[Update, 2012: When I posted this list in 2007, I had no idea it would turn out to be the most-read article on Now Smell This. I was never completely satisfied with it, and 5 years on, it's really showing its age. I probably ought to rewrite it in its entirely, but instead, I've taken the lazy approach and added a few updates below in brackets. I deleted some things, and added some things (additions are marked with an asterisk) — the list still comes out to 100. I should note at the outset that many of the fragrances listed here have been reformulated, and since I can't possibly try them all again, I can't be sure every one of them is still worth smelling.]
I'll start with a disclaimer: this is not a list of the 100 Best Perfumes Of All Time, but rather, a list of 100 fragrances that anyone seriously interested in perfume should try. Put another way, it is meant to encompass a broad range of perfumes, good, bad, pretty, ugly, mainstream, niche, etc, and to provide a sort of general introduction to the subject of modern perfumery.
Some fragrances are included because they are Great Fragrances, others are here because they are so popular that it seems to me that you ought to know about them, still others, because they've spawned so many imitators that you ought to try the fragrance that inspired the trend. A few are here just because they are so weird or interesting or wonderful that they shouldn't be missed, and a few more, just because I adore them, and think everyone else should too, although many of my favorites are not on the list.
Like any such list, it is wildly idiosyncratic, so just add "in my very humble opinion" to the whole thing. There are a few perfumes that almost have to be on such a list (Chanel no. 5, Guerlain Shalimar), but the vast majority are open to dispute; in fact, I argued with myself over any number of them. And, of course, the list exposes the massive gaps in my own perfume education. Some fragrances aren't here just because I haven't smelled them, or don't properly appreciate them.
A few men's fragrances are included, but only a few; it is by and large a list of women's and unisex scents. I have also restricted the list to fragrances that can be obtained in the United States without jumping through too many hoops, and to fragrances that are worth smelling in their modern incarnations (e.g., nothing that you'd have to find a vintage bottle of to appreciate).
Here they are, in alphabetical order by perfume house:
Natural perfumery is a growing field. Whether you mind using synthetics or not (and obviously, I don't) it is interesting to find out what can be done using only natural components. Aftelier is one of the older and better known natural brands. Shiso, Fig and Pink Lotus are the line's best sellers, but my favorite is the dark, earthy and sexy Cepes & Tuberose. They have a number of sample sets available, but if you've never tried anything all-natural, be prepared for sticker shock: natural components aren't cheap. For a completely different approach to natural perfumery, check out Strange Invisible Perfumes.
[2012: Cepes & Tuberose still makes a fine introduction to the brand; if you want to try more, Candide is a happy, easy-to-wear fragrance and probably my current favorite. Angie might vote for the weightier Parfum Privé.]
Eau d'Hadrien is included because I wanted to have at least one decent citrus on the list. Citrus fragrances rarely make the cut in "Best Of" lists, but it seems to me that the perfect citrus is as important, and probably just as hard to create, as the perfect oriental. Hadrien is as good a place as any to start your search: it is widely loved, although personally I prefer the somewhat weirder Eau du Sud. And while you're at it, the rest of the Annick Goutal line is absolutely worth exploring too; I had a hard time narrowing down to the two others above.
[2012: I hear differing accounts of how well Hadrien has fared the last few years; some say it has been substantially reformulated, some say it hasn't. Either way, I will substitute Ninféo Mio as a better example of what the Annick Goutal line is up to these days. Also worth a sniff: Mandragore and the Les Orientalistes trio.]
A forgotten gem. I was thrilled to see it get two mentions in Angela's article on Underappreciated Perfumes last year.
It smells an awful lot like its name. It has been on Sephora's best seller list nearly forever (well, ok, a few years, but that is nearly forever in perfume terms these days). It is the second most reviewed fragrance at MakeupAlley, following Thierry Mugler Angel (see below). You might as well find out what it smells like, although chances are you've already smelled it on the street, so to speak.
[2012: Pink Sugar is now the most reviewed fragrance at MakeupAlley.]
