“I think the history surrounding our relationship with fragrance in the U.S. is fascinating. When you look at the consumption of fragrance by gen-Z and millennials, it’s way higher than generations older,” she says.
And much of that has to do with the shift in younger generations using beauty as a tool for open self-expression, and not being embarrassed by having fun with it. “If you’re above 40—and I’m 41 so I fall into this category—I remember a period of time where I was going to work at a law firm, and it was a space where complex perfume and scent was almost considered anti-intellectual,” she says. “Can you imagine if you walked into an elevator, you're really trying to climb the corporate ladder, and then you fill the whole entire elevator with your perfume? It was looked down upon.”
And while some people have sensitive noses or simply prefer gently scented things, Shapiro notes that scent isn’t something we can remove entirely—nor should we aim to. “It’s strange how much we axe away scent in our daily lives [in the U.S.]. But the problem is we don’t actually axe it away—very few things in life are actually unscented,” she reminds us. “But by not engaging with it, we haven’t engaged that part of the brain. It’s one of our five senses that we haven’t developed fully.”
And when you compare this to other countries and cultures, it shows. “When you look at other places, scent is more central and embedded into their culture. And so that sense is far more developed,” she says. At the very least you can see this anecdotally: My mind goes to how many Parisian cafes, shops, and hotels each have their own very distinct signature scent (an experiential element that’s meant to stay with you).
But it’s not just anecdotal evidence—it’s clear in the market, too. “When you think about how beauty categories perform, in the U.S. makeup is usually the top category. But in Europe fragrance is the top category,” she says. “In the U.S. we are still, by far, visual people—think about makeup application tutorials and ‘before and after’ photos. But I think there’s a shift happening where it’s becoming much more sensorial. You hear younger generations talk about how good something feels when they apply something,”
Yes, we see gen-Z and millennials engaging it much more thoughtfully and holistically: Scent is an essential part of their routines. “These two generations are way more in touch with their sense of smell. They relish in it, They want it to be unique. They want to try different things. I think that’s a wonderful thing.”