Famous Perfumes: The History Behind 13 Iconic Fragrances

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Throughout history, one thing has remained constant: the popularity of fragrances, especially among the noble and wealthy. In modern times, the perfume industry has built empires and defines the culture of many generations.

Some of today’s most classic perfumes were inspired by amazing individuals who funneled their struggles and successes into iconic scents. Here are just a few famous perfumes and the stories behind them.

1. Chanel, No. 5

illustration of chanel no 5 bottle

In the 1920s, socialite and businesswoman Coco Chanel was the epitome of the modern woman. After traveling to France as the mistress of a wealthy textile merchant, she opened several successful boutiques.

After experiencing her own success (which included her own villa and a blue Rolls Royce), she wanted to create a scent that embodied the confidence and style of women like her.

She desired a fresh, clean scent which was difficult to make with the ingredients available at the time. However, an innovative perfumer took her up on the challenge. He presented her with a large set of numbered fragrances and Chanel picked number five. Chanel No. 5 remains a best selling fragrance today.

2. Guerlain, Shalimar

illustration of shalimar bottle

Another easily recognizable fragrance, Guerlain’s Shalimar was one of the first fragrances to use synthetic vanilla and one of the first oriental scents on the market.

Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan inspired the perfume’s name. Built by the lovesick Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, the gardens were said to be paradise. After his wife died in childbirth, Jehan went on to create the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum in her honor. The fragrance embodies this feeling of intense romance and beauty.

3. Dior, Miss Dior

illustration of miss dior bottle

Not many people know that Miss Dior, the fragrance that embodies love and happiness, was inspired by a French revolutionary who spent time in a concentration camp during World War II. She was, in fact, Christian Dior’s sister.

After the war ended, she came to visit her now successful brother who was developing a fragrance to debut along with his first fashion line. When Christian’s British assistant told him, “Miss Dior is here” the name stuck –– the rest is history.

4. YSL, Opium

illustration of opium perfume bottle

In the late 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent had already built an acclaimed fashion brand and released one fragrance. However, Opium rocked the masses with its risque advertising and innovative scent.

Evoking feelings of seduction and sensuality, Opium smells of vanilla and oriental spices. Its audacious name sparked controversy in the press, but as the media buzz grew, so did the popularity of the fragrance. YSL has continued to reinvent the perfume’s advertising over the years — almost always resulting in outrage and massive sales.

5. Elizabeth Taylor, White Diamonds

illustration of white diamonds bottle

A pioneer in a long history of successful celebrity fragrances, White Diamonds was released by actress Elizabeth Taylor in 1991. While other stars had released fragrances in the past, she was the first to do it with such success and the fragrance remains iconic to this day.

Why did it do so well? Its smell conjures feelings of glamor and opulence and its iconic commercial has stood the test of time. These days, the fragrance is arguably more well-known than the actress herself!

6. Viktor & Rolf, Flowerbomb

illustration of flowerbomb perfume bottle

Dutch duo Viktor & Rolf approached L’Oreal in the early 2000s about creating a fragrance that would be just as creative as their avant-garde runway shows. They wanted something that would be dichotomous — flowers and bombs.

The grenade-shaped bottle and sweet, floral scent became a hit amongst Hollywood stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Uma Thurman and Nicole Kidman. The perfume is still very popular among those who appreciate a mix of frilly and edgy style.

7. Dolce and Gabbana, Light Blue

illustration of d&g light blue bottle

When Dolce and Gabbana decided they wanted a fragrance inspired by Sicily, they hired perfumer Oliver Cresp. It took over two years to perfect and was finally released in 2001. Light Blue was an instant success, winning multiple awards in the fragrance industry.

A few years later, the men’s fragrance was released and became equally acclaimed, being called sparkly, light-hearted and sophisticated. Since then, D&G have come out with numerous limited-edition versions, all inspired by European beaches.

8. Chloé, Chloe

illustration of chloe bottle

Many people know the fashion house, Chloé, for its contemporary styles and effortlessly chic pieces. However, many people don’t know that the brand was founded in 1952 by Gaby Aghion, an Egyptian-born transplant to Paris.

When it comes to the self-named signature fragrance, perfumers Michel Almairac and Amandine Marie liquified Chloé’s aesthetic into a combination of floral and powdery notes. The first bottle was fashioned after the sleeve of an intricate Chloé blouse and was topped off with a pink ribbon.

9. Givenchy, L’Interdit

illustration of l'interdit perfume bottle

Hubert de Givenchy developed this delicate scent for his client at the time, Audrey Hepburn.

Hepburn loved the fragrance and wore it everywhere she went, but she kept its identity a secret when anyone asked. When Hubert de Givenchy asked if he could offer his fragrance to the public, Audrey answered “Je vous I’Interdis!” This translates to “I forbid it!”

Hence, the name was born, and Hepburn eventually accepted that L’Interdit would go to market. She and Givenchy remained friends for the rest of her life.

10. Dior, Diorissimo

illustration of diorissimo perfume bottle

At the heart of Diorissimo is the lily of the valley, Christian Dior’s favorite flower. A symbol of happiness, joy and hope, the lily of the valley is revered in France.

The perfumer who created the fragrance, Edmond Roudnitska, wanted to create a modern perfume. He wanted to break the trend of sweet perfumes that were popular in the 1940s and ’50s. He succeeded with a simple, fresh perfume that Dior ended up calling “the scented expression of his soul.”

11. Creed, Fleurissimo

illustration of Creed perfume bottle

Famous as the go-to brand for many royal families, The House of Creed is an old-world fragrance company that is still flourishing today. Creed’s Fleurissimo was made for actress Grace Kelly to wear in her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Since then, the scent has been viewed as the embodiment of old Hollywood glamor mixed with European royalty.

12. Houbigant Paris, Quelques Fleurs

illustration of perfume bottle

Quelques Fleurs is quite luxurious and expensive, with around 15,000 flowers pressed to make a single ounce of the perfume. Given this, it’s no surprise that it’s the scent Princess Diana wore at her wedding.

In the famous photo of Diana walking down the aisle, she can be seen holding her hand at her waist. According to rumor, she spilled some of her perfume right before the ceremony and tried to conceal the stain with her hand!

13. Jean Patou, Joy

illustration of joy perfume bottle

In the aftermath of the great stock market crash of 1929 (which led to the Great Depression), Jean Patou took a gamble. Rather than scale back on his pricing to cater to the public’s waning wallets, he hiked up the prices on his new scent, Joy, calling it the most expensive perfume in the world.

The “most expensive perfume in the world” was still less expensive than most couture pieces, so wealthy women flocked to it. Patuou’s gamble paid off and the scent has been a classic ever since.

If these stories have inspired you to step up your perfume game, you’re in the right place. Buy your very own famous perfume and be reminded of its amazing history every time you spritz it on.

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