No, we’re not talking about the TV melodrama kind (that’s a completely different story). We’re talking about the other far more appealing variety: fragrances that have a soapy character.
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Some comments about this genre:
- It’s open to interpretation but tends to be on the fresh and clean side.
- Certain notes and, as always, depending on how they are used – for example, aldehydes, neroli, orange blossom, lavender, lily, lily-of-the-valley – have a soapy facet.
- Then there are those that go the more literal route and take their inspiration from a specific soap.
Where known, the name of the perfumer is included in brackets after the name of the fragrance.
While we don’t really subscribe to the genderization of perfumes, we admittedly have quite a mixed bag here. So these classifications below might be helpful to some of you.
*= for men
**= for women
Our Shortlist For Best Soapy Fragrances
Jaguar For Men EDT* (Thierry Wasser)
It all started with Jaguar for Men EDT for the British luxury car manufacturer. Launched in 1988, this EDT was created by none other than master perfumer Thierry Wasser (now Guerlain’s in-house perfumer).
It’s an old-school treat with a soapy character after the fresh citrus opening (bergamot, tangerine) has subsided. We reckon that soapiness comes from the unusual inclusion of the white floral note gardenia.
Going in an earthy direction after that, with notes of cloves, nutmeg, and patchouli, it settles with a more traditionally masculine pine-tobacco-leather drydown.
The good news is that it celebrates its 35th year on the market in 2023. It’s also ridiculously cheap – roughly half the price of a designer fragrance.
Jennifer Lopez Jlo Glow EDT** (Louise Turner)
It’s impossible to overstate the influence of this 2002 release and debut scent from the entertainer. Before Glow, the celebrity fragrance category (apart from its grande dame Elizabeth Taylor) was going nowhere fast.
Within the first year of its launch, it was a huge success story with sales in excess of $100 million and counting. All aided by a non-stop marketing campaign and the appeal of the star who was making her pop cultural mark as a singer/actor/fashion entrepreneur / Bennifer paparazzi bait.
Its profitability motivated other celebrities such as Britney Spears (2004), Sarah Jessica Parker (2005), Haller Berry (2009), Beyoncé (2010), Rihanna (2010), Madonna (2012) and Lady Gaga (2012) to launch their own perfumes.
We recently interviewed Glow’s creator, Louise Turner, and this is what she had to say about the fragrance that also kick-started her career: “The license was with Coty at that time and Jennifer Lopez was directly involved in its creation – she wanted the smell of clean and fresh skin, which was inspired by the smell of a particular soap she used.”
That soapiness comes through from the opening notes of neroli and orange blossom and takes on more floral (jasmine, rose), creamy (sandalwood), and powdery (musk, orris) aspects as it develops.
Le Labo Neroli 36 EDP*** (Daphné Bugey)
Le Labo Neroli 36 was one of the launch fragrances from the NYC-based niche brand, but doesn’t get as much attention as, say, Santal 33 or Bergamote 22. This is a pity because this 2006 release is enchanting stuff from the first spray.
The title note brings on the soapy sunniness. It’s amplified by notes of mandarin orange with a slight aldehydic vibe.
The floral mood continues with notes of jasmine and rose, fresh and gently sweet.
Musk and vanilla mingle in the warm drydown of this thoroughly cheerful composition.
Escentric Molecules Molecule 02 EDT*** (Geza Schoen)
This 2008 launch is all about Ambroxan, the synthetic version of ambergris, the extremely precious substance that’s excreted by the sperm whale (no, it’s not “whale vomit”) and that hardens into a waxy, solid material after floating in the ocean.
Due to its rarity and cost, the substitute (discovered in 1950) is used in a vast array of fragrances such as Hermès Eau des Merveilles EDT (2004), Dior Sauvage EDT (2015) and Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 EDP (2015).
Almost all fragrances which have ambergris as one of their listed notes (including niche varieties) actually refer to Ambroxan or any of the other chemical equivalents (for example, Ambroxide and Ambrofix).
“Ambroxan has a fresh, almost mineral quality,” says Geza Schoen, “that lingers into the drydown.”
In its unadulterated form in this EDT, we love its fresh yet sensual take on the soapy theme. You may also experience it as salty, sweet, creamy and animalic.
A 2009 release that epitomizes the Swedish niche brand’s simple yet effective approach to perfumery.
There’s a big blast of aldehydes in the opening. Most well-known for its use in Chanel No 5, this synthetic gives this EDP a fresh, soapy vibe.
A trio of florals – rose centifolia, peony, violet – are given the powdery treatment.
Clean and sensual at the same time, the drydown features musk and sandalwood.
