With millions of fragrances on the market, discovering the best perfumes for women is a process of elimination, and the line between good and great is worth considering. Extraordinary perfumes tell a story through their notes, the craftsmanship that goes into them, and the emotions they evoke. The right smell can give you a boost of confidence, cause you to reminisce, or make you smile.
As someone who has made all the rookie mistakes when buying perfume—shopping after hours, buying without trying, getting drawn in by a pretty bottle without considering the juice—I’ve lost considerable amounts of time searching in vain. Fragrance is subjective; there are plenty of perfectly lovely, completely inoffensive releases that fail to excite me and much-lauded classics that should stay in the past. What interests me are the scents that diverge from the norm and feel singular in their intent. They don’t need to be esoteric niche creations or designer exclusives that break the bank; they just have to be original.
The moment’s five-star, top-tier standouts are perfumes that go beyond basic. Through ingenuity and artisanal expertise, the best perfumes for women offer something elevated. Whether it’s a callback to classic literature, the preservation of artisanal techniques, or a poetic ode to natural phenomena, they feel special, and at the end of the day that’s what everyone is searching for.
There are infinite interpretations of the rose, and in Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady, that versatility comes to the fore. The note can register as sweet or spicy, sultry or sophisticated, depending on its utilization. The perfumers behind Malle’s range have showcased that quality via hits like Ralf Schwieger’s coquettish Lipstick Rose and Jean-Claude Ellena’s vetiver laced cocktail Rose & Cuir.
Still, Dominique Ropion’s Portrait of a Lady takes the flower in a bold direction. Turkish rose compliments earthy elements like patchouli, sandalwood, frankincense, and a splash of blackcurrant and raspberry for zest. Isabel Archer, the heroine of the Henry James novel the scent draws its name from, was a passionate free spirit, and it’s easy to imagine her spraying on a bit of Malle before an evening out in the eternal city.
There’s a fairy-tale quality to Alessandro Michele’s designs for Gucci. The designer regularly evokes myths and folk tales within his work, and the brand’s Alchemist’s Garden fragrance collection bottles that magic. Naturally, the frangipani-focused A Chant for the Nymph lives up to its otherworldly name. Tropical forests were the scent’s inspiration point, but its heady notes of ylang-ylang and Tiare make it seem straight out of Narnia, Middle Earth, or King’s Landing.
Tom Ford isn’t a fashion label; it’s a lifestyle. The designer has cultivated an aesthetic so recognizable that the moment you hear his name and the word beach, thoughts of perfectly tanned models in sunglasses fill your head. Ford has released multiple Soleil fragrances, but the latest, Soleil Brûlant, is the most lavish. Everything from the metallic bottle that looks like a gold brick to the indulgent use of amber, incense, and black honey says luxury. Extravagant as it is, Soleil Brûlant isn’t brash. The addition of lighter notes like pink pepper and mandarin helps it maintain a subtle sexiness.
The transportive qualities of Amyris Femme are evident at first sniff. Francis Kurkdjian’s dreamy floral mixes Jamaican amyris—a flowering plant with a rich citrus scent—and Florentine iris to create a voyage for the senses. It’s rare for a fragrance to trend on TikTok, but this summer, a rave review of the scent went viral. Of course, you don’t have to be a member of Generation Z to appreciate Kurkdjian’s creation; its bright, effervescent beauty should be evident to all.
Admit it: You already have that bottle of Delina on your vanity. Parfums de Marly’s lychee-infused blockbuster has been spotted everywhere of late (you can’t scroll through Instagram without spotting its pastel bottle in the background of a beauty post), and its sister scents are equally appealing. Safanad, their elegant orange blossom and pear fragrance crafted by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin is a sophisticated and feminine fruity-floral. Safanad’s lush scent is reminiscent of nectar, and it has the golden juice to match—meaning it’s only a matter of time before Instagram becomes obsessed with it.
Did you know Christian Dior was a foodie? The iconic designer had strong opinions about dessert, and his personal favorite was a pastry created for him at the famed Paris restaurant Maxim’s. The recipe for the Diorama Gourmand is lost to history, but that didn’t stop Francois Demachy, Dior’s in-house perfumer, from paying homage. In keeping with the sugary spirit of the menu at Maxim’s, Demachy dreamt up a perfume heavy on vanilla, rum, and cocoa. Notes like patchouli and amber give the scent depth, but it’s the addictive, edible aspect of the final blend that will have you craving chocolate for days.
When it comes to zesty, citrus scents, Acqua di Parma is the expert. Since 1916 it has been perfecting its signature style by introducing new variations of their sparkling, lightweight colognes. In that way, Blue Mediterranio Bergamotto di Calabria la Spugnatura is a carefully (and luxuriously) executed take on a familiar concept. Bergamot is a popular ingredient in perfumery, but here they’ve utilized its most potent version using “spugnatura,” an artisan technique that uses sea sponges to extract the fruit’s oil without contamination from the peel. Developed in 1700, the handcraft is now exclusively produced by a single family-run orchard. Preserving the tradition of spugnatura allows AdP to deliver a brighter, bolder take on the note and a scent steeped in history.
The 1969 moon landing has inspired novels, films, and now, a perfume. The legacy of man’s first walk on the moon led Xerjoff founder Sergio Momo to create a celestial white floral accented by orris butter. A fragrance inspired by the final frontier could skew icy and imposing—space is a cold vacuum after all—but Apollonia’s iris tinged musk presents a soft, crowd-pleasing tribute to infinite possibility.
