Five Cult Classic Fragrances

The People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo fragranceAs I mentioned in yesterday's review of The People of the Labyrinths Amaze, way back in 2002, Style magazine printed a brief article on Five Great Cult Perfumes. Their choices were The People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo, KaiKiehl's Musk, Monyette Paris and Apothia if.

I've been hoping Style might print an updated selection eventually, but they've apparently got other fish to fry, so here are my votes for the best of the cult classics: fragrances with a limited distribution, a small but extremely devoted following, and that continue to excite interest long after their release.

1. The People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo: not very original, am I? But seriously, it still qualifies on every front — despite very limited distribution, it has a faithful group of fans, many of whom (myself included) would gnash their teeth and pull their hair out if it was discontinued.

2. Anné Pliska: I tried Anné Pliska once and didn't really love it, but its followers are rabid on the subject, and I am continually amazed that this perfume is able to maintain its fan base with so little effort — the packaging is not attractive, it is nearly impossible to find out anything about the line (who is Anné Pliska, anyway?), and it isn't even easy to find and purchase the actual scent. If you want some, check out the Anné Pliska blog maintained by Victoria of Victoria's Own.

3. Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle: probably a good half or more of the Serge Lutens line qualify as cult classics, but this gets my vote for the most "cultish" of them all. Whenever I'm feeling particularly jaded about the future of niche perfumery, I spray on a little Tubéreuse Criminelle.

4. The Comme des Garçons Incense series: ok, so I'm cheating since there are five scents in the series, but they hang together so well as a concept that I couldn't pick just one. To my mind, this series is the model of what niche perfumery is (or ought to be) all about, and happily for everyone, it is widely (but not too widely) loved and entirely safe from being discontinued. Ever. Right?

5. 10 Corso Como: this one doesn't have quite the avid fan base of Luctor et Emergo, but it continues to find new admirers years after its release (1999), and, I should note, it continues to be more interesting than about 90% of new niche fragrance launches.

Your votes?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    What a great post, R. And for some reason I'm blanking now on what else might be a cult classic. I know I have mine, but my cult is a very tiny group of 1. I'd almost nominate the Rosines line, just because it's beloved by the perfume junkies to say the least, but it's virtually unheard of by the big bad world at large. I'd nominate maybe Knize Ten. It's not so fashionable these days, but those who love it REALLY love it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I also felt bad about not having a Frederic Malle in there, but like the Rosines, I can't think of that one single scent from the line that has a particularly fanatical following. The following is as much for the line as for one single scent, maybe? Although Carnal Flower, I think, will eventually get there.

    Knize Ten is awesome, just tried it recently actually.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great post! I would also say Serge Lutens MKK. It definitely has its staunch followers. Moreover, Fracas is another cult classic (and classic period).

  4. Anonymous says:

    MKK is another great choice.

    Almost did Fracas, but disqualified it on the basis of its being sold in Neiman Marcus. Decided that didn't qualify as “limited distribution” in the cult fragrance sense. But who knows — the lines between niche & mainstream are getting more blurred all the time, and 10 Corso Como could end up in NM next week :-)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dang it, I lost what I posted before! Okay, trying again: love your top 5, have all but SL TC. Based on the definition of “cult” as a group of followers, I'd avoid listing scents I love that very few other people love (e.g., SL Iris Silver Mist) and stick to those that I don't love so much myself but whose admirers are rabid:

    Lush Karma (don't like it myself, but it's a signature for many)

    SL Rahät Loukoum (again, too sweet for me, but its fans are devoted)

    Child (which I hesitate to list because it was *marketed* as a cult perfume, but it seems to qualify)

    Brandy (I don't know a single soul who likes it but I'm assuming it's a cult fragrance, because why on earth would aedes carry it if it didn't have a cache of loyal followers?)

    Fracas (not exactly niche but again, people who wear it tend to wear it for life)

  6. Anonymous says:

    For mens fragrances, coming from a Basenotes angle, I would list the following 5:

    L'Artisan Tea for Two

    Creed Bois Du Portugal

    YSL M7 and/or Kouros

    Serge Lutens Chergui


  7. Anonymous says:

    Woman, I love this post!

    But guess what? My local Nordstrom has carried Anne Pliska for years. Yes, years! I just bought a bottle of it in December. I hated it when I first tested it, but LOVE IT now. It smells like Shalimar with yummy orange Creamsicle drizzled on top. Does that make sense?

    I agree with V: Perfumeistas who are in the know are pretty fanatical about MKK, ISM, too, now that I think of it.

    I could add a few more, but your list is practically perfect in every way. :):)


  8. Anonymous says:

    Sorry it ate your post, I hate that!

    Great nominations, and have to say that Iris Silver Mist has come to be my very favorite SL, but the group of adherents is too small to constitute a cult, as you point out! Rahat certainly qualifies.

