Classical Perfumes For Those Who Don’t Like Classics

The more I delve into perfumery, the more the subject of fragrance classics fascinates me. Although when it comes to my day-to-day choices I still wear many fragrances from niche brands, I reach for classics when I want to experience the scent of another time, a glimpse of another era or simply to take myself out of my routine. For this reason, classics remain among my staples. What’s more, all of the recent top-selling fragrances lists from the US, France, Germany and Italy feature classical fragrances like Guerlain Shalimar, Chanel No 5, and Christian Dior Eau Sauvage.

Not everyone, however, is enamored with classics. Some people find them old-fashioned. Some think that they are too demanding or that they don’t fit their lifestyle. Can you wear Chanel No 19 while cleaning your flat? Or don Mitsouko for a supermarket run? While as I’ve said many times before, you need not like the classics, giving them a chance will benefit your understanding of perfumery. Another important consideration is that classical ideas are often reused in niche fragrances, so instead of paying the niche prices, you can find the same thing–and often of much better quality–from the original source.

The episode linked here was originally recorded to focus on spring fragrances, but when I looked at my selections, I realized that they would  be great intro classics. They are certainly great all year round. In the video, I explain what makes them outstanding and why I’ve selected these perfumes.

Here are the fragrances mentioned (with links to my reviews):

Guerlain Jicky (1889)
Chanel Gardénia (1925, relaunch in 1982)
Knize Ten (1925)
Caron Pour un Homme (1934)
Guerlain Vétiver (1959, relaunch in 2000)
Guerlain Chamade (1969)
Estée Lauder Private Collection (1973)
Jean-Louis Scherrer (1979)
Jacomo Silences (1978)

I know that many of us like classics and if you have your own recommendations, I would appreciate them. Also, if you struggle with classics and need help figuring out a particular fragrance, please comment.

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36 Comments

  • Kisa: Good Morning Victoria,
    This is not really a comment on your “Classical Perfumes For Those Who Don’t Like Classics”, as I happen to adore classics and wore Mitsouko to many a supermarket. But I have a question about scents that come in different strengths. I happen to love Habanita parfum, but the eau de parfum not so much. I recently ordered a small bottle of the eau de toilette to give that a try, but it hasn’t arrived yet. In shopping for it (online), I was surprised to see that it costs more per ounce than the eau de parfum. I would love to hear your thoughts and those of others on the difference from one strength to another in terms of fragrance and price. June 4, 2021 at 9:18am Reply

  • Barbara in Virginia: I LOVE the classics, especially those by Guerlain. I wear and love Mitsuko, Vol de Nuit, and L’Heure Bleue. But my favorite, a signature for me, is Chamade. I love all of its facets. But rather then being a scent that I just love on me, it becomes part of me. It is as if I was born wearing Chamade! I wear it year ’round and for all occasions. June 4, 2021 at 9:26am Reply

    • Nina Z: I love the Guerlain classics as well and I think that Chamade is probably the most wearable for everyday life these days when people tend to wear lighter perfumes than they did back in the day. June 4, 2021 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Gabriela: I too love Guerlain classics. My favourite was Chamade until I came across a vintage Samsara. It is pure bliss. But I have to confess I only use it for special occasions. I do manage to wear Chanel 19, let’s say, to the supermarket. June 4, 2021 at 10:24am Reply

    • Chris in Oakland: Chanel No. 19 is great for getting things done! June 11, 2021 at 1:04pm Reply

  • Damiana: You inspired me to wear my vintage Guerlain Vol de Nuit EdT today! I can see how many might think this is old fashioned at first, but it becomes pure silk as it evolves. June 4, 2021 at 10:42am Reply

  • Debby: I’d like to ask a question if I may, I am a big chypre lover and own a few classic Guerlains such as Shalimar, Apres L’Ondee and Vol de Nuit. But I just can’t do Mitsouko!

    I have a problem with a lot of the classic aldehydic perfumes like No 5 and Miss Dior in that all I smell is something like burnt dirty hair. This came on when I entered perimenopause and is most annoying.

