The Top Perfumes from the Last Century

Published by Aleksa Pivcevic on

Perfume; a unique flare to one’s personal style and self-expression. It’s been around for centuries, yet we still have to recognize its percussion and transformation through the recent decades.

In today’s society, we often mention the cultural gap between the two leading generations of our world – the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. But as the years pass and generations come and go, one thing remains present – the desire to express one’s self in the crowd. What better way than an outward projection of heavenly scent, perfectly suited to distinguish yourself from those around you? However, depending on what side of the generation gap you’re on, your taste in perfume may greatly differ from those on the contrary.

Older perfumes for both men and women have a more animalistic and musky disposition, while newer fragrances are more abundant in citrus and “clean” smelling aromas.

Here are some of the top perfumes from the last century, illustrating the change in notes and fragrance through the years.

1920’sThe Top Perfumes from the Last Century, perfumes for the century

Chanel No. 5

Released in 1921, this fragrance went on to become one of the most sought after and popular perfumes in the world. Many influential figures and stars such as Marilyn Monroe were known to wear it, further boosting its status in the fashion world.

  • Main notes – neroli, aldehydes, iris, musk, sandalwood, amber, civet.

Shalimar by Guerlain

The perfume inspired by one of the greatest love stories in history, Shalimar was created by Jacques Guerlain in 1925. This fragrance is based on the romantic history behind the construction of the grand Taj Mahal, built by Prince Khurram for his wife Mumtaz Mahal in the year 370. The fragrance was an instant success and became one of the top-selling perfumes in history.

  • Main notes – mandarin orange, iris, musk, vanilla, rose, jasmine, civet, tonka bean.

1940-50’s

The Top Perfumes from the Last Century 1940


Old Spice Original by Shulton Company

By the beginning of the 1940s, men’s colognes were beginning to take off in influence as much as women’s. Most men today have heard of or used Old Spice products, be it deodorant or body sprays. But back in the early 1940s, men were using Old Spice Original, a spicy and musk based fragrance. On the box, the iconic slogan read, “If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist!”

  • Main notes – nutmeg, aldehydes, orange, cinnamon, musk, tonka bean, vanilla, benzoin.

Miss Dior by Christian Dior

Released in 1947, two years after World War II, women’s fragrances saw a shift in ingredients and character. Though still staying true to the musk and powdery disposition, top notes became more fresh, floral, and crisp. Miss Dior was one of the first to do so and became an instant hit within European beauty societies, later making its way to the rest of the world.

  • Main notes – jasmine, aldehydes, gardenia, lily of the valley, bergamot, patchouli, amber.

1970-80’s

The Top Perfumes from the Last Century 1980In these decades fashion brands were absolutely flourishing. People had dozens of top designer brands to choose from, be it clothing, jewelry, or perfume. The number of choices in fragrance to pick from was astounding, as it seems that everyone who was anyone was promoting their own unique perfumes. Brands such as Dior, Calvin Klein, Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent were dominating the market and created legendary perfumes still often sought out today. Some that highlighted the decades are:

Opium by Yves Saint Laurent

A powdery, balsamic, and aromatic fragrance released in 1977, this was one of the final strictly oriental fragrances released by the fashion house.

  • Consists of incense, cloves, carnation, patchouli, sandalwood, musk, and amber.

Anais Anais by Cacharel

An elegant floral bouquet for the kind and gentle women released in 1978;

  • Main notes consist of white lily, hyacinth, Moroccan jasmine, lily of the valley, rose, and iris.

Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein

Created to be a pairing with the female Obsession a year after its release in 1985, this fragrance opens with a spicy citrus and winds down to a vanilla and sandalwood mix.

  • Main notes are mandarin orange, cinnamon, lavender, sandalwood, vanilla, jasmine, and vetiver.

1990-2000’s

The Top Perfumes from the Last Century 1990

These two recent decades saw more change in fragrance disposition than the last 70 years combined! Musk was almost entirely out. Instead, brands focused on clean, citrus, fruity, and spicy scents.

Fragrance pairs for both men and women such as Clinique Happy, CK One, Davidoff Cool Water, and Carolina Herrera 212 not only became instant successes but completely reinvented what it meant to express oneself through fragrance. Upon further inspection, one can truly see the difference in ingredients.

CK One (Unisex)

Lemon, bergamot, cardamom, papaya, orange, violet, green tea.

Clinique Happy for Men

Lime, aquatic notes, lemon, freesia, cypress, orange.

Davidoff Cool Water for Women

Melon, lotus, pineapple, raspberry, black currant, lotus.

2010’s-Present

The Top Perfumes from the Last Century 1990-2000

In today’s society, there have never been so many choices, particularly in the fashion world. We are living in times where variety and personal style are all around us. Finding a scent that matches us has never been easier as there are so many to pick from. Now, just one issue. You find the right perfume, it smells amazing, you feel confident and unique, then poof! It disappears. It’s a huge disappointment to find an amazing scent only to have to reapply it every couple of hours in order for the fragrance to last. Luckily, all hope is not lost. French designer Claude Marsal created a lovely variety of fragrances which not only smell great but are comprised of 24% fragrance oil. They were made to last! The top sellers from the line have certainly been a hit in recent times.

Claude Marsal “La Melodie” for Men

A mix of spicy, sweet, and clean notes combine to create a totally unique and distinct fragrance.

  • Sea notes, whiskey, oakmoss, mandarin orange, patchouli, ambergris

Claude Marsal “Le Batteur” for Women

A fragrance for the mysterious and irresistible woman. This perfume is a mix of elegance and class meets sexy and romantic.

  • Almond, jasmine, tuberose, vanilla, tonka bean, cocoa

Overall, perfume is ever changing. Younger people today typically can’t stand the smell of older fragrances such as Shalimar. Who knows, maybe one day your grandchildren will be saying, “Ew! I can’t believe grandpa used to wear Gucci Guilty!”

Another century from now there will certainly be a whole new array of smells and combinations to choose from. Go out and find the perfume that’s right for you, express yourself, and live in the moment.

Lastly, to quote one of the most iconic fashion designers in history –

“Fashion comes and goes, style is forever.”

~Yves Saint Laurent

By Aleksa Pivcevic

Aleksa Pivcevic is a committed full-time sales associate at Perfumes4U in the Tanger Outlets National Harbor. He is a perfume whiz and fanatic.


1 Comment

Ethan · September 6, 2019 at 8:25 pm

Thank you for helping people find the information they need. Great stuff as always. Keep up the good work!!!

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