    Brandy must have a very avid group of fans, but not on the boards, you're right.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Great list, but you're being way more open with “limited distribution” than I am — the only one on your list that I'd qualify would be the Chergui. Of course it all depends on how you define “cult” :-)

  10. Anonymous says:

    I know one or more of the Nordstroms have Anne Pliska, and that you can order it online, so perhaps I shouldn't have included it. I've never seen it in any of the Nordstroms I go to regularly — or in any store, for that matter, so I tend to think of it as a sort of mythical fragrance!

    Hugs back :-)

  11. Anonymous says:

    Fun post Robin! I would nominate or second

    1) CdG Incense series

    2) From SL, Chergui seems to have a very rabid following (including me!), I find it orginal, striking, and very appealing, but weird enough to be “cult”

    3) Tabac Blond

    4) Doir Eau Noir

    5) Velvet Rope

  12. Anonymous says:

    Fifi and Frapin 1270 maybe?

  13. Anonymous says:

    I like Brandy

  14. Anonymous says:

    I actually agree with all your choices. There, I said it :-) Doesn't mean I like all of them (well, I adore TC), but I completely agree that they are modern cult perfumes.

  15. Anonymous says:

    We've got to acknowledge Kieko's Loukhoum don't we? Even though it make's me wanna hurl a little it's got a loyal, loyal following….

    I've got to try that damn SL TC, it's making me crazy. But how? How!!!!!!!????????

  16. Anonymous says:

    You know, I only tried it once and I need to try it again. I never see it mentioned on MUA or POL though, which is odd since it is niche.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Ooh, add Nanadebary and of course the biggest, best selling, cult fragrance of them all: Angel!


  18. Anonymous says:

    Right now my number one is the Tauer line. I'm a rabid fan, and seem to be part of a group who just adore Andy.

    My Serge of choice would be Miel de Bois. You either hate it or you pray to your bottle and possibly name it.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I second The non-blonde on Miel de Bois. Another oen I notice has a real following–I think it's cultish, but maybe it's just popularity–is Clinique Aromatics. Not a niche, but still…

  20. Anonymous says:

    Oh dear, do we have to? Ok, I guess it is a cult classic. And I do like LV. But Loukhoum is not my cup of tea.

    And ebay!!! It is worth it for a decant, trust me.

  21. Anonymous says:

    The thing about the Hermessences is that I don't think any one of them has what amounts to a cult following, at least not yet. Ambre Narguile comes close. Borneo, likewise, has fans, but I don't think enough to constitute a cult. The Etro, hmmm, maybe…

  22. Anonymous says:

    I disqualify Angel because it is too widely available to be part of any cult — if you can buy it at Macys and everyone is wearing it, how can it be a cult thing? But Nanadebary, yes, duh, how did I forget that?

  23. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I adore Miel de Bois, but I don't think it can qualify as a cult scent: my guess is that there are 10 or 15 of us fans, tops, LOL…it is more widely hated than adored.

    I heard a rumor somewhere that it might be discontinued and I was shocked. I didn't even think SL ever discontinued anything???

    On the Tauers, given time, they could get there! Too soon to tell.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Yes, the Aromatics *and* Clinique Wrappings, both widely adored. I do have to disqualify them (by my own rules, LOL) since they're sold everywhere, but if we include dept store scents, they'd be on the list.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Great list! I want to add a sibling to 10 Corso Como, Hôtel Costes EdT and also put in Santa Maria Novella – Nostalgia there. Oh and my third addition would be the leather heaven of Kölnisch Juchten!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Great suggestions, the first two, anyway. Still puzzling over the KJ myself — maybe there isn't any leather in my heaven?

  27. Anonymous says:

    Excellent list! I actually do love all of them, but my passion for 10 CC has faded somewhat w/ time. I'd like to join Shifts and put in my votes for Kolnisch Juchten and Nostalgia. I also think the original Regina Harris is holding on to its fan base fairly well. And OJ's Ormonde and Tolu (although Ormonde doesn't work on me, much to my extreme dismay). I personally hope that CB Musk will some day become a cult classic. :-)

  28. Anonymous says:

    Oh yes, that I understand perfectly! I do think the Hermessences have a decent following, I just can't think of the *single one* that would have people weeping and screaming if it were gone (although I'd be weeping over Vetiver Tonka, at least) in the same way as say, the POTL. The Frederic Malles are the same — the line is more important, maybe, than any one of its fragrances, if that makes any sense at all.

    And thanks :-)

  29. Anonymous says:

    You know, I wavered over the OJs…they definitely have a devoted following, just not sure if it is widespread enough to qualify as cult? I plain forgot about Regina Harris though.

    The CB Musk — way cool scent, but I can't see it happening!

  30. Anonymous says:

    I know – just dreaming about CB Musk. :-) Still, love it madly.

