The Best Perfumes of All Time

By Keely Brown

In 1889, French perfumer Jacques Guerlain introduced "Jicky" to the public — and the modern era of perfumery began. The blend of vanilla, amber and musk took hold of the public's imagination, and convinced women the world over that wearing fine perfume was no longer a luxury, nor even a necessity, but a compulsion.

Favorite perfumes are not only luxuries, but neccessities to those who wear them.

Classic Originals

Classic fragrances give the wearer a true feeling of luxury and well-being.

The Parisian designer Coco Chanel made her first foray into the fragrance industry in 1921 by choosing the fifth vial of a selection of sample scents presented to her. Thus was born the legendary "Chanel No 5," a soft yet heady blend of floral and citrus which is still a best-seller — and, according to the actress herself, the only thing that Marilyn Monroe ever wore to bed. Four years later, in 1925, Guerlain created a sequel to his original "Jicky" success with "Shalimar," a balance of iris, vanilla, rose and jasmine that remains Guerlain's flagship fragrance today. A year after the crash of the world economy in 1929, French designer Jean Patou made a successful attempt to shake off the realities of the depression by creating "Joy," a luxurious blend of jasmine, rose and musk that was touted as the world's most expensive perfume. Another designer to stave off stark reality was Christian Dior, who hailed the end of World War II austerity by creating the New Look — and, in 1947, a new signature fragrance, "Miss Dior." The design house of Nina Ricci followed in 1948 with the rich floral fragrance, "L'Air du Temps."

An Affordable Favorite

The affordable "Evening in Paris" gave every woman an opportunity to wear real French perfume.

The affordable fragrance market was given a jump-start in 1928 when the French cosmetics company Bourjois created "Evening in Paris" for its American market. Priced within reach of every woman, "Evening in Paris" captured the essence of an American's idea of Paris — an alluring whiff of violet, Turkish rose, vanilla and musk, bottled in cobalt blue, and marketed with an ad campaign that conveyed the impression that wearing "Evening in Paris" was the next best thing to being there.

Mass Market Appeal

Youth-marketed fragrances in the 1970s brought perfume to the blue jeans crowd.

Decades later, another affordable fragrance introduced luxury to the blue jean generation. Launched by Revlon in 1973, "Charlie" was a snappy, flowery-fresh fragrance that evoked casual elegance. Its affordability, coupled with hip television ads and a catchy jingle, made it a popular first fragrance for many teenage girls. Perhaps the most spectacular series of commercials were those made in 1985 for Calvin Klein's "Obsession." Steamy to the point of censorship, yet still leaving plenty to the imagination, the ads were as spicy as the fragrance itself.

Delicious Decadence

Great perfumes are timeless, appealing to nearly all the senses.

In 1932, the designer Jean Carles created "Tabu" — a scent touted as shocking and sensuous, with a base of amber and patchouli. This idea of perfume-as-provocateur was revisited in 1977 when Yves Saint Laurent introduced "Opium," a sultry blend of Oriental spice and musk. In 1992, Thierry Mugler launched "Angel," an innovative blend of fruits with gourmand notes of chocolate, vanilla and caramel. Packaged in an elegant star-shaped flask evocative of an earlier era, "Angel" encapsulated the original idea of the great perfumers — to create a fragrance that would truly stimulate nearly all the senses.