To call Katy Perry a “rainbow fairy unicorn princess” might seem like overkill, but those are the exact words that came to mind when I walked into L.A.’s famed Magic Castle and saw her perched by a giant purple perfume bottle emblazoned with the words “Mad Potion.” Surely, as is the case with many celebrities, her mystique would fade as I approached her—but no. In fact, up close, her magical aura only seemed more pronounced, her hair a lavender cotton candy cloud, her skin glowy and poreless, and her luscious lashes inexplicably twinkly. Little did I know that in just a few short minutes, we would be talking about diapers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
If there’s one thing you learn after meeting Katy Perry, it’s that she’s candid, likable, and remarkably relatable, considering her Technicolor exterior. This may explain why her legions of fans—self-proclaimed KatyCats—look to her not only for the perfect hook-laden song to describe their lives (mine is “The One That Got Away,” in case you were wondering) but also for inspiration in every other aspect of their lives. Today, we’re here to focus on the beauty part—more specifically, fragrance, perhaps the most personal part of any woman’s beauty routine. I was eager to learn how Perry dreamed up her newest brew, Mad Potion ($30), a concoction that smells like vanilla, creamy musk, and, well, how you might imagine a fairy princess would smell. “I wanted something feminine, bold, and mysterious,” she explains. “I also love gourmand type of fragrances. I love anything that makes you kind of edible to a person.” Strangely, these words did not sound weird coming out of her mouth—I nodded along understandingly, like being edible was something I, too, had wanted all my life. Because when you’re in the presence of Katy Perry, you suddenly find yourself falling under her spell—which would explain why I felt the strong urge to purchase cat ears after leaving Magic Castle later that night.
From contouring to her first scent memory (which involves diapers), keep scrolling to read the entire interview!
Looking at the perfume bottle, you get a Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland kind of feel. How does this represent your style now, as opposed to a few years ago?
Perry: Well, I’ve never liked just one thing. I’m always drawing from a lot of different eras and putting it all together in the melting pot. But I really think that I like this purple-and-black situation—it’s a little magician-y, magician’s assistant, slash good witch. And I guess that’s just the vibe that I like right now, but I’m so many different vibes—not just one. It just depends on the kind of thing that I’m doing. I mean if I were to make a music video next week, it would be like a totally different vibe. I just love to play. And I love to create really strong characters.
So your “vibe” is that it changes all the time.
Perry: Right, I guess my cohesive [theme] is not taking myself so seriously, and always trying, and having bold looks and moves. We always have to evolve, you know—someone like Madonna can do “Like a Virgin” and then do “Ray of Light.” And that’s such an incredible canvas. So, I like to evolve a lot.
Totally. And the notes in this fragrance?
Perry: I’ve always wanted to do my take on vanillas, because they’re aphrodisiacs, and I’ve been wearing them since I was literally 13, and then musks because musks to me are a bit androgynous and mysterious. They always flip a really feminine scent on its head, and so the combo of those two things is kind of what we have here today; it represents me as feminine but still a little bit androgynous.
Can you tell us a bit about your own relationship with scent?
Perry: It all kind of comes out of this magical place. I think that scent is so magical and is actually kind of like time-traveling, because there are times when I walked by a person, and that person will be wearing the fragrance I used to wear as a teenager, and I’ll just like be transported right there. Or, where a guy will be wearing the fragrance my first boyfriend wore, and I’ll just be like, “Oh my god!” It’s taking me back to a certain time and place, so it just goes to show that creating scents, strong scents, and powerful scents, really leaves such a lasting impression over the years. I love being in that kind of business.
Speaking of scent relationships, what’s the first scent memory you can remember?
Perry: One of my very first memories is scent-related. It’s just me on the back of a diaper changer, holding up a clean diaper, and it smelled like powder-fresh. It had outlines of red-and-blue Mickey and Minnie on it, and I don’t even know if I was a toddler, or a baby, or an infant… I have no idea.
You could have been 16.
Perry: [Laughs.] You’re right. It was yesterday. I’m actually sh*tting myself right now.
Your stage persona is very bold and cotton candy–colored—what is your beauty routine like when you only have five minutes?