    I think I have a skewed view of how popular things are due to the boards. You're right – the OJs will have to be sold in stores outside of the UK before they can really hope for genuine cult status.

  31. Anonymous says:

    You know, I read this shortly after you put this up and have spent an absurd amount of time today mentally trying to argue with you… but your list is pretty tight.
    Seconding the nominations of Chergui and that stupid Nanadebary (although which one? who cares!)
    DQing Eau Noire because it's at Saks and NM.
    I'm going to float two balloons for you:
    L'Artisan Passage d'Enfer
    Agent Provocateur

  32. Anonymous says:

    I disagree.

    Angel is now the best selling fragrance in the world. But, when it first started back in the nineties, it had a whole cult following, club membership and everything. I don't think the club exists anymore (at least they stopped sending me mailings), but Angel was not only a groundbreaker fragrance-wise, it also set the trend for the current cult faves. It's true, it's true. :)


  33. Anonymous says:

    Eau Noire is at NM? Not at *my* NM! Figures.

    Chergui probably has as much standing as Tubereuse Criminelle. You could just about throw a dart at the exclusive line and find a cult classic, right?

    And Agent Provocateur probably has as much standing as Nanadebary (LOL at “who cares”, but it has to be the “Classic Pink”). If it was a list of 10, they'd probably have to be on it.

    L'Artisan I disqualified entirely, I don't think they are “limited distribution” any more. I guess Saks doesn't have them any more, but some NM still do (don't they?), and they are in those new Bigelow chain stores owned by BBW, which I'm guessing will soon be nearly as ubiquitous as BBW.

    To my mind, ok, Anne Pliska is probably in a few Nordstroms, but guessing no more than 5-10 doors nationwide. But if you can walk in just about any high end mall in the US and buy X, how can X be a cult perfume, classic or no? I can see now that I should have given a specific definition for “number of doors” to qualify as “cult”, LOL…can you waste some mental energy on that tomorrow??

  34. Anonymous says:

    Ain't gonna fight you lady, LOL…you're absolutely right, it all just depends on how you define a “cult scent”. And Angel's influence is extraordinary. I always wonder, if Michael Edwards was to update Perfume Legends, what would qualify as worthy of inclusion after Angel?

  35. Anonymous says:

    They have Eau Noire at both Chevy Chase and Tysons… FWIW in all my ratting around I had NEVER seen a bottle of Anne Pliska anywhere. Victoria O sent me some… I wasn't sure what to expect, I have not a huge love for strong amber. But it's gorgeous!!! I totally agree with your nomination. I think it's definitely cult.

    The only place here that has L'ARtisan is Art with Flowers, but I'm sure you're right, the distribution is wider than for the rest.

    I wish we had a Bigelow! Our BBW is doing this weird thing… they were so awful, then last year they were branching out, getting some interesting things not in their line. Well, the last two times I've gone in there, it's back to the original house line of nasty fruit product, they're squeezing all the outside stuff into a smaller and smaller space… maybe they're d/cing it in the face of competition from Bigelow? I don't understand distribution at all.

  36. Anonymous says:

    It is true, from the boards you'd think everyone was wearing Bois des Iles, when really they're all wearing Light Blue!

  37. Anonymous says:

    The Bigelow store near us has: L'Artisan, CdG (only 1 scent, but still), Antonia's Flowers, Chantecaille, and of course can't remember what else. Floris, maybe? It looks an awful lot like BBW (no surprise, since they own it): white shelves, wood floors, and too much stuff in too small a space. Still, well done, and the perfumes are nicely displayed by fragrance family. Somehow I think this concept will take off and soon enough they'll be everywhere, but hey, what I know about retailing would fit on the head of a pin.

    And as long as I'm blathering on about things I know nothing about, I think L'Artisan is making a mistake in expanding so dramatically…Art with Flowers is fine, but they ought not to be in your local mall chain store.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Actually, this is a great point. I followed up on the popularity of the Rue Chambon scents after my disturbing experience in the Calgary Chanel boutique and have discovered that No. 22 (popular on the blogs) is the worst seller in Canada. Bois des Iles also has a small buyer base. Gardenia (my least favourite) is by far the biggest seller.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful post, wonderful choices! My heaven, like Shifts' and Elle's, has lots of leather in it (and it definitely has KJ–in all its varying forms–as well as Nostalgia). I am also a member of the small but rabid Tauer cult. And how about Le Labo and PG? Their scents are clearly not there yet, but they also have s-b-r followings. Do you think they will make it?

  40. Anonymous says:

    Mmm… difficult choice.

    What about the Czech & Speake fragrances? Surely N0 88 must be one of the cult fragrances around?

