From the mid-’90s to today, there have been hundreds of fragrances launched in almost blitz-like fashion. “Some reach the pinnacle of fame and others flop, but there’s no magic formula determining which way they will go, and that’s the beauty of fragrance,” says Lyn Leigh, cofounder of The Perfumed Plume.
However, the ones that thrive today do share some defining features: “Cult-classics are usually unique, sophisticated juices with distinctive ingredient composition and are valued as a ‘signature scent’ by consumers,” says Linda Levy, president of The Fragrance Foundation. “They are more often than not groundbreakers and rule-breakers,” adds Mary Ellen Lapsansky, cofounder of The Perfumed Plume. “They dare to be different, and are certainly not ‘me too’ copies. They are reflections of the times and mores in which they were created, and some can be shocking and definitely addicting. They have a signature and impact that cannot be denied.”
Tiff Benson, YouTuber and founder of The Fragrance Society, puts it simply: “Most times, you choose your fragrance. With cult-classics, your fragrance chooses you.”
Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gioia ($98)
Years on the market: 10
Perfumers: Dominique Ropion, Anne Flipo and Loc Dong
This bright, uplifting scent bottles a long summer day, sitting on the Italian coast drinking a mojito. Ropion, Flipo and Dong created a “burst of aquatic freshness” for a woman who is “strong, dignified and a free spirit, but in perfect harmony with nature.” Since its launch in 2010, Giorgio Armani has added three new scents to the Acqua di Gioia family: Air, Light and Ocean, which expand on the vibrant essence of the original.
Euphoria by Calvin Klein ($79)
Years on the market: 15
Perfumers: Dominique Ropion, Carlos Benaïm and Loc Dong
“Seductive” is the word that comes to mind with one whiff of this woody-oriental scent. Equal parts spicy and sweet thanks to the mix of black orchid, pomegranate, amber and mahogany wood, it lingers on the skin with a creamy finish. “It was clear that we had to use ingredients that aligned with the trend-setting, avant-garde characteristics of Calvin Klein,” says Carlos Benaïm, master perfumer at IFF.
Viktor&Rolf Flowerbomb ($165)
Years on the market: 15
Perfumers: Olivier Polge, Carlos Benaïm and Domitille Berthier
Fifteen years ago, this overt floral was love at first spritz for so many fragrance enthusiasts around the world. “I remember the first time I smelled it,” says Benson. “My mind was blown. It’s an explosive bouquet of centifolia rose, cattleya orchid, sambac jasmine and India osmanthus. Anyone within close proximity while wearing this ultra-feminine fragrance will fall victim to its power. When it comes to pure femininity, there’s nothing quite like Flowerbomb.”
Bond No. 9 Chinatown ($350)
Years on the market: 15
Perfumer: Aurelien Guichard
Undoubtedly one of the most iconic fragrances from Bond No. 9, this scent is both sweet and spicy—aka floriental—and perfectly captures the charm and energy of New York’s Chinatown neighborhood. “It opens up with a burst of peach blossom topped with balanced notes of gardenia, bergamot and tuberose,” says Benson. “While the white floral undertones linger, it develops into an intoxicating blend of patchouli, vanilla and cardamom. It’s unusual and unquestionably a cult-classic.”
Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur ($290)
Years on the market: 20
Perfumer: Maurice Roucel
Rewind two decades: Malle and Roucel shocked the fragrance industry with this epicurean blend of amber, vanilla, patchouli, sandalwood, and musk that Malle calls “sex in a bottle.” It gives the impression that the person wearing it smells like that naturally. “It’s a skin perfume for sure,” says Roucel, who was given total creative freedom to create this juice, like all of the perfumers Malle appointed for his Editions de Parfums collection.
Burberry for Women ($61)
Years on the market: 25
Perfumer: Michel Almairac
Rich, warm and timeless are three characteristics often used to describe this fruityoriental scent. Somehow it manages to ooze British elegance and sophistication, yet also impart a casual and understated feeling, reminiscent of its simple glass bottle. Fruity top notes of black currant and green apple, a heart of cedarwood, jasmine and sandalwood, and a lush base of musk and vanilla give this blend its velvety depth and strong sillage.
Lancôme Trésor ($115)
Years on the market: 30
Perfumer: Sophia Grojsman
Grojsman was inspired by the idea of a very feminine woman: “A self-confident woman who makes an unforgettable impression…a woman in love!” she says. Despite Trésor’s rose-forward composition, Benson recalls it being the scent that made her fall in love with peach. “Here, it’s done in a way that’s fresh, juicy and sensual,” she says. “It also has everlasting notes of lilac, iris, amber, vanilla, sandalwood, and musk. I genuinely believe Trésor is an absolute must for a woman who appreciates its beauty and understands the romance that lives inside each bottle.”