You know you’re in the right kind of restaurant when it smells like your abuelita’s kitchen, and you would know you were walking into your second-grade best friends’ house with your eyes blindfolded. From the agua de colonia that would get splashed on your neck every morning before school to your mom’s fancy going-out bottle of Opium, scent is the sense that is perhaps most closely tied to memory – and bottled in the form of perfume.
Niche perfumers are smaller brands – releasing only a handful of smells, or focusing on a particular theme or set of materials as they work. Wearing their work can be a great way to find something unique or exciting – but at prices per bottle often coming in at more than $100, and perfumer descriptions reading a little more like poetry than anything else, it can be intimidating to get started.
This is where samples come in: Many of these smaller brands, as well as larger retailers, offer samples for about the cost of a cup of coffee. You can team up with a group of friends and order a set, or read through descriptions to figure out which ones you have the best odds of liking. A sample is usually big enough for several wears, so you can get a good idea of whether or not you might want to invest in the perfume later on – or just order another sample to wear every once in a while.
Most perfumers, in addition to more flowery product descriptions, will also include “notes,” which come down to the individual “flavors” that make up the fragrance. Some will be familiar (vanilla, rose, sage), others probably less so (labdanum or oud, anyone?). After some time (most of which you’ll spend smelling a lot of stuff!), you’ll be able to identify which notes you like, and which ones are an immediate “nope.”
A quick note on gender and perfumes – it’s pretty much bullshit. All the perfumes in the list below are designed to be unisex, and even if you’re not sure if you can pull off a rose or a leather, the best way to know is to try it out. So, without too much further ado, here’s a list of six Latin and Latin American fragrance houses from around the world.