Scroll back for a moment to 1994. Whitewater dominated D.C. chatter; Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were embroiled in scandal. Kurt Cobain spun out, a white Bronco cut loose, and a sitcom about six friends with an implausible New York apartment hit the air. That same year, Calvin Klein released CK One into the fragrance ether. The scent was democratic in purpose—it predated the gender-agnostic wave by about 20 years—with a linear architecture that didn’t morph much as the hours passed. In 1994, there was something comforting about that notion of static uniformity. CK One was perfume as armor, a translucent raincoat confronting a mess of a storm.
If that iconic scent was a remedy for its time, the fall fragrance class of 2018 is a reflection of and reaction to the present. What’s in the air is also in the bottle, as the issues and themes dominating our nonstop newsfeeds manifest in unlikely ways. There’s an olfactory ode to women (by women) that comes a year into the #MeToo movement; for high-fashion nostalgics, the legendary Givenchy scent originally worn by the designer’s muse, Audrey Hepburn, has been reimagined for today. Pick your poison (an apocalyptic creation called Eleventh Hour) or your passion (a sustainability-driven niche collection). Or chase that elusive state of mind, balance, with a perfume that taps the collective wellness obsession. Staying grounded might as well start with an aromatic dab to the pulse points—and here, the scent trail promises to linger beyond the news cycle.
Calvin Klein Women, $84, macys.com
Calvin Klein’s latest—called, simply, Women—responds to the #MeToo movement with a message of empowerment, a female-led creative team (perfumers Annick Menardo and Honorine Blanc, along with artist Anne Collier), and a campaign fronted by whip-smart actors Lupita Nyong’o and Saoirse Ronan. A woodsy riff on more predictable florals, the scent projects solidarity through a nuanced lens. Consider it the official flacon of the Fourth Wave.
Givenchy L’Interdit, $110, available in September at bloomingdales.com
The creative exchange between Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn didn’t just result in an impeccably tailored wardrobe. The designer also created a custom perfume for his screen-star muse—but, legend has it, when he asked to bottle it up for sale, she replied, “Je vous l’interdis!” Forbidden or not, the 1957 fragrance was a smash. This year, with a new face (Rooney Mara, another fine-featured talent) and formula, L’Interdit makes a comeback, with a playful call to bend the rules.
Byredo Eleventh Hour, $250, available September 6 at byredo.com
The dystopian mood of late—echoed in shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Black Mirror—finds a match in Byredo’s latest release, Eleventh Hour, billed as the “last perfume on earth.” Founder Ben Gorham acknowledges that “people are imagining the end more than ever,” but he sees hope (and ripe fig notes) in that twilight of civilization. A zip of Nepalese ban timmur pepper paints a bracing picture of a mountaintop refuge—a reminder to enjoy, and preserve, what the landscape offers.
The Harmonist Yin Transformation, $305, available September 1 at barneys.com
Feng shui principles and classical French perfumery aren’t typical bedfellows, but The Harmonist’s Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva found good reason to marry the two: “Now women are choosing perfume that reflects their lifestyle, too,” she says, musing on the collective search for balance in a frenetic world. The line’s new launch, Yin Transformation—an aqueous blend of rose, Calypso orchid, and ylang-ylang—is one route to tranquility, offering up a ritual to root into the present.
Louis Vuitton Attrape-Rêves, $240, available in September at louisvuitton.com
Lately, wellness is as much about the spiritual as it is the physical, a phenomenon made visible in the tarot decks and astrology tweets designed to make sense of things. How about adding a dream catcher to the mix? Attrape-Rêves, Louis Vuitton’s latest perfume, strings together disparate threads—African cocoa flower, Turkish rose absolute, peppery ginger—for an intriguing composition. It might be the good omen you crave, or a Proustian aide-mémoire for the future.
The 7 Virtues perfumes in Orange Blossom, Vetiver Elemi, and Rose Amber, $77 each, sephora.com
“This generation wants your mission to be driven by their same values,” says human rights activist Barb Stegemann. Her fragrance brand, The 7 Virtues—handpicked for Sephora’s new transparency-minded hub, Clean—sources fair-trade raw materials from farmers in economically depressed areas: vetiver from Haiti, patchouli from Rwanda. “Make perfume not war,” goes the tagline, and with orange blossom supplied by former poppy growers in Afghanistan, it rings true.
Régime des Fleurs Personal/Space perfumes in Waves, Leis, and Shells, $125 each, regimedesfleurs.com
With the country marred by ugly rhetoric, Régime des Fleurs’ new collection, Personal/Space, is a reminder of the beauty that exists right here in the U.S. of A. A five-piece homage to the island of Oahu, where the founders Alia Raza and Ezra Woods spent a month during an artists’ residency, the collection distills the sublime Hawaiian landscape into evocative scents (frothy, herb-laced Waves; crisp, unexpected Leis). That the frosted jewel-tone bottles are ready for an Instagram close-up is just another sign of the times.