This is what happened when 6 self-confessed fragrance snobs wore high street scents for a week

Written by Lucy Partington

Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.

Are your favourite fragrances from designer brands? Do you look down on high street scents? You might be about to change your mind…  

What sort of perfume person are you? Somebody who only ever wears designer fragrances? Or is it the niche, small-batch perfumes from chic Scandi brands that catch your attention? Do you turn your nose up at high street scents? If you found yourself nodding along to any of the above, then we hate to be the ones to break it to you, but yes, you’re a perfume snob.

Don’t worry, though; Stylist’s acting editor, Alix Walker, is with you. She squirmed when we suggested a feature on the virtues of cheap perfumes, and she’s not alone. It’s easy to assume affordable fragrances will never compare to their high-end counterparts, but that’s too simplistic. 

In fact, the perfumers behind your favourites are often the same people who work on the high street’s finest. Take Zara, for example. Last year, it launched Emotions, an eight-strong fragrance collection with iconic perfumer Jo Malone. It’s not the first time she’s joined forces with the high street (she worked with French Connection in 1998) but it is the first time we’ve sat up and paid attention. “These collaborations have been going on for a while,” says Malone. “With Zara, bringing me into the relationship did cause people to think, ‘Wow, this is interesting’.” Nick Gilbert, director at fragrance consultancy Olfiction, agrees. “People would be surprised to know that big-name perfumers compete to create high street products as much as high-end ones.”

Case in point: H&M’s perfumer, Olivier Pescheux, has worked with Diptyque and Yves Saint Laurent, while Beauty Pie teamed up with Frank Voelkl (the nose behind Glossier You and Le Labo’s cult Santal 33). Jérome Epinette (Floral Street, Byredo and Atelier Cologne) has also blended fragrances for & Other Stories. “There’s a hunger for originality. People are looking for authentic, real creativity,” says Malone. 

Meanwhile, Gilbert points out that designer brands are making their offerings much more luxe, so the high street is stepping up its game and looking for new opportunities. “Fast fashion is seeing a slowdown, so expanding into other categories, and doing it well, make sense.” But what about the price tag? “The price doesn’t mean a scent is more natural or less synthetic, but rather denotes the overall quality and cost of the ingredients,” says Gilbert.

While you might not get the rarest jasmine leaves picked by the light of the full moon, but in the hands of incredible experts, even cheaper ingredients smell refined and elevated. So, to prove high street perfume is worth its salt, we asked self-confessed fragrance snobs to switch their high-end favourites for something more affordable. Keep scrolling to see how they got on.

The woman who swears by expensive scents

The tester: Megan Murray, digital writer

The perfume: All Saints Sunset Riot, £49 for 100ml

Growing up, I was taught that perfume isn’t a last-minute present idea or a chance to make the most of a Superdrug deal – to me, it’s a part of my identity. That’s why I only ever have one or two perfumes on my dresser, each costing £100 or more. They’re deliciously luxurious, a treat. So when I was asked to try a high street fragrance, my nose was firmly in the air. 

I was given All Saints’ Sunset Riot, one of five in their new range and the one I was most drawn to. With notes of orange flower, pink pepper and amber, it smells warm like sunshine. Neither overtly floral nor fresh, it makes for a nice daytime fragrance that certainly had my colleagues impressed. 

After liberally spraying it through my hair and onto my clothes in the office, a wave of approving “Mmmm”s went up. “I don’t wear perfume because I don’t like anything too heavy, but that’s lovely. I could wear that,” chimed Stylist’s fitness editor Meriam Ahari. 

My boyfriend’s verdict wasn’t as positive. “You smell different,” he declared as I arrived home. Sniffing around me like a bloodhound, he took a moment to ruminate before deciding: “It’s not as nice as your other ones. I like it when your perfume is more incense-y.” 

I think what he was trying to say is that the oud perfumes I usually wear are more intense, more powerful. But Sunset Riot does have staying power – I kept getting wafts of it hours after I’d sprayed myself. My boyfriend’s assessment came a good six hours after application, by which time I’d battled the crowds of Oxford Street and journeyed the two-hour commute home. It seems Sunset Riot is in it for the long haul. 

Will I give up my usual fragrance in favour of a high street one? I’m not sure. The good news is Sunset Riot impressed me, lingering longer than expected and bringing compliments. The bad news? I’d still call myself a perfume snob. 

The woman who enjoys obscure fragrances

The tester: Shannon Peter, beauty director

The perfume: Zara Emotions Vetiver Pamplemousse, £15.99 for 40ml

My personal brand of perfume snobbery is quite particular. I’m not concerned with price point, provenance or seeking out brands no one has ever heard of; all I want is for a fragrance to be something that no one else wears. Sometimes that means going back to perfumes that time forgot (I still have a bottle of Glow by J Lo knocking around) or hunting out the underdogs from big-name brands (Byredo Rodeo is a particularly delicious unsung hero). 

So, by their very nature, mass high street brands don’t hit that signature scent sweet spot for me. However, when Zara’s new fragrances launched late last year, I was willing to relent. Why? Because they’re made by actual JO MALONE – the brain that came up with genius blends like Earl Grey and Cucumber, and Lime Basil and Mandarin. She’s a fragrance wizard, so these feel far removed from the saccharine, cloying scents the high street used to pump out. Zara’s new scents are all powerful, balanced and refined, but also a little bit surprising. 

I was initially drawn to Vetiver Pamplemousse for its vibrancy. It’s not one of those wishy-washy, blink-and-you’ll-miss it perfumes. It’s a potent citrus that delivers the same jolt of energy as a glug of grapefruit juice on a grey morning. The vetiver gives it a lush grassiness that clings to collars and sleeves for days on end. Yes, I might catch a waft of it on the rest of the UK, but it’s so bloody good that it’s worth it. 

