From bestsellers to treasures from niche names, Suzy Nightingale suggests 50 fragrances we think you should be sure to sniff out – and what better time to begin than in National Fragrance Week?
Those of us who love fragrance are always seeking out the new, the exciting, the just-launched. But it’s sometimes easy to overlook the exquisite creations that are right under our noses. Think of the following as akin to one of those i-SPY books we loved as kids, in which we’d patiently check off lists of ‘must-see’ birds, cathedrals, native shrubs or whatever fuelled our childhood passions.
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Here, we present the first half of those 50 fragrances we believe you simply must seek out (we’ll be sharing the second half of the scent list next week) with direct links so you can explore and find out more. Now, get those blotters ready (and note down those you like the sound of so you can tick off your own 50 fragrances I-Spy list…
- 4160 Tuesdays The Sexiest Scent On the Planet Ever (IMHO) £55 for 100ml eau de parfum
Founder and perfumer Sarah McCartney created this in 2013 as a bespoke fragrance for a VIP event, with a journalist present declaring it to be ‘the sexiest scent ever!’ And thus, a star fragrance was born. Hints of citrus, smooth vanilla, soft woodiness and musky ambergris form an unassuming but undeniably addictive blend that will have you exuding the sensuality of its name.
- Acqua di Parma Colonia £58 for 20ml eau de Cologne
A timeless symbol of Italian chic, Colonia dates from 1916 and was first used to scent gentlemen’s handkerchiefs. With fragrant fans including Cary Grant, David Niven, and Audrey Hepburn, it’s as if you’ve wandered into an Italian sunlit idyll. Sicilian citrus, bergamot, lemon, sweet and bitter oranges infuse your soul with golden sunshine, the warm base cashmere soft. Bliss, bottled.
- Angela Flanders Precious One from £32 for 10ml eau de parfum
Awarded Best New Independent Fragrance 2012 by the Fragrance Foundation UK, this was London-based perfumer Angela Flanders’s homage to her daughter, Kate. An even more special tribute given Angela’s passing, and Kate taking on the role of perfumer. The exquisite floral accord rests on a base of softest oakmoss, layers of smoky vetiver unfurling their classically cool, deeply intriguing charms.
- Bvlgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert £81 for 75ml eau de Cologne
Setting the trend for green tea-infused scents, this chicly refreshing fragrance launched in 1992. The pared-back elegance of cool herbaceousness (cardamom atop citrus and coriander) is down to master perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. An olfactory haiku, the citrus segues seamlessly to the lucent lily of the valley, jasmine and rose heart, the tea effortlessly steamed in musky woods. Genius.
- Byredo Flowerhead £135 for 50ml eau de parfum
Although this made its debut in 2014, founder Ben Gorham had the idea six years previously ‘when I gave my cousin away at her Indian wedding.’ Capturing the vision of an Indian bride’s hair covered in floral decorations, perfumer Jérôme Épinette’s creation pulses with tuberose, wild jasmine, rose petals, Scandinavian lingonberry and Sicilian lemon on a suede-wrapped amber base.
- Calvin Klein CK ONE £48 for 100ml eau de toilette
The world’s love for Calvin Klein clothing, accessories and fragrances was at its peak in the 90s, the revolutionary fragrance hitting the shelves in 1994 and immediately making its mark, with $60 million global sales in three months. Ultra-fresh, a first-of-its kind unisex eau de toilette, the Steven Meisel ads starring Kate Moss perfectly evoked its insouciant, aromatic aquatic sexiness.
- Carolina Herrera 212 NYC £49 for 30ml eau de toilette
Carolina Herrera de Báez (Carolina Jr) joined her mother’s empire in 1996, just one year later launching this ‘spirit of New York, bottled’ scent, having grown up amidst an artistic landscape of impeccable style and a ‘language of aromas.’ Alberto Morillas wove a youthful exuberance into airy gardenia and jasmine, the soft, musky sandalwood dry-down a testament to vibrant, urban modernity.
