Here are the 10 best French perfumes of all time. When you think of a signature scent, I’m sure you’re thinking French perfumes. They’re sophisticated and seductive, striking a balance between an uncomplicated yet statement scent. Through the evolution of society, trends, and tastes, those iconic French perfumes continue to please because there is something so special about them. Both traditional and modern, they are unique, inimitable, and cannot be replaced.
Wearing a signature perfume every day is a true way of life in France. For the French, a signature perfume defines who they are and they never leave home without it. As a French woman, I cannot imagine leaving the house without wearing my favorite perfume. For French women, perfume isn’t something they save for special occasions. Instead, having a scent that is unique should be part of your identity. So when people smell your perfume they are instantly reminded of me.
The History Of French Perfumes
While France was not the first country to start manufacturing perfume, French perfume brands are regarded as some of the best in the world. In France, perfume became popular during the Renaissance when Catherine de Medicis (wife of King Henri II) introduced a fashion for perfumes in the French court. Originally, perfumes were principally used to hide the odors of unwashed bodies. 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.
Today, the heart of the French perfume industry is the small town of Grasse, in the Alpes Maritimes. Grasse enjoys a Mediterranean climate that is suited to horticulture, and more precisely the production of jasmine, one of the most important natural aromas used by the perfume industry. Grasse is also famous for its production of many other natural fragrances, including lavender, myrtle, roses, and mimosa. Visitors to Grasse can discover the history of the French perfume industry, as the town is home to the International Perfume Museum, and to the Fragonard perfume museum.
10 Timeless Perfumes That Are Quintessentially French
Usually, French women have a selection of different perfumes for different occasions. One for every day, others fragrances for a night out, and the most expensive ones are kept for special occasions. Each morning, French women usually choose which fragrance they want to wear that day, depending on the mood.
In this article, I compiled a list of the most iconic and timeless French perfumes that have stood the test of time and that are still modern and relevant today. The type of French perfumes that every Parisian under the age of 40 has had on her dressing table at least once in her life.
1. Chanel n°5
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.
Since its creation in 1921, N°5 has exuded the very essence of femininity. An abstract, mysterious scent, alive with countless subtle facets, radiating an extravagant floral richness. In 1986, Jacques Polge, reinterpreted his predecessor Ernest Beaux’s composition to create a fuller, more voluminous version of the now and forever women’s fragrance: the Eau de Parfum.
2. Guerlain Shalimar
Shalimar perfume was originally created in 1921 by the perfume house of 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.
According to the legend, twenty-year-old Prince Khurram met a young girl, named Arjumand Banu at the bazaar where her family worked. Mesmerized by her beauty, after becoming emperor, he made her his wife as Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the “Jewel of the Palace”. After the wedding, the prince and Mumtaz were inseparable, in war and in peace. She had given 13 children to Shahjahan and died during the birth of their 14th child at the age of 39. Her death devastated Shah Jahan and had built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife and their undying love. Shalimar is named after ‘The Gardens of Shalimar’. It was Mumtaz’s favorite garden.
3. Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps
L’Air du Temps is a women’s perfume by the French fashion house, Nina Ricci. It 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.
After World War II, the world was in need of optimism, joy, and reassuring promises, especially women who had worked in munitions and related wartime factories. They wanted their former femininity and were seeking to bring back romance into their lives. The perfect harmony of an enchanting elixir, the symbol of femininity and eternal youth, L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci embodies the primal values of peace, purity, freedom, and love.
4. 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. Saint Laurent oversaw the entire creative process, from the choice of scents to the shape of the bottle, the press kit (which he created himself), and the advertising campaign featuring Jerry Hall photographed by Helmut Newton.
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.
5. Miss Dior
Seventy years ago, Christian Dior launched his first-ever perfume which was a tribute to Christian Dior’s sister Catherine. The original incarnation of Miss Dior 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.
Catherine Dior was Christian Dior’s beloved sister who possessed a type of Parisian elegance that was simultaneously spontaneous, sassy, and refined. What she also had was great intelligence and immense courage. She was a great resistance fighter and was deported, which marked Christian Dior forever. This image of a strong and beautiful woman represents the foundations of Miss Dior.
6. Sisley Eau du Soir
Sisley Eau du Soir was created in 1990 (but launched to the public in 1999) and the nose was Jeannine Mongin. The bottle was designed by Polish sculptor Bronislaw Krzysztof. Beauty runs in the family at Sisley: it’s a French company, a family company. Sisley was established by a visionary entrepreneur, the late Hubert d’Ornano, in 1976, to “make use of the best that plants and essential oils have to offer in beauty products”.
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.
7. Lancôme Trésor
Trésor bottle is a crystalline jewel as resplendent as love itself, drawing inspiration from high-end jewelry. Its chiseled pyramidal form features many facets that capture and reflect light, perfectly echoing its similarly faceted square cap, accentuated by a ring of black lacquer, like the symbol of eternal union.
“I drew inspiration from the kind of confident feminine woman who always leaves her mark. Trésor is an Eau de Parfum composed of noble raw materials. They reveal a remarkably rounded olfactory signature as if extending an invitation to embrace. It is this transparent structure that makes Trésor unforgettable. it reveals sheer femininity from start to finish.” —Sophia Grojsman, the perfumer.
8. Hermès Calèche
Written 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.
The Classic collection bears witness to the initial encounters between the house of Hermès and fragrance. The scents tell the story of the living heritage of Hermès, its references, its secrets. These fragrances are timeless, yet never less than contemporary.
9. Givenchy L’Interdit
L’Interdit was a perfume created in 1957 by Hubert de Givenchy. The word interdit is French for “forbidden.” The parfumeur behind this feminine aldehydic-floral fragrance was Francis Fabron. It has a delicate, floral, powdery aroma. It contains notes of rose, jasmine, violet, and, at the heart, a blend of woods and grasses.
Created by Hubert de Givenchy in 1957 as a tribute to Audrey Hepburn, L’Interdit has been reinvented in 2018. An addictive composition with bright luminosity infused by “black” notes, this bold new perfume is an invitation to cross the line and elegantly embrace individuality. Rooney Mara, a captivating actress recognized for her engagement, is the face of this powerful and memorable fragrance.
10. Jean Patou Joy
Joy is a perfume created for Parisian couturier Jean Patou by perfumer Henri Alméras in 1929. It is considered to be one of the greatest fragrances created and is a landmark example of the floral genre in perfumery.
Joy was created as a reaction to the 1929 Wall Street crash, which had diminished the fortunes of 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; 10,000 jasmine flowers and 28 dozen roses are required to create 30ml of the perfume, contributing to its high retail price. The original bottle, designed by French architect and artisan Louis Süe, was designed to have a simple, classical feel.
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Bonjour and welcome to Leonce Chenal! The French online magazine written by a French woman that aims to help you live your French life, wherever you are. I’m Leonce, I'm French and I'm a Parisian expat currently living in the city center of Amsterdam. I created Leonce Chenal back in 2018 when I was living in London and missing my home country way too much. What started as an online space to share my favorite skincare products has since evolved into a destination for French fashion, interiors, and beauty. If you have any question or if you just want to say bonjour, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org <3