TikTok Says You Need A Signature Scent. Let Black Girls Smell Good Help You Find It

Photo: Kai Byrd.
Are you on PerfumeTok? Chances are, if you’ve paused even for a second on any perfume review or Sephora ad on TikTok, you’ve found yourself in the video platform’s sweet-smelling fragrance neighborhood — and likely you’ve opened your purse to buy yet another perfume that’s going viral. But before you spend another dime on a blind buy that you might love (but could very well hate), allow Black Girls Smell Good and fragrance expert Maiya Nicole to help you go into the fragrance world just a little more informed. Your nose will thank you.
Taste is subjective. We like what we like, and we really hate what we don’t. But in a time when the influencer industry is booming, trends are being shaped by people with big platforms and even bigger opinions. Across social media, but especially on apps like TikTok and Instagram, influencers are leading market trends that subsequently affect our buying habits. I’m not immune to this either; there’s a reason why I currently own more than 20 different perfumes and perfume oils but only cycle between about five of them on a day to day basis. The rise of fragrance influencing on social media has given way to a culture of hyper-consumption, where we rush to buy what our favorite influencers suggest without even getting a whiff of the fragrance first. 
Maiya Nicole, beauty educator and creator of the online space Black Girls Smell Good (BGSG) wants the fragrance experience to require much more thought than that. Nicole, a former fragrance retail employee who’s been working in the industry for years, has seen the scent scene transform over time — but she’s not sure that she likes the cash-grab nature of its evolution so far. In a culture where pushing ad-sponsored products is the name of the game, Nicole is using her platform to foster community instead, focusing specifically on Black women and femmes who are interested in developing their tastes (and noses) further. 
Her love of scents goes back to her childhood, where she recalls being obsessed with the way the important women in her life all had signature scents that were almost a fixed part of their identities. “My grandmother Gloria and my mom were huge fragrance heads, and they were constantly collecting fragrances,” Nicole tells Unbothered in a Zoom interview. “As a kid, I was eye-level with their vanities, and so of course, I wanted to play in everything and spray everything. Eventually, they got sick of me at around seven or eight years old, and they bought me my own — OP Juice for Women. And literally, from that day, I was hooked. Any birthday, Christmas, perfume was what I asked for.”
The love affair continued when Nicole started working in retail years later, where she discovered that fragrance culture was elitist and — surprise, surprise — pretty racist. Fragrance employees were frequently trained to use confusing professional vocabulary (Sillage? Ozonic? Aldehyde?!) during interactions with customers with the sole intention of making the sale of the most expensive perfume in stock regardless of the customer’s personal palate might be. As Nicole became more seasoned as a beauty expert, she also found the whiteness of the fragrance space troubling; her co-workers couldn’t understand that certain scents weren’t universal wins across cultures. “I remember people trying to push this one perfume that no Black woman wanted to even get near — it’s because it smelled like Baby, Don’t Be Bald hair grease!” she laughed.
That cultural gap was exactly why Nicole created BGSG during the pandemic. Black women and femmes were showing more interest in fragrances, as demonstrated by the increase in perfume-related content on social media, but there was no specific part of the internet dedicated to our unique exploration. With her expansive knowledge and experience in the field, who better to build that community than Nicole? Since its pandemic launch, BGSG has grown a network of nearly 100,000 people strong across Twitter and Instagram. Nicole’s content includes in-depth reviews of both high-end and affordable fragrances, celebrity fragrance styling (she’s put together helpful suggestions for people like Jayda Wayda, SZA, and Chlöe Bailey), and piping hot takes about what she loves and can’t stand. (Big fan of Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Baccarat Rouge 540. Would rather chew glass than be within three feet of anyone wearing Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue.)
The audience response to her work is overwhelmingly positive, and Nicole is thrilled to know that it’s being received so well. She doesn’t take the support of her BGSG community lightly, especially since the fragrance influence space is so crowded right now. But let’s be clear: Nicole and BGSG are true to this, not new to this. 
“I don't feel like I've talked my shit enough about really starting this fragrance wave, but you did not see the industry like this before Black Girls Smell Good,” she says honestly. “I think this platform opened up the space for Black girls and inspired people to branch out and start posting their fragrance content. For the first time, brands had to acknowledge us. Black people are the biggest consumers of fragrance, but these major brands refused to cater to us. Now, we’re seeing Black girls working with white ass Kilian, with Chanel, with Valentino, with Mugler.” 