    Now, my question is, is it the aldehydes, because this same smell is all I can get out of Mitsouko which I have never seen described as aldehydic? There was one time I had had a heavy cold and my sense of smell was diminished and I went and smelled Mitsouko in a department store and then I got it! I’m so sad it takes a stuffed up nose to appreciate it! June 4, 2021 at 11:30am Reply

  • Trudy: When I want that special something I love Diorissimo (in the bottle in the pink box). I think it is considered a classic. I have just the tiniest bit left in a bottle that I got in the late 90’s so I treasure it and use sparingly. It is so beautiful. Also, and I know this is too new to be considered a classic, but I absolutely love the original Marc Jacobs perfume which I believe was his first fragrance and is just a gorgeous gardenia. To me it is a “classic”. June 4, 2021 at 12:43pm Reply

    • Karen: I so agree with you about the original Marc Jacobs! It is a really special one to me, I bought it when it first came out and wore it everywhere including on a memorable trip to Los Angeles in summer. Now my memories of that trip are intertwined with the beautiful gardenia smell. Definitely a modern classic. June 4, 2021 at 6:07pm Reply

  • Nina Z: I love the classics, too! But I agree many are hard to wear out in the world in your everyday life. My husband loves vintage L’Heure Bleue on me but I tend to wear that only at home, at night. The two classics I’ve found most wearable are lighter concentrations of classics. I have a 1970s Chamade EdC that is a beautiful light veil of slightly spicy hyacinth (drier than the PdT) that’s very wearable for me. Also I’ve gone through a whole lot of vintage Eau de Caron, which is the EdT version of Alpona, a beautiful herbal & floral chypre that’s more subtle than most vintage fragrances.

    For others who are interested in dipping their toes into vintage, I want to suggest vintage Coty L’Origan and vintage Coty Emeraude because they are easily available and often very inexpensive (with the exception of the extraits) and are perhaps more “accessible” than their Guerlain counterparts (L’Heure Bleue and Shalimar). I got a 1 oz bottle of L’Origan PdT for around $30.00 and it’s just gorgeous and very wearable. June 4, 2021 at 12:52pm Reply

    • Nina Z: Oh, and I also find vintage Caron Bellodgia quite wearable for everyday life, though it’s more for a party than the grocery store 😉 June 4, 2021 at 12:56pm Reply

  • Fazal: Great to see Knize Ten. I know there are lot of fans of Shalimar and Chanel 5 and I like both. However, when someone says they are outdated, at least I get it to some extent as to what they mean.

    However, I have always struggled with the accusation that Eau Sauvage is outdated. I cannot think of a fragrance that is more timeless to my nose than Eau Sauvage.

    Normally, reformulations are intended to modernize the formula. However, I actually find the older batches of Eau Sauvage to be more modern than the recent reformulations in which citrusy and wet-jasmine vibes are just not as present as they are in the original batches. However, one must take care to get well-preserved older bottle of Eau Sauvage as poorly-stored bottles do give that metallic nail-polish smell in the beginning. June 4, 2021 at 1:13pm Reply

    • Klaas: Fazal, I so agree with you about Eau Sauvage! It is beyond timeless, it is forever young! I really think so, too! If you prefer the vintage you should try and get a sniff of Whip by Le Galion. It has that densely lemony, wet and mossy vibe to it, that is gone in the flimsy, current formula. June 5, 2021 at 11:22am Reply

      • Fazal: Fortunately, I have quite a stash of vintage eau sauvage so I am set up for life. June 5, 2021 at 7:57pm Reply

        • Klaas: Even better! June 6, 2021 at 1:57pm Reply

    • Sel et Vanille: I adore my vintages. Some are harder to wear than others, but I’m ok with the occasional dab on my skin just to enjoy it myself.

      To me a very special one is Bandit, maybe partly for the IBQ use and the story behind it.

      A question that often bogs my mind is where should we draw a line on classics. Us it their age and the bottles sold? Are things that are far from mainstream but here for decades classics yet? How old do they need to be? I.e., should we consider CK One a classic? And which of today’s fragrances are becoming classics? It’s just interesting to think about it. June 6, 2021 at 9:27pm Reply

      • Fazal: As a rule of thumb, I call those fragrances classics that have been here for at least two decades and that lhave eft their mark on the art of perfumery. I think two decades is an appropriate time period to determine whether a perfume is artistically and culturally relevant. So in that sense I do consider CK One to be a classic, too.

