With several classic scents ranging from floral to Oriental notes, a woman can define her personality by the perfume she wears. A fragrance can evoke femininity, sensuality, exoticism – or all of the above. Haute couture has long established certain fragrances’ appeal in the hearts and minds of women worldwide.
Though perfumes have been in existence since ancient times in Egypt, the Roman empire and Persia, the modern perfume as we know it today was launched at the tail end of the 19th century. Combining a variety of smells from largely natural sources like barks, flowers, fruits and woods, an entire industry of perfumes has been created that generates about $31 billion a year worldwide. Global Industry Analysts Inc., which publishes off-the-shelf market research for over 9,500 companies from 36 nations all over the globe, reports that the international perfume and fragrance market will be worth about U.S. $45.6 billion by 2018.
Anyone who’s anyone is launching a perfume these days. Not only are cosmetic companies and fashion designers introducing them, but celebrities too. Lately, Sarah Jessica Parker‘s “Lovely” became the most popular celebrity-endorsed perfume in the U.K., according to The Daily Mail Online. Though a few celebrity perfumes have landed on lists of top sellers, they can’t seem to compete with the established popularity of classic perfumes introduced by fashion houses and cosmetic companies.
While new and novel perfumes are released every season, the following five classic scents have withstood the test of time, the fluctuating markets and widely varying trends. These fragrances not only revolutionized women’s (and men’s) love affair with perfumes, but they have deeply ingrained historical significance. Between the perfumes’ subtle but distinctive notes (that is, the level of scents unveiled as the applied perfume fades), their uniqueness at the time of launch, clever marketing campaigns and even an occasional controversy, these perfumes have become the world’s most popular and best-selling fragrances.
5. L’Air Du Temps by Nina Ricci
For almost 40 years, Opium by Yves Saint Laurent has attracted a lot of sales and a little controversy. Compounded by perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac and launched in 1977, the perfume’s first controversy revolved around its name, which infuriated the Chinese population in America. They demanded that Laurent – who thought up the name himself – apologize for turning a blind eye to Chinese history and Chinese-American concerns and find an alternative name. Ironically, the controversy greatly increased sales and made Opium a best seller. Since then, it has done astoundingly well in France and overseas.
Another controversy erupted in 2000 in Great Britain, when a sexually suggestive ad campaign for Opium perfume featured model Sophie Dahl nude with the exception of high heels and one hand on a breast. The perfume weathered these storms, and Opium continues to entice women with its spicy sensuality. The perfume’s top notes include mandarin orange, coriander and pepper; middle notes that include jasmine and rose; and base notes that include myrrh, cedarwood and sandalwood.
3. Shalimar by Guerlain
Shalimar is history’s first Oriental-scented perfume. Jacques Guerlain introduced the fragrance in 1925. He’s said to have been influenced by the romance between Princess Mumtaz Mahal and her husband, Indian Emperor Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan dedicated the Garden of Shalimar to and built the Taj Mahal for his wife. The garden’s basins inspired the design of the bottle’s fragrance. The bottle took first place at the 1925 Paris Decorative Arts Exhibition.
Its notes – including bergamot, amber, iris and vanilla – blend to infuse a sensuality into Shalimar that earned its reputation as the Forbidden Fragrance. “Wearing Shalimar means letting your senses take over,” Guerlain once said, according to the House of Guerlain website.
There is some conflict regarding the origin of the word “Shalimar”. According to the House of Guerlain website, Shalimar is Sanskrit for “temple of love”. However, a January 2012 article from The International Tribune says the word has Arabic roots, and that it often translates as “abode of light” or “moonlight”.
2. Joy by Jean Patou
Compounded by Henri Almeras, French couturier Jean Patou launched Joy when the world was in the grips of an economic depression. In 1930, Patou dispatched a bottle of Joy to each of his 250 best clients in the United States. The fragrance proved it was able to withstand what could have been a tsunami of financial turmoil for the fashion house. Joy would go on to become a strong rival to the number one best-selling fragrance of all time. It has gained recognition as one of the most popular and successful fragrances in the world today.
Described as the world’s most expensive perfume, Joy has 10,600 jasmine flowers and 336 roses; its scent brings “a light avalanche of flowers from the east and west”, the House of Patou website says. House of Patou has launched several fragrances since Joy, but Joy has remained its signature scent.
1. Chanel No. 5 by Chanel
No other perfume has achieved the iconic status of Chanel No. 5. Coco Chanel launched the perfume in 1921 because she wanted a ‘woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent’ and Chanel No. 5 was a pioneer, with a history marked by numerous firsts in the perfume industry.
With its varying notes that include jasmine, sandalwood, amber, aldehydes and ylang-ylang, Chanel No. 5 was the first perfume to combine multiple scents at a time when fragrances normally featured a single-flower scent. It was the first fragrance created using revolutionary alchemy techniques. And, of course, it changed the advertising world. Chanel No.5 became the first perfume to get advertising time during the Super Bowl and to have celebrities like Candice Bergen, Nicole Kidman and even Brad Pitt endorse it. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City honored the perfume in 1959, and Andy Warhol immortalized it in his art. The ‘No. 5’ stems from the sequence of fragrance formulas perfumer Ernest Beaux presented to Coco Chanel before she was enamored by the scent’s fifth version. The fashion icon also believed the number 5 brought good luck, and – in this case at least – it seems she was right.