PerfumeTok is a space where TikTok's fragrance fanatics gather to discover and review the good, the bad, the niche, and the trending in perfume. It's exactly where you want to be in your search for the perfect fragrance Valentine's Day gift. With 3.7 billion views and counting, there are a handful of fragrances in particular that take pride of place on the saturated feed.
Take Baccarat Rouge, for example. Dubbed "a fragrance that'll get you stopped on the street" and "the rich girl's perfume," its intoxicating notes of saffron, jasmine, and ambergris took it from a limited-edition scent to a worldwide sensation that's now here for good. That's before we've touched on YSL Libre (for which there are 382.4 million TikTok views) and the just as sought-after Black Opium.
As compliments go, being told you smell good is perhaps the pinnacle, particularly as perfume has trumped the designer handbag to become something of a status symbol. It's no wonder, then, that our obsession shows no sign of slowing down. But in my years as a beauty journalist (who is also chronically online), I have to admit that I have never come across a fragrance as hyped as Phlur Missing Person.
Missing Person eau de parfum was crafted by perfumer Constance Georges-Picot. Other world-renowned perfumers at Phlur include Frank Voelkl (the nose behind scents by Le Labo and Dolce & Gabbana) and Jérôme Epinette (of Byredo and Boy Smells). Missing Person marries fresh bergamot, jasmine, and neroli blossom with a warm base note of sandalwood. With 8.6 million TikTok views, the fragrance has repeatedly sold out in the U.S., amassed an impressive 200,000-person waiting list, and has resold online for three times its price. Now available in the U.K., the fanfare is more intense than ever.
On paper, you might think that the aforementioned notes aren't anything special. It's the way they melt into each other to serve up a musky haze — which the brand says "evokes the lingering scent of your lover's skin" — that has created so much intrigue. Sure enough, to smell Missing Person for the first time feels undoubtedly familiar, cozy and comforting. But it has gone most viral for making people cry.
TikTokers have conjured up a poignant narrative around Missing Person. Beauty influencer @mikaylanogueira held back tears as she told her 13.6 million TikTok followers: "I don't know how to explain this. It smells like a person that you love and miss." TikTok went equally wild when influencer @rachelrigler said that Missing Person "smells like the feeling of being in love." Rachel tells R29 that it reminded her of throwing on her boyfriend's hoodie. "It definitely brought me a specific nostalgia," she says.
In another viral video, Rachel's boyfriend said that it smelled exactly like her, which inspired hordes of similar reaction videos, many with equally touching responses. "Why is this making me emotional?" asked @tik.tok.tina, adding: "This took me somewhere I didn't expect." @liza_gulyaewa said that smelling it for the first time was "such a sentimental moment" as it reminded her of her mum, and @sweetsoutherncustoms said it "floods you with emotion."
Everyone I mention Missing Person to has an opinion to share. It's like the beauty industry equivalent of a new TV drama. How exactly does it evoke such personal memories for so many? Research suggests that scent, emotion, and memory are intrinsically linked. Chriselle Lim, owner and creative director of Phlur, had this in mind when she dreamed up the perfume.
"I was going through a very difficult period in my life and navigating a divorce when I started working on Missing Person," she tells R29. "Developing the scent with fine-fragrance perfumer Constance, I described to her how I felt emotionally. I felt lonely and wanted to bottle something that would smell familiar, taking me back to a time I felt secure." Lim says she wanted the story to be an integral part of the marketing — and it's working.
At first spritz, Harper's Bazaar UK's digital beauty director Bridget March was struck by the fragrance's sentiment. "Phlur was adopted by a community wanting to feel — and heal — through fragrance alongside Chriselle," she tells R29. Fragrance expert Alice du Parcq echoes this. She loves that Lim looked at fragrance in a new way: with humor, heart, and emotion. "Chriselle poured her own personal triumphs and experiences into the concepts behind each perfume [in the range]," says Alice. "She shares intimate feelings we can relate to." Referring to popular perfume ad formats, de Parcq says that craving human companionship (the premise of Missing Person) feels so much more intriguing and relatable than "a sexy supermodel walking angrily through a packed party or wafting through a meadow."
These intimate, skin-like notes made beauty journalist Keeks Reid's mum burst into tears when she tried the perfume, as it reminded her so much of her mother. "A subtle musk triggers memory for most people and creamy sandalwood is extremely comforting," says Lim. It isn't solely a feminine scent, though. "I wanted something unisex, that smelled like clean skin after a nice warm bath," she adds. Lim says that on TikTok, people have used the fragrance almost like a therapy session, spraying it on camera and sharing a moment in time that they longed for or felt nostalgic about.