- Cartier La Panthère £62 for 35ml eau de parfum
Brilliant in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent is everyone’s girl-crush: a woman’s woman who suffuses the house’s heritage with so-cool yet achievable stylishness. Embracing tart fruitiness with gardenia, rose and ylang ylang atop an animalistic purr of patchouli, oakmoss and leather, this gracefully rebellious ‘symbol of freedom’ was a modern classic the moment it first miaowed in 2014.
- Chanel No5 £65 for 35ml eau de parfum
Recognisable the world over by bottle alone, this iconic fragrance celebrated its 100th birthday last year. Back in 1921 (and ever since), what really set No5 apart was its abstract construction. Legend has it that perfumer Ernest Beaux put an ‘overdose’ of aldehydes (sparkling, Champagne-like notes) in the bottle; while we’ll never know if that was true, the rest is fragrance history – and its future!
- Chloe £84 for 50ml eau de parfum
Already known for their flirty, feminine womenswear, Chloe’s debut scent launched in 1975 under the umbrella of Karl Lagerfeld. When time came to create a signature for a new generation, it needed to embody the fresh, confident femininity that’s in Chloé‘s DNA. Thus in 2008, Amandine Clerc-Marie and Michel Almairac dappled delicate peony with a cool, dewy fruitiness for a fluidly graceful go-to.
- Clarins Eau Dynamisante £39 for 100ml spray
Long before today’s natural beauty trend, Clarins pioneered the use of aromatics and botanicals in skincare; their Eau Dynamisante was the first eau de toilette combining principles of aromatherapy and phytotherapy (plant therapy) in fragrant form, back in 1987. Hydrating, toning, and revivifying via essential oils of lemon, patchouli, petitgrain, ginseng and white tea, it’s immediately mood-lifting.
- Creed Aventus £210 for 50ml eau de parfum
CREED‘s most celebrated fragrance became a true sensation on its launch in 2010, an unusual pairing of succulent pineapple and smoky birch with further fragrant juxtapositions of blackcurrant and rose, apple and jasmine. Inspired by the dramatic life of Napoleon, it’s become (and remained) a blockbuster for its inventive, unapologetic drama and unconventional boldness of spirit.
- Dior Eau Sauvage £69 for 50ml eau de toilette
Christian Dior’s scented legacy has endured long beyond his too-short lifetime. To follow legendary Miss Dior and Diorissimo, in 1966 Edmond Roudnitska was entrusted with this zingy yet ethereal, utterly enthralling cologne-style creation. His clarity of composition – bright, crisp lemon and verdant herbs up top, balanced by a handsomely dry vetiver base – remains a wardrobe must-have.
- Diptyque Philosykos £125 for 100ml eau de toilette
Making fig fabulously fashionable in 1996, Olivia Giacobetti lapped the crunchy, vegetal nature of fig leaf with a silky milkiness that spoke of humid exoticism and fragrant escapes. Rippled with coconut, comforted by the pencil-shavings note of cedar’s woodiness as it warms, we know many a perfumista who reached for this during lockdowns, and will be wearing for decades to come!
- Escentric Molecule 01 £50 for 30ml eau de parfum
In 2006, the idea of having a fragrance containing but a single, synthetic ingredient was startling. Maverick perfumer and founder Geza Schoen admits he thought, ‘This one will appeal only to the artists, the freaks, the outsiders.’ He was wrong; the world went crazy for the ISO E Super – that warm, fuzzy comfort of nuzzling your lover’s neck and leaning in for more, more, more.
- Estée Lauder Youth Dew £55 for 67ml eau de parfum
Launched in 1953, this had a clever dual-purpose: ‘…a bath oil that doubled as a skin perfume.’ Because although it was then considered déclassé for a woman to buy her own fragrance, as Esteé Lauder herself once said, ‘it was feminine, all-American, very girl-next-door to take baths…’ This spicy floral simmers with incense and rich (almost cola-esque) resins: the scent of subversiveness!
