Why Classics Retain Their Appeal

Whenever I browse the list of perfume best sellers, regardless of the geographic market, I’m always struck by the enduring presence of classics. Chanel No 5 rarely gives up its position in the top five, while perfumes like Guerlain Shalimar, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and Aramis keep their place in the top twenty. What can explain the lasting appeal of these icons, especially today when every season brings more and more new creations?

For the author of Perfume: A Century of Scents, Lizzie Ostrom, the answer lies partly in this avalanche of new launches.  “Classic scents are lodestars. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by new launches, it’s often just easier to go for the ones you recognize, like ignoring fashion fads and saving up for a Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking instead,” she says. Perfumes like Chanel No 19 or Lancôme Magie Noire convey different moods and experiences, but they also have a reputation. (Incidentally, neither No 19 nor Magie Noire is a top seller for their brands, but their following is fiercely loyal.)

In her book, Ostrom describes one hundred perfumes through the stories of their creation, and more intriguingly, through the relationship the wearers had with their favorite perfumes, be they cult favorites like Robert Piguet Fracas or major blockbusters like Thierry Mugler Angel. To follow their stories is to get a glimpse of the times when they were created— Caron Narcisse Noir and the convention breaking ’20s, Christian Dior Diorissimo and the elegance conscious ’50s, or L’Eau d’Issey and the minimalist ’90s.

When Professeur de Parfum Roja Dove decided to create a collection, he turned for inspiration to the fragrances of the past. For years he has been working with bespoke perfumery, and this experience, free from the constraints of tight budgets and glossy marketing, made him approach Roja Parfums in a similar manner. Dove describes his perfumes as relevant and contemporary, and above all, made to last, in contrast to many new launches that vanish like summer butterflies.

“My fragrances are blended to remind one of the luxury of the past, whilst anticipating the expectations of the future; to redefine luxury for the modern age,” says Dove. To call his creations glamorous is an understatement, but one doesn’t need an invitation for a grand ball to wear them. My solution to the doldrums of routine is to start my morning with a few drop of either Scandal or Diaghilev, plush white floral and baroque chypre respectively. Navigating the subway at rush hour with the olfactory equivalent of Schubert waltzes is my idea of luxury.

For those unfamiliar with the richer, deeper lexicon of the iconic perfumes and their bolder statements, classics can be a learning curve. They may require more patience to reveal their full depth and charisma. On the other hand, there is no need to feel intimidated. “I would say to dive straight in,” says Dove. “What I love about perfume is that it doesn’t discriminate, it embraces.”

What classics appeal to you?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Guerlain Chamade is one of my favorite classics.



  • Lia: The classics that appeal to me are many – it’s a dive in history and past and to be able to find stuff new to me different from current perfumes.

    Also, like a teenager/young adult who listens Fleetwood Mac for the 1st time and falls in love with Stevie Nicks’ voice, to the mom who watched her live on ‘the Dance reunion’ and the grandmom who bought the vinyl when they launched Rumors, classics in general have the touch of genius that last through time and generations and are always there to be ‘rediscovered’

    Example: I love Mugler Aura (it doesn’t smell on me like toothpaste like many people say) but the most recent launches on Sephora counters are pure floral AND/OR fruity , which I despise.

    So I think when reading about classics: hmm I’m going to try Bandit (found someone in Brazil selling a vintage decant) and Cabochard, they’re different .

    And they work on me like listening to Rumors works on my ears (I’m 35, but I tried listening to Fleetwood Mac when I was a teen/early 20’s and didn’t like):D

    (and now I have a bottle of Cabochard EDT because it’s cheap and it’s amazing – Bandit is slightly more interesting ). March 13, 2023 at 8:50am Reply

    • Alityke: What a fabulous analogy! I guess I’m the granny without the grandkids. My grown up children do play Rumours & wear classics & neoclassics March 13, 2023 at 9:57am Reply

    • la_ninon: I love Cabochard and Jolie Madame (that inky note), but still haven’t tried Bandit! March 14, 2023 at 2:19pm Reply

    • Silvia: To continue the music theme: Cabochard was mentioned by 80s singer Sade as her signature perfume, back in the day. For young me, it was a symbol of misterious sexyness. April 15, 2023 at 1:55pm Reply

  • Damiana: Lancôme Magie Noire, YSL Paris, the original Trussardi for Women, and Chanel Cristalle EdT are only a few of the timeless classics I love. I highly recommend Barbara Herman’s book, Scent and Subversion, to anyone wishing to explore the world of vintage and classic fragrances. Wonderful post to start a Monday, Victoria. March 13, 2023 at 9:20am Reply

