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The past two years have been a strange time for beauty (and the world at large, but we know that). Stuck indoors and adjusting to our new work from home routines, we’ve traded lipsticks and mascaras for pared-down, natural looks, choosing moisturisers and nourishing face masks over glittery eyeshadows and cheek-defining contouring.

But as our make-up shelf accumulates dust, an unexpected product has emerged as essential to our newfound domestic life: perfume.

According to data from market research firm NPD Group, fragrance sales were up 45% in the first quarter of 2021 versus the year prior. The cosmetic industry, in comparison, has seen substantial losses.

The reasons behind the rise of fragrances are easy to grasp. Living in close quarters, with little variation in our daily habits and scenery, we turned to fragrances and scents to provide a much-needed break from the sameness of our surroundings, and to transport us elsewhere — at least on an olfactory level.

Studies have shown that smells are more effective at triggering memories compared to other types of stimuli, and have powerful and direct connections with the emotional centre of the brain. They can evoke times, places and people, creating all sorts of Proustian moments.

So, bored at home and missing our loved ones, we’re reaching for our perfume bottles. A splash of Dior’s J’Adore can transport us to the perfume department at Galeries Lafayette on a rainy day in Paris. A spritz of Heeley’s L'Amandière, with its subtle hints of green almond, mint and linden blossom, conjures up a crisp spring morning walk in New York’s Central Park. The floral sweetness of Floraïku's Young at Heart reminds us of the summer we spent island hopping in Greece, while a dab of Le Labo’s unisex Santal 33, with its mix of spicy, leathery and musky notes, takes us straight back to that last rooftop party before the pandemic hit.

The variety offered by the bouquets of each eau de toilette also means we can experiment with new ones as if they’re new items of clothing to try on, except perfumes last longer, making them good investments at a time when we don’t really need to shop for new clothes. Some scents serve as comforting armour — looking at you, Emporio Armani She — and others, like Jo Malone’s Peony & Blush Suede Cologne, feel like a warm hug, while some bring with them a whiff of exciting adventures, like Road to Mandalay by Olfaction N’.

At a time when days feel especially mundane and monotonous, new fragrances represent the start of a new chapter, with all the possibilities that entails. By taking a moment to select and spritz a scent ahead of yet another online meeting, we feel more presentable, a little sharper and way more self-assured.

Science backs this up. According to data from the Sense of Smell Institute, the research and educational division of the perfume industry's Fragrance Foundation, scent can have positive effects on mood, stress reduction, sleep enhancement, self-confidence, and physical and cognitive performance.

And because they’re so subjective, fragrances elicit a different kind of mood boost in different people, another reason for their popularity at this moment in time, when we all want to enhance our moods and feelings.

For many of us, perfumes and home fragrances, which many luxury brands now offer, have become the perfect personal luxury to indulge in. According to an analyst at market research consultancy Kline & Company, home scent products transformed from a ‘desirable purchase’ to a ‘quarantine essential’ during the pandemic. What’s more, personal or home fragrances are always appropriate gifts for others. Thanks to their evocative characteristics and ability to soothe, fragrances make the perfect ‘Thinking of You’ tokens to send to loved ones.

And then there’s the practical aspect behind the growing demand for these pleasurable concoctions. Whether you're wearing it or appreciating it, perfume is one of the only beauty products that doesn't require touch — a winning quality in the ‘new normal’ we all find ourselves in. Yet, even at a safe two-metre distance, scent gives us a proximity to others when we need it most.

As the world slowly reopens and we begin to dust off our makeup, chances are the scents we’ve come to love won’t be going anywhere. If anything, they’ll continue to form a big part of our beauty regime.

As Coco Chanel famously said, ‘No elegance is possible without perfume. It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory.’ We couldn’t agree more, but in a post-pandemic world, we’d add that perfume is also a powerful reminder of life’s small pleasures, the ultimate comforter and a magic confidence booster.