The Most Popular Perfumes in History

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Spring 2024

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Perfumes have a long history. In ancient times, perfumes scented homes, clothes, and beds. Early Egyptians even used them in burial and embalming procedures. History has it that perfumery began with burning gums and resins for incense. In fact, the word perfume originates from the Latin phrase “per fumum,” meaning “through smoke.” 

An early record of perfumes began in Egypt around 3000 BCE when priests used them in rituals. They became available to the public when priests gave up their exclusive right to use them. Over time, perfumes weren’t a luxury that only pharaohs and kings could afford. People throughout generations, from all corners of the globe, began using them. In the past, some even bathed and soaked in scented oils for pleasure.

Perfumes have no limits in delighting the senses; after all, an enchanting fragrance has the power to seduce. Below is a list of the most popular perfumes of all time, with a glimpse into the stories behind their origins.

Chanel’s Chanel No.5

During a trip to Monte Carlo in 1921, renowned fashion designer Coco Chanel discussed creating a signature fragrance with Duke Dmitri of Russia and two of her friends. The idea quickly gained momentum, even though fashion designers rarely produced perfumes at the time. 

Her collaboration with Russian-born French perfumer Ernest Beaux resulted in Chanel No.5, which has since become one of the world’s most iconic fragrances. Comprised of May rose, jasmine, and bright citrus notes, the fragrance yields an exquisite scent.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Black Opium

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Seductive and sensual, Opium personifies the edgy and daring woman. Rich with the scent of coffee and vanilla, it captivates the senses, thanks to its bursts of white florals. Over the years, Opium has become a favourite among women who enjoy rich, deep floral scents with an oriental undertone. 

Created exclusively for the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent by perfumers Jean Amic and Jean-Louis Sieuzac, it was released in 1977. Opium caused controversy among Chinese buyers when it first launched; they believed that the fragrance’s name was insensitive to Chinese history, while others accused the brand of condoning drug use.

Guerlain’s Shalimar

Shalimar was launched in 1921, which makes the fragrance more than 100 years old today! It is considered the most prolific fragrance ever produced by the French perfumer Jacques Guerlain. The fragrance is recognizable for its powdery notes of vanilla, complemented by amber, iris, and bergamot. History has it that after reading the book A Thousand and One Nights, Guerlain was inspired to reproduce the romance between Shah Jehan and Princess Mumtaz in the form of a perfume, hence came Shalimar, which is named after the historic gardens in the story.

Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds

First released in 1991, White Diamonds has earned over one and a half billion dollars in revenue, propelling Elizabeth Taylor’s legacy across generations. Inspired by Taylor’s love of the finer things in life, the fragrance encapsulates an exquisite, sensual floral scent. The actor’s unique floral collection in her Bel-Air gardens inspired the fragrance, which exudes delicately crafted scents of white florals, radiant pink pepper, gardenia, and warm musk. Even though this isn’t her first marketed fragrance, the success of Taylor’s White Diamonds relies on the perfume’s higher-than-normal concentration of oil, which helps it linger on the skin longer. 

Giorgio Armani’s Si

Even though it launched in 2013, Giorgio Armani’s Si is continuously garnering awards, making it an all-time favorite fragrance for the modern fashionista. Created for the modern woman, the perfume pays tribute to femininity with its chic, sultry, and intense soft scent. Infused with blends of nectar, touches of freesia, and May rose, the perfume epitomizes the strong yet feminine, sophisticated, and charismatic woman. The fragrance opens with a smell of delightful notes of vanilla and mandarin, and trickles down to a lingering musk finish.

Acqua di Parma’s Colonia

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Created by the renowned Italian fashion company in 1916, Acqua di Parma’s Colonia is the first unisex perfume of its kind. The unique and naturally fresh scents of mixed Sicilian fruit, rose, lemon, and sandalwood are strong and linger for hours on the skin. Carlo Magnani, an heir to a noble family in the Italian city of Parma, created the luxury fragrance in the historic Italian town. With its unmistakably fresh scent, the fragrance managed to seduce legendary stars like Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Cary Grant. 

David Messiha | Staff Writer

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