Perfume can be inspiring, and it can be evocative. It can be a seduction of the senses – or even an assault on them. But can it evoke school spirit? A new company is making fragrances based on the college experience – and hopes that you will want to wear your school spirit on your sleeve.
Memories of college – especially the olfactory ones – are a mixed bag, and many of the smells we remember would not make a great perfume. Stale beer? Bongwater? Dining Hall mystery meat? Textbooks and dusty art studios? Oh wait, I like those last two…
When I first heard of a “University” fragrance, I was immediately skeptical: my alma mater, Syracuse, had a men’s and women’s fragrance? For me, fragrance is related to fashion and cosmetics and art – and as I remember the school’s merchandise, there really isn’t any of that there. So how good could it be? Does it smell like slush and salt and beer? Or is it some generic “juice” poured into a bottle and labelled with an S? Since I’m not being sent marketing for Texas A&M, that could be exactly what they’re doing, right?
I can’t really write about things I don’t try – I did that once with Halloween eyeshadow decals and it totally backfired – so I need to smell this Syracuse University fragrance for myself. It’s not at Bergdorf’s, but fortunately the company responsible for this product has an office in midtown Manhattan. Katie Masich, CEO of Masik Collegiate Fragrances, invited me to come by her office to test out the Syracuse fragrances. I also plan to smell a few others – so if they are putting the same juice in all their bottles I will know. I am sneaky that way.
So I visit Katie, a vivacious blonde who’s really into fragrance and college and combining the two, and she hands me a tray with all the fragrances to smell while she tells me about their process. As I’m sniffing and she’s talking, I realize that they are not just slapping labels on bottles.
Creating a College Fragrance: The Process
Katie works with licensing teams from every school individually. There are multiple visits to the campus, notes made about the school’s campus, architecture, native plants, mascot, and team colors. This information is worked up into a creative brief that is given to the perfumers, who then come up with three alternate “juices” to choose from. Here’s a visual chart from Masik of their inspirations for Syracuse:
I’m going to digress here and note that the perfumers for these fragrances are from Fragrance Resources – an international fragrance house that works with some of the biggest companies in the world to create blockbuster perfumes. And I will also note that videos on the Masik Collegiate fragrance process feature Steven DeMercado, the nose behind Marc Jacobs Blush, Calvin Klein Escape for men, and celebrity perfumes for Gwen Stefani, J-Lo, Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, Michael Jordan and many others.
The fragrances are then sent to the colleges, which then hold sessions with students, faculty and alumni to determine which scents are the most popular with people familiar with the colleges. And then the decisions are made – and the fragrances are bottled.
And the scents? They are not the same.
I sniffed six different men’s and women’s fragrances on blotters, and tried three of the women’s scents on myself. And no, they are not the same – they are quite different:
Syracuse University women’s fragrance takes lots of orange notes (naturally), soft woods, and vanilla to create a smooth sweet scent. It’s almost like a creamsicle, though not quite as sweet. It’s very subtle, which I can imagine is nice during the sensory deprivation that is Syracuse in winter.
I also try the Auburn and Alabama women’s scents: I grew up in Birmingham with fans of both college teams all around me, and I have to admit it: I was proud to see the Alabama/Auburn conflict take a fashionable turn in a NYC high-rise cosmetics industry office:
Auburn’s women’s scent has a cool citrusy top note with a soft jasmine and chamomile-based floral underneath – a very pretty, young scent with a soft musk undertone.
Alabama goes for a fruity, full floral, complete with white tuberose, Japanese honeysuckle, and pineapple sorbet. It’s louder at first, though its amber undertone softens it as it wears.
I’m reminded of the times I visited both campuses, but I will not say which is my favorite – I will leave that for others to, ahem, debate… But I’m impressed that the fragrances are not cookie cutter at all – there’s an individuality to each of them that’s fun for both me and probably for the people wearing them. And they are all very cheery.
And maybe that’s the point: fragrances can be inspired by anything, and worn for any reason. Why not have a cheerful, spirited fragrance to remind you of happy memories – or to create new memories at a sports event?
Celebrity fragrances used to be quite a novelty – now we’re shocked when a celebrity doesn’t have one. And now twenty of the largest Universities have their own fragrances. Could there come a time when every college has one? What will yours smell like?