When Jeremy Fragrance thinks of his childhood, two scents drift through his memory: the old, moldy smell of the communal area in the housing block where he grew up, and John Paul Gaultier’s heady, sexy Le Male perfume, which he bought as a gift for his stepfather: the smell of reality and that of escape.
Fragrance—that’s the name on his passport—is the world’s most popular perfume influencer. The 34-year-old German social-media star has amassed an astonishing 6.6 million followers on TikTok, and more than 280 million views on YouTube, by recommending scents. He is set to publish his autobiography in June.
There are a number of perfume influencers operating online but none come even close to having Fragrance’s following. That seems to be because Fragrance has an absolutely unique presentation style.
Imagine Tom Cruise in air-punching, sofa-bouncing Oprah mode, mixed with a dash of American Psycho’s peacocking Patrick Bateman and a sprinkling of self-help guru Tony Robbins’s emphatic delivery, and you’ll find yourself in the right semi-psychotic ballpark. Fragrance’s videos are short, high-energy bursts of seemingly uncontrolled insanity. Wearing his trademark white Tom Ford suit, or shirtless in a pair of white shorts, a crucifix dangling over his bare chest, Fragrance struts, dances, claps, and grunts. He does one-armed push-ups. At some point he spritzes fragrance, often barely registering it, and he will always exclaim some variation of his mantra: “KRAFT! POWER! STRENGTH!”
It was not always like this. When Fragrance first started posting videos of himself, in 2014, he was a suave, amiable guide into the world of perfume. He cut through the complex language of perfumers, simplified the dizzying array of fragrances, and spoke about how the point of fragrance was to accrue “compliments.” He would approach strangers on the street with a puppyish openness and ask them to sniff the fragrance he was wearing. It was macho, but strangely endearing.
The fragrance industry was at an inflection point, says Lizzie Ostrom, author of Perfume: A Century of Scents. Perfume, which had long been about objectifying the body and presenting a desirable image to the world, was becoming more about celebrating individuality and embracing wellness. “We’d all moved on,” says Ostrom. “Then came Jeremy.”
Fragrance’s appeal was a throwback, yet despite this, Ostrom could appreciate his charisma. “He definitely had this sense of the guru about him. This kind of weird, slightly unhinged, magnetic presence.”
In 2018, Fragrance and his older brother, Kamil Banc, parlayed this online presence into a brand they launched on Kickstarter called Fragrance One. They worked with renowned Spanish perfumer Alberto Morillas—the nose behind both Calvin Klein’s CK One and Marc Jacobs’s Daisy—on creating what they named, in a counter-intuitive masterstroke, Office.
Office didn’t pretend to transform your life into a Bruce Weber photo shoot. Instead, it was aimed at the average desk jockey just looking for someone to say something nice about him. It was a huge success. The brothers racked up almost $1 million in sales on Kickstarter despite the fact that no one had actually smelled “the juice,” as they called it. Other scents followed, such as Night and Date. A bottle of Office cost them between $5 and $15 to produce. They sold it, on average, for $130. “We were making about $2 million to $2.5 million per year between us,” says Kamil. But it didn’t last.
“He definitely had this sense of the guru about him. This kind of weird, slightly unhinged, magnetic presence.”
In May of last year, Fragrance announced that he was closing down the brand. This was news to his brother, who took to YouTube under the name “BigBro Fragrance” to offer his own, more sober assessment of the situation. Kamil, who is as low-key as his brother is hyperactive, said he was “concerned about [Fragrance’s] mental health.” He spoke somewhat half-heartedly about moving their perfume beyond “compliments” to improving one’s “state of mind.” Mainly, he was “concerned about Jeremy’s direction.”
Jeremy Fragrance was born Daniel Sredzinski, the son of Polish immigrants, in Oldenburg, Germany. His mother was a hairdresser; his father, a salesman. Life was by no means luxurious, but the family wasn’t poor. Kamil recalls a happy childhood despite a sometimes violent father. Fragrance, however, frames it differently.
In May 2021, he released a rambling, 20-minute-long YouTube video entitled “My Life Story.” It is by turns confessional, boastful, angry, emotional, obscene, and, at times, completely incoherent. To his millions of followers, he reveals that he had been in a German boy band, and talked of his bisexual relationships and how he was once accused of rape. He rages against priests who are molesters, and about “people” who drink the sweat and eat the flesh of children.
There is a long detour into how not wearing underwear is linked to his mental state. At the 16-minute mark, he starts weeping as he thinks about women who get breast implants. Jesus comes up. Drake too. “That’s why you love me,” he sniffles toward the end, “because of this emotional shit. Not because I mention this fragrance opens up with tonka beans, sandalwood, and cedarwood.” Nevertheless, he closes the whole, bizarre, stream-of-consciousness rant by choosing a fragrance of the day. Gentleman, by Givenchy, in case you’re wondering.
When I speak to him, however, there are no tears. Fragrance is pulled together, more prosaic, and surprisingly coy. When I ask him about the nature of his early bisexual relationships—he had hinted in his videos that he had been a prostitute—he deflects. “I think I’d rather show a different side of me,” he says. “I can tell you about so many things, but I would rather just focus on the good vibe, on the positive.”
He says he still lives in a small village near Munich but owns a couple of apartments in Miami. Growing up, he drew inspiration from Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was on a visit to Hawaii that he got his first whiff of the fragrance world, when he entered an Abercrombie & Fitch store and smelled Fierce. He looked it up online, discovered a like-minded community, and decided to get involved. “It was very intense,” he says. “I was training my nose and punishing myself with push-ups.”
“That’s why you love me,” he sniffled toward the end, “because of this emotional shit.”
Many people assume Fragrance’s frenetic videos are the result of drug use, but he denies it. “I also don’t drink alcohol. I never took any drugs, and I totally take it as a compliment because, you know, I can do [high-energy performance without drugs].”
Instead, he says, his energy is all down to social media. “It’s a dopamine hit. It’s addictive,” says Fragrance. “You become more popular. It’s like a computer game.” When I ask him what’s next, he answers, with enthusiasm, “I just want more and more. It’s like people ask me: ‘O.K., what’s next?’ This is already next!”
Onlookers are more circumspect. “I think Jeremy is a cautionary tale about what happens when strong, passionate interests go wrong,” says Ostrom. “It starts to shape-shift into something else, and it becomes grotesque.” Kamil tells me of his concern, too. “What is this shit?” he says, talking about his brother’s claims to greatness. “You haven’t even explored life yet. What are you talking about, man?”
An appearance last year on Germany’s version of Celebrity Big Brother added fuel to the worries about him. Fragrance fasted and refused to remove his white suit for the entire seven days he was in the Big Brother house. When he decided to walk out, the aftershow interview was predictably bizarre, with Fragrance doing squats, baring his torso, and shouting, “Power, bitches!”
Fragrance, however, is unperturbed by the rumors. He sees himself, 50 years from now, still in his white suit, still posting videos. And after he’s gone? He wants mournful followers to leave perfume bottles on his grave, he tells me. “I want to be remembered as Jeremy Fragrance, the No. 1 fragrance icon, when I die.”
Carl Wilkinson is a London-based journalist and author