    • Stefan from Frankfurt: Scent and Subversion seems to be a rare book these days, cheapest offer to Europe is € 99,-
      A shame. March 13, 2023 at 12:38pm Reply

      • Damiana: I double checked and it is out of print. It is a shame. 🙁 March 13, 2023 at 1:05pm Reply

        • Alityke: For those with Kindles or other ebooks I bough the digital version from Amazon March 13, 2023 at 5:17pm Reply

    • Hera: I love that book, whenever I need any info about the vintages, I turn to it. March 13, 2023 at 2:10pm Reply

  • Briony: My favourite of all time is Shalimar. I never tire of wearing it and it’s one of the few perfumes I never want to run out of. I also love Bois des Iles, No. 22 and Cuir de Russie. Even the ‘younger’ perfumes I wear tend to have that classic appeal, like Andy Tauer’s Rose Chypre, PdN’s Sacrebleu and any of the Divine perfumes. March 13, 2023 at 10:08am Reply

  • Alityke: At 17 Jicky was my “gateway” into classic perfumery, it taught me beauty could also be odd.
    I now have many classics in my collection but some I have not repurchased. The formulation of some of my most beloved classics changed when oakmoss became homeopathic in quantity. Their balance was lost. March 13, 2023 at 10:11am Reply

    • Laurie: This made me absolutely laugh out loud, “when oakmoss became homeopathic in quantity.” I laughed, but it also is a truth that makes me very sad. March 13, 2023 at 2:08pm Reply

      • Kaisa: So true, so sad. And I say this as someone who cannot tolerate oakmoss in higher concentrations. I still wish it was available with warnings. March 13, 2023 at 3:54pm Reply

      • Alityke: I mourn Azuree & Aromatics Elixir. Their base now smell like a chip shop!
        I know oakmoss can cause rashes on some. Please can IFRA consider that their horror of risk treats the perfume buying public like children unable to make decisions for themselves.
        If cigarettes, that have numerous ways of killing people can still be legally made & sold, all be it with health warnings. Why are we, the consumers, not able to decide for ourselves to purchase perfumery that carries a clear warning “May cause allergy”. Thereby allowing classic perfumes to be truer to themselves? March 13, 2023 at 5:34pm Reply

  • matty1649: Out of all my Guerlains I must pick Shalimar.Mitsouko a close second March 13, 2023 at 10:30am Reply

  • Roberta Titchener: I grew up loving J’Reviens and Shalimar.i still love Shalimar but only in the evenings in winter. I am a HUGH Chanel fan and I love a lot of their Les Exclusives, but my favorite is Beige
    I wear it all the time and I like to “perfume” my bedroom before I sleep. I also love Mugeut but only by Christian Dior and haven’t found it it years.
    I have followed you for a long time and love your writing of perfume! March 13, 2023 at 10:59am Reply

    • Barbara: I so miss Je Reviens. March 13, 2023 at 4:18pm Reply

  • Deborah: L’Heure Bleu, always and forever. March 13, 2023 at 11:12am Reply

  • Debby: I lean more and more towards classics as it is now so rare that I enjoy anything modern, I find myself hating most of the base notes used these days. But my nose is also super sensitive to aldehydes and animalics so classics can be very difficult as well! I never used to have this problem, one of the joys of midlife hormones I guess!

    Nevertheless, I have a few that I can’t be without, I would call Shalimar EDP my signature, and I love the cologne version, too. A lot of my big loves are from the 80s, though, I have vintage Poison, Montana Parfum de Peau and Lou Lou in regular rotation. March 13, 2023 at 11:16am Reply

  • Cyndi: So ironic you chose this topic today. Even with all the new perfumes that come out every year, my favorites are Chanel No. 5 edt and Robert Piguet Fracas edp. At times I feel a little silly that my favorite perfumes are so “old.” However, I have never found any fragrances that make me as happy as No. 5 and Fracas. In fact, Fracas is an instant compliment getter for me and has been for over 30 years, and my niece always tells me that when she smells No. 5 she immediately thinks of me. Doesn’t get much better than that. March 13, 2023 at 11:34am Reply

  • AndreaR: Recently, I have been retreating to the classics: Mitsouko, Bandit, Caron’s Parfum Sacre and Le Parfum by Sonia Rykiel. I find them elegant and comforting. March 13, 2023 at 12:16pm Reply

  • Kaisa: Lovely article, very fitting to read as I’m luxuriating in the comfort of Shalimar Parfum de Toilette today!

