Here are the best French perfumes of all time! In France, perfume is an art. Perfume became popular during the Renaissance when Catherine de Medicis (wife of King Henri II) introduced a fashion for perfumes in the French court. Then, France began making perfumes during the 17th century, dedicating farmlands in Provence to the cultivation of flowers and herbs that would be made into perfumes of all varieties.
And while France was not the first country to start manufacturing perfumes, today, French perfume brands are regarded as some of the best in the world! From niche perfume brands like Diptyque and Jovoy Paris to iconic French perfume houses like Guerlain, Dior, and Chanel, French perfume brands create some of the most beautiful perfumes in the world.
Being French, I’m obsessed with perfumes and fragrances (see my favorite French perfumes for spring and summer)! And for me, wearing a signature perfume is definitely not something that I save for special occasions. That’s why in today’s post, I wanted to share with you this list of the most timeless and iconic French fragrances that every woman should have at least once in her life. From mainstay classics to new olfactory delights, ahead I’ve rounded up 30 of the best French perfumes to add to your collection.
Chanel N°5 was the first perfume launched by Gabrielle Chanel in 1921. The scented formula for the fragrance was compounded by French-Russian chemist and perfumer Ernest Beaux. With its unprecedented use of aldehydes, which add layers of complexity, N°5 was the world’s first abstract fragrance.
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle
Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel is an amber floral fragrance for women and was launched in 2001. The nose behind this fragrance is Jacques Polge —the nose of the House from 1978 to 2015. Notes are orange, Grasse jasmine, May rose, patchouli, and vetiver.
Shalimar was originally created in 1921 by Jacques Guerlain. It was re-released for the Art Deco Exhibition in Paris in 1925. Shalimar was named after the garden in Srinagar, built for Mumtaz Mahal, wife of Shah Jahan in honor of his wife. Before he became emperor his name was Prince Khurram. The top notes are lemon and bergamot, the middle notes are jasmine and may rose, and the base notes are iris, incense, vanilla, and tonka bean.
Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire
Inspired by Parisian women’s inimitable style, La Petite Robe Noire by Guerlain is an amber vanilla fragrance for women. The perfume was launched in 2012 and the nose behind the fragrance is Thierry Wasser. Notes are black cherry, almond, berries, bergamot, rose, vanilla, tonka bean, and black tea. The bottles of La Petite Robe Noire collection are replicas of the classical vials of the house.
Seventy years ago, Christian Dior launched his first-ever perfume which was a tribute to Christian Dior’s sister Catherine: Miss Dior. The original incarnation of the perfume launched in 1947, decades before the subsequent successes of the now-iconic J’Adore and Poison. The chypre fragrance, with top notes of gardenia, clary sage, and bergamot has remained an integral part of the Parfums Christian Dior brand.
J’Adore is a floral fruity fragrance for women created in 1999. The perfume is still an iconic fragrance of the House of Dior. The floral and fruity notes of the Ylang-Ylang and Turkish Damascus Rose essences, blend with the rare duo of Jasmine Grandiflorum from Grasse and Indian Jasmine Sambac that are full of fruity and voluptuous sensuality.
Trésor by Lancôme is an amber floral fragrance for women. This perfume was created by the nose Sophia Grojsman in 1990. The elegance of rose, lily-of-the-valley, and lilac and the sparkle of peach and apricot blossom are just a few notes that define this luminous fragrance. Trésor bottle is a crystalline jewel as resplendent as love itself, drawing inspiration from high-end jewelry.
Lancôme La Vie Est Belle
La Vie Est Belle (French for “life is beautiful”) by Lancôme is a floral fruity gourmand fragrance for women. The perfume was launched in 2012 and created by Olivier Polge, Dominique Ropion, and Anne Flipo. This floral perfume entwines iris, patchouli, and Arabian jasmine sambac with sweet notes of orange blossom, warm vanilla, and spun sugar.
Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps
L’Air du Temps by the French fashion house Nina Ricci was created in 1948 by the French perfumer Francis Fabron, in collaboration with Nina Ricci’s son Robert. In its original production, the perfume was contained in a bottle designed by René Lalique. Created right after World War II, L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci embodies the primal values of peace, purity, freedom, and love.
Nina Ricci Nina
Nina by Nina Ricci is an elegant floral-fruity gourmand fragrance for women. The perfume was launched in 2006 and was created by Olivier Cresp, Jacques Cavallier, and Christian Dussoulier. This fragrance is aimed at a younger audience —this was my very first perfume— as it’s the scent of candied fruits. Notes are lemon, lime, candied apple, praline, vanilla, peony, cedar, and musk.