One of my biggest driving points for this platform is that brands need to start catering to [Black women] and working with us if they want to sell to us. We're the ones buying your products, and you want it to be talked about on these platforms, so yeah, you're gonna put money in our pockets.

“At first, I thought that was maybe just coincidence, but you can go back and look at the dates — a lot of those things that have happened since came after the start of Black Girls Smell Good,” Nicole continues. “One of my biggest driving points for this platform is that brands need to start catering to us and working with us if they want to sell to us. We're the ones buying your products, and you want it to be talked about on these platforms, so yeah, you're gonna put money in our pockets.”
When she’s not creating BGSG content or collaborating with Sephora as a Sephora Squad member, Nicole also works as a fragrance consultant, serving clients on a one-to-one basis to help them create their own scent profiles via a highly personalized process that includes assessing the thousands of fragrances in her own collection, combing their social media profiles, and even discussing childhood memories like a therapist. As BGSG continues to grow online, Nicole is planning to pivot her content to a more educational slant, giving her followers the tools they need to become fragrance experts on their own. 
It’s easy to follow TikTok’s suggestions and stock up on the scents that influencers promote, but fragrances should always be more personally tailored. If you’re looking to find your signature scent — or fine-tune your current collection — here are three tips to get you started, straight from the fragrance goddess herself.

Start with samples

The standard bottle sizes for most perfumes are 50ml and 100ml, but if you’re not sure about a scent and would still like to try it out, you can never go wrong with a sample or even a travel-sized option. That way, you can pivot to another fragrance if the one you’re sampling isn’t the best fit for you.
“I don't suggest going in and buying fragrances blind,” Nicole says. “It’s so common to think, Oh, this is popping on TikTok right now. I'm gonna get that or I've seen this everywhere. Everybody's getting this, I want to try that too. If you start with a sample, you may surprise yourself and find that you don't like how a popular scent works with your unique body chemistry, and you're not out $300.”
“When building a collection, start with a smaller size,” she recommends. “If I could go back and restart my entire collection, I wouldn't have three ounces of anything. I would have the smallest size that they offer.”
(Friendly reminder: some perfumes need time to settle. If you hate something on the first spritz, give your sample a few hours to transform and then make your decision.)

Choose different scents for different spaces (and vibes!)

The perfume that you wear to the club probably isn’t the scent perfume that you wear to church or to work — unless that’s your thing — so it’s important to tailor your scents to how you want to show up in the different spaces in your life. Consider factors like a fragrance’s sillage (how long it lingers in the air), its intensity, and even its best performance season (is it a cold or warm weather scent?) when building your arsenal because all of those things matter.
“I recommend always having something crisp and clean that you can wear at the house, when you’re just walking around in your PJs,” Nicole suggests. “Then I want you to have a fragrance that exudes the most confident version of you, whatever that looks like. I want you to have a lover scent for when you need to feel sexy. And then, I like finding a unique-to-me scent. Meaning when I look at my collection, I have what I call my ‘main characters,’ scents that stand out among the rest and are personal to me.”

Lead with curiosity and delight

We all have different things that we like for different reasons. I tend to want to taste good enough to eat (IYKYK), so I generally lean more towards gourmands and sweeter-smelling fragrances. But I also suffer from sensory sensitivity, so there are days when I prefer to smell fresh and clean, which also means nothing too heavy or powerful. Thinking about your personal preferences and the nuances behind them will be essential in building your scent profile. 
Look at the fragrances you already own — why did you choose those?” asks Nicole. “What exactly do you like about them? Let’s say, for example, that you like vanilla scents. Are you into a vanilla that is a super sweet, or do you lean more towards spicier vanillas? It doesn't even have to be fragrances; if there's a certain body wash you like, what notes in the body wash resonate with you?” 
“Also, strive for delight! You don't want to just smell something that’s just okay when you could smell something that’s going to wow you every time,” Nicole says. “I want to feel like I only want to wear a particular fragrance for the next month. That's the kind of interest that I look for when I'm adding a new fragrance to my collection. So you need to have a serious vetting process for your scents.” 

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