    I didn’t grow up with the “grand” classics – but the perfumes I fell in love with in the 80s are still among my favourites today and now icons in their own right: Poison, Oscar de la Renta, Coco, Samsara… (sadly mutilated now, so I rely on vintage). Later on I embraced Chanel No. 5 (I always loved the smell even when very young, but somehow never thought it was “for me”) and then went on discovery and developed a passion: Mitsouko, Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit, Rochas Femme, Miss Dior, Diorella, Diva, Teatro alla Scala, Givenchy III… Chanel No. 19 is a fairly recent discovery, but what a one!

    They just don’t make them like that any more. Although – some actually do. The perfumes that speak to my soul tend to be somewhat vintage in style: Papillon’s Salome, Hera and Dryad; Rogue’s Chypre-Siam, Flora & Fauna, Hiram Green’s Shangri-La and Moon Bloom, Jorum Studio’s Nectary and Elegy… It’s interesting that Roja Dove is quoted here at length; while I’m no fan of his I must admit Diaghilev is in my all-time top-10 perfumes… but sadly I’ll never own a bottle due to the obscene price Mr Dove has put on it. 🙁 Ah well. (Sorry for going on a bit!) March 13, 2023 at 1:23pm Reply

    • Amy McLaughlin: I had a tiny, precious decant of Diaghilev, and it was indeed glorious. March 13, 2023 at 3:52pm Reply

      • Alityke: I would love to know who the actual perfumer of Dove’s fragrances is or are March 13, 2023 at 5:39pm Reply

        • Amy McLaughlin: That would be very interesting to know — a classicist, but who. March 13, 2023 at 11:16pm Reply

    • la_ninon: I love many scents on this list, including modern compositions like Salome and those by Hiram Green. The Rogue fragrances don’t work on my skin, unfortunately, but I loved my sample of Cuir de Russie by Areej le Dore (which is supposed to be fabric only). I wish I’d bought more! March 14, 2023 at 2:17pm Reply

    • Johaboha: I love classics for the thought that clearly went into the bottle design, name and story and of course the originality of the composition – not to forget the price compared to many niche perfumes! My favourites are l’heure bleue, Cabochard, Chamade and Amarige. I feel like if one uses only a smaller amount, none of these fragrances feel dated. March 15, 2023 at 3:44am Reply

  • Amy McLaughlin: Over a lifetime of delighting in perfume, my favorite is vintage Miss Dior. I wish I had had the foresight to hoard enough for the long haul. I bought a bottle on eBay a couple of years ago. It was in good shape, although lately, there’s a strong whiff of alcohol. March 13, 2023 at 2:00pm Reply

    • Kaisa: It’s so amazing, isn’t it? It would totally be marketed as edgy genderless niche scent today. March 13, 2023 at 3:56pm Reply

      • Amy McLaughlin: I wonder, that’s probably more than likely! If it could be made at all, it’s so contrary to today’s tastes. It makes me sad that no one seems to love oakmoss anymore. March 13, 2023 at 11:14pm Reply

    • Lori: I have the bottle my Aunt gave me in the 60’s when I was a pre-teen. It has a small amount in it so I have hesitated to spray it on, but it still smells as I remember it. March 13, 2023 at 5:50pm Reply

  • Laurie Brown: Oh, so many older perfumes! I don’t much care for the modern fruity-florals or the sugary gourmands. I love Chypre, Les Muses, Nuit de Noel, Chanel 19, l’heure bleu, Safari, the original Coco, Fendi, Giorgio, l’Origin, Emeraude (the original, not the kind of weird one that’s made now), Youth Dew, Tigress, the list is endless. And, of all things, Patchouli Musk, from the 70s. I’m not sure that’s the right name. A big blast of musk that’s tasteless but I love. March 13, 2023 at 4:30pm Reply

  • Sandra: Shalimar and all her flankers and also all perfumes inspired by her March 13, 2023 at 4:44pm Reply

  • Lori Casimiro: I tend to gravitate towards the classics, perhaps because I wore my mom’s Norell in my teen years. As an adult I fell instantly in love with L’Heure Bleu followed by Shalimar, and Guerlain quickly became my favorite house. Fast forward to early 2022 – I decided to try Diorella. It took me numerous wearings to love it, but now it is one of my go to fragrances. I’ve also become very fond of Chanel No 19 and Cristalle. March 13, 2023 at 5:47pm Reply

