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What’s drawing Gen Z into the world of perfume?

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

You still can't smell through the internet - not yet, at least - but teenagers and young adults are driving perfume sales up. So what's drawing Gen Z into the world of perfume? We sent a couple of MORNING EDITION staffers to a fragrance store. Here's NPR's Nina Kravinsky.

JJ VITTORIA: So this is the main bar at Olfactory NYC.

NINA KRAVINSKY, BYLINE: In a brand-new, well-lit storefront along the main drag of D.C.'s upscale Georgetown neighborhood, Olfactory CEO JJ Vittoria stands in front of a wall of perfume.

VITTORIA: These are what we call our core fragrances. They're all created by some of the world's top perfumers. You'll see...

KRAVINSKY: On a Thursday afternoon, Vittoria's store is full of people on a mission to create their own signature scent - think Build-A-Bear, but for perfume. This requires a lot of sniffing and the help of a personal scentologist. We're here to design a signature scent for this show, MORNING EDITION.

VITTORIA: When I think of morning, I think this one is pretty close, because it's got those kind of, like, fresh-out-of-the-shower kind of notes here.

KRAVINSKY: Oh, yeah, it does. It smells very fresh, and I like the citrus. That's morning-y (ph), for sure.

Vittoria certainly knows his way around the scents in this store, but when he opened the first Olfactory in New York, he was a fragrance fan, not a perfumer. Really, he was a guy with a finance background who saw an opportunity.

VITTORIA: Fragrance can be a very sort of sterile experience. I just felt there was room to change that. I mean, you come in here, it's bright. It's colorful. It's supposed to be inviting. We're supposed to just have people walk off the street and sort of get into the world of perfumery, and that's what we're trying to do.

KRAVINSKY: Twenty-three-year-old Lauren Reyes says her mom always had a signature scent, and she wants that, too, now that she's out of college and starting her professional life.

LAUREN REYES: And I think that both of my standards in which I look also have to be represented in how I smell. I can't look beautiful and smell not beautiful (laughter).

KRAVINSKY: Lauren Goodsitt analyzes beauty and personal care trends for the market research firm Mintel. She says the desire to smell unique is part of what's drawing people to perfume right now - that and TikTok.

LAUREN GOODSITT: On TikTok and on social platforms, consumers feel that they're kind of getting a more well-rounded view of what the fragrance smells like, or they see an influencer who they're aligned with, and they feel more comfortable making that purchase.

KRAVINSKY: Bigger, more established fragrance companies are also enjoying the rise in interest. Inter Parfums, which creates scents for brands like DKNY and Oscar de la Renta, has seen sales increase for the last few years. Inter Parfums' vice president of product development, Walter Johnsen, says people in their late teens and early 20s are buying different perfumes and using them more often than previous generations.

WALTER JOHNSEN: This generation is basically saying that they are buying fragrances that they feel very personal about and that they buy fragrances that make them feel good.

VITTORIA: Let this dry for a second, and then we'll get started.

KRAVINSKY: Back at Olfactory, we're working on how to capture the essence of a radio show in a fragrance.

VITTORIA: This first one here, we're going to boost out that tea note, but we're going to...

KRAVINSKY: We sit down at the bar, and Olfactory CEO Vittoria blots oils onto long strips of paper.

Interesting. Yeah, I like it.

CLAIRE MURASHIMA, BYLINE: I don't like it. It's too acidic for MORNING EDITION.

KRAVINSKY: My co-worker Claire Murashima and I sniff and sniff...

VITTORIA: This next one here - you liked that grapefruit from earlier, so I wanted to try a little grapefruit here. It's got a little spice in here, too.

KRAVINSKY: ...Until we find the one.

Oh, yeah. I like the grapefruit smell, and it smells fresh. Grapefruit is such a morning smell.

MURASHIMA: Oh, I love it.

KRAVINSKY: Nina Kravinsky, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COMES THE SUN")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Here comes the sun (vocalizing). Here comes the sun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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