One of the funniest things Mindy Kaling has ever said is that, if she were to create an app, she would make “Shazaam for perfumes.”
I need this app badly. As a woman on a quest to define her own signature scent ever since the sixth grade when a friend made Clinique Happy undeniably hers, I have literally chased people down the street to ask them why they smell so good. Sometimes they get away, which is sad, and when they don’t, it is never not awkward. No one wants to tell you the name of their smell! And I get it: scent is personal.
But there are a bajillion potentially intoxicating perfumes in this world, and as with “cool new music” or shows on Netflix, sometimes you need someone you trust to help you out with a recommendation. As such, I asked members of the Man Repeller team to text that one friend in their lives who always smells good — whose presence they can identify by scent alone, or who they instantly associate with a certain smell. Thankfully, almost all of their friends divulged. Below are the answers.
Leandra Medine, Founder, and Abie Cohen, Leandra’s Husband
Who came to mind: Fivestory owner Claire Distenfeld
Why Leandra chose her: I chose Claire because when I smell Santal 33 on or near anyone else I feel like she is being photocopied, which is such an impressive feat on her part! To me she owns one of the most popular scents in New York.
Why Abie chose here: You immediately know when Claire enters or is in a room. And when she’s there, smiles are being spread.
How long has she been wearing it? Every day for 11 years. She uses 5-6 sprays and says it lasts all day without ever smelling harsh.
What she said when Leandra and Abie texted her about it: “11 years ago I was living with my then-boyfriend on Elizabeth street. One afternoon, I opened the window and this waft of magic air flowed into the room. I looked down to see a perfume store in the works, set to open in a few days.
I went down eventually and met the founder of Le Labo. He smelled me — not in a weird way, but more of an artist-painting-a-subject way. He told me to wear Santal 33 with such conviction that I have never looked back. I think at this point, Santal is part of my blood type. And while it has gained popularity in the past decade, it’s such a complex scent that I feel like it smells different on everyone.”
Haley Nahman, Deputy Editor
Who came to mind: My friend Stephanie ALWAYS smells exactly the same, and so good! She’s a meet-for-dinner friend, so whenever I smell someone else wearing her perfume, I get a flash of giving Steph a hug by the door of a restaurant. The consistent familiarity of her scent makes her a very cozy person to me.
What she wears: Chloé Eau De Parfum
How long has she been wearing it: Since college
What she said when Haley texted her about it: “I’ve been wearing Chloé since college, so about a decade. I actually love it because even though I know many people who wear it, it smells different on everyone. Maybe it’s because of how it mixes with my shampoo or soap, but I can’t get away from it now.
I can hardly even smell it on myself anymore; it’s just part of my morning routine! I like having a ‘signature’ scent, but I also like when people switch depending on the season. What’s funny is I went into Aesop a few weekends ago and got a new fragrance (Aesop-Tacit), which I like, but it’s not me! I can definitely smell it when I wear it, so it feels foreign.”
Jasmin Aujla, Senior Partnerships Strategist
Who came to mind: My friend Cana, one of my best friends that I met at uni, a.k.a. college. She lives in Berlin now so I don’t see her as much as I like but when I do, she always smells really good — very comforting and fresh. We used to live together at school too, so I know it’s not a one-off thing. She is genuinely just a good-smelling person.
What she wears: Chloé Eau De Parfum (“Three squishes.”)
How long has she been wearing it: About two years
What she said when Jasmin texted her about it: “That is such a nice compliment 🙂 Firstly, I wash regularly. Secondly, I think I get it from my dad. My mum always said that we both have this thing where we just smell very good so I think it’s in our genes. My daily face cream is from Shiseido but I don’t use any body lotion. I just put perfume on once in the morning and that’s it!”
Emily Zirimis, Visual Manager
Who came to mind: My mom! She always smells crisp and clean to me, like fresh laundry or a spring day, with or without perfume. It always gives me a feeling of comfort and nostalgia.
What she wears: Eau de Parfum Giulietta. I worked at TOCCA several years ago and was fortunate enough to test out products and take some home to try out. Somewhere along the lines, my mom fell in love with the Eau de Parfum Giulietta by TOCCA, which has a description that reads as follows: “The love story of Italian director Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina comes alive in this sweet floral scent reminiscent of their Corsican honeymoon.”
How long has she been wearing it: About four years
What she said when I texted her about it: “I love the soft scent — it smells clean and is great to wear during the day without feeling like you’re wearing a ton of perfume. I call it my ‘day scent.’ It’s extra nice for summer evenings, too.”
Imani Randolph, Editorial Intern
Who came to mind: Myself — I know, that sounds insanely narcissistic, please forgive me. But ever since I started wearing Glossier You, I receive consistent inquiries about my scent. It’s so intense that my roommates can smell it radiating out as they pass by my door.
I wear: Glossier You
I’ve been wearing it for: Five months
My feelings about it: Whenever people tell me I smell good, I’m happy to share that the coolest thing about this fragrance is that it smells a little different on everyone, hence it being called Glossier You.
