Cookie banner

This site uses cookies. Select "Block all non-essential cookies" to only allow cookies necessary to display content and enable core site features. Select "Accept all cookies" to also personalize your experience on the site with ads and partner content tailored to your interests, and to allow us to measure the effectiveness of our service.

To learn more, review our Cookie Policy, Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

or
clock menu more-arrow no yes
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Filed under:

The Ultimate Scam Smells Like Paris Hilton: Adventures in Celebrity Fragrance

Inaccessibility is the genius of celebrity fragrance, and the more I was deprived access to, say, Nicki Minaj: Minajesty, the more I wanted it.

I like to think that Valentine's Day comes in deep winter as a reminder that even when we're at our vitamin D-deprived worst, we should honor the people we love with gifts from the drugstore. While nothing says "you're the one" quite like a Russell Stover sampler with a terrible pun, I've always wondered about celebrity fragrances. My local Duane Reade carries a billion of them, but they're locked up in a rotating case like taunting diner pies. Oh, and there are no samples.

Celebrity fragrances do crazy business—in 2011, Justin Bieber's Someday made more than $3 million dollars in its first month—and after visiting five separate Manhattan retailers, I think I know why: It's nearly impossible to try out a celebrity fragrance before you buy it. It's full-price or nothing at all, the ultimate gesture of devotion if your Valentine is a super-duper-mega-star who doesn't know you exist. Inaccessibility is the genius of celebrity fragrance. The more I was deprived access to Nicki Minaj: Minajesty, the more I wanted it. This is the ultimate scam.


Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.


Pharrell Williams Girl

Surprisingly, Girl was the only remotely A-list fragrance in stock at Sephora. Their inventory is almost exclusively designer, but apparently they make exceptions for ageless creative multi-hyphenates. I found the scent a little blank and bleachy, but since it's billed as unisex, I asked my boyfriend—who graciously tagged along, because feminism—for a second opinion. He inhaled deeply. "This smells like when they clean the pool at Pharrell's mansion." When I asked him to elaborate, he added that there were notes of "It's crowded in here" and "Can we leave?"

Jessica Simpson Signature

When I got to Macy's, I asked a sales associate where they were "hiding the good shit." She sighed like someone who'd lost her lover during the Civil War. "We had some Rihanna for a while, but it sold out." In the end, all she could cough up was a business card splashed with Jessica Simpson's latest. The bottle is a glowing vessel with gold feather hardware, and it smells like buying your own birthday cake: sugary, poignant, and overpriced.

Just Me by Paris Hilton

I begged a man at Perfume Heaven (a sad but well-stocked fragrance kiosk in the Manhattan Mall) for a hit of J.Lo Miami Glow or a puff of EvAmour by Eva Longoria, but unless I agreed to buy something, all he'd give me was a spray of a shopworn bottle of Just Me. The bottle is pink and basic, the scent powdery and forgettable; while I was not moved to purchase, the fragrance seemed on-brand for Ms. Hilton.

Photo: Getty Images

You & I by One Direction

I found a single sticky rollerball of this scent lurking in a corner of JCPenney. There were no testers, so I could only huff the lid in the name of journalism. The full-size bottle of You & I is a jagged shard of lilac glass, perfect for carving Harry or Zayn's name into your arm! Its contents are a dead ringer for the fruity sticky-sweetness of Victoria's Secret Love Spell, my signature scent in seventh grade.

Beyoncé Heat Wild Orchid

I was delighted to find that KMart has a huge selection of celebrity scents. It should be noted that most perfumes—celebrity and otherwise—come with the warning AVOID CONTACT WITH EYES. Sadly, spraying yourself directly in the fucking face is the only way to interact with fragrances there because the testers are glued to the shelves. I MacGyvered some test strips from a cast-off Jaclyn Smith shoebox and sampled what I could. The name of Queen B's scent is entirely apt, as it can only be described as a very sweaty floral.

Adam Levine for Her

Adam Levine, singer? Fine. Adam Levine, fashion designer? Sure. (An astonishing amount of floor space at KMart is devoted to his eponymous clothing line.) Adam Levine, PARFUMEUR? Why the hell not. With a metal top that mimics the mesh of a microphone, Adam Levine for Her is a warm vanilla scent with undertones of that shameful feeling that you'd probably hit it if given the chance. I'd wear it. I think? I don't know.

Photo: Getty Images

Taylor Swift Wonderstruck

After pounding all the aforementioned scents, I started to get jittery. My nose was fatigued, my logic dissolving. I found myself reasoning that if scent is tied to memory, and I want memories with Taylor Swift, I should shell out $32 for one fluid ounce of Taylor Swift Wonderstruck, aka liquid friendship. So, I did just that. In fact, I broke down and bought three overpriced celebrity fragrances after being frustrated that there was no other way to smell them. Wonderstruck was the most disappointing, as it smelled less like perfume and more like hairspray. Even the $6 bottle of Wonderful (a knock-off "impression" of Wonderstruck) had more staying power.

The Key by Justin Bieber

I know what you're thinking: THE KEY...TO WHAT? A quick Google search revealed a high-gloss short film for the fragrance starring Justin and a bunch of models. Turns out, the titular key isn't to their hearts. It's to their hotel rooms that he breaks into while they're sleeping. Seriously. The perfume is light and girly, it reminded me of grape cotton candy.

Kim Kardashian True Reflection

Kim's site describes True Reflection as "an important component to her accomplished portfolio," and that's exactly how it feels. Kim owed us a fragrance, so she whipped up this one. It's pretty and springy, but impersonal. Since returning it wasn't an option, I wore True Reflection on a date later that night. I asked my boyfriend if I smelled like "an evolving icon" as per the box's elaborate description. He shrugged. "It's nice? It's perfume." Fair enough.

Beauty

Why Gyms Should Be Worried

Beauty

Rihanna’s Newly Skinny Eyebrows Spark Mass Panic

Beauty

Stormy Daniels’s Fragrance Just Launched

View all stories in Beauty