I was once invited to make my own perfume at a lab in the Midwest. (Don’t judge.) The conditions weren’t ideal. I was worried about missing my flight home, needing to get out of the Midwest for personal reasons: I grew up there. I asked the chemist to throw together some bergamot, orange blossom, amber, and whatever. The result could’ve come straight out of a shopping mall in 1999, with Christina Aguilera belting out of the speakers at Abercrombie. Fail.

Why some people feel the need to create their own perfume may be mystifying. Have they never stepped into Macy’s? Have they never passed through duty-free on a hunt for the world’s biggest Toblerone? There are tens of thousands if not jillions of bottles of fragrance in the world. Surely no one would know that the one you’re wearing is distinctly yours, with its own secret formula locked in a vault in a sovereign nation.

The knowing, the showing, the boasting, are not the point. Fragrance is invisible. Those who appreciate the nuances of Bulgarian rose, oud, and ambergris (produced in the intestines of the sperm whale) might be compelled out of pure connoisseurship. Their noses need something more refined, more singular than a spray bottle of Christina Aguilera Eau So Beautiful. They need something that no one else has.

We are living in a boom time for fine fragrances. Sales started climbing during the coronavirus pandemic, when many sufferers lost their sense of smell. It was a case of “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” When olfaction returned, many celebrated by buying perfumes online. “They used fragrance to take them to another space, a vacation, to a place they used to go or to someone they used to see,” says Linda G. Levy, president of the Fragrance Foundation, an industry organization. “The attitude about fragrance changed from a form of seduction to enhancing your life.” Also, “people were not hesitating about price.”

No joke. Because it was also a time when a few scent enthusiasts decided to up the ante and create their own blends. One such couple, stuck on their yacht in the Mediterranean, poor things, called Ben Krigler, the fifth-generation owner and nose of the Krigler fragrance house, which counts Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Roger Moore, and Jackie Kennedy Onassis among its history of fans. With unscheduled time on their hands, these seafarers commissioned Krigler to get to work, receiving samples in Capri, Portofino, Majorca, Ibiza. Two years and $50,000 later, they had their own bespoke fragrance tucked in a velvet-lined leather display trunk.

Another couple was planning their wedding at the Plaza hotel, in New York, and asked Krigler to concoct a bride’s and groom’s scent, votive candles, and small vials for the guests. The cost: $125,000. “They were very wealthy,” Krigler explains, helpfully.

Even tech bros wanted their particular odors. “They spend their lives in cellars, and they’re looking for something alive, with values and history,” says Krigler. One is a 27-year-old crypto tycoon—or perhaps, as of a few weeks ago, a former tycoon. “He said he wanted to create a bespoke perfume and he wanted to pay with crypto,” says Krigler. “I realized that we could actually use the blockchain the way we used the books to write down the formulation.” Now, rather than flying annoyingly to Monaco, lumbering into the bank vault, and dragging out the antique ledger, Krigler can pull up the formula on his phone. “With the NFT, you are the only one who knows it and has the keys to access it.”

Even the guys are getting in on the action.

Will these fine people speak to me about their bespoke experiences? No, they will not. They are busy spritzing themselves on their super-yachts, at their super-weddings, as they evaluate their crypto, their bitcoins, and their NFTs. They are preparing for the next flight to Mars and simply cannot be disturbed.

And who can blame them? Creating a self-defining scent is deeply intimate. Krigler starts by asking clients to bring personal objects to their first meeting. “Usually they come with luggage,” he says. One brought notebooks filled with pressed flowers from her childhood. Another came with her grandmother’s scarf and asked Krigler to duplicate the bouquet. “There are a lot of tears. It’s very emotional,” he says. “To create a perfume, you go through your soul.”

To move things along, Krigler pulls out the Proust questionnaire, asking, “What is your favorite color? Flower?” His mother added questions when she was running the show, including “What is your favorite vacation spot? What is the reminiscence of the smell from your childhood?” Later, Ben amended the list with “Where do you spend your time on the Internet? What do you like to watch on YouTube?” In other words, windows to the soul.

They are preparing for the next flight to Mars and simply cannot be disturbed.

Those who are too impatient for the customization exercise can lease a perfume from the robust Krigler archives. For somewhere between $7,500 and $15,000, the lessee receives three bottles of fragrance for six months of exclusive use. None of this makes sense to me. Maybe my olfactory system is deficient; maybe something happened when I lived in Missouri, where such things do not fly.

For us, there is an alternative, time-honored approach to customization. It’s complicated, but stick with me. Go to Sephora. Choose three fragrances that appeal. Come home. Pick a pulse point and spritz it with one scent, then top that off with the second. Add the third if you’re feeling unique. Done. It may be chaotic, but it’s your particular, personal, bespoke chaos.

Albert Krigler, who founded the fragrance house in 1904, had his own way of assessing the marriage of fragrance to wearer. He believed that if someone says your perfume smells good, then it’s not right for you. If they say you smell good, then it’s a match. It sounds so simple, yet it can be so very complicated.

Linda Wells spent 25 years as Allure magazine’s founding editor, served as Revlon’s chief creative officer, and currently consults and sits on the boards of several beauty and apparel companies