Modern Classics : from 1990 to Present


After presenting a feature on the classics (please see Part I and Part II), I left the subject with a promise to return with a list of fragrances of more recent vintage. In other words, modern classics. Given the increasing rate of releases and decreasing market life of fragrances, any perfume that remains on best-selling lists for more than 3 years seems to automatically receive the title of a classic. When creating my list, I decided to limit myself to fragrances created since 1990. The following fragrances are not necessarily best-sellers (there are indeed a few resounding market failures among them such as Yves Saint Laurent M7), but I am compelled to highlight them nevertheless for their creativity and innovative accords. In some cases, I chose to include them simply because they are beautiful. Admittedly, this list is by no means exhaustive. …

Alexander McQueen Kingdom–unapologetically sensual and raw, Kingdom is in a league of its own. It makes a statement, and it does so brilliantly.

Annick Goutal Vétiver–marine, iodine notes juxtaposed with the earthy richness of vetiver. Fascinating pairing, which I have not previously encountered accented to such an extent.*

Bvlgari Bulgari Black–the genius of perfumer Annick Menardo is in turning the notes of rubber, smoke and tar into a seductive potion.

Comme des Garçons and Incense Series–avant-garde and daring, Comme des Garçons fragrances have charted new waters and dared to break rules. Insence Series is remarkable in paying tribute to the most ancient form of perfume.

Etro Messe de Minuit–unusual and striking composition, blending the exotic with the familiar.

Fendi Theorema–I admire perfumer Christine Nagel’s treatment of woods and spices. Theorema is a beautiful example, rich, glowing, with an elegant sillage. Despite its full-bodied character, it manages to sustain an airy quality.

Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur and Carnal Flower–the former is a post-modern Shalimar, the latter is the most beautiful tribute to tuberose since Robert Piguet Fracas. I admire the concept and the creativity of Frédéric Malle’s line, and I find it difficult to pick only a few to highlight. I would also add Angéliques Sous la Pluie as a modern illustration of a classical citrus cologne genre.

Hermès Eau des Merveilles–ambery, salty notes highlighted in the most remarkable fashion. Without being marine, Eau des Merveilles beautifully conjures the scent of the beach at dusk.

Kenzo Flower–abstract composition that takes the plush idea of a classical floral oriental and gives it a crisp twist.

Lancôme Trésor–peach made of rose petals in a monolithic style initiated by perfumer Sophia Grojsman. Monolithic refers to the fact that the fragrance unfolds panoramically, with the composition retaining its character throughout its development. This technique can be contrasted with the classical sequential style of composition, which is demonstrated by fragrances like Carven Ma Griffe and Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Premier Figuier–innovator among niche/artisanal lines, L’Artisan Parfumeur has launched several excellent fragrances since the inception of the line in the late 1970s. In the 1990s, Premier Figuier is one of the fragrance that stood out the most. It was the first composition to incorporate a novel green fig accord, created by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. It was subsequently used by Giacobetti to create Philosykos for Diptyque. Another Giacobetti’s creation for L’Artisan, Dzing!, can be recommended as an example of the ethereal animalic composition.

Narciso Rodriguez for Her–composition that has given a new twist to the simple idea of a floral musk. Perhaps, it can be faulted on the innovation parameter, but it has been responsible for setting a new trend for the musky-woody blends.

Serge LutensAmbre Sultan is considered to be the gold standard amber. Bois de Violette showcases the nuanced work with woods. La Myrrhe is a modern aldehydic fragrance. Muscs Koublaï Khan is a potent, yet sophisticated animalic blend. The entire line is worthy of exploration. Love them or hate them, Serge Lutens fragrances are not likely to leave you indifferent.

Shiseido Féminité du Bois–the quintessential masculine note of cedarwood is made feminine. Interesting execution and striking effect.

