A global case of nostalgia
There seems to be collective turn to the nostalgic across the world. Between the ongoing Millennial versus Gen Z debate on social feeds (to determine which is the better generation, of course), the revival of Y2K fashion, TV-show remakes, and the recent Netflix doccie Beckham — which made us crave a time when the 1990s version of Posh and Becks still reigned supreme — this desire for a generous dose of the past has also made its way into the fragrance world.
Our need to escape the current state of affairs has only grown stronger and, with that, we find ourselves wanting to cling to simpler times and the treasures of yesteryear. In the fragrance industry, the global nostalgia kick is manifesting in iconic fragrances making a comeback by way of new iterations that bring them into the 21st century or celebrations of their legacy that introduce them to a younger generation.
Achieving longevity and iconic status in the fragrance world while remaining desirable and relevant for every new generation is no small feat. This can take the shape of a reformulation of an iconic scent that stays true to the signature olfactive structure but now incorporates factors such as sustainability; the use of new technologies or ingredients; or a fragrance campaign with a face that resonates with the current market. Whatever the case may be, our love for fragrances that have stood the test of time will have us reaching for new versions of them for years to come.
Sign of the times
Many beloved fragrances have captured the world’s gaze, but the ones that become permanent fixtures in our fragrance wardrobes are those that keep on resonating with us. “Fragrances are the products of their time,” says Michael Edwards, fragrance historian and author of Fragrances of the World. “The fragrances of the 1920s were the symptoms, symbols, and expressions of the twenties. Until the 1940s, perfume was niche. The great names such as Chanel N°5, Joy, Miss Dior, all of these were made for a very small audience of connoisseurs, wealthy men and women.
After the Second World War, fragrance ‘opened up’ because soldiers, sailors, and airmen would bring back fragrances from the war for the women in their lives. But the niche fragrances of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s were too avant-garde. That’s when you saw the development of easier fragrances. Then, in the 1970s, the US [market] exploded and [people] were willing to try innovative scents — think of Halston or Oscar de la Renta, for example, and in the 1980s, think of Red Door. Each decade has its scent. The attitude of the 1980s was quite different from that of the 1990s,” says Edwards.
Revival of icons
One fragrance that continues to remain on everyone’s list of the greatest scents of all time is Chanel N°5. Although it was created over 100 years ago by perfumer Ernest Beaux, it still feels relevant. Starting off as a lab sample that had little meaning and no value, the N°5 scent became synonymous with celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, but it was also an icon in its own right for its timeless floral olfactory composition that blended an unprecedented use of aldehydes. Its scent is as unmistakable as its famous bottle and it continues to be reimagined in new ways, such as N°5 L’Eau, limited-edition collectors’ bottles, and the Chanel Factory 5 collection that scents everyday formulas such as body oil, shower gel, and body lotion.
In the Maison Lancôme collection, which pays homage to founder Armand Petitjean, there’s another Lancôme icon — Peut-Être, a scent that was created in 1937, reworked in 2008, and reimagined in 2020 for the collection by perfumer Nathalie Lorson. Inspired by Petitjean’s secret garden at his home of Les Vallières and with an ambery floral-musk scent with notes of damask rose, benzoin, and white musk, it is housed in a flacon with an intricate design that echoes the resplendent golden gate in the garden. And who would have thought that when Hubert de Givenchy created the L’Interdit fragrance in 1957, it would still be around today?
An aldehydic-floral scent dedicated to actress and maison muse Audrey Hepburn, L’Interdit was one of the first fragrances that had an actress’s face attached to it, birthing the celebrity fragrances of today. It was reformulated in 2002 and given new life in 2018 when L’Interdit Eau De Parfum was created by master perfumers Dominique Ropion, Anne Flipo, and Fanny Bal as an amber-floral scent with notes of pear, bergamot, tuberose, jasmine, and Ambroxan. It also has a new fragrance face — actress Rooney Mara — and L’Interdit continues to be reinvented with newer versions such as Givenchy L’Interdit Rouge.
Not every iconic fragrance will birth an iconic reiteration, of course, but Dior’s J’adore remains exceptional. The scent that has embodied sexiness, liberation, and femininity since 1999 has been reinvented over the years, but it stays true to its golden juice and the use of the signature J’adore bouquet of white flowers (ylang-ylang, centifolia rose, lily of the valley, and jasmine). The modern versions have ranged from J’adore Infinissime, which uses the coveted Grasse tuberose, to the latest J’adore Parfum d’Eau, which changed the game by creating the first water-based scent, using only a concentration of water and flowers.
Another fragrance that is still relevant, with an innovative, gender-fluid scent profile — CK One — walked in 1994 so that unisex fragrances could fly today. Hailed as among the first of its kind, it blends traditionally feminine and masculine notes to create a balanced, fluid, gender-neutral scent and remains a classic with its minimalistic bottle design and fresh floral juice with notes of green tea, bergamot, nutmeg, rose, and cardamom. And if you want to feel like a king for a day you can add a treasured Clive Christian fragrance to your arsenal.
Created by the Crown Perfumery Company, the Town & Country scent, inspired by the English countryside and London Town sophistication, is a royal icon. Famously worn by Winston Churchill and part of The Crown Collection, Town & Country was originally created in 1925 and has been re-imagined for today. A fresh yet warm herbaceous, aromatic scent with notes of clary sage, grey amber, and sandalwood, its profile is concentrated and complex, comprising 207 ingredients. If time is a luxury, then scents that have stood the test of time are the most luxurious of all. It is a fragrance’s ability to transcend and live outside of its era, fluidly evolving to be enjoyed by generations to come, that makes it a piece of art to be collected, passed down, and savoured.
• From the 2023/2024 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.