  • Hera: I really love the classics.I am trying to enjoy the new ones but nothing comes close to vintage. It’s like the old ones for me were more creative, complex, multi layered. My favourites are Miss Dior, Jolie Madame, Nuit de Noel, Rumeur, Quadrille …. and I much prefer the old bottles, sooo beautiful. March 13, 2023 at 6:13pm Reply

  • Julia: I started my perfume collecting in the 80s so my most loved perfumes are the vintage category and I own many. Mitsouko is my all time favorite along with many Guerlains such as Parure, Shalimar, L Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit. I started as a teen wearing Charlie then Halston so I love the old green chypres. I love Miss Dior which my Mom wore and I also wore Magie Noire and Sheiseido Feminite Du Bois. Gosh there are so many I love now and though I do buy modern perfumes, my favorite style, chypre are hard to find that scratch the itch my classics do. Thank you! March 13, 2023 at 6:22pm Reply

  • Andy: Beyond all the many popular classics I love, one category that has emerged as a small but important contingent for my collection are the cult classics. Fragrances like Eau d’Hermès, Cacharel Eden, Clinique Wrappings, or Diptyque L’Eau that have all the bold character of true venerated classics, but with a twist or edge that makes them ever so slightly odd (and often ever so slightly unpopular, too). These perfumes are perfect for those times when I want the solidity of a classic, but can’t decide which fits that day, or can’t quite figure out what suits my mood. These bold, off-kilter perfumes somehow don’t fit in with anything else in their brand or category, and yet by that same virtue can feel perfectly in place in those moments where I feel slightly out of step. March 13, 2023 at 8:54pm Reply

    • John Luna: Wonderfully put! I keep meaning to track down Eau d’Hermès — thanks for this reminder. March 15, 2023 at 11:58pm Reply

  • Hamamelis: Like many of the commentors here the Classics, or modern day classics, are my greatest perfume loves. My mother and grandmother wore no 5, and I do too. I love no 19 and Cristalle more, and 31 Rue Cambon, la Pausa and Misia. I love most Goutals which I suppose are modern classics, eg. l’Heure Exquise, Songes, Rose Absolue. I love all Vero Profumo’s fragrances, in all forms, and I think they are real classics. Classics are maybe also like the Classics in literature, you need to learn to love them, but once you do they will always reveal something new. March 14, 2023 at 5:00am Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: I have been into perfumes for many decades and have a very large collection, a large portion of which are classics. I also have many perfumes from the 80’s and 90’s, as well as many new ones. I love them all but I have a special love for the classics as they bring me back in time to when I was young. I feel the exact same way about my other love, which is music. March 14, 2023 at 12:49pm Reply

  • Deborah Haywood: I love Chanel perfumes, particularly Coco Madamoiselle. Others in the Chanel range I adore are Cristalle & Chance Eau Tendre. I also enjoy wearing the Miss Dior Original. What a shame the old packaging & bottle in which it was presented have changed. I understand that another favourite of mine the YSL ELLE is being discontinued. Added to which the long discontinued Rochas Mystere I so miss. March 14, 2023 at 1:23pm Reply

  • la_ninon: Most of my favorites are classics (or inspired by classics): Miss Dior, Niki de St Phalle, Givenchy III, Jolie Madame, Cuir de Russie, Bois des Iles, Verte Pour Madame…. Weil de Weil is next on my list to try. March 14, 2023 at 2:14pm Reply

  • John Luna: I love many classics that are still readily available (Eau Sauvage, Guerlain Vetiver and Habit Rouge, Aramis, etc.) and wear them regularly, but am sad to say that Caron Pour un Homme, which I wore as a signature for five years or so, has gotten almost impossible to find in North America. This really does sadden me as nothing quite replaces it for me. March 16, 2023 at 12:06am Reply

    • Nikolas Koulountis: You can get Caron fragrances direct from their website in France. Pour in home has a whole range of sizes and sets available. March 25, 2023 at 1:58am Reply

  • Deborah P.: Where to look for Weil de Weil?
    Absolute favorite since childhood.
    Thank you! March 16, 2023 at 2:49am Reply

  • Toni: It was coincidental when I saw the bottle of Chamade pictured above. I just gave my granddaughter a small bottle of the perfume for her 21st birthday. She likes hyacinth, so I thought the ‘wild at heart’ fragrance would be perfect. For me, Shalimar is my signature. March 17, 2023 at 11:18pm Reply

  • Jacqueline Malandra: Guerlain.
    Vintage. March 21, 2023 at 1:58pm Reply

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