Once upon a time (oh, 10-15 years ago, maybe–the recent past if you’re middle-aged like me), the perfume pencil was a popular option offered by most celebrity fragrance brands. They could sometimes be found as part of a gift set or as a gift with purchase, but if you ever shopped mass market fragrances at a Walmart or a Walgreen’s, you probably encountered these colorful little sticks in with the cosmetics, or placed with the other impulse buys near a store’s check-out counter, usually for $10 or less.
Perfume pencils are not limited to inexpensive celebrity scents by any means. Chanel released a covetable limited edition set of pencils in the four Chance fragrances last year. Coach, Clinique, Estée Lauder, Avon and Clean are among the other brands that have offered a perfume pencil in the recent past. In many fragrance lines today, it appears the 10 ml roll-on/spray “traveler” bottle is replacing the pencil format, usually at a little higher price point. Like the pencils, such traveler bottles are small enough to fit in a handbag, but unlike the pencils, they’re glass and run the same risk of breakage/leakage as any other glass perfume bottle. The pencils may have their limitations, but for portability, they really can’t be beat and I’m sad to report they’re getting harder and harder to find.
I recently stumbled across a bundle of four celebrity perfume pencils for sale on Mercari. I buy solids only if they’re new and preferably sealed. All four of these pencils were still sealed in their original blister packs and it was only $10 plus $3.65 shipping for the bundle–less than $4 a pencil! If the pencils had lost their scent, or if I just didn’t like any of the scents, it was a low-cost, low-risk way to experience some fun new sniffs. I went for it and set aside a few days for a little celebrity fragrance pencil showdown.
My bundle included Britney Spears Fantasy, Justin Bieber Someday, Taylor Swift Wonderstruck and Mariah Carey Dreams. As a middle-aged woman, I am far outside the targeted demographic for these scents. Which never stops me, but when these were released (between 2005 and 2013), I was deep into either vintage or niche and wasn’t giving scents of this type a lot of attention. I had smelled only Fantasy and Someday before and it had been years since I had done so.
There’s no point in me doing a detailed review of any of these scents. They were released years ago and there are thousands of reviews already available on the internet. I doubt that I have anything to add that hasn’t already been said. (I think all but Fantasy are also discontinued, though still widely available at internet discounters.) What I want to focus on instead is how the fragrances perform in this format, knowing they’re still new-in-package but likely several years old by now.
Also, just because I feel it can’t be said enough: there’s no reason to be a perfume snob. There are great scents available at every price point and the same perfumers work on all of them. Perfumer Honorine Blanc gave us Tom Ford Noir Anthracite, YSL Black Opium, Kilian’s I Don’t Need a Prince…and also Bath and Body Works Twilight Woods and Someday by Justin Bieber. Let your nose (and to the extent necessary, your pocketbook) be your guide when choosing fragrances.
The other piece of the puzzle here is that I didn’t choose any of these fragrances because of the celebrity name tied to them. I was in college when Mariah’s first song came out and I’m not generally a fan of her music. Britney and Taylor each have a couple songs I like but I don’t often seek them out. I didn’t become aware of Justin Bieber until I was in my 40s (when he was still a teen) and I realize he’s a huge celebrity but I can’t name a single song by him.
I’m just here for the scents, folks! Let’s get to it.
Quick Details for All Four Pencils
I bought these in the summer and the pencils were shipped to me during a heatwave in a standard bubble mailer. All arrived intact and fully solidified. However, the fragrance contents in all four had slid out of the pencils a bit and had to be pushed back onto the bases.
Size: all are 0.10 oz./2.75 grams.
Packaging: The packaging on all four looks very similar and that is likely no accident. All four are were distributed by EA Fragrances Co. (yep, that’s Elizabeth Arden). Each came in a blister pack on cardboard featuring a prominent photo of the celebrity behind the brand. They’re all packaged in the same brightly-colored twist-up plastic pencil with a clear plastic cap and gold lettering. All packaging is recyclable.
Base: A long list that is a mix of synthetic waxes and oils.
Vegan-friendly: These contain no beeswax but multiple ingredients raise flags on doublecheckvegan, so no.
Color and texture: All four are off-white wax that melts instantly when the pencil glides across skin.
Natural perfume or mixed media: All are mixed media and the ingredients lists include the generic “parfum/fragrance” as well as multiple natural isolates such as geraniol, coumarin, linalool, etc.
Additional notes: All have a period-after-opening symbol of 36 months (wow! that’s longer than most of the little pot or compact solids I have, which are usually 18 months).
Britney Spears Fantasy
Well, color me surprised to find myself the proud owner of not one but TWO Britney Spears fragrances. And you know what? I genuinely enjoy both of them! Fantasy is the winner and champion of my little celebrity pencil showdown! The Fantasy pencil is the best-performing of the four I purchased, lasting about four hours on skin with moderate projection that fades to intimate. It’s also the “best smeller” of the group and I get a sense that the ingredients in the formulation are maybe a little higher quality. At least in this solid format, it’s fruity and sugary but not obnoxious or too youthful for me to wear. I like Fantasy enough that I’m considering seeking it out in liquid form, though liquid does not always guarantee better performance than solid (and recent reviews on Fragrantica suggest it has been diminished by reformulation).
Justin Bieber Someday
This one is a rather generic crowd-pleaser, but it’s nice. Someday is a clean fruity floral that would be perfect for office/daytime wear. I wouldn’t stand out in this scent, which, for me, is kind of the point for office fragrances. Not much more to say except it smells good, has intimate-to-skin-scent projection and lasts two to three hours. I might take the Someday pencil to work when we return to the office and just leave it in my desk, for those days when I forget to apply fragrance before leaving the house, or just need a little olfactory pick-me-up.
Taylor Swift Wonderstruck
The bottles on the Taylor Swift scents were all so pretty. However, this is the second Taylor Swift scent I tried–can’t even remember the other one but it might have been Taylor–and I haven’t liked either scent. My first swipe of this one smelled a bit musty, but knowing the solid may have been a few years old, I gave it another try a few days later. I didn’t get that musty smell the second time, but Wonderstruck still doesn’t smell pleasant to me. There’s an “off” note in here that smells like a magic marker covered in fruit. It’s a very synthetic blend that is just not my cup of tea. As far as the pencil format goes, Wonderstruck‘s performance is largely as a skin scent, but the longevity was good at four + hours. (It survived a shower. I wish it hadn’t.) There’s nothing here that would lead me to recommend this fragrance in pencil format. If this was a scent you enjoyed in the liquid, I would stick with that.
Mariah Carey Dreams
Based on some of the notes–salty caramel apple, star anise, almond, tonka bean, patchouli, vanilla–I expected to like this one the best. As it happens this is my second favorite of the four (all hail Queen Britney), but it’s another I’m considering seeking out in a liquid. Dreams is the most sophisticated scent of the group and presents on my skin as a moderately sweet amber musk. It reminds me a little bit of Victoria’s Secret Dream Angels Heavenly and a teeny bit of Donna Karan Cashmere Mist, too. If the liquid is stronger and lasts longer, I could see this being a favorite affordable “easy reach.” In the pencil format, Dreams is a little soft and short-lived–it’s a skin scent upon application that lasts about three hours. So I’m using the pencil and loving it but I can’t seem to apply enough of the fragrance and it leaves me wanting more…
All images by me