INTERNATIONAL – “Reeking of weed” used to be a bad thing. Now high-end beauty influencers are embracing fragrances designed to highlight the aroma of cannabis.
There’s one called Dirty Grass, an earthy $185 scent with 500 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD oil in each bottle. It’s the latest release from Heretic Parfum’s Douglas Little, the nose behind Goop’s all-natural fragrances. Another, Chronic ($175), is from Swedish brand 19-69 and contains notes of grapefruit and moss. Both are available at Barneys New York.
They join the likes of Malin + Goetz’s Cannabis Eau De Parfum ($165), which balances white floral notes with spicy herbs, and Maison Margiela’s Replica ($126), an ode to the Woodstock music festival that is described as smelling of “patchouli and fresh bud.”
As marijuana gains more acceptance, both in legal regulation and public opinion, fragrance makers are finding new ways to transcend any lingering bong-water stereotypes. They are also capitalizing on the CBD craze sweeping across almost every consumer industry and now featured in everything from shampoo and gum drops to mascara and pet treats.
Researchers estimate that the market for CBD in the U.S. alone could be worth almost $24 billion by 2023. The global fragrance market was valued at $52.7 billion in 2018 and is expected to be worth $72.3 billion by 2024, according to Mordor Intelligence.
Andrew Goetz, cofounder of Malin + Goetz, says that the name of his company’s Cannabis Eu de Parfum was risky even five years ago, when it was released, because recreational marijuana was still mostly illegal. “Now everyone is trying to find their way in and their opportunity,” he says. He notes that the candle version ($55) is still a bestseller.
Linda Levy, president of the Fragrance Foundation, says cannabis scents “seem to be very trendy, very of-the-moment.” The organization’s members include Sephora, Macy’s, and LVMH.
Although the biggest players in the market such as L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, and Chanel don’t currently have cannabis-themed products, this may be only a matter of time. “In the past two years in the beauty category, cannabis became one of those real conversation pieces,” Levy says.
A More Subtle, Skunky Scent
One of the first cannabis fragrances on the market was Demeter’s Cannabis Flower ($36) in 2006. Mark Crames, chief executive officer of Demeter Fragrance Library, designed it to have “that skunky cannabis smell,” albeit in a more understated version.
“It’s the true cannabis smell modified enough, so it was wearable,” he says. “I didn’t want you to get pulled over for driving under the influence while wearing my cologne.”
It’s mostly being bought by women 35 years old and younger, but the scent—one of Demeter’s bestsellers now and featured in about 100 stores—is more gender-neutral than others at the brand.
The newer fragrances are more likely to play off smoky or woodsy notes, with hints of cedar and sandalwood, Levy says.
Heretic’s perfumer Little, who has also created scents for Dita von Teese and candles for Lady Gaga, released the unisex scent Dirty Grass in May, which contains notes of pink pepper and lemon zest. The 50-milliliter bottle also has 500 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD oil to give it a slightly sweet, herblike scent. It’s unclear how much of CBD’s calming impact the perfume harnesses, but Little says breathing the fragrance can deliver it directly to the bloodstream.
Lily, a Brooklyn-based CBD producer, has a $65 roll-on that’s handy for travel and on-the-go applications. It has a “mixture of smoky oud wood notes” along with 200 milligrams of its premium, full-spectrum CBD.
Both Lily and Little’s packaging include sleek, glass bottles that target a more upscale clientele than marijuana products in the past. “They may not be smoking weed on their lunch break,” Little says, “but they may love to have a bottle of cannabis fragrance in the bathroom.”
For 19-69’s Chronic, creator Johan Bergelin says, “The main priority was to make a perfume out of it, not just: This smells like weed.” He describes it as a leafy, vibrant green that mellows out into a cashmere wood fragrance. “Weed is on top of mind right now, it’s part of counterculture, it’s part of society.”
Chandler Burr, who created the department of olfactory art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, recommends Cannabis Santal ($50) with its bergamot, Brazilian orange, and black plum notes. Burr says the perfume, which came out in 2006, is “ridiculously well-constructed and perfectly calibrated, technically and structurally.”
“Something Everyone Is Talking About”
The appeal of cannabis-scented perfumes may lie in their ability to bring up fond recollections from the past, explains David Edwards, a professor of bioengineering at Harvard University who’s done work on digitizing scent.
“Olfactory nerves go right to the brain, very near to the hippocampus,” he says. “We perceive scent very much like a memory, and it stays in our mind like a memory.”
The Fragrance Foundation’s Levy says that brands are almost certainly using interest in CBD to their advantage.
“For the most part, the ones I’m smelling have more to do with the outdoors, trees, woods,” she says. “Now that the U.S. is allowing weed to be legal state-by-state, it also allows it to be something everyone is talking about.”
Bergelin compares it to the aloe vera craze a decade ago. His desire was not to replicate the cannabis smell precisely but to use it to inspire a beautiful perfume.
“We’re dealing with cosmetics,” he says. “That means it’s not real. It’s a dream or illusion.”