Thierry Mugler Angel–Angel started the gourmand craze of the 1990s than does not seem to be on the wane. Yet, despite the ubiquity of Angel copycats, nothing can come close to the magic of the original. Warm, melting chocolate, honey, and candied apples. Yet, the bittersweet and resinous effervescence of patchouli quickly dispels any illusions that Angel is all about “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

Yves Saint Laurent M7–perfumers Alberto Morillas and Jacques Cavallier have worked together on numerous projects, but M7 is among their most daring. This woody oriental cannot be described in any way but arresting.

Thierry Mugler Angel ad from Parfums de Pub.

*Vétiver breaks my own rule of only including fragrances created since the 1990s, however its incredible marine accord has anticipated the marine trend of the 1990s. I simply had to highlight it.



  • Leopoldo: Very glad to see Annick Menardo making the list, even though Bulgari Black isn’t my personal favourite from her, as well as Giacobetti. I think it’s a very interesting and thought-provoking series of scents – Eau des Merveilles has a rightful place in there for its originality.

    Personally, I’d have included something Jean Claude Ellena – Déclaration perhaps, which seems very much like the touchstone for his more recent work. And, sticking with ostensibly male fragrances, perhaps Envy for Men…

    But, you’re MUCH better at this than I could ever be! March 2, 2007 at 3:37am Reply

  • carmencanada: Dear V., how could I not agree with each and every one of your choices? They’re spot-on. I’m racking my brain (this, before my first coffee) trying to find something to add and came up with Patou’s Sublime — perhaps not a ground-breaking creation, although I can’t think of anything similar, but one with sufficient qualities and character to endure the test of time. And I think Frédéric Malle’s entire line could have been nominated: I keep discovering and re-discovering its exceptional quality, originality and coherence. Not a blooper in there!
    Afterthought: I’m not a fan, but I think that Lolita Lempicka (1997) deserves its place as a classic. March 2, 2007 at 4:16am Reply

  • aryse: Beautiful list Victoria.In my opinion, if each fragrance is not necessarily best-seller, I think the following are wonderful, timeless and at the top of perfumes : Bulgari black and Dzing (leather perfumes), musk ravageur (for me the best musc never created), Angeliques sous la pluie (very nostalgic), Feminité du bois (great accord cedar-rose), Bois de violette (one of the greatest perfume of perfume History) and Angel (or A-men version for men) a great new concept of perfume.
    And, I must say than New-York (Patricia de Nicolaï) is, for me, a classic too. March 2, 2007 at 4:24am Reply

  • Karthik: Victoria,
    I enjoyed reading your opinions justifying your choice of classics. The selection, as ever, is impeccable; can’t quibble with any on that list.
    Apropos M7: Arresting? I thought it takes no prisoners.
    Thank you both for the reading pleasure and the education in perfumery you so delightfully provide. March 2, 2007 at 5:06am Reply

  • Elle: Excellent list…of course. 🙂 I love that you said all of the SLs are worthy of consideration. I so heart Serge and Chris. Interesting that M7 was a market failure, but it won one of the Basenotes awards. I adore it and really don’t understand how it didn’t get a larger fan base. March 2, 2007 at 7:48am Reply

  • ~vanilla girl~: Great list Victoria,Lancôme Trésor I received as a gift several years ago and went back to buy more…I describe it as very feminine! March 2, 2007 at 7:52am Reply

  • Judith: I love this list! Somehow, I have never tried Kenzo Flower. Must do. March 2, 2007 at 7:58am Reply

  • March: V, this was such a fun read! Thank you! March 2, 2007 at 8:03am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Leopoldo, definitely, Ellena’s transparent woody accords are excellent. I included his Angéliques Sous la Pluie, which to me examplifies his aesthetic. I think that Bulgari The Vert is another great fragrance, although I would be more inclined towards Declaration as well. March 2, 2007 at 4:02am Reply

  • faizanjax: I would like to add a few more:

    Czech & Speake no. 88: The definitive rose fragrance for men.

