As a perfumer, Francis Kurkdjian found the chemicals and artificial scent in laundry detergent interfered with his work. “They would stay on my skin and my clothing,” he says. “Fifteen years ago, it was roughly bearable, but today, most of the products contain microcapsules to enhance the scent and make it linger.” With his highly attuned nose, the smell can disturb Kurkdjian to the point where he can’t sleep. He also dislikes it on napkins. “It interferes so much with the food.” In the end, he got so frustrated that he made his own detergent and fabric softener for his fragrance brand, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. “Creating it was a way of fulfilling a personal need.”
Launched over a decade ago, Kurkdjian’s detergent and fabric softener features the unisex scent Aqua Universalis. “The fragrance is fresh and bright,” he notes. “It conveys a sense of clarity, sun, fresh air, and luminosity.” Of course, back then a perfume brand having laundry products was unusual and unexpected, he admits. Now a few other niche fragrance brands have similar offerings: Frederic Malle does a linen spray, Dans Mon Lit and Dans Ton Lit, and Le Labo has partnered with The Laundress on a detergent version of the former’s wildly popular Santal 33 eau de parfum. Like a fragranced hair mist or a candle, it’s simply another way to experience a beloved scent.
But it took the 2020 pandemic and lockdown to see more momentum in this area. As we spent more time at home, it led to the launch of luxe home cleaning products, most notably by French fragrance maison Diptyque, which introduced its La Droguerie collection, including dishwashing liquid, surface cleaner, and wood-care lotion. Actress Courteney Cox also launched Homecourt, her line of “beauty products for the home,” collaborating with perfumers to create custom scents for them.
Enhancing the scent of the spaces we spent so much time in—even while cleaning them—took off. “There is a beautiful fragrance story that extends to the home, elevating the consumer mood and overall experience,” says Alecsandra Hancas, executive director, client development, for beauty, footwear, and apparel at Circana. “We saw unprecedented growth in home scents, including candles, diffusers, room fresheners and all other fragrance ancillaries, which grew plus 30 per cent in 2021 throughout the pandemic as consumers spent more time at home.” She says this is now playing out through other product categories that carry that scent story in the home through laundry.
In an ironic twist of fate, Carina Chaz, founder of Los Angeles–based genderless fragrance brand DedCool, launched Dedtergent in March 2020, just as the world started to shut down. She had come up with the idea two or three years prior. “It was really something that I always envisioned would be a part of my ‘fragrance’ collection,” she says. “There is nothing worse to me than washing your clothes in something that then takes away from the essence of your signature scent.” She bounced the plan off a longtime beauty executive who told her it was a “terrible” idea. “She said, ‘No one will trust you to wash their clothes. I think you should stick to fragrance,’ ” Chaz recalls.
She trusted her gut and ignored the advice. “We make this joke internally: the laundry detergent is the product that nobody asked for but we made anyway.” It turned out to be one of the brand’s fastest-growing categories and is the only detergent sold at Sephora. The novelty of having clothes smell like a favourite fragrance is clearly appealing: earlier this year, DedCool collaborated with hair brand Ouai on a detergent using Ouai’s most popular scent, Melrose Place. The response was immediate. “We had three months of inventory, and we sold out in four days,” Chaz says. “The wait list was bigger than they’ve ever seen, and I believe it was the biggest launch they’ve ever had.” More recently, DedCool expanded into dryer sheets as a prelaunch for loyal customers. They sold out in a day.
Dr. Barbara Sturm, who has an eponymous skin-care line, came out with her own detergent in the spring, Sturm Home Laundry Detergent. “She was asked by her spas, ‘Could you develop something to wash our sheets and towels in so that when our customers lie on them, we’re using something that’s good for their skin,’ ” says Simon Tooley, president of Etiket, the Montreal-based beauty retailer and spa. Sturm’s is fragrance free and uses a low-sudsing formula to address skin inflammation with plant-based, gentle-on-skin ingredients such as panthenol and aloe vera.
While beauty brands continue to expand the notion of beautification, there’s a concerted effort to make “beauty laundry” products effective too. “It’s a hard category to be in. Not only do you want an emotional experience, you also have to have the clothes washing element,” says Chaz, who tweaked Dedtergent’s first version with stronger cleaning agents to make whites come out brighter. “At the end of the day, I’m a nose. But we work with innovative formulators to make this vision come to life.”
Ultimately, it’s an indulgence that can make a seemingly mundane task more pleasant—your clothes and bedding smell like amber and bergamot or Sicilian lemon rather than “blue sparkle.” Chaz says, “I personally hate doing my laundry. But every Sunday, when I go to the washing machine and I get hit in the face with the fragrance, it just makes the experience so much more enjoyable and fun.”