Perry: One of my little tricks is just doing lots and lots of mascara. I’m [a sucker] for lash extensions these days. It’s really fun to wake up feeling Bambi-ish and fresh. I’ve had extensions for, like, five years, and then I dye my brows when I’m getting my extensions done. Then, I use Covergirl pencil and powder for my brows, lots of mascara, and that’s it.
What about hair?
Perry: I don’t really know how to do my hair very well. It takes a lot of patience, so I put it up and I put one of those American Apparel twisty bandana things in. It ends up looking kind of cute and messy, and hippie.
Looking back, what are three pieces of advice you’d give to your teenage self?
Perry: I’ve worn a lot of foundations that aren’t right for my skin tone in the past—they’re just too white. So, maybe take a little extra time to match my skin color. And to stop picking at my face, and to wash my face. Because when you’re young, you just think you can sleep in that stuff. And you really can’t. I wish I could say, like, sun damage or whatever, but I actually kind of like the sun. I’m not perfect!
We won’t tell.
Perry: Yeah, I’m actually getting these little dots that are loss of pigment on my skin—you get them as you get older. Eventually, I’ll just look like this speckled monster, or pizza, or something really strange.
What is the best nugget of wisdom that someone you've really looked up to in the past has given you?
Perry: Well, they always say mystery is history and to be elusive is more interesting and stuff like that. But I actually believe that transparency is more connective and relatable. So, just to be authentic to yourself and to the way you present yourself. Even if that means your opinion is different, or that you look different, being authentic to yourself always wins I think.
What's the thing you most look forward to each day?
Perry: That's a good question. My sister just had the first child in my family, which is such a crazy experience. It brings everyone together, it heals a lot of wounds, and changes the whole dynamic of your family. I don't know if I'm exactly ready for the responsibility of raising a child, but I do get to slip in there and put her to bed every once in a while, and we always sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” All you need to fill yourself up is a child, who you're related to or who you love, to put their head on your shoulder and to need you. I've got everything in the world, but this is one of those feelings I've never felt. So I look forward to hanging out with her mostly every day, because we live so close.
And the thing you least look forward to?
Perry: Any kind of workout that isn't hiking with my girlfriends. I mean, I like working out on my own, but when someone is pushing me to work out because I need it, I just really can't. I do it, but I don't like it.
Who are some of your beauty icons?
Perry: Ooh, there are so many. It's Lolita to Frida Kahlo, Chloë Sevigny to Daphne Guinness—those are probably my four who I really love. Oh, and Tavi Gevinson—I definitely said her last name wrong.
We don't think she'll mind.
Perry: [Laughs.] I love, like, any girl on Tumblr. Even RiRi, I love so much. She's just effortlessly cool. Every time she is walking from her car to whatever place, she just looks like she's not trying, and it works. I gotta do five hours of research to even do that.
Lastly, you work closely with your makeup artist Jake Bailey. What is the best makeup trick you've ever learned from him?
Perry: Well, there are a lot of tutorials on YouTube right now, about “baking” and powder and shading. Shading is so great, especially because some of my weight in between stuff shows up on my face. That's where you first lose weight; it falls off your face. Until then, if you want to enjoy life, just get a little shade out, and contour your weight out of your face. Jake also does this thing where he takes a credit card and puts it behind my lashes when applying mascara to my lashes-it lifts them up. He's so good at the glowy stuff, too-he adds it in my Cupid's bow, to open up the lip, and also down your nose. It makes your nose a little smaller; Marilyn Monroe used to do it.
She did look glowy in those pictures.
Perry: I mean, everything looks great in black and white. No disrespect, RIP. I mean, I don't want to start a war with Marilyn, but look, if I was just in black-and-white photos…
Okay, we lied—last question. What was the first fragrance you ever owned?
Perry: Well, in high school everyone was wearing Love Spell. And it still exists. The lotion is good too. I really like Hempz Lotion ($17) now. There's one that's, like, strawberry-banana-scented. Have you tried it?
No. But I suddenly feel a strong urge to.
Perry: It's so nice—you should try it. The consistency is perfect, it's not too watery, and it's not too oily.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
If you could ask Katy Perry any beauty question, what would it be? Sound off below!