    Creed Millesime Imperiale and/or Creed Erolfa: The gold standard(s) for aquatic/marine fragrances. Nothing even comes close (and I have tried almost all). March 2, 2007 at 9:06am Reply

  • sara: As always, an interesting compilation and fascinating read. I would add Dior Addict–a bestseller I would imagine and a modern classic–its trajectory would be similar to Coco by Chanel. March 2, 2007 at 9:38am Reply

  • Flor: I love your lists! All three are great reads. I looked up quite a few you mentioned in your first two that I had never sniffed. Very fun! I’m glad one of my “new founds loves”, Theorema, made it on your list. Have a great weekend! March 2, 2007 at 9:55am Reply

  • leNumero5: Just to say that Fleurs d ‘Oranger has surpassed Ambre Sultan as worldwide top best-seller Serge Lutens fragrance. March 2, 2007 at 12:23pm Reply

  • Marina: Absolutely agree with all entries on the list. I might not like some of them (very few), but they are undoubtedly modern classics. Annick Menardo rocks my world 🙂 March 2, 2007 at 9:07am Reply

  • minette: fun list. not a fan of a couple of those (kenzo flower, tresor, eau des merveilles), but i think they deserve a spot on your list because of the place they hold in the perfume world. i would’ve left off NR (snore)and made ambre extreme my amber gold standard, but that’s why lists are fun – they make you consider your own favorites.

    will now have to go find goutal’s vetiver, which i’ve never even seen, and re-sniff kingdom, which i liked but dismissed as too much like a generic man’s cologne on my skin. March 2, 2007 at 2:49pm Reply

  • Gaia: What an interesting list! The only one that I’m not sure about is the Narciso Rodriguez, simply because I can’t smell it. My nose insists that it doesn’t exist.
    I would add Black Cashmere to the list. It *feels* classic to me. March 2, 2007 at 12:11pm Reply

  • Donald: It is always a pleasure of crossing my own feelings in your blog! To add a thing, Vétiver of Annick Goutal is for me the most beautiful oyster note of perfumery. It is created in 1985, five years before Escape, New West for her, Kenzo homme and Dune! Let us recognize true creation here. For this reason, Comme des Garçons was a good appearance of the Nineties, I remember my emotion in front of the first series of the Leaves, then the red, then the insence… With Bulgari (Black and l’Eau parfumée), they were copied so much! Thank you for your blog March 3, 2007 at 7:08am Reply

  • machula: i am plesed to see bulgari on the list. until a few days ago, bulgari black was a mystery to me, having never sampled the scent (but hearing about it so often, and the weird description…rubber, smoke…made me curious). i finnaly decided to change that and headed to the men’s department (i guess they always list it as a men’d fragrance). oh boy, i fell in love. instantly. i was so puzzled by its weird composition, which made it smell like an elegant classic. and yes, i love the rubber in it. it balances on one foot between typical woman’s elegance and a luscious men’s perfume. very, very nice indeed. oh and i am also pleased by hermes making it to the list 🙂 March 3, 2007 at 10:56am Reply

  • k-amber: I am glad you include C des G Incense series. Kyoto and Avignon are my favorite. A few listed scents are not tested, so I will definitely try!

