A Deep Dive Into Strawberry Fragrances


As it turns out, creating a strawberry fragrance is not for the faint of heart. It took Chriselle Lim several tries to nail the strawberry scent for her recently launched PHLUR fragrance, Strawberry Letter. “We knew we wanted to do a strawberry concept, but had to go through tons of iterations without making it [feel] too literal or too abstract,” says the brand owner and creative director.

Nailing this delicate balance is a common challenge for strawberry-scented fragrances, which may be why strawberry eludes your typical perfume wardrobe. Between a need for masterful formulation and the notion that strawberry can easily feel juvenile, strawberry fragrances are often overshadowed by peachy scents, citrus aromas, and gourmands. Here, I spoke with multiple perfumers and fragrance experts to explore why this is the case and to help demystify strawberry scents altogether.

Why Is Strawberry Such an Elusive Note?

“I think generally, [strawberry] is viewed as quite young,” says David Moltz, perfumer and founder of DS&DURGA. “My generation had Strawberry Shortcake toys, and that is often the association.” Because scent is a powerful tool that often influences our perception, Moltz is right: strawberry-themed toys from childhood might jade our point-of-view when we come across strawberries in adulthood.

Emelia O’Toole, also known as Professor Perfume on TikTok, agrees that strawberry scents have a knack for nostalgia. “A lot of strawberry perfumes lean into the ‘strawberries ‘n’ creme’ pairing, which brings forward nostalgic memories of sparkly scented gels from Bath & Body Works or those swirly pink Creme Savers.” She does surmise that as trends of the early aughts circle back, we’ll see more creative uses of strawberries in perfume moving forward.

Strawberry can also be read as very feminine, says Isabelle Pierre Emile, global marketing director at MALIN+Goetz. This is why the brand wanted the opposite for its strawberry fragrance. “We specifically articulated the olfactive construction around the mara strawberry combined with a dynamic blend of fresh and bright notes of bergamot and pink pepper with warm musks, jasmine petals, and orris root to reveal a memorable, genderless scent,” she says. “In a nutshell, it was designed to be everything a strawberry is not!” This genderless take on strawberry makes it feel more approachable, especially if you’re not a fan of saccharine scents.

The experts all agree, though, that strawberry does evoke a reveling feeling. “The concept of smelling a strawberry is always a pleasant one,” says Josh Meyer, perfumer at Imaginary Authors. “It’s lively, bright, fresh and sweet.” And that’s precisely the goal for the handful of strawberry fragrances on the market—to bring strawberries to life in a way that un-does the adolescent stigma, doesn’t necessarily feel sugary or too feminine, and introduces a modern take on strawberry: one that can capture the berry’s sweet essence all while making it feel grown-up.

For Meabh McCurtin, a perfumer at IFF, a few classic ‘grown-up’ strawberry fragrances do come to mind. “One of the first luxury strawberry scents was Escada Sexy Graffiti in 2001, a super fresh and summery fragrance created by Dominique Ropion and Laurent Bruyère,” she says. A few other quintessential fragrances with strawberry notes are Miss Dior Chérie, with a strawberry sorbet, and Burberry Her, with strawberry and blueberry. A surprising one is Cartier La Panthère, she adds, which pairs a strawberry note with feline musk.

Lim’s Strawberry Letter captures a similar “grown-up” feeling but pays homage to adolescence. “We were inspired by the idea of capturing the essence of ripe, juicy strawberries in a sophisticated, modern way,” she says. The team worked hard to capture a balance between both playful and refined. “It’s an ode to sweet childhood memories.”

How Are Strawberry Fragrances Formulated?

Formulating a perfume is a complex art, especially when it comes to incorporating fruit. “Fruity perfumes are tricky in general because of the way perfume is made,” says O’Toole. She explains that since fruits are 90 percent water, it’s hard to extract any perfume or scented molecule directly from them. Instead, perfumers usually use a blend of other scented ingredients, called an accord, to create an imagined interpretation of a particular fruit. “So when you smell strawberry in a perfume, you’re not [actually] smelling strawberry, even if the scent smells exactly like it,” she says.

Much of creating this accord is trial and error. “[Formulating strawberry fragrances] involves using a combination of fragrance ingredients such as maltol, lactones, and green notes. The combination of all these, with different levels, will get you to the strawberry note,” says McCurtin. But even the slightest proportion variations can have an olfactive impact—sometimes, as little as a 0.1 percent difference in a formula can alter how a strawberry perfume smells.