With the aldehydic prominence, even though used in a modern way, this fragrance is not for everyone, but will appeal to those looking for something offbeat.
Cartier Baiser Volé EDP** (Mathilde Laurent)
Such simplicity! Such beauty!
For this 2011 release from the French luxury jewellery brand, Mathilde Laurent (appointed in-house perfumer in 2006) recreated the smell of a lily using its leaves, petals and stamens as inspiration.
Accordingly, it starts out fresh and dewy and then becomes spicy and waxy, with musky sensuality in the drydown. All the while exuding a supremely romantic (baiser volé means “stolen kiss” in French) soapiness.
It’s an absolute classic. Also look out for most recent version of it: Cartier Baiser Volé Parfum (2022).
The Paris-based niche brand does some of the best freshies in the biz.
The opening of this 2014 release sees a contrast between a burst of sparkling citruses and the warm spice of black pepper.
They lead the way to a duo of sweet-ish florals: powdery iris and soapy orange blossom.
Lots of white musk in the drydown keeps its clean and powdery, with support from an amber accord and sandalwood.
For a freshie, it lasts forever and a day. We wouldn’t expect anything less from the house.
Dunhill Icon EDP* (Carlos Benaïm)
When Dunhill Icon was launched in 2015, it was very much part of the British brand’s sophisticated gentleman approach and admirably so.
The opening features the freshness of neroli, bergamot and petitgrain, all citrus greenery.
It develops in complexity with an interplay between the spice of black pepper and cardamom and the clean aromatics of lavender. The drydown features crisp vetiver and a hint of earthy oakmoss.
There’s something elegantly soapy and sparkling about this EDP. It feels modern yet timeless simultaneously.
And then there’s the award-winning bottle produced by South African industrial designer Mark Eisen. The metal and glass combo are a nod to the house’s motoring heritage.
From the fragrance to the packaging, it gets everything right.
Maison Crivelli Fleur Diamantine EDP*** (Bertrand Duchaufour)
In the five years since its emergence in 2018, the Paris-based niche brand has made a big impact with fragrances inspired by founder Thibaud Crivelli’s experiences.
Part of the launch collection, this EDP takes its cue from “walking through an idyllic white garden with jasmine and orange trees, while eating saffron ice cream”.
We get that feel right from the start with the crisply green treatment of neroli essential oil and jasmine absolute, yet we also see how some people liken it to the smell of an expensive bar of soap. Mint essential oil adds spicy freshness.
The combo of saffron and bitter almond is surprisingly creamy.
Settling with clean white musks and earthy oakmoss, it’s one we keep coming back to when the heat gets to us.
Chanel 1957 EDP*** (Olivier Polge)
The 2019 addition to the upmarket Les Exclusifs de Chanel private collection is undoubtedly a Chanel creation. It has a deceptive simplicity about it.
The opening has a fresh, clean, soapy quality, courtesy of the bergamot and aldehyde notes. Orange blossom and jasmine bring a delicate floral aspect, while orris adds sensual powderiness.
There’s also an interesting contrast between spicy pink pepper and coriander and slightly sweet vanilla and honey notes. Further interest is added by woodiness in the drydown, thanks to the cedar note.
None of these elements dominate the scent, as Chanel 1957 is really about its beautiful musk accord. Present throughout, it gives the fragrance a cosy, easy-going elegance.
Les Parfums de Rosine Bulle de Rose EDP** (Serge de Oliveira)
A bit of fragrance history: the first designer to launch a perfume was the Parisian couturier Paul Poiret in 1911. After almost two decades of considerable success, his company, Parfums de Rosine, was forced to close when the Great Depression hit in 1929.
The house was brought back to life in 1991 when Marie-Hélène Rogeon acquired it. The brand is now renowned for its quality takes on roses.
In an interview on Everfumed, artistic director Louis Rogeon told us that the 2021 release Bulle de Rose “revisits, with freedom and modernity, the legendary note of Camay soap.” (FYI: the American bar soap Camay was launched in 1926 by Procter & Gamble.)
The opening is fresh, spicy and green, courtesy of a trio of notes: bergamot, elemi and blackcurrant.
Skilfully and creatively, perfumer Serge de Oliveira (who also created Bleu Abysse EDP, Rose Absolument EDP and Rose Par Essence EDP for Les Parfums de Rosine) uses a soap accord and the house’s signature focus in the form of Turkish rose absolute to create a perfume that’s full of powdery sophistication. There’s more greenery from a tomato leaf note.
The synthetic Ambroxan ensures the earthy (patchouli and cypriol) and creamy (sandalwood) drydown doesn’t detract from the sparkling vibe of this stellar composition.
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Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.