Elizabeth Tamkin, Market Assistant
Who came to mind: My mom, who always smells like that one person you know is just perfect. My dad gets my mom perfume for just about every occasion (if it’s Saturday, get her a perfume!) to the point where — when I was growing up — her dresser had so many perfumes on it, they covered nearly the entire top. He often even bought repeats. She mixes them up pretty frequently, but they’re always clean and fresh smelling. My favorite one in particular, the one that makes me immediately think of her and which I can smell at this moment, has a hint of lemon.
What she wears: Santa Maria Novella Acqua di Colonia Magnolia
How long has she been wearing it: For at least 10 years
What she said when I texted her about it (after debating WHICH perfume I was talking about for about 10 minutes): “I’ve been wearing it since a trip to Florence. I like it because it smells clean and fresh.”
Nora Taylor, Managing Editor
Who came to mind: My friend Molly, who, on top of being the best accessorizer I know, always smells amazing. She lives in Seattle and I only see her once a year, so there’s something really comforting about having a scent memory associated with her. I also spent a lot of time getting ready to go out in her apartment, so it reminds me of our not-quite-misspent youth. It isn’t one particular scent, though; she just always smells really put together and fancy.
How long has she been wearing it: About three years
What she said when I texted her: “They are nice and subtle, a little sophisticated. They make my sweatshirt and jeans feel up to date, or timeless, because they are.”
Harling Ross, Fashion Editor
Who came to mind: My mom. I love hugging her and burying my nose in the crook of her collarbone because it’s like a magical little pocket where I can get a really good whiff of her signature scent. It smells musky and sweet, like slightly damp flowers. She always puts it on after taking a bath, while her skin is still warm.
What she wears: Serge Lutens A La Nuit
How long has she been wearing it: Two years
What she said when I texted her about it: “I prefer floral smells. I think people should pick perfumes that make them happy when they smell the smell. It’s funny because I have smelled perfumes on people that I loved on them, bought it, used it and hated it on me. But floral smells seem to get better instead of worse on me. There must be some unique chemistry that happens that is different with everyone.
Once I knew the range of smells that worked for me, I would go to counters and ask what they had with certain floral undertones that I knew I liked. Then I tried the samples and let it stay on my wrist for the day. I’m sure the same procedure would work if you liked musky tones or leafy tones or whatever is your thing. I have shifted around here and there in the past, but always with the same undertones that I learned worked for me. Sort of like finding lip colors that suit you — once you narrow it down it’s easier.”
Patty Carnevale, Head of Partnerships
Who came to mind: My cousin Lauren. She gives the best hugs in the world and always smells SO GOOD. Hugging her is like a mini-vacation.
What she wears: Coconut hair products (“Maui Supreme coconut oil is the best for moisturizing!”)
How long has she been wearing it: “Years! Embarrassingly maybe since like…high school or middle school”
What she said when I texted her about it: “I think it’s my hair that makes me smell good. I have always been super into using coconut shampoos and conditioners. I also like the smell of this perfume I got from Anthropologie called “Palm Beach.” It literally smells like the beach: suntan lotion and sand. Also, I usually spray this in my hair!”
Crystal Anderson, Operations Manager
Who came to mind: One of my favorite people in the world, Jen Ramey. We worked together at IMG and when I first met her I could not stop thinking about how great she smelled, but obviously, I didn’t want to be a creep, so I waited like a year before I actually asked her what she wore!
What she wears: Fracas
How long has she been wearing it: Over 20 years!
What she said when I texted her about it: As she usually does when we chat, she just laughed. I’m pretty sure she knows how obsessed I am!
Kate Barnett, President
Who came to mind: I think I just became this person. In the past couple years most perfumes have smelled too chemical to me, but I hadn’t found the right mix of oils until about a month ago when I started using Uma Pure Energy Wellness Oil. Instead of being asked what I’m wearing, when I have it on, someone inevitably asks, “What smells good?” and then I get to say, “I think it’s me?” and it keeps being me! I actually gave my bottle away last week because a lovely woman I had just met had such a beautiful reaction to it. Definitely getting more.
How long has she been wearing it: One month
Amelia Diamond (hi), Head of Creative
Who came to mind: A woman named Preia* who I do not know well enough to text, but whose perfume I copied a few years ago after hugging her hello (it was friendly but work-related) and then never wanting to let go (weird of me because again, it was work-related).
What she wears: Le Labo Another 13, which I now wear, too, because of her. I hate admitting this publicly.
How long has she been wearing it: Forever, according to what I remember from our conversation, and later, a friend confirmed at least that they always thought she smelled amazing, too. I copied her about three years ago now I think? For a while you could only buy it at Colette, but since Colette closed, Le Labo started selling it in its stores. I have recently debated finding a new perfume, because in addition to the smell, part of what I loved is that I didn’t smell like every other person in New York (I know that sounds dumb). Maybe I’ll copy one of these good-smelling women above!
*Ed note: Preia and I have since gotten in touch. She was not weirded out! And in fact, she suggested I try the lotion.
Collage by Plume Creative via Getty Images.