        I don’t think it matters whether a perfume is close or far away from the mainstream trend; it just has to be relevant to the art/history of perfume. Some classic perfumes have aged well; others not much. In this regard, our personal tastes also do not matter much. There are classic perfumes I do not personally enjoy yet that has no bearing on the fact that they have rightfully earned their status. June 7, 2021 at 2:27am Reply

      • Fazal: Since you mention Bandit, it reminds me that two of my most favorite vintage ads are Piguet Bandit and Lanvin Arpege.

        I love Piguet Bandit ad because in my opinion, it deploys imagery (dagger through the Bandit perfume glass bottle) in the most clever manner I have seen in vintage ads.

        And I love vintage Lanvin Arpege ad because it has the most memorable tagline I have encountered in vintage ads (Promise her anything but give her Arpege). I also think that Lanvin’s ‘Mother and Daughter’ logo is the most beautiful perfume brand logo I have ever seen. June 7, 2021 at 2:51am Reply

  • John: I love classics and they are mostly all I own, in part because I don’t always have a lot of money to spare for new adventures and the quality to cost ratio on the secondary market for classic Guerlains and Carons, for example is so good. I often wonder if part of this might be if, because there is less of an advertising budget to be concerned with for fragrances with well-established followings, more resources can be spent on materials… especially since word of mouth regarding reformulation and relative upkeep of character as regards classics seems to be such as talking point on any post anywhere about anything that’s been on the market for even a few years. Is good word of mouth considered as valuable as magazine strips in glossy print magazines?

    With regard to ongoing quality, I still love Eau Sauvage and do find it still quite appealingly ‘dewy’ but admit that compared to my little vintage bottle it can be a little sharp in its greenness. I would still say that it is absolutely a classic as far as I’m concerned and I would recommend it to anyone as a reference. I love Guerlain Vétiver but wear it more in high heat of snowy weather (each of which brings out very different qualities — parched driftwood and deliciously wet wool respectively); for some reason I just don’t sense it on my skin as much in temperate weather… Habit Rouge is a ‘desert island’ fragrance I’d actually wear on a desert island! Caron Pour un Homme is a dog curled up on my bed anytime of year — a steady companion and insulator.

    Do classics cut off at some point historically? I sometimes think of Paco Rabanne as a classic despite it’s being battered by reformulations (I picture it in a beaten up, slightly damp cardboard box…) Recently I found myself wondering if one day Bleu de Chanel will be considered a classic, long after certain smells (dihydromyrcenol, ethyl maltol, etc.) have worked their way so thoroughly into everything we smell that its ‘blueness’ (which I find hard to take now) will eventually have become ‘naturalized’, so to speak? I have to admit that despite Jacques Polge’s referring to his creation as having no soul, I find myself becoming curious about it now — something I never would have said a few years ago.

    It’s strange to think that certain smell-scapes (1970’s herbal, musky ferns, for instance) seem like they’ll never come back while others (our millennial blueness, or current metallic or mineral futurisms) feel inevitable, but is that all just perception? Is a ‘classic’ a composition that survives its context through sheer artistry, or are some contexts (the ones that produced Eau de Cologne Imperiale, Caron Pour un Homme, Eau Sauvage or Habit Rouge) still so central to our culture that we seldom detect the force of their influence? June 4, 2021 at 2:24pm Reply

    • Fazal: Good comment. I understand why Polge would say Bleu has no soul. I have suspected for a long time that Bleu was not an inspired creation by Polge but probably an order from his bosses to create a ‘cash cow’.

      I was not aware that Polge declared Bleu to have no soul until you mentioned it here. However, I have read that Polge considers original Egoiste to be his best masculine perfume from Chanel. Original Egoiste flopped in US so Polge created Egoiste Platinum as a response and Egoiste Platinum was a hit in the US. Given Egoiste Platinum composition, I again suspect that Polge probably did not like it but commercial necessities forced him to create it. June 4, 2021 at 2:54pm Reply

      • John: Thanks Fazal…I completely understand your point about perfumers receiving emphatically commercial briefs! There is a short interview published in one or two places in which Polge mentions Egoïste (+ originator, Bois Noir) in contrast with Bleu. He cites an inspiration for Bleu in businessmen on flights emerging from airliner bathrooms smelling of aftershave. I found this image very curious…He also mentions the ‘puritan’ tastes of Americans using smells as an extension of hygiene in opposition to his famous dictum (linked to the original Egoïste) that one should shower after rather than before sex…I’ll let you piece that together with whatever subjective experience of Egoïste you might have formed.