The best from this line that has very quickly established itself as a player in the niche fragrance market, although the brand new Andy Warhol Silver Factory might end up knocking it off its pedestal.
[2012: To my mind, Bond no 9 still hasn't bested Chinatown, and Andy Warhol Silver Factory is still the main contender.]
There isn't much to it, but when it comes to violet that might just be the trick.
The celebrity perfume game, as I think of it, is huge, and try as you might, you just can't ignore it. Britney's Fantasy strikes me as being fairly representative of the genre. If you like young and sweet, you just might like Fantasy, if not, for the antidote, try Cumming: The Fragrance (quite possibly the only celebrity fragrance with a sense of humor) or Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely or Covet (quite possibly the only fragrance line from a celebrity who was known to care about perfume before she came up with her own).
[2012: The celebrity category has grown by leaps and bounds since I wrote this, but Fantasy still stands as a reasonably good example of the generally young and sweet fragrances that abound in the genre. A more modern (but not drastically different) example might be Taylor Swift Wonderstruck. If you want to smell the fragrance that started the modern celebrity perfume craze, check out J Lo Glow.]
Of the jewelry houses that dabble in fragrance, Bvlgari has perhaps done the most admirable job. Bvlgari Black is included because it is so unusual for a mainstream fragrance (and hey, it smells good too), and Eau Parfumée (aka Green Tea) because for what it is, it is perfect, and none of its many imitators have come close.
[2012: My esteem for Bvlgari as a fragrance house has lessened a bit over the years, but happily these two oldies-but-goodies are still in production.]
I am not a huge fan of the Calvin Klein fragrance line, but they've managed to produce any number of iconic fragrances, and this just barely scrapes the surface. If you're of a certain age, chances are you wore either ck one or Obsession once upon a time. If you want to know what Calvin Klein is up to these days, try Euphoria or ck in2u.
[2012: To find out what Calvin Klein is up to now, I suppose you could try the pretty but dull Beauty.]
If you can, try all of the Caron urn fragrances, but these three give a good idea of what the house produced during its heyday. My own favorite is the admittedly less profound Alpona. The best of modern times, in my opinion, might just be L'Anarchiste.
[2012: There are widely varying opinions on how well the older Caron fragrances have fared in recent years; I tend to side with those that would rather have them in their vintage form. If I were writing this list today, I wouldn't include any of the three.]
CB I Hate Perfume makes unusual fragrances that are entirely outside of the mainstream tradition, in fact, you could argue that they are outside of the niche tradition as well, and maybe stretch the boundaries of what we think of as perfume. Black March is wonderfully evocative and the name says it all. I'm surprised to see we've never reviewed it.
15. Chanel no. 5
16. Chanel no. 19
17. Chanel no. 22
18. Chanel Coco Mademoiselle
19. Chanel Bois des Iles
20. Chanel Eau de Cologne*
The first three are not my favorites by Chanel, but they are the perfumes that established Chanel's reputation as a perfume house, and as such, you ought to get to know them. If you've got the time and the inclination, try the whole Rue Cambon trio (Gardenia and Cuir de Russie in addition to Bois des Iles); all are masterpieces in their own right, and as it happens I prefer them to the numbered trio listed above.
Coco Mademoiselle brought a new generation of fans into the fold, as did the newer Chance. The recent Les Exclusifs collection is also worth smelling if you've the time (and money), and at some point, 31 rue Cambon was included on this list. It ended up being cut so I could add something else.
[2012: I chose Chanel's Eau de Cologne, from the Exclusif series, to replace Annick Goutal Eau d'Hadrien (see above). It's a lovely if arguably overpriced basic citrus. There are plenty of other options, from the classic Eau de Guerlain to the modern Parfums de Nicolaï L’Eau à la Folie; a scroll through the citrus tag will turn up more choices.]