The woman who likes a hint of luxury

The tester: Kiran Meeda, beauty assistant

The perfume: Beauty Pie Love, £16.79 for 100ml with membership

You’ll often find me perusing the fragrance section at Liberty. The scents that usually take my fancy? The sweetest vanilla perfumes. Easily swayed by the allure of high-end heavyweights, Burberry’s Her Intense has been my go-to – the only catch is the price tag. Just over £100, it isn’t a mid-month buy. How do I justify it? In my mind, fragrance isn’t something you compromise on. It’s a first impression, the thing you’ll be remembered for. Wearing a heritage brand is my way of adding a bit of luxury to my life. 

When I was asked to try out a high street fragrance, I wasn’t completely opposed. Already a fan of Beauty Pie, I was genuinely excited by the promise of their fragrance, Love. Is love at first spray a thing? Because it’s what happened when I first smelled this. Its top notes are rhubarb, apricot nectar, cedarwood and sandalwood, as well as a warm musk. 

It ticks all of my sweetness boxes, but it’s the musk that caught my attention. It’s more sensual, more mature than my usual favourites. My daily spritz of Love has become the highlight of my beauty routine. It’s official. I’m a high street fragrance convert. 

The woman looking for staying power

The tester: Megan Glynn, designer

The perfume: & Other Stories Avant-Garde Air, £28 for 50ml

At school, I was hooked on all the classic teenage scents. I had a drawer overflowing with Impulse body sprays and So…? body mists in the sweetest candy floss and floral fragrances. Over the years, my taste has slowly matured to enjoy more grown-up fragrances and fewer sickly sweet ones; my signature scent is Jo Malone’s Peony & Blush Suede, which is a soft, powdery perfume that isn’t too overpowering.

I have sensitive skin, so I always spray perfume directly onto my clothes instead of my skin. I find it makes the scent last longer, but it means I tend to go for something that’s more mellow otherwise it can end up being quite distracting. The first time I sprayed Avant-Garde Air from & Other Stories, I noticed the warm citrus notes along with the sweeter vanilla edge that it has. 

It’s a bit heavier than I’m used to so I didn’t need to spray quite as much, but it did last the whole day – plus, the bottle is really lovely and the perfect size to carry around in your handbag. I feel like it might just replace my Jo Malone love affair. 

The woman who’s an accidental scent snob

The tester: Lucy Partington, beauty editor

The perfume: Marks & Spencer Grapefruit & Lotus, £12.50 for 100ml

If I was asked whether I considered myself a fragrance snob, I’d have said – without hesitation – absolutely not. In fact, I probably would have been offended, because I love finding affordable make-up gems and I’m forever shouting from the rooftops about the skincare brands that don’t cost a fortune but are extremely effective. Let’s just say, I thought I was pretty au fait with the high street.

Then, one morning, I glanced at the tray of perfumes in my bedroom. There, sitting proudly, was my collection of anything-butaffordable bottles, from Armani Privé (the brand’s premium range), to Louis Vuitton and an almost-empty bottle of YSL Caban, a £215 scent that forms part of its prestigious Le Vestiaire Des Parfums collection. Which sounds as expensive as it is. And that is the reason I put myself forward for this challenge. 

Thankfully for my bank account, I was genuinely sold on my first sniff of Marks & Spencer’s Grapefruit & Lotus. It’s a green floral with fruity notes of fig – one of my favourite smells – while the sandalwood adds an earthy side and helps the scent last longer than I thought possible. That’s always one of my main concerns with cheaper scents – I love it when my scarf still smells lovely a few days later, or when I catch a whiff of something in my hair when I’m taking a top knot out. 

But, surprisingly, after wearing this M&S number for a few days, it ticked both of those boxes. The bottle’s pretty chic, too – modern and minimalist – and it doesn’t look out of place on my shelf. Maybe, just maybe, this will signal the start of me experimenting with perfume that’s outside of my snobbish comfort zone. 

The woman who prefers French designers

The tester: Jenny Tregoning, deputy production editor and food editor

The perfume: The Perfume Shop Peppered Earth, £19.99 for 100ml

I must admit, when I learnt I’d be testing a high street perfume, my expectations were fairly low. I generally go for high-end French brands such as Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. I’ve visited Grasse – the perfume capital of the world – and seen the effort and sheer number of petals it takes to produce the tiniest drop of rose oil for Fragonard’s high-end fragrances. There’s no way a high street brand would be able to recreate that intensity of smell at pocket-money prices, I thought. 

And yet, opening The Perfume Shop’s Peppered Earth, I was immediately eating my words. The bottle feels reassuringly weighty and the minimalist design suggests a much more expensive product; it certainly wouldn’t look out of place on my bedside table. Also, the fact that you can buy an eau de parfum (more concentrated than an eau de toilette) for less than 20 quid is impressive. It smells expensive, too. The overriding scent is floral, with jasmine and rose coming through strongly and the woody scent of cedar adding warmth. 

Although it’s called Peppered Earth, I couldn’t detect much pepperiness, but that could just be my untrained nose. As for staying power, it lasted a couple of hours – not as long as my designer perfumes. But at that price, you’d be happy to spritz away all day long. Bonus points: it’s vegan and cruelty-free too. 

Will I be ditching my regular designer perfumes? In short, no. But for such an affordable price, I’ll be keeping this one in my collection to switch up as the mood takes me.

Images: Harry Pedersen

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