Fragrance is the first impression you quietly convey, used to express your ever-changing moods, contrasting personas, and cherished memories. Does the invigorating burst of punchy citrus instantly revive your soul? Or do the depths of damp woods and zingy spices stir your senses awake? Welcome to ELLE Noteworthies, a collection of scent-imental musings, including a definitive guide to the finest fragrances we’ve encountered this year, poised to accompany you as you create new scent memories.
The first time I met Bernardo Möller, we were 10 minutes into our first meeting, when I burst into tears. They poured out of me without warning, quickly soaking his all-cream ensemble and into the sleeve of his camel cashmere overcoat when he hugged me. He looked at me with his warm brown eyes, his expression so open and understanding. “You really miss him, don’t you?”
I had lost my father just a few months prior to meeting Möller, in a tragic, unexpected accident. Since it happened, I’ve found that you can quickly tell with a certain tone of voice, a type of lingering look, or a long pause, those who are fellow members of the Lost Someone Traumatically Club. Before he was a member of that club, Möller’s perfume company, House of Bō, was just a dream that he didn’t ever think could be a reality. He was working in real estate. “Then, when my dad passed [from COVID], that was when everything changed for me in how I looked at life and my passion. That’s when I was like, ‘Okay, I want it. I want to do this.’”
Möller has always been a perfume collector since he was little, and still is. In Zoom calls, you see a ladder of spoken shelving filled with perfume bottles, just over his shoulder. In just a year and a half, House of Bō has released a number of luxury perfumes, inspired by Möller’s imagination, guided by his dad’s values of spirituality and authenticity, and grounded in his Mexican heritage. It’s the first major Mexican-American scent brand. “In [fragrance], it often is always France or Italy [for creation and inspiration]; it’s never been done this way with Mexico. Mexico has been seen as a lot of things, but not always as a provider of luxury.”
The brand’s first collection worked with a Latina powerhouse perfumer, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, born and raised in Mexico City, and the nose behind famous scents such as Clinique Happy and Britney Spears’ Hidden Fantasy. “I knew he would be able to understand my inspirations,” Möller tells me. Agua de Santos is a scent inspired by Agua de Colonia, which is commonly used in Latina culture as a cologne for babies, and as a “fresh” scent, with a powerful nostalgia factor. “He understood it perfectly, and it is something that he wears himself,” Möller says. Subsequent legendary perfumers for the brand include Laurent Le Guernec (Michael Michael Kors), Carlos Benaim (Prada), and Olivier Cresp (Thierry Mugler Angel). Every House of Bō bottle comes with a half-dome-shaped stone top, often with veiny, ripply marbling, hand-sculpted by local Mexican artisans. No two bottles of House of Bo are the same.
Once my tears dried, I couldn’t help but apologize, but instead, Möller sprayed a sample of El Sireno, from his new collection onto my wrist. Every time I smell a beach fragrance, it smells like sunscreen, rather than the actual ocean. As someone who grew up in a culture with lifelong sun avoidance, the scent of sunscreen reminds me of constantly being pushed to hide in the shade, curbing adventure and play, rather than encouraging it. With El Sireno’s unusual notes of kelp, banana leaf, and lavender, the fragrance has a slight wet wood base (oakmoss, sandalwood) and floral (tuberose, magnolia), with no coconut or SPF-like references. House of Bō’s scents are genderless on purpose, but the name is a play on the word for mermaid in Spanish (sirena) and a play on the masculine word (and fragrance) for the masculine.
I can sort of imagine a puffy-chested Triton wearing El Sireno, particularly in the new Little Mermaid movie remake. The uncanny thing about fragrance is that much like books, people, or things you think you’ve previously forgotten, it can find you at the right time. A few whiffs of El Sireno, and I smell the ocean as a living being – salty, powerful, and marine-like. I’m reminded of a family vacation to Hawaii, and the first time swimming and being in a real ocean, that was unpredictable and uncontrollable, unlike the pool at our local gym where my dad taught me my swim. I remember swimming with him, the goggles fogging up and covering our eyes, as the waves took us in and out, again and again, and the scent of the ocean remained in our skin and hair the entire week. It lingers in an endless loop in my memory bank, to be revived again when I smell this perfume.
ELLE Beauty Director
Kathleen Hou is ELLE”s Beauty Director. Previously, she held the same title at New York Magazine’s The Cut. She’s appeared in publications such as New York, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue India, Forbes, and Allure. She was also a co-founder of Donate Beauty, a grassroots beauty donation project started during the COVID-19 crisis, which donated over 500,000 products to over 30,000 healthcare workers across 500+ hospitals.