Christian Dior Diorissimo
21. Christian Dior Eau Sauvage
Christian Dior Miss Dior Christian Dior Miss Dior Cherie
22. Christian Dior Poison
23. Christian Dior J'Adore*
Christian Dior's heritage as a designer perfume house is nearly as extraordinary as Chanel's. The first two fragrances above are by Edmond Roudnitska, perfumer extraordinaire, and therefore, need no further justification. Miss Dior is included as a prototype of a classic 1940s chypre, and Miss Dior Chérie because trying it next to Miss Dior provides an interesting exercise in examining how fashions have changed between the 40s and today. Poison, well, chances are you already know Poison.
And as long as you are at the Dior counter, you might as well try Dune (for women) and Fahrenheit (for men) too, both by Jean Louis Sieuzac and both masterpieces. And if you can get yourself to the Roja Dove boutique in London or the Dior flagship in Paris, do try Diorama and Diorling.
[2012: IFRA restrictions1 have really done a number on the classic Dior line. Eau Sauvage smells a bit fresher than it used to, but is otherwise fine. Miss Dior Chérie has been reformulated and renamed "just" Miss Dior; the "old" Miss Dior is now called Miss Dior Original, and is probably best smelled in vintage. I've axed them both. I've heard varying reports on the current "health status" of Diorissimo and have decided I'm happier not testing the latest version, so have nothing to say on that subject except that I'm all stocked up on vintage. If I were writing this today, I'd just include Eau Sauvage and Poison, add the longtime best seller J'Adore, and leave out the bit about Diorama and Diorling, which are perhaps likewise best smelled in vintage now.]
24. Clinique Happy
Terribly popular, and has its own cheerful little family of flankers. Happy is the 4th most reviewed fragrance at MakeupAlley.
[2012: Happy has slipped to 6th place at MakeupAlley; it is preceded by Aquolina Pink Sugar, Thierry Mugler Angel, Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, Chanel Coco Mademoiselle and J Lo Glow.]
25. Comme des Garçons Eau de Parfum
26. Comme des Garçons Avignon (Incense series)
27. Comme des Garçons Jaisalmer (Incense series)
28. Comme des Garçons Kyoto (Incense series)
29. Comme des Garçons Ouarzazate (Incense series)
30. Comme des Garçons Zagorsk (Incense series)
Many (ok, most) avant garde fashion houses release decidedly mainstream fragrances — something's got to finance all those unwearable clothes. But Comme des Garçons has been as experimental with fragrance as they have been with fashion, although whether they still are is up for discussion. The fragrances are also fun, and fun is something that is sorely lacking in the world of perfume. Strictly speaking, the line doesn't merit 6 entries out of 100, but I had to include the Incense Series and just couldn't make myself break it up: they work so well thematically as a group.
[2012: the Comme des Garçons line doesn't seem as fun these days, although that might be just because they have so much more competition in the "avant garde niche" genre. Either way, I don't think they've ever bested the Incense series, although I really liked two of their collaborate releases from 2008, Monocle + Comme des Garçons Scent One: Hinoki and Comme des Garçons + Stephen Jones.]
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is one of the better known indie (in the true sense of the word: she is mixing her own) perfume houses in the United States. Her catalog of fragrances is huge, and I have barely even scraped the surface; I've chosen Cimabue merely because it is my favorite of what I've tried. There was a long comment thread on one of the fragrance blogs some time ago (sorry, I can't remember where, or even what fragrance was being reviewed) that discussed the issue of why you should bother with indie houses when there are better, more "professional" scents to be had on the market, often at the same price. That, obviously, is a matter of personal philosophy. My philosophy is basically: if it is perfume, I'm interested.
[2012: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is still one of the better known indie brands and the catalog is even huger still today; Sonoma Scent Studio is another indie brand worth looking into. As the number of niche brands has grown, and the lines between niche and mainstream sometimes seem blurred, these brands are notable for maintaining a more personal and artisanal approach.]
If you'd like to investigate what can be done with evoking single (and sometimes weird) scent memories, pick up a Demeter tester or two. Some of them are positively brilliant. They are also very reasonably priced, although in general, lasting power is not Demeter's strong point.
