Instagram | Courtesy | John Francis
Does hearing the phrase “Sun-Ripened Raspberry” suddenly transport you back to middle school, rocking pastel-colored butterfly hair clips and a mini backpack? If so, hi!—let’s be best friends, and also—I have big news: Bath & Body Works is cool again.
The beauty shop—technically it’s a *fragrance store* that keeps its shelves stocked with body lotions, scrubs, candles, and bath fizzes—never really went away. It opened its first store in Boston in 1990 and now has 1,721 U.S. outposts (and 259 international ones). But I’d forgotten all about my once-favorite beauty brand until I recently popped into a Bath & Body Works inside an actual mall. (They still exist, you guys.)
Oh, it was good.
Some context: Bath & Body Works was my gateway drug to beauty products. I saved up babysitting cash to get in on the crazy-good 3-for-$12 deals of Plumeria shower gel, body spray, and lotion—yum. The scent was distinctly floral, with maybe a hint of honeysuckle? Who cares? I just loved the way it smelled and doused myself before homeroom.
But then I grew up. I left behind fruit forward and overtly girly scents for the sexier, more sophisticated Dior perfume counter just a few mall doors down inside Macy’s. Somewhere in between, LUSH and Clinique replaced my middle school favorite beauty products and fragrances. Shout-out to Gap Heaven while we’re getting nostalgic.
Anyway, I was drawn into the 2019 incarnation of a Bath & Body Works storefront thanks to a, you guessed it, crazy-good advertised candle sale (clearly, I haven’t outgrown my teenage love of a deal). I was unexpectedly delighted. The storefront is still instantly recognizable, with its market-style displays designed with light wood paneling, basket and box displays of shower gel that look like a bountiful beauty harvest, and sinks for an all-the-things sensory experience.
And just like any iconic mall store (ahem, Auntie Anne’s) you can still smell it before you see it. Though the storefront design is much the same, what’s inside has changed. Bath & Body Works revamped its beauty goodies to appeal both to O.G. shoppers like me, who forgot how much they loved browsing and sniffing there, and the new noses and tastes of Generation Z. On my visit, the clientele ranged from elder millennials with Sephora bags stocking up on three-wick summer-scented candles to a group of high-school kids taking Snapchats with bath fizzys in front of the sink display.
As I sniffed and sampled my way around the perimeter, I clocked that Bath & Body Works updated their scents from the one-note Sun-Ripened Raspberry (technically still available as a retired fragrance online) to complex and chiiic-sounding cocktails of cactus blossoms and sandalwood musk. The once-basic packaging, with illustrated fruit, now looks as pretty—think minimalist feminine aesthetic—as anything I’ve seen at Nordstrom’s beauty counters. Do you require a Korean-inspired multi-step skincare routine? I do. Bath & Body Works has that now, too.
While Bath & Body Works won’t come right out and say they did a major fragrance overhaul, the brand did confirm via e-mail that they’ve used feedback from customers to launch trendy fragrances. Whatever they’re up to, it’s working. Sales last year reached $4.6 billion, up 11 percent, according to Business of Fashion.
Just check out the semi-annual sale shopping haul YouTube videos from Leah Van Wyk, a beauty blogger who is admittedly obsessed with Bath & Body Works. She got in on the beauty game thanks to their roll-on glitter: “In the ’90s they had a line for kids called Art Stuff which included a roll-on glitter that I was absolutely obsessed with,” Leah says. “It was melon-scented, smelled amazing.” Today, she’s graduated to hibiscus and ylang-ylang in the aromatherapy sleep line, tyvm.
The beauty goodies, fragrances, and candles have been injected with a dose of modern edge. They also took old-school classics and made them better. Take the re-imagined Gingham line as an example.
The scent is crisper and brighter than it was when plastic inflatable furniture was cool, when I considered it a “mom scent.” The packaging also got an upgrade—it looks fresh with cool blues and clean lines. I could totally see Gingham fitting in with Glossier and Milk on the makeup vanity of a beauty influencer.
Alisha Marie, beauty influencer and host of the Pretty Basic podcast, relates to my nostalgic love of the brand and joy that it’s back and better than ever. She got hooked on Japanese Cherry Blossom at her local mall in the early aughts. Today, she’s back. She says, “I just love how cozy Bath & Body Works is! I prefer shopping in the store and mostly go during the fall and winter. Living in Southern California, where there aren’t dramatic seasons, it’s so nice to fill the house with a Leaves or Mahogany Teakwood candle. It’s sometimes the only thing that actually makes it feel like fall to me!” If you can’t smell the frosted lavender notes from the teakwood candle rn, are you even alive??
Last month, while visiting my parents in Wisconsin, I stopped at the mall closest to their house, specifically to shop at Bath & Body Works. Now that I’m back in the Bath & Body Works club, there’s space in my bathroom for their new products all-year round. (Right now, it’s the entire summery Beach line: toasted coconut notes infused into shea butter…ooh, I’m literally—but not, like, literally—always at sea. And when fall hits: the Champagne Apple and Honey body scrub, which I’ll have to try not to eat.) Only now I’m buying my bath fizzys on a debit card, not babysitting cash.