Whenever I browse the list of perfume bestsellers, regardless of the geographic market, I’m always struck by the enduring presence of classics. Chanel No 5 (£96 for 100ml EDP) rarely gives up its position in the top five, while the likes of Guerlain Shalimar (£94 for 90ml EDP) and Clinique Aromatics Elixir (£70 for 100ml) keep their place in the top 20. What can explain the lasting appeal of these icons, especially today when every season brings more and more new creations?
For the author of Perfume: A Century of Scents, Lizzie Ostrom, the answer lies partly in this avalanche of new launches. “Classic scents are lodestars. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by new fragrances, it’s often just easier to go for the ones you recognise, like ignoring fashion fads and saving up for a Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking instead,” she says. Perfumes such as Chanel No 19 (£96 for 100ml EDP) or Lancôme Les Secrets Magie Noire (£63 for 75ml EDT) convey different moods and experiences, but they also have a reputation. (Incidentally, neither No 19 nor Magie Noire is a top seller for their brands, but their following is fiercely loyal.)
In her book, Ostrom describes 100 scents through the stories of their creation, and more intriguingly, through the relationship the wearers had with their preferred perfumes, be they cult favourites like Robert Piguet Fracas (£275 for 50ml EDP) or major blockbusters like Thierry Mugler Angel (£68 for 50ml EDP). To follow their stories is to get a glimpse of the times when they were created— Caron Narcisse Noir (£136 for 15ml EDP) and the convention-breaking 1920s, Christian Dior Diorissimo (£82 for 100ml EDT) and the elegance-conscious 1950s, or L’Eau d’Issey (£70 for 75ml EDP) and the minimalist 1990s.
When Professeur de Parfum Roja Dove decided to create a collection, he turned for inspiration to the fragrances of the past. For years he has been working with bespoke perfumery, and this experience, free from the constraints of tight budgets and glossy marketing, made him approach Roja Parfums in a similar manner. Dove describes his perfumes as relevant and contemporary and above all made to last, in contrast to many new launches that vanish like summer butterflies.
“My fragrances are blended to remind one of the luxury of the past, while anticipating the expectations of the future; to redefine luxury for the modern age,” says Dove. To call his creations glamorous is an understatement, but one doesn’t need an invitation for a grand ball to wear them. My solution to the doldrums of routine is to start my morning with a few drops of either Scandal (£345 for 50ml EDP) or Diaghilev (£750 for 100ml EDP), plush white floral and baroque chypre respectively. Navigating the subway at rush hour with the olfactory equivalent of Schubert waltzes is my idea of luxury.
For those unfamiliar with the richer, deeper lexicon of the iconic perfumes and their bolder statements, classics can be a learning curve. They may require more patience to reveal their full depth and charisma. On the other hand, there is no need to feel intimidated. “I would say dive straight in,” says Dove. “What I love about perfume is that it doesn’t discriminate, it embraces.”
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog www.boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.