's childhood memories and features notes of blackberry, Seville orange, golden amber, Moroccan rose, lily of the valley, sandalwood, sugared patchouli, and vanilla absolute.
Nicole by Nicole Richie, $55, available at Macy's.
Mystery Fragrance B
Christene: "This is a little bit lighter and definitely feels younger. It smells quite perfume-y — a little bit more playful, whimsical, and sweet. I wouldn't wear it."
Neha: "This one feels lighter. It's not too in-your-face, so I feel like I would wear this. I like that it's not overwhelming, but instead feels airy and breezy."
Kristian: "I can't place it. It's a little lighter, but still pungent. It's a little citrus but a little aquatic, too. I see someone who likes designers, and is high-powered and ambitious, wearing this scent."
Connie: "This one smells really good. I don't really like strong fragrances and this one is citrus-y, without making you smell like a food item, but also sweet — but again, without making you smell like a food item. I don't usually wear fragrances, but this is light enough that I feel like I could wear it without getting a headache."
Annie: "Whoa. This is fruity and a little flowery, but mostly fruity. It seems young and fun and light. It reminds me of Marc Jacobs' perfumes. I wouldn't wear this myself, but I'm not opposed to it. I'm not sure I would buy it in stores, but I have friends who smell like this and I like it [on them]."
Marchesa Parfum D'Extase
Much like their dreamy dress confectons, Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig's first fragrance has gorgeous, ultra-feminine notes: iris, freesia, young violet leaves, night-blooming jasmine, ambrox, and musks.
Marchesa Parfum D'Extase, $60, available at Sephora.
Mystery Fragrance C
Christene: "That's disgusting. It smells like orange juice extract gone bad. It's much too fruity and sweet."
Neha: "This one smells really sweet, like candy. I don't think I like it at all. It smells like I suspect Taylor Swift's fragrance might smell."
Kristian: "This is a little fruity, tropical. Definitely a summer fragrance. It's a little more mainstream, and mall-y. Maybe a surfer-girl type would wear this."
Connie: "Smells a bit like Davidoff Cool Water to me. It's not a very complicated scent, which I actually like, but it kind of smells Bath & Body Works-ish. It's a little predictable."
Annie: "This smells like a good shampoo, which is nice. It smells natural, not like you're trying too hard. More like you just happen to smell good from the shower. And that's good because then you can trick people into thinking you actually showered. Out of all of them, I'd probably wear this one."
Ed Hardy Skulls And Roses For Her
Featuring notes of strawberries, pink grapefruit, honeysuckle, magnolia, daisy, and caramel, the latest launch from Ed Hardy is packaged in a skull-shaped bottle (of course it is).
Ed Hardy Skulls And Roses For Her, $55, available in November at Ed Hardy.
Mystery Fragrance D
Christene: "That is really intense, as though it could last a long time. It smells like it might be one of the luxury fragrances — like Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana."
Neha: "This one smells like traditional perfume. Like something my mom used to wear when I was younger. It reminds me of those old-school Chanel and Dior perfumes that older women wear. I like it, but it feels like a lot."
Kristian: "This is peppery and very sharp. I don't like it. The girl who wears this is someone who wants to stand out. She's a little snake-y — I don't like her personality."
Connie: "Ooh I like this one. It's a little musky. It smells like a really good spice rack. I feel like you wouldn't have to wear too much of this for it to last a long time. I think this is my favorite of the entire batch."[Ed Note: Uh oh, Kristian]
Annie: "This smells expensive, but it's too strong for me. It's really overpowering — it makes my eyes water. But it smells like something that would have a really beautiful bottle and live on a glass tray in an old lady's powder room; something that she wouldn't necessarily wear all the time."
L'Artisan Parfumeur Séville à L'Aube
The famed French fragrance house drew inspiration from Spain for this new, limited-edition scent. It contains notes of green sap, jasmine, beeswax, orange flower, white flowers, lavender, and frankincense.