        With all that said, I wonder if some of his comments concerning Bleu are somewhat a case of a cultural divide between European vs. American intersections of aesthetics, morality and tradition? For Europeans, hygiene might be connected to Eau de Cologne smells (thinking of the quasi-medicinal qualities of 4711), whereas in North America, ‘aftershave’ (such as Aqua Velva Ice Blue) or deodorant body sprays (Axe/Lynx) underscore work routines, maturation rituals and the importance of cleanliness for both within a very binary matrix of gender expressions… and conspicuously synthetic ingredients, which for many people (think of Fahrenheit and gasoline!) can be very comforting. Will Bleu develop a soul over time? Does it already have one for the American heading off to work whether by plane, train or automobile? Ask me again when we all get to leave the house! June 4, 2021 at 4:04pm Reply

        • Fazal: Interesting points. As a migrant to America, I must admit I have come to admire American emphasis on cleanliness. And I strongly suspect I am not alone in that.

          I have heard from other people that after living in America, they have become more attentive to body smells whenever they visit other countries including their home countries because the emphasis on cleanliness in America has ruined them (in an admirable fashion though). June 4, 2021 at 5:14pm Reply

  • Jo: I love a number of classics, and I think overall they should be given a chance – many are much more wearable than they are given credit for.
    No.5 Parfum and Mitsouko are among my usual rotation, with Chanel Cuir de Russie (EDT) and 4711 getting their time to shine in cool and warm weather respectively. There are some great (though unfortunately very hard to get a hold of) re-issues like Floris Malmaison and Guerlain Sous le Vent that surely are timeless. June 4, 2021 at 8:25pm Reply

  • Cyndi: I love Estee Lauder’s Private Collection, Chanel no. 5 EDT, Piguet’s Fracas, Guerlain’s Nahema, Shalimar, and Mitsouko. I also still wear Chanel’s Coco edp, and Allure EDT, and YSL’s Rive Gauche. All of these fragrances smell wonderful and have great silage and staying power. To be honest, I often feel outdated and old-fashioned because I am not as attached to any contemporary perfumes as I am to the ones I’ve just mentioned. June 4, 2021 at 10:55pm Reply

  • Joy: I love the classics. Yes, I often wear Chanel Cristalle or no. 19 while working in the garden. I often wear a drop of Chanel no. 5 parfum on my pajamas for pleasant dreams. Diorissimo and Diorella are two of my favorites. Cabochard even the reformulated is so good to me. I only wish I could still get the original formulation. How lucky I was to have these fragrances in the 70’s and 80’s. June 5, 2021 at 1:52am Reply

  • Deanna: But are there any modern fragrances to match all of these classics?
    No one has mentioned any.
    I haven’t found any, and have wasted so much money on samples that I could have bought several large bottles of Cuir de Russie perfume! June 5, 2021 at 3:12am Reply

  • Fitz: I enjoy Chanel No19 and Vent Vert so much in Canton during these sweat days. June 5, 2021 at 3:39am Reply

  • Klaas: Hey Deanna, I think there are many! Brands like Parfum d’Empire, Hermès (especially the Hermessence line) and Papillon have created incredible fragrances in the past 10/15 years. Or Andy Tauer, Tom Ford, Frederic Malle and Dusita….or Patricia de Nicolai…..

    We shouldn’t forget that, even in the 20th century, a lot of bad fragrances were created besides all those classics we love so much. Maybe it’s just the staggering quantity of new launches these days that makes we have to smell a lot of frogs before we find the true one. But they are there, for sure!

    It’s the search that makes it fun 🙂 June 5, 2021 at 11:37am Reply

    • Deanna: Hi Klaas,

      I have been exploring – hence so many samples!
      But have also invested in larger bottles, perfumes de Nicolai and Frederick Malle, and Andy Tauer. – but wonderful as these are they don’t quite reach the heights of the Guerlain classics, for me, but that’s probably a matter of nostalgia and personal taste.
      One recent discovery is Guerlain Aqua Allegra Lys Soleia think that has such a distinct character it could be a classic for me.
      Now I am wearing Nicolai no 1, it’s perfect for a beautiful June summer’s day! June 9, 2021 at 3:19am Reply

      • Klaas: Hey Deanna, I don understand you missing the classic Guerlains. In general, I am not too nostalgic about fragrances from the past, but like you I consider the classic Guerlains as the most accomplished fragrances I ever smelled. There was something about their richness, their depth, their complexity and the way they projected that made them so unique……I especially bemoan Vol de Nuit, which I consider one of the best fragrances ever made. Mouchoir de Monsieur was also a masterpiece! Dense with civet and castoreum, they could achieve effects that are now out of reach.