33. Diptyque Philosykos
34. Diptyque Tam Dao
Diptyque is best known for their scented candles, and many of the personal fragrances were adapted from the home fragrances. In some ways that shows, but to my mind, the personal fragrances are both hugely underrated and a bargain in comparison to most other niche lines. I removed Tam Dao and substituted L'Ombre dans L'Eau and then changed my mind again at least 20 times, so perhaps just take your pick.
[2012: I've complained about Diptyque's post-2005 output elsewhere ("muted fragrances on familiar themes"), but this year's Volutes is a great scent and well worth trying, and if you're a big fan of muted fragrances, you might want to spend some time exploring the whole line. And I'm disappointed that I still didn't manage to get L'Ombre dans L'Eau on the list.]
35. Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue
Another fragrance that you should know even if only because it is so hugely popular and so widely imitated. What women apparently want to smell like, and it is hard to blame them: this is one of the most resolutely pleasant scents around (as Eliza Bennet said to Mr. Darcy, I really cannot laugh at it).
Black Cashmere is just great stuff. If only everyone would buy some, we could all stop worrying about it being discontinued.
[2012: I can't remember whether I dithered back in 2007 over Be Delicious, but if I didn't, I should have — this little apple has maintained its popularity since 2004, and spawned a whole orchard of flankers. But I can't make myself knock something else off the list to include it.]
37. Estee Lauder Pleasures
38. Estee Lauder White Linen
39. Estee Lauder Youth Dew
When I first discovered the world of niche fragrances, I was so blown away by what I'd been missing by sticking to standard department store fare that I turned my nose up at the more widely available lines like Estee Lauder. Once I settled down, so to speak, and went back into Macy's, I was surprised to find how consistently well done the Estee Lauder line really is. It was very hard to pare down to just three. I was tempted to add the newer Youth Dew Amber Nude because it is interesting to compare the modern version to the classic, and I hate not to include the new Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, which is one of the prettiest fragrances released this year. In the end, I ran out of space.
40. Etro Messe de Minuit
Personally I prefer their sprightly Shaal Nur, but Messe de Minuit is a little gothic masterpiece. What to spray on when you're re-reading Wuthering Heights.
As I've said before, there is something about carnation that makes it hard note to wear; as with rose, a fragrance built around carnation can seem trite and old-fashioned. Malmaison is very nearly perfect, and more wearable than many, and is, I think, a nice example of the British style. A few more great carnations: Caron Bellodgia, Lorenzo Villoresi Garofano, Scent Systems Oeillet.
[2012: Malmaison is now gone, a victim of IFRA regulations that may make any realistic carnation soliflore out of the question. Scent Systems has since gone out of business.]
41. Frederic Malle En Passant
42. Frederic Malle Le Parfum de Thérèse
43. Frederic Malle Une Rose
44. Frederic Malle Vétiver Extraordinaire
45. Frederic Malle Carnal Flower*
I just about tossed a coin to pick four. Really, you ought to try the whole line: the standard of excellence at Frederic Malle is very, very high. You might not like all of them, but there isn't an insipid fragrance in the whole line.
I'll also trot out Le Parfum de Thérèse as the poster child for the much maligned (around here, anyway, and by me as much as anyone) fruity floral category. It combines many elements I hate elsewhere, including sweet fruit and a melon-y aquatic accord, yet it works perfectly, and is sophisticated as all get out.
[2012: Carnal Flower didn't make this list in 2007, but now that I've knocked off a few other things, I can give it a spot. It's a brilliant tuberose, arguably the best of modern times.]
46. Gucci by Gucci
I like Gucci's latest release, but it is included here largely as a good example of a "modern chypre". Why this term is so widely used now is still a mystery to me; most consumers don't know (or care) what a chypre is, much less what a modern incarnation might entail. Still, to my mind, Gucci's new fragrance does a better job than most modern chypres of actually smelling like it could be a chypre.
In addition, it nicely illustrates the recent trend of using synthetic woody and earthy notes, including lots of "patchouli", to create a base that is dark whilst remaining squeaky clean and perfectly smooth (no skank, no rough edges). I'd guess that within a year or so, I'm going to be complaining about the ubiquity of such scents in the same way that I do about fruity florals now. A few more examples: Christian Dior Midnight Poison, DKNY Delicious Night, Sarah Jessica Parker Covet.