L'Artisan Parfumeur Séville à L'Aube, $165, available at Lucky Scent.
Mystery Fragrance E
Christene: "This smells like it has vanilla, but it's also a little muskier and sweet. I'm not really a fan of sweet fragrances."
Neha: "I don't know about this one — I can't totally identify it. I actually feel like I like it, but at first I couldn't really smell it. It kind of sneaks up on you. Whatever it does smell like, I can't identify it, but it's soft...and powdery — it smells like babies."
Kristian: "There's a lot of alcohol in this. It's very winter-y and dark. There's a little musk in there and it's woodsy. It reminds me of someone who is a little bit more outdoorsy. I don't like it."
Connie: "This smells too much like food. I'm personally against smelling like something you would want to eat. It smells like a really sweet apple tart lotion."
Annie: "This is really fruity, but I like it. I feel like I can smell the alcohol in the perfume. It smells a lot like B [Marchesa], but also like grapes — like an artificial grape flavor. I wouldn't wear it."
The Mother Monster's much-anticipated (and oft-maligned) first scent is not at all what you'd expect — we heard rumors of blood and semen notes in the black fluid fragrance, but the scent profile is listed as belladonna, incense, apricot, honey, tiger orchidea, and jasmin sambac.
Lady Gaga Fame, $55, available at Sephora.
Mystery Fragrance F
Christene: "No. It smells super artificial. It's perfume that smells like perfume."
Neha: "This one smells kind of like Fragrance D [L'Artisan Parfumeur]. It's that same sort of super-perfume-y fragrance. I think I like it a little bit better, but I probably still wouldn't wear it. I don't like to smell like I'm wearing perfume and feels like it would have that effect."
Kristian: "This is very similar to Fragrance E [Gaga]. It's woodsy and I smell bergamot and maybe a little bay leaf in it. This is for someone a bit more studious and quiet. Someone who wears lots of dark clothes. I don't like this one."
Connie: "This one also smells powdery, but not overwhelming. It just smells really, really clean, like my other grandma who doesn't wear perfumes smells like this. It's a pleasant smell, but it's not for me."
Annie: "This smells powdery and older, too. Again, it smells like it would be in a powder room and come in a nice bottle. It's not necessarily something I would wear. Maybe a mom would wear this."
Tom Ford Private Blend Jonquille De Nuit
Part of Tom Ford's Jardin Noir collection, this eau de parfum features a heady blend of acacia, angelica, violet leaf, narcissus, orris, and amber.
Tom Ford Private Blend Jonquille De Nuit Eau De Parfum, $495, available at Nordstrom.
Mystery Fragrance G
Christene: "This is interesting. It has a kind of cucumber essence when you first smell it, but on my skin it smells vanilla-y. None of these are really my speed — I tend to lean toward men's fragrances with cedar and wood, but this one is nice."
Neha: "I don't like this one at all. It smells like something...horrible. It doesn't smell too sweet; it almost smells musky, but in a bad way. I actually really like men's scents, but there's something I really dislike about this. It doesn't feel feminine, but it doesn't smell fresh and light or masculine and sexy. It just smells off and icky."
Kristian: "Mmm, I love it. This is for a fun party girl — someone who definitely has a beach house. It smells like bubblegum and youth. My favorite one."
Connie: "This is a really light spring scent. It's floral — like a floral candy."
Annie: "I can't really smell this — I don't know if my nose has gone awry. This is fruity again, a little flowery, and it's lighter, which is nice."
Juicy Couture Viva La Juicy La Fleur
The updated version of the brand's earlier Viva La Juicy launch, this perfume adds a floral infusion to the original's creamy gourmand base. Notes of mandarin, wild berries, honeysuckle, gardenia petals, and soft jasmine help create a soft yet still subtly sexy scent — this is Juicy Couture's attempt to "grow-up" as its customer base matures.
Juicy Couture Viva La Juicy La Fleur, $70, available at Ulta.