How Gen-Z Is Changing The Fragrance Industry, According To An Expert
Gen-Z has a real knack for shaking things up in the beauty space. Whether it's by embracing acne-positivity, amping up graphic eye looks, or demanding more sustainable alternatives for packaging, the young generation has pushed the industry to new frontiers. The fragrance world is no exception.
Recently I was chatting with Bee Shapiro, beauty reporter, writer for the New York Times, and founder of Ellis Brooklyn. The brand focuses on clean, natural-leaning fine fragrances, as well as home scents and body care products. It's a beauty-editor-approved collection of perfumes that surprise and delight; each time she tackles a fragrance category (be it a fruity floral or white musk), she puts a sophisticated twist on it. They are not to be missed.
In our episode of Clean Beauty School, we chatted quite a bit about the fragrance industry and trends. And one insight was how the fragrance industry is rapidly changing—largely thanks to the rising generations.
How the fragrance world is changing—and why it's a good thing.
"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 older generations," 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 ax away scent in our daily lives [in the U.S.]. But the problem is we don't actually ax 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 in 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."
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.