    Kaori March 3, 2007 at 7:28am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Dear Vicroria,
    Interesting list – what is a classic ? May I add Annick Goutal Passion and Christian Dior ‘s Poison, Dolce Vita?
    I am in a transition phase now, between winter’s last gasp and spring’s shy arrival .
    I don’t know what perfumes to wear .I don’t do well in March .
    What scents do you prefer this transitional time of year ? March 3, 2007 at 1:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Denyse, thank you. I enjoyed compiling a list of fragrances that I found to be influential and some that need to be recognized for before being their time (Vetiver by Goutal, for example, even though it was created in 1981). I debated whether to include Lolita Lempicka, because while it was influential, it was riding upon the idea of Angel. So, I left it out. Still, it is the best Angel inspired fragrance and one of my own favourites. March 3, 2007 at 1:08pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Aryse, I have to agree that New York is a fantastic fragrance. On another note, if only Nicolai fragrances were packaged in a way that befits their beauty. Their bottles look like Soviet shampoo containers. March 3, 2007 at 1:10pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Karthik, thank you very much! I absolutely loved this characterization: “Apropos M7: Arresting? I thought it takes no prisoners.” 🙂 Also, in regards to Guerlain Vetiver and Givenchy’s Greenergy you mentioned the last time you commented, I have to agree. Both are excellent, although their treatment of green notes is different. Vetiver has a smoky, tobacco note, especially in the vintage version. Greenergy is much brighter. Now, I want to put them on. Something in the air makes me crave green fragrances. March 3, 2007 at 1:15pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, I cannot be without my bottle of M7. I think that its advertisement campaign put some people off. Plus, it is incredibly smoky and dark. March 3, 2007 at 1:16pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: S, definitely! Trésor is very feminine, almost like a warm hug. March 3, 2007 at 1:17pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: J, I do not wear much of Kenzo Flower, but it is definitely an excellent fragrance. It takes the traditional idea of a powdery floral and makes it very modern. March 3, 2007 at 1:18pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: March, I am glad! Thank you. March 3, 2007 at 1:18pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Faizanjax, No 88 is very good. Unfortunately, I hardly ever see it nowadays with the rest of the C&S line at the usual places where it is sold. It is really a shame. March 3, 2007 at 1:20pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, thank you! They are not all my favourites, but I included them to recognize their trendsetting quality. March 3, 2007 at 1:21pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Sara, it is true. Addict is very much in the Coco vein. Thank you for mentioning it. March 3, 2007 at 1:21pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Flor, it was fun to compile it! I love Theorema. I wore it yesterday and wondered yet again why on earth it would be discontinued. March 3, 2007 at 1:22pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Gaia, I find NR very strong, almost overwhelmingly so, but it really depends on whether you can smell the musk it uses. Musk anosmia is very common. There are some musks I cannot smell at all. March 3, 2007 at 1:24pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: LeNumero5, I would not be surprised, but Ambre Sultan still remains to be an amber classic, which is all I am pointing out above. March 3, 2007 at 1:24pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Minette, I am lukewarm about Narciso Rodrigues, and I do not really wear much amber, but the former is definitely a trendsetter, while the latter is the gold standard for amber accords (any amber created since 1993 seems to be a variant of Ambre Sultan). That being said, Ambre Sultan itself is really a very classical amber accord, taking a lot of inspiration from Ambre 83 base created by De Laire. It is just one of the more elegant versions. March 3, 2007 at 1:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Donald, thank you very much. I am so pleased that you mention Annick Goutal Vetiver. It was created in 1981, but it really preceeded so many of the 1980s and 1990s marine fragrances. That must be recognized. March 3, 2007 at 1:29pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, thank you! They are definitely very interesting fragrance and quite unusual for their time (the incense trend inside the niche lines started much later). March 3, 2007 at 1:31pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Machula, Black is an incredible fragrance. It dramatically changed my understanding of what might be considered feminine. I am glad that you discovered it too. March 3, 2007 at 1:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Madelyn, Poison is the child of the 1980s, hence its absence. I like Dolce Vita, but I felt that its spirit was already captured in Feminite du Bois. As for transition, lately, I wear a lot of incense and green fragrances. They seem to be perfect. March 3, 2007 at 1:35pm Reply

  • evilpeony: definitely (and pleasantly) surprised to see Kenzo flower in your list. people who are not fond of light airy fragrances seem to overlook this one, but it is one of the very few ones from that genre that i enjoy. it meets my need for balance in a composition: at once watery and floral and subtly green that finishes off with a whiff of powder.