Forbidden Games by Kilian defies categorization. The fragrance is almost a gourmand; its opening a delectable peach aroma drizzled with honey then dusted with cinnamon. Things could have ended there, but as time passes, osmanthus and tuberose reveal themselves, pushing the things into floral territory. A few hours later and the smoky, resinous sensuality of opoponax emerges to finish things off. A true fragrance journey, it keeps you guessing till the very end.
The Tamarindo district of Costa Rica is known for its serene natural beauty and Playa de Tamarindo, a haven for surfers. Thoughts of Tamarindo’s beaches and dense forests informed perfumer Sophie Labbé when she was connecting Memo’s pineapple and cardamom blend. The fragrance is transportive, and visuals from the region are postcard-worthy, but Memo has taken the experience a step further. Anyone looking to immerse themselves in the vibe can view the corresponding book by French illustrator Séverin Millet and poet Zingonia Zingone, who capture the scent’s essence via a vibrant art project.
Vanilla’s origins are extraordinary. Though it’s now associated with mild desserts, the spice is harvested in tropical climates around the globe. The planifolia orchid from which it is derived is a beautiful yellow and white flower, with a soft scent distinct from that of the plant’s pods. When perfumer Quentin Bisch learned all this during his years as an apprentice, he vowed to one day create a fragrance based on the blossom. Years later, he would make the exquisite and enveloping Vanilla Planifolia for the Parisian fashion house, Chloe, and the rest is history.
Sometimes a change in perspective is all it takes to elevate the ordinary. Juliette Has a Gun’s Not a Perfume is based on a single ingredient, Cetalox, a synthetic created by fragrance and flavor firm Firmenich. Regularly used as a base in perfumes, it stands in for ambergris, the substance formed in the digestive systems of sperm whales that was used in perfumes from the 1600s onwards. Despite the historical popularity of its inspiration point, Cetalox was a background player until Not a Perfume dropped in 2019.
There is nothing quite like Aventus, the pineapple and bergamot heavy chypre Creed launched in 2010. An instant hit, the fragrance went viral in online perfume communities, and though it was initially conceived as a men’s scent, Aventus had crossover appeal. Eventually, Creed decided to create a female counterpart, one that retained the freshness of the original but amped up the florals. In For Her, the fruity brightness that made Aventus so appealing is there, but instead of ananas slices, you get green apples and berries alongside Bulgarian roses, cassis, and ylang-ylang. Inspired by women who wield power, it projects confidence from the very first spritz.
Ormonde Jayne specializes in fragrances built around unexpected elements. Always one step ahead of the curve, founder Linda Pilkington was among the first in English perfumery to put notes like champaca and oud front and center. Ormonde Jayne’s Tolu, which derives its name from the Peruvian tree resin at the heart of its composition, explores an under-the-radar ingredient. Creamy, warm, and inviting Tolu leads you towards its namesake balsam via top notes of juniper berry, clary sage, and Muguet. By the time it dries down to its velvety finish, you’ll be entranced.
In nature, a mistpouffer or sky quake is a phenomenon where a booming sound appears out of nowhere. Often heard near bodies of water during foggy weather conditions, sky quakes occur frequently and around the globe. They’re called “canons de mer” in France, while the Japanese refer to them as uminari or “cries from the sea.” These noises have been attributed to everything from underground earthquakes, distant thunder, and solar radiation storms, but seismologists are still investigating their origins. The collective behind Stockholm niche perfumery Stora Skuggan attempts to bottle the mystery, and its blend of immortelle, fig leaf, and malt sugar is appropriately enigmatic.
Lady Gaga serves as muse and campaign star for Voce Viva, Valentino’s spirited floral, and it’s easy to see the connection between the pop goddess and perfume. Though she’s a boundary-pushing performer, Gaga appreciates tradition much like Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli. In Voce Viva, that contrast between modern artistry and old-school glamour is front and center. It doesn’t get more classic than notes like orange blossom and jasmine absolute, but they’re given a boost by the addition of boozy bourbon vanilla and herbaceous moss. This unexpected combination makes for a compelling experience, amplified in the new Intensa version of the scent, which increases the potency and turns up the volume.
Before swiping right and late-night texts became the norm, people shared their feelings via pen and paper. Snail mail correspondence may have waned, but perfumer Alberto Morillas’s Tres Chere is an ode to love letters and their poetic qualities. Heavy on orange blossom and Ambroxan—another chemical substitute for ambergris’ animalic aroma—it is ladylike. Still, with jasmine sambac and sandalwood notes serving as its post-script, it has something for everyone.
There is love, and then there is euphoric infatuation, the kind of intense over-the-top connection that makes for bodice-ripping novels and steamy soap operas. Initio Parfums Privé’s Psychedelic Love is about the latter, and it explores the concept in a novel way. According to studies, Hedione HC, a molecule used in perfumery with a scent similar to magnolia, activates human pheromones. The note is one of the core elements of Psychedelic Love, and it pairs beautifully with the rose, heliotrope, and myrrh that round the fragrance out. Will it bring wearers one step closer to finding true romance? Possibly, but even if it doesn’t, they’re sure to smell great.