Honestly, These 9 Subtle Fragrances Get Me So Many Compliments

When we think of what makes a great perfume, in general, longevity or impact is the criteria by which people judge whether a a fragrance is 'good' or not—and it's easy to see why. Historically (and especially in the past 40 years), fragrance has been big, bold, and expressive. Perfumes like Mugler Alien, Dior J'Adore, Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, and Maison Francis Kurdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 have defined the past few decades because they all have one thing in common—the ability to turn heads as soon as the wearer enters a room. This traditional way of wearing perfume positions it as a means to increase attraction and an opportunity to draw attention. Fragrances have relied upon heavy-hitting top notes like oud, musk, patchouli, and vanilla to turn heads and draw in compliments.

But in the past couple of years, things have begun to change and fragrance inspiration has moved away from lust and attraction toward scents that provide the wearer with a more meaningful or supportive connection. According to trend forecasters at WGSN, research in 2019 by Givaudan (which creates fragrances for almost 20% of the global market), shows that there's been a dramatic shift in behaviour, with 50% in the U.S. no longer identifying with the traditional ‘seduction’ image used by perfume brands. Instead, consumers want fragrances that promote self-assurance and authenticity, and that connect with them on a personal, individual level.


(Image credit: @FIAHAMELIJNCK)

Now, don’t get me wrong. Heady, strong perfumes are never going to be redundant—they will always have their time and their place. Perfume is the perfect way to make a lasting impression, whether that's at a job interview, on a date, or at a party. But here’s a totally counterintuitive notion: Subtle perfumes often make the biggest impressions. Gen Z'ers certainly think so—according to WGSN, younger consumers are drawn to perfumes that focus on self-love and personal memories. They want fewer 'attention grabbing' notes and instead prefer perfumes with ‘close to skin’ musk notes, softly amplifying a ‘like me, but better’ style of scent.

As a migraine-sufferer, I've always preferred wearing more subtle fragrances (especially on a day-to-day basis), and I’ve found that when I wear a subtle, inconspicuous scent, people are always the most intrigued. Perfumes like Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 and Phlur Missing Person (which I can barely smell on myself) always bring in the compliments. Ultimately, I think it’s because subtle, niche scents have a bit more mystery to them. They’re not in your face, but they're still compelling and seductive, and that’s what makes them so appealing. A subtle scent will leave someone thinking about how good you smell, and it won’t seem like you tried too hard to smell good.


(Image credit: @MOBINAPEIMAN)

Below, I’ve rounded up my favourite subtle scents—plus a few bolder alternatives for those who do still like a strong perfume. Whether strong or subtle, all of the below are very long-lasting and still very much guaranteed to get you at least one 'you smell incredible' comment per wear.

1. Escentric Molecules Molecule 01

If you like to make a statement, try:

2. Byredo Gypsy Water

If you like to make a statement, try:

3. Diptyque Eau Duelle

If you like to make a statement, try:

4. Vilhelm Parfumeries Dear Polly

If you like to make a statement, try:

5. Commodity Milk

If you like to make a statement, try:

6. Phlur Missing Person

If you like to make a statement, try:

7. Maison Francis Kurkdjian

If you like to make a statement, try:

8. Serge Lutens Parole D'Eau

If you like to make a statement, try:

9. Penhaligon's Juniper Sling

If you like to make a statement, try:

Next Up: I Always Use This Fragrance Hack to Make My Perfume Last (and Get Compliments)

Freelance Beauty Editor

Grace Day is a beauty editor and content creator. She has over 10 years of beauty-industry experience, spanning editorial, retail, and e-commerce, which gives her a unique understanding into how people shop for their beauty routines. While studying for a history degree (specialising in the history of beauty) and working as a beauty adviser in department stores, Grace started writing her own beauty blog in order to share the products she discovered while dealing with acne. After graduating, she moved to Beauty Bay as beauty editor and content manager. Grace is currently a beauty contributor to Who What Wear. She has also written for Hypebae and PopSugar and works as a brand consultant and copywriter.