5 Minutes with 'Perfume Messenger' Alice du Parcq

Words by
Alice du Parcq

27th February 2023

As well as writing in Vogue, The Sunday Times and Glamour, beauty and fragrance journalist Alice du Parcq is the Perfume Queen of social media. Her devoted following drinks in her evocative olfactory pronouncements, frequently causing the scents she highlights to sell out. On her Instagram Live Show 'Desert Island Spritz' she chats to experts, including Richard E. Grant, about the fragrance that has shaped their lives. Here, Alice talks to SPHERE about the future of perfume, sharing her favourite perfumes on the way. 

Alice du Parcq
Alice du Parcq

Perfume as a speciality on social media didn’t exist a few years ago because the beauty industry thought it was impossible to describe a smell; I wanted to prove them wrong. 

I think of myself as a fragrance messenger… I’m here to share the story behind it, to relay the concept, explain who made it and how they put it all together, and then to describe how it smells as best as I can – using metaphors, flavours, cultural references, temperatures and textures.

Perfume language can seem intimidating, like a secret member’s club where if you don’t know what a chypre is then you can’t come in... I often don’t even mention the list of notes. It’s like reading out the list of ingredients in a recipe: baking powder, bicarb, self-raising flour and eggs aren’t going to describe how a cake actually tastes, right? So instead, if a scent has a predominant sandalwood note, I’ll describe it as if you’ve chopped down a tree and stuck your nose directly into its damp, creamy-fresh trunk heart. Likewise there might be a summery perfume packed with tiare flower, ambergris, coconut and musk… if I listed those it would sound like a migraine but if I told you it smelt of hot suntan oil on salty skin then you’re going to want to IV-drip it straight into your veins.

By Far
By Far's Daydream of Hopscotch

One of my missions is to celebrate affordable perfumery and make the industry more democratic… I also think that big mass commercial scents are unfairly belittled by niche luxury houses. These big corporations, such as L’Oreal and Coty, are paving the way with phenomenal sustainability work, zero-waste packaging and Fairtrade sourcing, which everyone else in the niche world then benefits from. Just because they choose to use a film star to front their campaigns doesn’t mean they’re any less credible or lower quality than an artisanal scent.

The way people wear and use perfume is changing… I think the future of perfume is instinctive, highly personal and emotionally-driven – where you choose a scent to wear for yourself, not for other people, based on your mood, your energetic cravings and your sense of self-elevation. Vyrao, Argentum, Edeniste and Veronique Gabai are brands that really understand this, and are doing it beautifully.

Changing your signature scent is a big move… but perhaps it was always meant to be. I get such a thrill from someone telling me a new perfume I’ve mentioned has become their new full-time love, after years of wearing the same scent.

I am Verdant by Vyrao
Alice describes Vyrao as "crunchy and stalky" and her go-to scent for spring

At the moment my most personally loved fragrances are… Vyrao I am Verdant or L’Artisan Parfumeur Bois Farine for daytime, and for evening I love a bit of Celine Black Tie, Guerlain Cuir Beluga or the sell-out that is Chanel Coromandel.

For spring that will shift to… All the bright, crisp, sharp citrus notes and jungle greens… still with Vyrao’s I am Verdant as it’s so crunchy and stalky, Jo Malone London Basil & Neroli or Diptyque L’Ombre Dans L’Eau. I am very much into the play-doh squidginess of By Far Hopscotch too, because it’s so weird and addictive. For a handsome outdoorsy evening vibe I love a men’s cologne, for instance L’Occitane Eau des Baux or Terre d’Hermes.

Working in fragrance means I end up hosting a lot of events… and honestly it’s one of my favourite parts of my job. I think I may have been a fruit and veg market-stall seller in a past life because I have absolutely no fear of a room with 300 people in it, doing my thing and coming out with mad scented metaphors to make people laugh and feel, for a few moments, whisked to somewhere fabulous.  

Acqua di Parma
Colonia di Essenza is one of Alice's all-time favourite scents.

Since I’ve been doing this seriously, it’s gone a bit crazy... For a long time I had many industry colleagues tell me what a terrible idea it would be to specialise in perfume; that it would cut me off from the rest of the industry and I’d lose all my contacts. Well, I can tell you for a fact it’s been the best decision I have ever made, personally, professionally and financially.

My favourite perfumes of all time are… Acqua di Parma Colonia Essenza as a perfect works-with-anything scent; it’s an intense eau de cologne with beautiful botanical herbs, citrus notes and crisp florals, and smells like the shower steam billowing out of a really expensive Italian hotel bathroom on the Amalfi Coast. I adore Guerlain Cuir Beluga for its butter-soft suede glove texture, smoky-sweet vanilla and bohemian amber aura.

My favourite London store for perfume is… Penhaligon’s. The choice is amazing – there really is something for everyone – and there’s a fabulous story behind every perfume. 

The highlight of my career so far has to be... Having Richard E. Grant on my InstaLive show – Desert Island Spritz. I started it in lockdown; I interview a guest about their most beloved perfumes that are special to them – it could be a chronology of the ones they’ve worn over the years or simply their favourite scents they wear today. Richard is obsessive about perfumes and has his own brand – Jack Perfume – and he was the most charming, warmest and funniest guest. I was blown away when he said he’d do the show – something I created by myself with no magazine or brand behind me. Another highlight was winning a Jasmine Award for an episode of Desert Island Spritz I did with Sali Hughes. It was a ‘party special’ back in December 2021 and I invited Sali to present her list of her most fabulous out-out perfumes. My brief to Sali: “Joan Collins has invited you to Christmas cocktails at Claridge’s; what do you spray?”. It was pure joy from start to finish!

I have devoured Skye McAlpine’s new book A Table Full Of Love... I find my creativity and happiness in hedonistic cookbooks and this is everything I believe about cooking. The recipes are gorgeous, easy and delicious, and her approach is so similar to mine. I’m just about to start Ugly by Anita Bhagwandas; she’s a brilliant journalist and an industry friend, and I’m interested in untangling my own image issues with the help of her words. 

The make-up staple I never leave home without is.. Clinique High Impact Waterproof Mascara. I was the beauty director of Conde Nast Brides magazine for 10 years and used to test wedding-day waterproof mascaras by riding my motorbike with the visor open in the rain. This was one of the only ones that passed the test. I must have been through 20 tubes since then.

My guiltiest pleasure is… Real Housewives of New York with a massive gin and tonic once the kids are in bed.

Skye McAlpine
Skye McAlpine's book A Table Full of Love is top of Alice's reading pile for spring

The project closest to my heart is… consulting with brands to help them connect with charities or purposeful initiatives. It should be at the forefront of any new brand launch, especially if it’s luxury. Next month I’m hosting a very special evening event with Diptyque in celebration of their upcoming new perfume. It’s so beautiful, and their new boutique in Sloane Street is such a stunning space to host the event. It’ll be so fun to meet Diptyque superfans too.

The next question on my mind is…can someone please re-launch Antonia’s Flowers Tiempe Passate and Stella McCartney Eau de Parfum? They’re discontinued, but I’m DM’d about them on a daily basis – I kid you not! It would save me hours of replying if they could just be re-made.

Thank you Alice du Parcq