Yet some formulas contain ingredients derived from fruit, like the CO2 strawberry extract featured in DS&DURGA Roman Fruit Sellers, a deep, sweet-smelling, fruit-stand-inspired fragrance from the brand. “The [strawberry extract] provides a weighty, jammy heart along with the other fruits in this perfume—mandarin, cherry & apricot,” says Moltz.

What Does It Take to Get a Strawberry Fragrance Right?

No matter how a strawberry perfume is created, the fragrance’s success relies on proportion and balance. “It’s all about finding the delicate balance of capturing the sweet, juicy essence [of a strawberry] without becoming overly synthetic or cloying,” says Lim. It’s true: the element of “realism” is key when creating a successful strawberry fragrance. This is why using pure ingredients, as opposed to synthetic ones, can make a world of difference. “It’s crucial to select high-quality ingredients that authentically evoke the aroma of fresh strawberries,” says Lim.

O’Toole also notes that getting a strawberry scent right can depend on what it’s blended with. “There are a lot of different scent profiles that use strawberry, so it depends on what ‘right’ means to you, and [whether] you’re going for garden-fresh strawberry, strawberry jam, or early-2000s-sweetness-overload strawberry,” she says. It comes down to sampling around to find what works best and what might be most appealing to consumers.

What Happens When a Strawberry Fragrance Goes Wrong?

The experts also note that strawberry fragrances can go wrong, mainly from the scent becoming overly sugary or sour, leading to an unpleasant, artificial scent that lacks depth. “With strawberry scents, citrus notes [within them] can go sour, as well as what perfumers call the ‘butyric’ notes, which give the juiciness of fruity notes — [they] can be perceived as sour as well,” says McCurtin.

Strawberry scents can also come across as too ‘manufactured,’ making them smell syrupy or even sickening. According to the experts, it doesn’t take much for sweetness in fragrances to become overpowering. It can even sway perfumers themselves from creating a strawberry scent in the first place. “Historically, I haven’t loved super sweet fragrances,” says Meyer. This is what made him opt for a light mask of strawberry when he created Cape Heartache.

The way to balance out an overly sweet strawberry note is to pair it with deeper, denser notes, like you would pair fruit with cheese. Or, strawberry can actually be used to lighten a fragrance itself. “Cape Heartache is a very dense pine resin perfume that is so thick, I liked the idea of strawberry cutting through fragrance to help lighten it a little—kind of like foie gras with a touch of jam—or a little acid to help counter the rich flavored olive oil in a salad,” says Meyer.

Moltz echoes this sentiment. “My style is always to cut sweetness with things like green or incense,” he says. This is likely why you’ll see strawberry fragrances flanked with other notes like leaves or wood in the case of Strawberry Letter or leather and saffron in the case of Xerjoff La Capitale.

Incorporating Strawberry Into Your Perfume Wardrobe

Strawberry can be a fun, playful scent to add to your collection and can read as modern and even sexy, a far cry from the juvenile Strawberry Shortcake doll from 1979. “Strawberry Letter is for fruity amber lovers. It’s great for anyone who wants a fun, feminine fragrance with a bit of a [sexy] twist,” says Lim.

Moreover, strawberry fragrances can be a great pick (pun intended) for those who like a structured fragrance—e.g., one where you can clearly identify each note. “A well-thought-out strawberry perfume is an interesting adventure for anyone who likes well-constructed perfume—a single fruit or single flower done well is interesting,” says Moltz.

If you buy a strawberry fragrance and find it overly sweet, O’Toole recommends layering it with a woody or musky scent to create balance. Escentric Molecules Molecule 01, Lake & Skye 11 11 Eau de Parfum, and DedCool Milk are great layering options.

If you want to try a strawberry scent but are looking to opt for one that’s subtle and skin-forward, Pierre Emile recommends MALIN+Goetz Strawberry. “It is a scent that surprises you while feeling familiar and comforting. It is a true skin scent, something that feels both fresh and sensuous like a second skin,” she says. For a more exciting, wild strawberry scent, opt for Guy Delforge Strawberry Eau de Toilette.

Either way, scent is personal and can be as unique or interesting as you want it to be. “I always say there are no rules in scent. If you like it, wear it!” O’Toole assures. Strawberry-scented fragrances may be reminiscent of the Shortcake rag doll from your childhood toy chest, but if anything, their evolution proves that strawberry can be grown up, too.

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