Black and white perfumes

Black and white perfumes

Big brands target the yin and yang of a woman’s personality with fragrance duos: moody and bright, darkness and light.

It’s no secret that black and white perfumes can be handily divided by the types of notes they imbue—amber, wood and spice for complexity and darkness; white musks and florals for softness and light.

Instead of picking a category and sticking with it, we’ve seen some brands decide to release two fragrances simultaneously under the same name—one white, one black—to appeal to the yin and yang in all of us.

When two perfumes are released under the same name—with the descriptors white and black, respectively—they often still have some perfume notes in common. Likely the heart is the same, and the base notes might be similar, with some subtle tweaks. The top notes, however, could be completely different. Sister fragrances. Split personalities. Night and day.

Why white and black?

The easy answer to why brands do this is that it’s a way to double the audience of a particular fragrance. Though I may not be drawn to light, white florals, perhaps the dark-sister fragrance might catch my fancy. And vice-versa. Where you would never consider one, the other might pique your interest in the brand.

A scent for whatever your mood

Another answer could have more to do with a consumer’s desire to customize. Just as we pick our clothes for the day based on our moods, daily expectations and personal preferences, we want our fragrance wardrobe to have as much variation. Looking to lean into a stormy day? Pick a dark fragrance. Need a little lightening up? Pick the white. A brand’s decision to launch a perfume duo of opposites with similar hearts allows you to invest in two perfumes that are different sides of the same coin. The hope is that you’ll enjoy both, but for different days and experiences.

Need some examples? Here are three black and white combos that might have you deciding that your next fragrance purchase will actually be two spritzes.

Elizabeth and James Nirvana

Nirvana_black&whiteElizabeth and James Nirvana White and Nirvana Black first alerted us to the white-black fragrance possibilities back in 2013. Wanting its first fragrance to embody the duality that they strive for in clothing, Elizabeth and James (run by twin sisters Ashley and Mary-Kate Olson—more duality), decided that two blends—“distinctly different, but undeniably connected”—would be better than one.

Nirvana White is peony, muguet and musk; a light, white feminine spritz with presence, perfectly paired with a chignon and a cashmere sweater. Nirvana Black includes notes of violet, sandalwood, and vanilla—still feminine, but sharper and darker. Think of a beautiful woman in a tailored, borrowed-from-the-boys suit.

Elizabeth and James Nirvana White and Nirvana Black, $96 (50 ml) each,

Donna Karan Liquid Cashmere

DK_black&whiteDonna Karan released Liquid Cashmere in white and Liquid Cashmere in black in 2015. Cashmere Mist, is of course, DK’s perfume legacy, beginning in 1994 and spanning the white and black version released last year. The original Cashmere Mist is a warm and powdery scent as noted for its scent as its organically sculptural bottle.

Liquid Cashmere Black is rose, black cherry, iris, patchouli, sandalwood and praline—rich, sultry and slightly sweet. The white version is (predictably) lighter: lemon, bergamot, osmanthus, vanilla and musk.

Donna Karan Liquid Cashmere White and Liquid Cashmere Black, $102 (50 ml) each,


Clinique_BWAlso released last year, Clinique’s Aromatics duo (in white and black, naturally), are actually spinoffs of Clinique’s classic Elixir. They are linked in their inspiration and heart, and also in their target woman—bold, independent, minimalist. Find modern sophistication in White, and seductive allure in black. According to Trudi Loren, the nose behind both scents, Aromatics in White, “uses musk top to bottom to make it more of a rounded, enveloping fragrance,” while Aromatics in Black “has a seductive and bold feel…a daring yet feminine aroma.”

Aromatics in Black features notes of plum leaf, pink grapefruit, bargamot, osmanthus, neroli, jasmine, myrrh and vetiver. Aromatics in White includes notes of violet leaf, sichyan pepper, orange flower, patchouli, amber and musk.

Clinique Aromatics in White and Aromatics in Black, $89 (100 ml),

Let us know in the comments or on Twitter: Are you swayed by the dark side or do you let the light in?

Read more:
Perfume pairings we loved in 2015
Spicy, warm, intense: The best perfumes of 2015
Pair a fashion book with a designer perfume

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This article was written by

Alexandra Donaldson is the editorial assistant at The Whale & The Rose and a freelance writer and content creator. Although she recently took up yoga in an effort to be a healthy adult, she still binge-watches cartoons on a regular basis and dreams of running away to a cottage in the woods. She has yet to nail down her favourite perfume, but knows that it smells green, earthy and maybe a little bit spicy, but definitely not sweet.