- Floral Street Electric Rhubarb from £28 for 10ml eau de parfum
This British fragrance house has blown us away with their fun, modern take on fragrances, the charmingly luminous effervescence of Electric Rhubarb a case in point. Perfumer Jérôme Épinette [the nose for all their scents] created this in collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society. Think summer days sipping Prosecco – rhubarb’s fizz, sea salt and white flowers an enlivening, joyous jolt.
- Floris Chypress from £17 for 10ml eau de parfum
Chypre is one of the most classic fragrance families, but in 2017, Floris gave it a swoon-worthy twist, with sunshine-filled neroli dancing with the soapy brightness of bergamot, lemon and sweet orange until the heart proffers a floral bouquet. Then, as the lights dim and flicker, a va-va-voom yet never cloying vanilla, transparent muskiness, amber and patchouli are chicly revealed.
- Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady from £138 for 30ml eau de parfum
Once Monsieur Malle took the step of putting perfumer’s names on the bottles, these once-hidden noses became olfactory rock stars. Dominique Ropion had crafted iconic fragrances for years, but with the overtly sensual, dark rose, berries and sinuous patchouli of 2010’s ‘POAL’ (as it’s oft known), he created the decadent scent trail of many a perfumista, and Malle’s bestseller.
- Giorgio Armani Si £65 for 30ml eau de parfum
Giorgio Armani describes as ‘my tribute to modern femininity, an irresistible combination of grace, strength and independent spirit.’ It’s a masterful ‘reinvention’ of that so-classic Chypre family for a contemporary new audience. Captivating the senses with its three accords – fruity cassis nectar, a modern Chypre accord, and light musky woods – it’s sophisticated yet utterly unfussy.
- Goutal Eau d’Hadrien £143 for 100ml eau de parfum
If there was an award for ‘Most Mentioned Signature Fragrance by Celebrities’, Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien would probably win the gold medal – and with good reason. In a timelessly intriguing, deceptively simple take on freshness, mouth-watering citrus, ylang ylang and sparkling, soapy aldehydes evoke Annick’s beloved Italian garden. Way ahead of its time in 1981, it’s just as relevant now.
- Guerlain Shalimar £69 for 30ml eau de parfum
Incredibly over 100 years old. Its creator Jacques Guerlain’s reign lasted 65 fragrance-filled years and included many a masterpiece (Mitsouko, how we adore thee!) Imagine here a silky pair of 1920s pyjamas worn with heels to a party, citrus swirled with honeyed, night-blooming flowers, powdery iris on a vanilla-plumped base, incense on the breeze: the perfect perfumed romance.
- Hermès Terre d’Hermès £71 for 50ml eau de toilette
Master perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s back catalogue could likely fill a list of ‘50 fragrances you should try’ in its own right, but the standout success of this when it launched in 2006 has shown no signs of slowing. Why? It’s the so-structured woodiness that’s riven with vivacious grapefruit, the sheer spices enlivened by a suavely handsome, distinctly flinty vetiver. Sublime.
- Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey £46 for 20ml eau de toilette
Reinventing the scent of water to become chicly covetable, as only Issey Miyake truly could. The beautiful transparency of lotus flower and freesia is rippled through with lightly handled lily, rose and carnation; perfumer Jacques Cavallier then delicately dusted peony petals and rested the composition on a smoothly woody base tickled by a swirl of white musk. It still whispers, beguilingly.
- Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male £42.50 for 40ml eau de toilette
Created by now well-known fragrant maestro Francis Kurkdjian while fresh out of perfumery school, it was quite the olfactory debut in 1995. Taking the outlines of a traditional fougére, the lavender and mint are salt-licked and distinctly salacious, while vanilla, almond-like tonka bean and orange-blossom are positively addictive, and the cumin naughtily skin-like. Ahoy there!