47. Guerlain Après L’Ondée
48. Guerlain Chamade
49. Guerlain Jicky
50. Guerlain L'Heure Bleue
51. Guerlain L'Instant
52. Guerlain Mitsouko
53. Guerlain Shalimar
54. Guerlain Vetiver
I can't think of any real justification for including Après L’Ondée except that it is so heartbreakingly beautiful. After that, try Jicky, L'Heure Bleue, Mitsouko and Shalimar: these are the fragrances that made Guerlain the widely revered house that it remains today. All of them are better (way better) in Parfum, but unless you're standing at the counter in Guerlain's boutique in Bergdorf Goodman, you might have to make do with a lesser concentration. Moving on, try Chamade and Vetiver, my votes for the best work of Jean Paul Guerlain.
To see what Guerlain is up to in modern times, I've included L'Instant, and if you've the inclination, you might also want to try one or more of the L'Art et la Matière line (Cuir Beluga, Rose Barbare, Angelique Noire, Bois d'Armenie, Iris Ganache) as an example of niche fragrance from a mainstream house.
[2012: You could, at this point, substitute Idylle for L'Instant, otherwise, all of the above still seems reasonably accurate to me. If you want to be even more up to date, you could also try La Petite Robe Noire.]
55. Hermès 24, Faubourg
56. Hermès Calèche
57. Hermès Vetiver Tonka
58. Hermès Terre d'Hermès
59. Hermès Eau des Merveilles*
60. Hermès Un Jardin Sur Le Nil*
When I see polls of the world's best perfume houses on the various fragrance boards, the name Hermès is rarely included, but to my mind, they have quietly built up a very impressive stable (pardon the pun) of fragrances over the years, and since Jean Claude Ellena became the house nose, the output has been consistently excellent. I had a hard time picking only a few (Eau d'Orange Verte should surely make the list? And Jardin Sur Le Nil?), and will readily concede that Hiris, strictly speaking, might not belong here, but I adore it so couldn't make myself delete it.
The Hermessence collection is interesting as yet another example (in execution, I would say the best) of a mainstream house dabbling with niche fragrance. I've selected Vetiver Tonka only because it is my personal favorite, but you could try any or all: Ambre Narguile, Poivre Samarcande, Rose Ikebana, Osmanthe Yunnan, Paprika Brasil, Brin de Réglisse.
[2012: I still adore Hiris, but I've knocked it off the list to add the brilliant Eau des Merveilles — and it wouldn't kill you to smell the flankers (Elixir des Merveilles, Eau Claire des Merveilles and L’Ambre des Merveilles) while you're at it. And I'll give a spot from elsewhere to Un Jardin Sur Le Nil.]
61. JAR Bolt of Lightning
You might as well find out what you could smell like if you had an extra $800 or so lying around (it is true that there are other ludicrously overpriced perfume houses, but by and large their output is not nearly so interesting as JAR's). About the only way to accomplish that, short of actually spending the cash, is by making a pilgrimage to the JAR boutique in Bergdorf Goodman — unless you happen to live in Paris, in which case why read this when you could be out perfume shopping?
[2012: JAR was once something of an "insider secret", but with the explosion of niche brands at all price levels, including a number of brands just as expensive and exclusive as JAR, they may have lost some of their cachet. Still, I'm letting this one stand.]
62. Jean Patou Joy
Surely Joy needs no justification? Try the Parfum if you can get it.
Wearable irony, and like Ralph Lauren's Romance (see below), a stunningly perfect fit with its brand.
I wanted to include at least one good example of a modern designer fruity floral, and I vacillated between this and Burberry Brit, or possibly one of the multitude of Escada limited editions. Juicy Couture made the cut because it was supposed to smell like something Barbie would wear, and I appreciated the advance warning. About 15 years from now, when I fully expect that the fruity florals of the 2000s will seem old fashioned, I plan to revisit them and see if I like them better when there isn't a new one being released every other day.
