Paco Rabanne's latest fragrance has NFC, for some reason

The robot-shaped bottle offers digital tchotchkes.

Daniel Cooper

What does the future smell like? That depends on who you ask. PUIG’s perfumiers, who produce scents for Paco Rabanne, believe that the future smells sexy, confident and energetic. That’s how they’re choosing to market Phantom, the fashion house’s latest fragrance-cum-piece of retro-futurist art. Phantom comes in a robot-shaped bottle that, when you tap your phone on the NFC tag embedded into its head, welcomes you into its own digital world. Digital trinkets on offer will include interactive filters, personalized playlists, augmented reality filters and more.

Paco Rabanne is the nom de guerre of Spanish designer Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo, who in the ‘60s was a pioneering figure in the fashion world. Both he, and the house that bears his name, has had an appreciation for the absurdity of science fiction. Rabanne began producing dresses with metal and plastic, glued, or stitched together with wire, rather than sewing. His couture work graces pretty much every retrospective of ‘60s fashion and, far more than his contemporaries, embodies the “space age” fashion of the era.

Phantom is intended as a love letter to that history, with retro-futurist design that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Barbarella. The bottle is heavy, with the traditional lower-case “pr” logo in its torso, with the outline of the “p” made out of glass. That lets you watch the water line fall as you spritz yourself every morning with the scent. It comes in two sizes: 100ml (which I’ve seen and used) and 150ml, only the latter of which is refillable.

Of course, Phantom isn’t just a fancy bottle, but the key to a whole online world of digital goodies. The top of its bottle houses an NFC chip that, when tapped, welcomes the owner’s smartphone to a list of digital trinkets as a reward for buying the bottle. At the time of writing, only two items are available, but the company says that the list of items will grow over time, as outlined above.

Image of the NFC tag at the top of the Paco Rabanne Phantom bottle.
Daniel Cooper

First up, Boombot lets you pick a date to get a Spotify “playlist of bangers that were number one on that day.” Upon closer analysis, it looks like it’s limited to the US charts, but you’ll be able to open the playlist in Spotify and groove to half a century of tunes. It’s a feature that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever used a website like MyBirthdayHits, which looks a little less beautiful but does a very similar job.

Second and for now last, is an exclusive Instagram filter called Paco Rabanne’s Phantom Philter. This sees a tiny AR version of the bottle sit on your shoulder, fly around your head or tell someone that it loves them, its eyes and head motion are synched to yours, too. And it’s fun, fun enough for at least one selfie with the little cartoon.

But the sci-fi isn’t just in the clothes that Phantom is wearing, but in how the fragrance was created in the first place. Perfumiers worked in collaboration with an AI that helped them explore new possibilities in crafting the scent. According to the company, the team conceived of a new smell, and then programmed the formula into an AI, which ran through a series of as-yet untried combinations to make reactions to the smell more intense.

In Phantom’s case, perfumier Loc Dong wanted to try and “over-dose” a molecule called styrallyl acetate. When he suggested this to the computer, it recommended that Dong use “ten times the usual amount,” compared to a modern perfume. Similarly, the lavender used in the fragrance was sourced through “molecular distillation” which produces a “very modern lavender note.”

In a statement, Paco Rabane added that the fragrance was tested on men aged 18-35, to determine how it made them feel. They said that Phantom made them feel “sexiness,” “alertness” and “energy,” although the specifics on that testing is a little loose.

Now, I’m no perfume reviewer, a job that I’ll leave to the vastly more qualified people over at Fragrantica. (Who knew that people could sniff a scent and wish that the designers had added more Bergamot?) I would describe Phantom as a sweet musk, one that even hours after applying, felt strong and persistent. It’s certainly a more energetic smell than the one I’m used to — my aftershave of choice is Chanel Allure Homme Sport — and felt more productive as a consequence. In fact, Phantom is a strong scent but not an unpleasant or overpowering one, and everyone who, in these COVID-sensitive times, I’ve invited to sniff me seemed to agree.

All in all, it smells pretty good.

I don’t know if the digital goodies on offer will be a compelling draw here, at least not on current evidence. Maybe this is for those menswear influencers I see all the damn time on Instagram, even if they’re more commonly repping YSL and Celine. Perhaps a little AR robot, sitting on their shoulder while they smoke and drink coffee, reclining on a Paris park bench, is what they need to bolster their effortful laid back cool. But, fundamentally, you’re going to buy this thing because it smells nice, not because you get a free Instagram filter… right?

Phantom by Paco Rabanne is launching on August 1st, 2021, and will be available in the US at Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Dillard’s and Sephora. No word, yet, on how much the 100ml bottle will cost, but the 150ml edition will set you back $125, while the 200ml refill is priced at $130.