Living Legends: Some of History’s Greatest Fragrances

Living Legends: Some of History’s Greatest Fragrances

Like all things, perfume has history. Some of this history came to life in 2019, when archeologists from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa were able to recreate the ‘Chanel No5 of ancient Egypt’. This perfume, from around the same time as the famous pharaoh Cleopatra, was found as residue in ancient bottles from an archaeological dig in North-East Egypt. Chemical testing was able to determine the ingredients, which included myrrh, cardamom, olive oil and cinnamon for a thick scented paste that produced a strong, spicy, and slightly musky fragrance. However, if you want to be able to scent history, you need not put in so much effort.

While new fragrances are released every year, pushing the bounds of what is cutting-edge and on-trend, the classics tend to remain. There are fragrances readily available today that have been in production decades, even centuries.

4711 Original Eau de Cologne

We start with one of the oldest fragrances still in production today: 4711 Original Eau de Cologne, first manufactured in 1792. Invented and still made in Germany, much of the history of this fragrance is lost, but we do know that it boasts one of the oldest product histories in the world, starting as a rejuvenating health elixir before developing into the iconic Eau de Cologne. This fragrance still consists of the seven main ingredients it has relied on since its inceptions: orange, lemon, bergamot, rosemary, lavender, petitgrain and neroli. This is a perfume that encapsulates freshness, relaxation, and calmness.

Chanel No5 Eau de Parfum

In 1921, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel commissioned Ernest Beaux to create her brand's first fragrance, requesting it be a ‘woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent.’ She was presented with a range of fragrance samples which included the revolutionary use of Aldehydes - an airy note found in natural materials or in synthetic chemical form that creates ‘champagne fizz’ to make a fragrance sparkle. Of the range presented, Coco Chanel chose the fifth sample and named it simply No5. From this came Chanel’s Fragrance legacy: No5 is the number one best-selling women’s fragrance of all time. Chanel has since released countless iconic fragrances.

The No5 Eau de Parfum is a slight variation to the original No5 Parfum that was released in 1986, it is more readily available and nearly identical in scent. A floral bouquet composed around May Rose and jasmine that includes iris and lily-of-the-valley. This features bright citrus top notes that include bergamot and a touch of peach, deepened by the base notes of sweet vanilla, sandalwood, moss, vetiver, and patchouli. A top note of aldehydes adds that champagne fizz that made No5 so revolutionary, creating a fragrance that is floral, woody, and timeless.

Lanvin Arpége

Founded by Jeanne Lanvin in France in 1889, Lanvin is the third oldest French fashion house still in operation. Her career started as a clothing designer for children, but her reputation and clientele quickly grew, and she became one of the leading fashion designers by the 1920s. Jeanne was a devoted mother, and her love for her daughter Marguerite was the foundation for both the company and Arpége- it was created as a gift for Marguerite’s birthday in 1927. The House’s logo is featured prominently on the bottle and suits the spirit of the fragrance- it is an artwork inspired by a picture of Jeanne Lavin and her young daughter, wearing matching outfits at a fancy dress ball, from 1907.

The fragrance was reformulated in 1993, but the inspiration and essence of the perfume remain unchanged. It is a melody of love and composed like a poem are created by notes of Aldehydes, neroli, rose, iris and sandalwood. This classic fragrance is for women passionate about beauty and love. Overall, this fragrance is richly floral, slightly powdery, and a beautiful classic.

Guerlain Samsara

Of course, if you want to talk about historical perfume giants, you must talk about the House of Guerlain. Founded as a fragrance house by perfumer Pierre-François Guerlain in Paris in 1828, Guerlain has since expanded to skincare and cosmetics, but remains one of the oldest and luxurious perfume houses. While there are older fragrances, I think Samsara has earned this place on this list for its royal patronage and significance to the brand. Designed in 1853 by the House’s founder, this fragrance was created for Empress Eugénie, wife of Emperor Napoléon III. Empress Eugénie was a great patron of arts and fashion, credited as helping create Haute Couture as we know it today through the patronage of Charles Fredrick Worth and his fashion house. This patronage extended to Guerlain and his fragrances, and to this day many of their bottles are adorned with bees, the royal symbol of the Second French Empire. This perfume has since been reformulated, however, most notably in 1989. Samsara as we know it today is a powdery floral-oriental with strong woody elements. A Spellbinding fragrance that embraces classical notes of Bergamot, Jasmine, Ylang-ylang, Tonka bean, Vanilla, Iris and Sandalwood infuse together in a warm and layered scent, well-loved and well-known.

Guerlain Shalimar

‘Four centuries ago, in India, Emperor Shah Jahan fell hopelessly in love with Princess Mumtaz Mahal. He had the enchanting Gardens of Shalimar built for her and dedicated the Taj Mahal to her as well, one of the seven new wonders of the world. This incredible tale sparked the imagination of Jacques Guerlain, who created Shalimar, the first oriental fragrance in history, in 1925.’ – Guerlain, Paris.

The story of love and devotion that inspired Shalimar is best told by Guerlain themselves. This iconic fragrance was a revolutionary fragrance that has become a classic, and unlike Samsara, Shalimar is unchanged, down to the shape of the bottle. This fragrance’s main notes are vanilla, bergamot, and iris, but is a layered and complex fragrance. It is said that its perfumer, Jacques Guerlain, worked day and night, knowing that he was paving the way for a ‘small revolution’- the first pure oriental fragrance.

Written by Miranda