    Also, I love Santa Maria Novella

    Otherwise, I have some candidates who might become cult fragrances:

    Escentric Molecules & Molecule 01

    Ineke (I love her stuff)

    Tauer perfumes

    Juozas Statkevicius (I could drown myself in that stuff)

    Parfums Delrae

  41. Anonymous says:

    The boards definitely give a warped idea of what is selling, as do the blogs….and I think that is why we're always blindsided when things we love are discontinued. Not at all surprised that Gardenia is the biggest seller of the Rue Cambons, it is far and away the most wearable of the 3. At least now they'll have another chance to stay in production via the “Les Exclusifs”.

  42. Anonymous says:

    I think LL & PG will “make it”, definitely, but whether either will ever have a cult scent, well, not so far — that is, both lines have a decent following, but neither has a single one fragrance with a rabid fan base, and I don't think anything in the existing product line is headed that way. As a business, actually, I think that would be preferable, right? To have your whole line liked rather than everyone adores just one of your scents? Because most people can't have it like Serge, LOL…

  43. Anonymous says:

    Czech & Speake – a small cult, yes! And same with Delrae & Tauer. The Juozas Statkevicius, well, guessing that so far, maybe a few hundred people in the US have heard the name, and maybe 10 have tried it ;-)

  44. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for putting up with the opinions of a pre-menopausal woman, darling. :) I do get that occasional bee up my gizmo from time to time!

    ME stopped at Angel? I don't know…maybe Chaos? Cashmere Mist? Envy? Rush? Bulgari Green Tea? How about Narciso Rodrigues? Or JPG? Carnal Flower and Musc Ravageur? Allure? Definitely Ambre Sultan, and even Origins Ginger Essence…I think?

    Did anyone mention Lea St. Barth as a cult fragrance? I have a big bottle that waits patiently in by cabinet for me to use it, but I rarely do.


  45. Anonymous says:

    Honey, I am right where you are, that is exactly why I ain't fighting you, LOL!!

    I do wonder. Any of those are great suggestions, although there isn't a single niche scent in the book IIRC.

    I wonder how Lea sells these days? A couple of years ago, I'd certainly have included it, but it doesn't seem to have the “vocal” following it once did. Or maybe I just don't notice since I'm not a huge fan ;-)

  46. Anonymous says:

    lol… that makes him a cult for me ;-) Currently, I could drink that fragrance but then again it has been created by Fabrice Pellegrin who also created the yummie Cardamom from Nelly Rodi's Scent Factory… another of my favourites.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Aha, I missed that. Well, if it ever makes it to the States, I'll have to try it. But they'll have to rename it: nobody here will be able to pronounce the name!

  48. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, the attention given to Lea several years ago (and it was a lot!) seems to have waned. I remember that I had a hard time getting my bottle, and perhaps the one or two etailers that carry it, don't stock it as much anymore. Who knows?

    I don't think ME does “niche.” lol!


  49. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, didn't mean to imply that it's unlikable, just that I truly don't know a single person who likes/wears it. As Robin said, it's never mentioned on the boards. So where is this loyal band of fans? *scratches head*

  50. Anonymous says:

    Well he has thought of you already ;-) In the US he calls himself Josef Stakus! (By the way that is him on the opening page…not bad, eh?)

  51. Anonymous says:

    I think his qualifications for inclusion had to do with the influence the fragrance had on the field at large, so guessing that is why he doesn't do niche? At any rate, he doesn't :-)

  52. Anonymous says:

    LOL — very Johnny Depp-ish!

  53. Anonymous says:

    Depp before Madame Paradis ;-)

  54. Anonymous says:


  55. Anonymous says:

    I don't know if I would die if any of these scents would disappear, but they would be:

    1. Amouage Dia

    2. Serge Lutens, uhm, okay if his whole line disappears totally, or if I never get to experience ALL of his non-export stuff before it disappears off the face of this earth, I think I might die!

    3. L'Occitane Ambre (if the bath gel disappears, I'll definitely die!)

    4. Swiss Arabia Noora (a gourmand without smelling like an ice cream topping or hard candy!)

    5. Creed's Millesime Imperial/Silver Mountain Water…always a tie with these two. But actually I wanted to put Guerlain's Jicky in here, but it's not exactly niche, but definitely a cult classic like Vol de Nuit, L'Heure Bleue, and Mitsouko.

    Hmmm…does “cult” mean “niche”?

  56. Anonymous says:

    To my mind, cult means niche, but more than that, a niche scent with a small distribution but extremely devoted following. After reading the comments, I see that it has different meanings for others!

  57. Anonymous says:

    Hi, i was just reading this post and noticed your reference to Escentric Molecules and Molecule 01. I have never heard anyone refernce it so was curious if you know a lot of people who own it or rather what their reactions to you when you wear it. No one ever comments when i do, so i don't wear it very often. I just bought Narcotic Venus and think i quite like it….

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