By : Jerlene Then
A perfume is so many things at the same time – not only is it a way to scent yourself and express your mood or personality, perfume is also a way to capture the zeitgeist of the times through scent, and an olfactory tour through various moods and experiences. In fact, perfumery first began in ancient Egypt, using native flora such as lilies. Perfume ingredients and recipes were also recorded by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia, during the time of ancient Rome. So it is easily one of the oldest beauty products known to man.
Many classic and iconic perfumes come with a rich and storied background. Here are five classic perfumes that have stood the test of time and made their mark on the history of perfumery, and the stories they have to tell.
Year of release: 1956
Diorissimo is perhaps the scent most emblematic to Christian Dior, with its lily-of-the-valley notes setting the benchmark for all such scents. Lily-of-the-valley was Christian Dior’s lucky flower, and legend has it that the man used to hide the flower in his gowns before they made their appearance on the runway. The scent was also the first of its kind, with its complexity, blending together many floral scents to capture an novel experience that was fresh, floral, and airy, in contrast to the relatively one-note scents of its day. Like the namesake fashion house, it was trendsetting, and perhaps one of the most complex floral scents up till today.
Year of release: 1947
Although perfumes seem like a women-only product, believe it or not, perfumery was the near-exclusive domain of males for a long time, due to the then-popular belief that males had a superior scent of smell to females (of course, science has now shown that the converse is true, but such was the stereotype back in those days). Thus, part of what gives Balmain’s Vent Vert its special place in history is the fact that it was formulated by Germaine Cellier, one of the first notable female perfumers in the industry. The fragrance itself was also like a breath of fresh air to the industry – with its lively, intense green notes, it will not be to the taste of those who like their scents soft and floral, but nevertheless, it was a vibrant, ground-breaking scent. A woman breaking traditional stereotypes and achieving success in a male-dominated field? Now, that’s what we call an inspirational woman! Vent Vert is also similarly inspiring, giving rise to a whole family of green scents with gusto.
Year of release: 1953
Some perfumes are notable for their scent, some for their creator. Youth Dew is notable for the way it changed how women bought perfume, and for being one of the classic scents that did not come from France. Back then, women did not buy their own perfume – instead, it would be bought for them as a gift by men. Thus, when Estée Lauder launched Youth Dew, in a stroke or brilliance, she launched it as a bath oil, which women could buy for themselves. Of course, it helped that all the famous and glamorous ladies of the day wore it too – Wallis Simpson, Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford, just to name a few. Naturally, it sold well, shifting 50,000 in its first year, and 150 million by 1984. Today, it is still worn by celebrities such as Madonna, and is still an easily identifiable scent, with its heady sillage and spicy oriental signature, a mix of orange, bergamot, amber, patchouli, and vanilla, among others.
Year of release: 1925
A lovely, romantic fragrance under the oriental category, Shalimar was named after the Shalimar gardens, where legend has it that Mughal emperor Shah Jehan met his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, for whom he later erected the famous Taj Mahal when she died. Compared to other scents of its time, Shalimar was radical due to its rich sillage and unique sparkle, combining its vanilla accord with citrus notes, primarily bergamot. The modern Shalimar has been reformulated to replace animal-derived ingredients, such as those from the civet, with their synthetic counterparts. Nevertheless, it still retains its inimitability. In fact, Ernest Beaux, the creator of Chanel No 5, once said, “If I had used so much vanilla, I would have made only a custard sauce, whereas Jacques Guerlain creates Shalimar!” Which brings us to…
1. CHANEL NO. 5
Year of release: 1921 Of course no list of classic perfumea would be complete without Chanel No. 5. It was unusual for its time – not only was it the first aldehydic floral, it was also a rare thing for a perfume to be named after a number, bucking the day’s trends of giving perfumes descriptive names. The geometric, nondescript bottle was also rarely seen back then. The scent is gorgeous too – the aldehydes combine with a range of florals, such as jasmine, rose and iris, as well as warmer vanillin and animalic notes, giving it an instantly identifiable personality. Of course, Marilyn Monroe’s famous remark that Chanel No. 5 was all she wore to bed helped, too. It was so named because five was Coco Chanel’s lucky number, and it must have worked for her – Chanel No. 5 is now the perhaps the most recognizable and iconic perfume of all time.