65. Kenzo Flower
Kenzo, more so than many designer lines, has done a decent job of creating fragrances that are appealing enough to sell, but don't entirely bow down to the lowest common denominator. Flower was both wildly popular and just off-kilter enough to be interesting. I thought 2005's Flower Oriental did a brilliant job of rendering the original Flower wearable, but I am probably very nearly alone in that — the original has long been a best seller at the French Sephora site.
Another classic that needs no justification.
[2012: At this point, I would agree with Angie that Arpege is probably best smelled in vintage; so this is another delete.]
66. L'Artisan Parfumeur Bois Farine
67. L'Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse aux Papillons
68. L'Artisan Parfumeur Mure et Musc
69. L'Artisan Parfumeur Passage d'Enfer
70. L'Artisan Traversée du Bosphore*
L'Artisan in many ways set the standard for what a niche fragrance house could do when it was established back in the late 1970s, although whether they still qualify as niche these days is open for discussion. I had a hard time narrowing down to four, but thought these gave a good idea of the line's range.
[2012: L'Artisan has continued to expand into wider distribution, but they've also done an incredible job of staying relevant as new niche brands sprout up (and in some cases, wither away) all around. I won't include the wonderful Séville à l’Aube since it's a limited edition, but I dithered between Traversée and Havana Vanille / Vanille Absolument.]
71. Le Labo Rose 31
The Frederic Malle line popularized the notion of eschewing fancy packaging and emphasizing instead the work of individual perfumers. Any number of variations on that theme have followed; Le Labo is one of the more exceptional. I like quite a few from the line, but selected Rose 31 as the most impressive.
Thierry Mugler's Angel (see below) spawned a thousand imitators; this very popular fragrance is as good an example as any as a variation on the Angel theme. If the women's version is too sweet for you, give the men's a try.
I had a hard time picking a Lorenzo Villoresi fragrance. Donna is simply gorgeous, but maybe not as interesting as some of the scents in his Fantasy collection (Yerbamate, for instance).
The life of a 1920s flapper translated into perfume.
75. Monyette Paris
Representative of its own little fragrance family that I think of as the "California perfume oils". These are mostly easy-to-wear, sunny little blends of sweet white florals with laundry-clean musk. Monyette Paris is one of the more popular, but other examples would include Apothia If, Kai (my personal favorite of the genre), the Ebba and Sage lines, Devour and Becker.eshaya Be.
[2012: Although they're not oils, the modern (and popular) Philosophy and Clean brands fall under this category.]
One of my favorite lines. I don't happen to adore Ormonde Woman, but I'd say it is one of the best. I do adore Champaca, but my absolute favorite is still the lovely Frangipani, so while you're at it you might as well try that one too.
[2012: You really ought to smell Ta'if, or just get a discovery set and try them all.]
The DelRae line is everything a niche line ought to be. The fragrances, all created by perfumer Michel Roudnitska, are interesting and well done, and in the best niche tradition, they have a kind of quiet dignity — they don't try to be outlandish or trendy, nor are they priced for snob appeal. They're just good perfumes. Debut is probably my favorite, but I do think Amoureuse is the most notable of the lot.
Another of my favorite lines. Sacrebleu is not really a personal favorite — it is too elegant for me, frankly — but it is so beautifully done that I think everyone should smell it. Vie de Château is summer perfection, and not to be missed. And I must put in a good word for Balle de Match, the first niche fragrance I ever purchased.
An underappreciated classic.
82. Ralph Lauren Romance
Whenever I think of perfumes that are quintessentially "American", Ralph Lauren Romance springs to mind. I'm not sure I could explain why (if you can, do comment) but it does smell American, and like its predecessor, Lauren, it strikes me as an almost uncannily perfect fit with the Ralph Lauren brand.
[2012: Romance came out in 1998, but the Ralph Lauren brand has not managed to develop a viable pillar fragrance to replace it — they're still investing in Romance advertising and putting out flankers.]
