“What do I wear to bed?  Chanel No. 5”
–Marilyn Monroe

There are thousands of perfumes on the market today and it’s a multi-billion dollar industry.  But in spite of the slew of celebrity offerings and clothing designers extending their brands, there remain a handful of classic fragrances that continue to sell well and have for decades.  Bear market, bull market, prosperity, or recession, these top perfumes have withstood the test of time because their scent remains as timeless as a trench coat or white blouse.  If you don’t have them on your dressing table, perhaps you should.

Eau de Cologne Imperiale

Created by perfumer Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain for the stylish Empress Eugenie in 1853, this regal combination of rosemary, lavender, and citrus led to his appointment of purveyor of fine fragrances to the Emperor Napoleon III.  It’s been a favorite for over 150 years.  As a tribute to its royal inspiration, the bottle bears the Imperial Bee of the Napoleonic crest.

Acqua di Parma Colonia

The first authentically Italian cologne, Acqua di Parma Colonia – “Water of Parma Cologne” — debuted in Parma, Italy in 1916.  Made of rose, fruits, lavender, and other spices, it gained an international following after celebrities like Ava Gardiner, Audrey Hepburn, and Cary Grant discovered it.  A popular unisex scent, Acqua di Parma Colonia remains a classic favorite.

Chanel No 5

A floral mix of ylang-ylang and neroli with blends of jasmine and rose, Chanel No. 5 was created for Coco Chanel by Ernest Beaux in 1921.  Legend has it that he made numerous samples for her, marking each bottle with a number.  Her favorite was No. 5.  Chanel believed a woman should wear perfume whenever she hoped to be kissed.



Another brainchild of House of Guerlain, Shalimar launched in 1925 and is named after the Shalimar Gardens of Lahore, Pakistan.  Perhaps the first exemplar of the Oriental fragrance genre, Shalimar features a heady mixture of iris, vanilla, and rose that’s been a warm weather favorite for over 80 years.



Created by Andre Fraysse for Jeanne-Marie Lanvin in 1927, the combination of peach, rose, jasmine, and violet (among others) was inspired, according to the legend, by Lanvin’s daughter Marguerite practicing scales on the piano.  Arpage is French for the Italian arpeggio, meaning the notes are played one after the other instead of all at once.  Love music?  Try Arpage.


When the stock market crashed in 1929, Parisian couturier Jean Patou nearly lost his business as well — all of his rich American clients stopped buying his clothes overnight.  He commissioned the scent and was delighted with the results:  a heady combination of jasmine and roses with undertones of ylang-ylang.  It remains a landmark of the floral genre.

L’Air du Temps

With World War II over and the dawn of a new era of prosperity approaching, designer Nina Ricci commissioned L’Air du Temps — Air of the Times — in 1948.  A rich floral spice with gardenia, rose, musk, and sandalwood, the beautiful cool weather fragrance with the twin dove bottle has been a favorite ever since.



An instant hit when it debuted in 1977, Opium embodies Yves Saint Laurent’s fascination with the Orient in its intoxicating mix of tangerine, plum, cloves, and myrrh.  A heavy, mysterious scent, it’s perfect for cold winter evenings.



Freesia, mandarin, sage, and white lily combine to make this light, luxurious scent.  Created by Calvin Klein in 1988, it was inspired by the ideal of lasting love and intimacy.  Both classic and contemporary, it’s a favorite summertime scent.


Bvlgari Pour Femme

A sensual and refined combination of jasmine, rose, citrus, and musk, Bvlgair Pour Femme was introduced in 1994 to help women “Rediscover luxury and find it renewed and different,” according to Paolo Bvlgari.  Light and heady, it’s perfect for warm weather.


Classic scents – like classic silhouettes – withstand the test of time because they help women feel their best.  If you haven’t tried any of these fragrances — or tried them lately — take a trip to your nearest Sephora or department store fragrance counter and start sniffing.  I think you’ll be delighted.

Beauty at Any AgeNeed some other tips on how to wear and care for these and other top perfumes?  Download a copy of Beauty at Any Age to give your beauty routine an overhaul.


    3 replies to "Top Perfumes of All Time"

    • Christine

      Classics or not, the vast majority of perfums these days are synthetic ingredients which outgas VOC’s and other toxins. I won’t wear them and can’t stand to be around others that do as I don’t like migraines, asthma or nausea. I ask anybody visiting my office as a patient or for other business to NOT wear fragrance of any sort.

    • Kate

      I read somewhere that Rose Kennedy always wore the same scent, so that it would be her “signature” scent. I found one I really like (I get compliments many when I wear it.) and I wear that exclusively. I want people to associate it with me–especially my kids and grandkids.

      • Kathleen

        I can totally relate to Kate! I decided it was time for a switch about six years ago, tried out several “high-priced” perfumes, and finally returned to my own modestly-priced, “signature” fragrance for exactly the same reason — I want it to remind my children and grandchildren of me. I have fond memories of my own grandmother, and they all include the evasive, but well-remembered, scent of being held in her arms or greeted with a heartfelt-hug. Sadly, I don’t know the name of her fragrance, but when I open her old suitcase, the memories pour in, even though she’s been gone for 25 years.

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