So what exactly makes Missing Person different from other popular 'skin scents' like Escentric Molecules 01 (which is meant to smell different on everyone's skin) and Chanel's endlessly popular No.5? "There are white floral flashes that set it slightly apart from similar scents," says de Parcq, who adds that the scent lasted for around three hours on her skin. "I knew to expect musk and really liked the fresh-milk lightness. There's a crisp floatiness that makes you feel refreshed and put-together."
White musk might explain the familiarity. This is a note which is reminiscent of slept-in sheets and lived-in clothes. de Parcq concurs: "White musk brings a comforting sensation to a perfume. It's reassuring and triggers feel-good dopamine. That physical manifestation (along with the emotions poured into its creative process) is a recipe for a hit perfume."
We're living through a time that champions self-acceptance and authenticity. Wanting to smell like everyone else is not en vogue. Brands are experimenting with notes that amplify our own elixir and smell different on everyone. Soft florals in Glossier You mimic human skin, for example, and Miller Harris L’Air de Rien (which translates as "the essence of nothing") captures a sense of the wearer. When it comes to Missing Person, Eleanor Vousden, beauty editor at Who What Wear UK, says it is only detected when in close proximity to a person. "Perhaps this is another nod to Phlur's intimate inspiration."
It all makes sense. During two long years of isolation and separation thanks to the pandemic, many of us longed to smell the skin or feel the warmth of those we loved. For some people, Missing Person is a bottled antidote to that desire. But is Missing Person for everyone? While freelance beauty editor Tori Crowther likes the perfume, she is honest and says that it doesn't last long enough on her to justify the price tag ($96). For every individual who adores Missing Person, there's someone who isn't sold.
On Phlur's Instagram, you'll spot a number of people with buyer's remorse. One encourages people not to 'blind buy' the perfume (buying without sampling first): "Don't blind buy this! I did and it just smells like old ladies." Another said: "This is way overhyped. I got it and disappointed. Doesn't smell that great at all…smell like some English mom now."
TikTok's @professorperfume told her thousands of followers that "it's lovely" but she just doesn't get the hype, while @guacandpico described it as "a musty old lady's closet, the one she keeps her furs in and hasn't opened for 20 years". The consensus? Missing Person has an old-fashioned element to it, especially when you compare it to the fresh and modern fragrances taking over the beauty world right now, like Maison Francis Kurkdjian 724.
Perhaps the real reason Missing Person is so popular is that we all want a stake in the cultural zeitgeist.
Though Chriselle explains that Missing Person was inspired by her own experience of missing a person in her life, the name has also divided opinion. On social media in particular, some of Phlur's followers suggest that the name is 'tone deaf', with one calling for a trigger warning. "I love your fragrances," wrote one follower of the brand, "but to title a fragrance MISSING PERSON is entirely awful. To get an all-caps notification in my inbox about 'missing person' was alarming." The follower went on to explain that people go missing every day due to misogynistic violence and coercive control. "It's insensitive to this reality. A Missing Person is not sexy or intriguing." The comment received dozens of likes in solidarity, while others called out the name as 'distasteful.'
Despite the controversy, Missing Person continues to sell and even win beauty awards. Perhaps the real reason it's so popular is that we all want a stake in the cultural zeitgeist. There's something cool about being in the know, a power and belonging in being an insider. Or maybe more of us are seeking products to bring us closer to becoming TikTok's That Girl.
You might happen to be influenced, but if Missing Person isn't swaying you, there are plenty of skin scent alternatives to try. TikToker and self-confessed 'certified fragrance hoarder' @oliviaolfactory shares: "It's not a dupe but Missing Person reminds me of The Body Shop's White Musk Eau de Parfum." At $35, it's a fraction of the price of Missing Person.
Alice recommends Beauty Pie Love (available to buy in a body lotion for $40) with its notes of zippy bergamot, warm amber, and creamy sandalwood. She also likes Ted Baker Polly Eau de Toilette (mandarin, jasmine, and white musk). Also try Caudalie Thé des Vignes Fresh Fragrance (musk, neroli, and ginger), Philosophy Pure Grace Eau de Parfum (jasmine, lavender, and musk), and, of course, Glossier You. [Editor's Note: You can also try the new Glossier You Candle.]
Like Le Labo and Byredo, Phlur's aesthetically pleasing, minimal bottles are a serious pull. If you'd like to explore more of the brand's olfactory offering, try its newest launch: Somebody Wood Eau de Parfum. Beauty editor Vousden describes this as a "sensual embrace." The initial spritz offers citrus notes, she says, which are followed by vanilla, musk, and amber. "The cedarwood, sandalwood, and moss are earthy, and it's perfectly seasonal for this time of year."
If I've learned anything while writing this article, it's that Missing Person truly is the Marmite of the fragrance world. You either love it or you don't. Would I recommend it, however? It's just too personal to call...
This story was originally published on Refinery29UK.
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Correction: This story originally said that Chriselle Lim is the founder of Phlur. She is the owner and creative director. We regret the error.