Lolita Lempicka Le Parfum
Lolita Lempicka Le Parfum is a floral fruity gourmand fragrance for women created in 1997 by Annick Menardo and Christian Dussoulier. This fragrance is based on licorice, anise, and violet. Additional notes are green ivy, almond, woodsy iris, sweet vanilla, heliotrope, and tonka. Oscillating between sweetness and freshness, Le Parfum —relaunched in 2021— is one of those fragrances whose breeze is instantly recognizable.
Sisley Eau du Soir
Sisley Eau du Soir was created in 1990 —but launched to the public in 1999— by the nose Jeannine Mongin. There’s a wonderfully romantic story behind Eau du Soir: it was created by Hubert d’Ornano for his wife, in 1990, and was her personal scent before becoming a global bestseller. The bottle was designed by Polish sculptor Bronislaw Krzysztof.
Yves Saint Laurent Opium
In 1977, Yves Saint Laurent launched Opium to coincide with his Autumn-Winter 1977 collection inspired by China. It was an unusual blend of patchouli, myrrh, and vanilla. Created by perfumers Jean Amic and Jean-Louis Sieuzac, with a bottle design based on the Japanese inro (a lacquered case of aromas worn under kimonos), the scent caused an immediate international uproar on its release in 1977 because it was named after a drug.
Yves Saint Laurent Mon Paris
Mon Paris by Yves Saint Laurent is a chypre fruity fragrance for women. This fragrance was created in 2016 by Olivier Cresp, Harry Fremont, and Dora Baghriche. Notes of red berries, datura flower, and white musk blend beautifully together with patchouli to create a scent that is romantic in every way. Mon Paris was announced as a dazzling fragrance that represents a modern olfactory interpretation of love, free from all the obstacles, dedicated and intense.
Hermès Eau d’Hermès
Each d’Hermès is the first fragrance by Hermès, a powerful and sensual Eau, rich in citrus fruit and enhanced with spices. The fragrance was inspired by the smell of leftover perfume inside a bag and was created in 1951. It’s a spicy, leather scent that leaves a trail of refreshing citrus hours after your first spritz. This perfume is definitely for the true fan of the House (regardless of gender).
Created in 1961 by Guy Robert, Calèche was Hermès’ first fragrance for women. A highly feminine, woody, chypre floral, its name refers to the horse-drawn carriages that are emblematic of the house. Calèche is a novel that dazzles with the beauty of its raw materials, from the joyfulness of citrus fruit to the modernity of aldehyde notes; from the floral heart embellished with ylang-ylang, rose and jasmine to the woody, chypre sillage underscored by the nobility of the iris.
L’Interdit by Givenchy is a perfume created in 1957 by Hubert de Givenchy as a tribute to Audrey Hepburn. The word interdit is French for “forbidden.” The nose behind this feminine aldehydic-floral fragrance is Francis Fabron. This fragrance has a delicate, floral, powdery aroma. It contains notes of rose, jasmine, violet, and, at the heart, a blend of woods and grasses.
Angel by Mugler is an amber vanilla fragrance for women, launched in 1992 and created by Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chirin. This addictive sweet perfume blends delicious praline with a long-lasting base of patchouli leaf countered by bright Calabrian bergamot for a touch of freshness, igniting playful memories and sweet sensations. It’s one of the best-selling French perfumes in the world!
Alien by Mugler is an amber woody fragrance for women, launched in 2005 and created by Dominique Ropion and Laurent Bruyere. The creators of Alien based the composition on three main lines: warm, white amber in the base, woodsy notes in the heart, and sunny Indian jasmine in the top. Thirteen years after the huge success of Angel, Thierry Mugler challenges the world of perfumery once again.
Chloé Chloé Eau de Parfum
Chloé Eau de Parfum is a floral fragrance for women launched in 2008 and created by Amandine Clerc-Marie and Michel Almairac. The fragrance begins with a combination of floral powdery notes: hints of peony, lychee, and springtime freesia. The airy, flirtatious head notes drift away to reveal the richer and more sensual side of the rose. The distinctive character of this unique rose is accompanied by magnolia and lily of the valley, as well as subtle intimations of warm amber and elegant cedarwood.
Jean Paul Gaultier Classique
Classique by Jean Paul Gaultier is an amber floral fragrance bor women, created in 1993 by Jacques Cavallier. In the top notes, the delicate rose scent is spiced by fresh anis. Middle notes combine the sweetness of orange blossom and exciting ginger, a powerful aphrodisiac. Vanilla and sensual amber gently embrace the base. A cult must-have French perfumes to add to your collection!
Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs
The legendary floral fragrance Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel was launched back in 1978, and, to this day, it is one of the most popular and the most elegant florals. Cacharel relaunched the original perfume (now with the suffix L’ Original) in both Eau de Parfum and Eau de Toilette. Notes are hyacinth, lily-of-the-valley, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, moss, vetiver, musk, sandalwood, and black currant. One of the most mythical French fragrances for young women.
Kenzo Flower by Kenzo
Flower by Kenzo is an amber fragrance for women created in 2000 by Alberto Morillas and Christian Dussoulier. This powdery floral scent is built on three basic notes. Floral note revolves around parma violet, gentle wild hawthorne, cassis, and Bulgarian rose. Its powdery note is composed of voluptuous vanilla, white musk, and opoponax with a gentle woody touch. This fragrance is definitely the iconic olfactory signature of the House of Kenzo.
Lanvin Arpège is a feminine masterpiece created in 1927 by Paul Vacher and Andre Fraysse and was named for its similarity to an arpeggio—a cascade of successive notes. This perfume is a floral aldehyde fragrance for women. In 1993, the perfume was reconstructed and the main composition was mostly well preserved. Notes are bergamot, aldehyde, peach, orange bloom, honeysuckle, orris, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, coriander, tuberose, violet, geranium, sandal, vetiver, patchouli, vanilla, and musk.
Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien
In 1981, Annick Goutal founds her Maison of niche Perfumes and creates the avant-garde Eau d’Hadrien. The fragrance was inspired by Goutal’s love for Italy and Marguerite Yourcenar’s novel Memoirs of Hadrian. This fresh and elegant signature scent delivers a loving vision of Tuscany, its sun, and cypress-lined terraces. Notes are Sicilian lemon, cedrat, grapefruit, green tangerine, ylang-ylang, cypress, and bergamot.
Eau de Rochas
Eau de Rochas by Rochas is a citrus aromatic fragrance for women created by Nicolas Mamounas in 1970 for Hélène Rochas. This perfume is a modern fragrance reminiscent of azure skies, dazzling landscapes, and the gentle pleasures of life. Notes are lime, lemon, basil, bergamot, grapefruit, mandarin orange, verbena, coriander, patchouli, carnation, narcissus, jasmine, oakmoss, sandalwood, musk, vetiver, and amber. Eau de Rochas is definitely a legendary fragrance that has been writing its continuous story for 50 years.
Van Cleef & Arpels First
First by Van Cleef & Arpels is a floral aldehyde fragrance for women created in 1976 by Jean-Claude Ellena. This perfume remains a classic today! This magnificent floral bouquet of jasmine accented with notes of citrus is available in both Eau de Parfum and Eau de Toilette. Inspired by the Snowflake High Jewelry collection, the bottle features an elegant and feminine curve that embodies the spirit of Van Cleef & Arpels’ creations.
Boucheron by Boucheron is an amber floral fragrance for women created in 1988 by Francis Deleamont and Jean-Pierre Bethouart. Notes are orange blossom, mandarin, jasmine, ylang-ylang, tuberose, amber, and vanilla. Boucheron’s designers created this elegant perfume in 1988 and it was inspired by the art of Parisian goldsmiths from Place Vendome. The fragrance, both in Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum have a symbolic shape of a ring.
Houbigant Quelques Fleurs L’Original
Quelques Fleurs l’Original by Houbigant is a floral fragrance for women created in 1913 by Robert Bienaime. This Eau de Parfum curates upwards of 15,000 exemplary flowers and 250 prestigious raw materials in the creation of a single ounce! Notes are jasmine, tuberose, lily of the valley, rose, ylang-ylang, carnation, broom flower, orange blossom, clove, bergamot, galbanum, tarragon, lemon, oakmoss, sandalwood, civet, cedarwood, musk, orris, and tonka bean.
Jean Patou Joy
Joy by Jean Patou is a perfume created in 1929 by perfumer Henri Alméras. This fragrance was created as a reaction to the 1929 Wall Street crash, which had diminished the fortunes of Parisian couturier Jean Patou’s wealthy American clientele. Despite its elevated price and the depressed economic environment, Joy became a success and has remained Jean Patou’s most famous fragrance. Joy is composed primarily of a combination of jasmine and rose and is considered a landmark example of the floral genre in perfumery.
Et voilà! I hope this ultimate guide to the best French perfumes will help you find your signature French scent! If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.
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Bonjour! I’m Leonce, a French native and the founding editor of Leonce Chenal, a modern lifestyle platform for lovers of everything French. With my previous experience working for top tech companies in London and Paris, I created this platform in 2018 to offer discerning Francophiles an authentic experience through carefully curated content about French fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Merci for visiting, and à bientôt!