Gloriously bold examples of 1940s perfumery, both by perfumer Germaine Cellier. And if you can, do try the more recently reissued Baghari. It doesn't suit me, but it is beautifully done example of a classic aldehydic floral, updated (but not dumbed down) for modern tastes.
I had a hard time picking one Santa Maria Novella fragrance. I do think everyone ought to try the line, which is as nice an example as any of the classic Italian style, but I'm not sure there is a real "star" perfume among them. This one happens to be one of my own favorites.
86. Serge Lutens A La Nuit
87. Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan
88. Serge Lutens Daim Blonde
89. Serge Lutens Santal Blanc
90. Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist*
91. Serge Lutens Rahät Loukoum*
92. Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle*
The Serge Lutens line is widely revered among serious perfume freaks, and for good reason. I tried to pick four good examples from the easy-to-obtain export line, but really, you should just try every single one of them, and then you should go try the entire exclusive line (if I was including fragrances you couldn't buy in the United States, the list would certainly include Iris Silver Mist, Rahät Loukoum and Tubéreuse Criminelle).
[2012: Now that the whole of the Serge Lutens line is available in the United States and I've knocked a number of other fragrances off the list, I'll go ahead and include Iris Silver Mist, Rahät Loukoum and Tubéreuse Criminelle.]
93. Shiseido Féminité du Bois
If you're at all interested in the Serge Lutens line, you really need to try Féminité du Bois. Created by Serge Lutens for Shiseido just before he launched the Shiseido-backed line under his own name, and an obvious forerunner of many of his later woody fragrances.
When I reviewed Stella, I said there was "nothing particularly edgy or groundbreaking about it", but Stella stands out for not only updating that most old-fashioned of flowers, the rose, but also for being that rare thing: an un-trendy designer fragrance. It's also extremely popular.
The ne plus ultra of cult classics. It is weirdly addictive, and one of the great comfort scents of all time.
[2012: With the massive increase in niche brands and the growth in perfume-related social media, I'm not sure it makes sense to talk about "cult classics" anymore, and it's hard to tell if this scent, once known affectionately on the fragrance forums as "POTL", has much of a fan club these days. But I'll stand by the "weirdly addictive, and one of the great comfort scents of all time", and leave it on the list.]
Love it or hate it, Angel established a (mammoth!) trend so you might as well know what it smells like, although it's hard to imagine that you are alive and breathing and don't already know what it smells like: even today, almost 15 years after its release, it is everywhere, and so are its numerous offspring.
Cologne is a grossly underappreciated scent, and in my humble opinion, a masterpiece in its own right. In my own fantasy parallel universe, Cologne would replace Angel as the "in thing" and everybody would be copying it.
[2012: If you cannot make yourself appreciate, much less love, Angel, see if you can get your hands on one of the limited edition flankers, like Angel Liqueur de Parfum or Angel Le Goût du Parfum. Did the trick for me, anyway.]
A great exercise in weirdness. If you're standing at the fragrance counter and they also happen to have the new Versace by Versace or Versace Signature or whatever they're calling it, try that too just so you can wonder how they both come out of the same house.
Both so iconic they need no justification, and I'm astonished to see we've never reviewed either of them. Rive Gauche really ought to have been included too, and possibly M7 as well. Unfortunately, we've run out of room.
Postcript, 2007: I started working on this list, believe it or not, in September of 2006, shortly after listening to an NPR All Songs Considered feature on Paste Magazine's 100 Best Living Songwriters. Since then, I've taken it up in rare fits and starts (mostly when I had something else I wanted to procrastinate even more than this). I first announced that it was "coming soon" way back in December 2006, and the only reason I'm posting it now is because a) working on it this weekend allowed me to ignore more pressing matters that I ought to have taken care of, b) seeing it in my "drafts" folder was really starting to annoy the living daylights out of me, and c) it is becoming obvious that I'll never come up with a list I'm truly happy with. Please do comment and tell me what I've left off that really ought to be here, but trust me, I'm under no illusions that it is in any way a definitive list. Perhaps next year I'll try again...
1. You can read more about IFRA in On reformulations, or why your favorite perfume doesn’t smell like it used to.