    i was going to suggest cool water and l’eau de issey as the standard of aquatic fragrances, but i guess vetiver preceeds all these. happy to see carnal flower (the most beautiful tuberose perfume for me) and musc ravageur on the list. musc ravageur smells like no other musk- a truly revolutionary take on something that’s so ubiquitous. SL’s chergui is a fine example of perfume with tobacco and smoke notes.

    i liked tresor but must revisit it to discover what the monolithic style is like in contrast to classical compositions. March 4, 2007 at 1:50am Reply

  • Karin: Excellent list! You make me want to try them one by one again. Some of these I love and own and some I dislike immensely. I don’t see any similarity between Feminite du Bois and Dolce Vita, at least how they take on my skin. I wore DV a lot at one time, and I’m tired of it. But I always got compliments. I think aspects of FdB are found in many fragrances now which makes it more of a trend setter. I wore it when it first came out.

    Tresor simply smells like an old woman to me. I can’t figure out why it is so popular, even with young people. Or why out of the samples this is the one that was chosen (of course, I didn’t smell the samples.) If popularity is any yardstick they chose the right one.

    I mentioned Black at my blog yesterday. It takes no prisoners. March 4, 2007 at 11:44am Reply

    • Amanda M: Oh dear…the ‘smells like an old woman’ comment. So utterly offensive and incredibly ageist! Such a shame that this term is still being used on public forums. There are much better and more appropriate descriptions to use instead of this one. Please. ☹️ September 24, 2021 at 8:15pm Reply

  • muse: Thanks for mentioning Giacobetti. I would probably add Hiris to this list as the first cold, earthy iris. And I would also probably add the JARs– I know Golconda was developed in ’91. March 4, 2007 at 10:53pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Evilpeony, I agree that L’Eau d’Issey should be on the list, because it is one of the first of its kind and really started a whole trend for the melon-acquatic accords. Not a personal favourite, but quite a trendsetter. March 6, 2007 at 4:00pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Karin, Feminite du Bois and Dolce Vita share the same main accord–violet toned cedarwood. It is also in Bois de Violette. So, it is a very distinct link.

    As for old women and Tresor, I frankly have no idea what to say. Is it a put down for old women or for Tresor??? March 6, 2007 at 4:02pm Reply

    • Amanda M: Yes, Victoria, i love and Dolce Vita and Shiseido’s Feminite du Bois.
      I find them both very similar!
      Upsetting I must say, to read the ‘smells like an old lady’ comment. Incredibly ageist and most inappropriate. I read it a lot on pages like Fragrantica…I always respond by giving those reviews a very big thumbs down. September 24, 2021 at 8:20pm Reply

      • Victoria: I also find these kind of comments odd. People don’t realize that they’re being offensive, because this kind of attitude pervades our society. September 25, 2021 at 7:16am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, Giacobetti has a very interesting aesthetic. I do not wear many of her fragrances, but I do admire them. March 6, 2007 at 4:03pm Reply

  • benvenuta: I love this article. I don`t have much to add (I can only add AG Vetiver to my “to-try” list).
    I am glad you included Tresor and Flower. I love both of those and yet, somehow I never wear them. I like that they are examples of some new and interesting element, while they still stay inside boundaries of their genre and are easy to wear. I do love some of the innovative scents that are less esy to like (Black, Dzing). Yet, I admire the exercise in balance that can is shown in Tresor and Flower – those scents are innovative but not scary.
    Speaking of Flower, one note that is very characteristic of this scent (the original version only) drives me mad, because I don`t know what it is. It`s almost powdery, almost doughy, almost sweet, but still, it does not smell edible. It smells like some artificial flavor about to be added to cake dough, a little bit fake, yet, it does not smell plasticky or repulsive or cheap. I think I smelled something slightly similar in Rochas Absolu or perhaps Armani Sensi. But it`s very strong in Flower. Could that be Hedione, mentioned on the card that came with the sample? March 14, 2007 at 8:34pm Reply

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