        But rather than continue to get frustrated about reformulations I kind of turned the page and take a lot of joy in finding other fragrances that I like to wear. Let’s call them modern classics then! Classics indeed, but of a different era than our beloved Guerlains….

        Keep on sampling! June 9, 2021 at 5:24pm Reply

        • Deanna: Hi again Klaas,
          I suppose what I hope to find in the samples is a modern masterpiece amongst non niche perfumes.
          I am old enough to remember being able to go to any chemist in London, and being able to choose from all the Guerlain range or any other house, such as Dior, Chanel, They weren’t exclusive then, they were easily and cheaply available, and I was a student, didn’t have much money but could easily amass a collection.
          Vol de Nuit was a favourite of mine, a powerhouse then. I wanted to try every single Guerlain Perfume! Had quite a good attempt at it.
          In Paris there were even little machines where you could buy sample perfumes from Caron or Givenchy Schiaparelli, etc these were everywhere, what a great idea to bring back.
          these were every day perfumes, not classics.
          Fruity florals had not yet arrived on the scene!! June 10, 2021 at 4:03am Reply

          • Klaas: Hey Deanna, first of all, I saw the most unfortunate typo in my previous message….I meant to write I DO understand you missing the classic Guerlains!!!! I miss them, too!!!!!

            I gave up on finding truly good perfumes in the mainstream brands. Sure enough, there’s pleasant fragrances to be found there (the Eau collection by Chanel, some of the less exclusives by Hermès), but masterpieces……meh, I think not…….It’s true that building a collection was a lot more affordable before. Prices have exploded in recent years, especially in the niche market. Thinner formulas for more money!

            I still enjoy the hunt though….. June 10, 2021 at 10:45am Reply

  • Elizabeth: Chanel No 19 is my forever love. I discovered it whilst living in Africa aged 18. I wear it whenever I feel I need a boost. I could conquer the world whilst wearing it. It is a chameleon. I get something new from it every time I wear it. It makes me feel feminine, confident and a little bit of a maverick in these days when chypre walks by itself in the mass perfume market. June 5, 2021 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Notturno7: I love the timing of this post. For last few days I’ve been craving Mitsouko. Yesterday I wore it on a walk with a friend ( and to the food store ☺️),and my friend liked it. I had Aromatic Elixir on in the morning and put Mitsouko on my other arm later in the day because I missed it.
    My 2019 bottle was a surprise because in the dry down I smell something of Habit Rouge that I also love, maybe a raspy note, like muted orange peel. I never smelled that in my vintage bottle that found its untimely death on my bathroom tile floor. They definitely changed the formulation but I still love it and have a vintage extrait too that I treasure.
    I love my other Guerlaine, Chanel, Caron and Patou fragrances. Recently I got two vintage Patou, well priced via Hollywood perfume website. June 6, 2021 at 5:57pm Reply

  • Hilde: Sorry that I am a bit late with my comment on this theme. As most of us, as Victoria mentioned, I am an admirer (and a collector) of classic (and also modern) fragrances.

    This year I have found a treasure. It is created by an idependant (Belgian) perfumer Louison Libertin of Technique Indiscrète, who now lives in Paris. I have become in love with one of his creations: Figure Libre Extrait de Parfum. This is like a big classic from the older days and absolutely wonderful. I recommend to all those who like classic fragrances, they should try this perfume. You can order a sample set of all his fragrances on his website. I can’t say it enough, but I adore this fragrance. I think this young perfumer is a genious. June 15, 2021 at 6:43am Reply

    • Victoria: I didn’t realize that Louison moved to Paris. I remember that he was in Antwerp at one point. Anyway, yes, Figure Libre is great for those who love classics. June 16, 2021 at 4:07am Reply

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