Monday, July 14, 2008

Top 25 Perfumes You Can Actually Find!

One of the hottest (and most frustrating) perfume discussions is about the discontinuation and reformulation of dearly loved scents. You can see it on the blogs (I collect Lost Perfumes and often write about them) and on the various forums, and you can do a Google search for Donna Karan Chaos, vintage Miss Dior, L'Occitane Neroli original version and (I'm not kidding) Miami Glow by J. Lo.

I'm not above stocking up on a handful of goners, as is obvious from looking at the bottom shelf of my perfume cabinet. But once you've hoarded a lifetime supply of Fendi Theorema, there comes the question: What now?

Several of us, bloggers, have asked ourselves this question, and here's the result: A list of our top 25 perfumes that are available without spending days haunting eBay, bribing LVMH employees or performing black magic.

The following is my super subjective take on what's the best out there. My fellow bloggers offer more ideas: Perfume Shrine, Smelly Blog and Savvy Thinker .

Here we go, in absolutely no particular order...

The Classics:

You can hardly go wrong with Guerlain (it's still possible, because even they had some weird lapses in judgment, but why dwell on L'Instant when there's so much good stuff to enjoy?). Even though most of the classics have undergone some reformulation and change, including the ones I'm listing here, unlike other houses, Guerlain have put the time, resources and creativity to keep these scents alive and beautiful. The following can be found at most decent department stores and occasionally online.

1. Mitsouko (parfum concentration)- This one needs no introduction. It's hard to define and explain this scent, and saying that it's peachy chypre doesn't come close to describing it. Even I, a certified peach-hater, can't get enough of this rich marvel. It's sexy like no other, and while I hear that some men aren't afraid of wearing it, in my mind Mitsouko is the ultimate femininity.

2. Shalimar- No matter what changes Shalimar has undergone over the years, it still has a sharp, citrusy opening and a sweet, amber-vanilla drydown, with hints of wood, smoke and raunchy sex. While my preferred concentration is the pure parfum, it's worth trying (and owning) in every formulation. I haven't met a Shalimar I didn't like.

3. Eau de Shalimar- I'm not cheating. EdS is a different perfume than its forefather. It opens lemony and fluffy, sort of a lemon meringue pie, and morphs into a happy vanilla. Certain men would drop dead at your feet. This is the most recent incarnation of the now dead Shalimar Light (which had two versions in the short time it was available). It's not identical, but still an amazingly wearable scent with a wide appeal that shows that even very old dogs can learn a new trick or two.

The Neo-Classics:

Serge Lutens
While pondering Guerlain, I instantly knew which scents I was going to write about. It wasn't so easy when it came to Serge Almighty, whose bottles take the most shelf space in my cabinet. I love them all, the cute and the menacing, and most of them agree with me.

4. Vetiver Oriental- A complex and rich blend that goes right to my head. Velvety soft, reasonably sweet and still green while having a beautiful chocolate note. It's not really a gourmand, but you'll be tempted to try. Originally a non-export (Paris exclusive in a bell jar) release which is currently available from most stores that stock the export line, including Neiman Marcus, Aedes and Luckyscent.

5. Chergui- Spicy, woody, aromatic and sweet. It's rich and dark, but retains a certain dryness from the hay and tobacco notes. Supposedly a masculine scent, but that has never stopped me before. Chergui is part of the non-export line, but every Barneys carry it and I also saw it in Evody, Paris.

6. Chene- The ultimate woody scent. It's warm and dry like a bark but still has some sap and dirty earth somewhere in the composition. Like Chergui, it's a Barneys exclusive non-export.

7. Ambre Sultan- To me, it's the queen of amber. Gorgeous from its herbal start to its rich drydown that never ends. Taking a shower the morning after seems a little wasteful when I still smell so good.

8. Muscs koublai Khan- Dirty, sweaty warrior king? I don't think so. Musks (those I can smell, that is) are extremely warm and comforting for me. This one is rich, a little smoky and a tad sweet. Requires a trip to Paris or a French friend who really loves you and willing to deal with their postal service.

Annick Goutal
A direct descendent of the traditional French houses, Annick Goutal makes elegant, mostly feminine perfumes. They come in pretty boxes and the bottles are put in a fabric pouch that makes me think of an over-groomed poodle, yet it all works, somehow.

9. Grand Amour (in Eau de Parfum)- This is what my nose classifies as French perfume. Decidedly floral, elegant and never wears jeans. There's something so devastatingly perfect about this perfume that I'm surprising myself every time I choose to wear it. As romantic as Casablanca. Ingrid Bergman, who knew a thing or two about great loves could have been a perfect spokesperson for this.

10. Eau d'Hadrien (in EdP)- This might be the ultimate citrus scent. The one so many of us turn to when the weather is so atrociously hot we only want to think of lemons and cool cypress trees. A unisex scent that is often recommended for beginners, in hope that the fresh, easy to wear notes would evoke a love for perfume for the uninitiated. Those of us who like to go deeper, enjoy the dusty Mediterranean shrubbery and the woody undertones.

L'Artisan Parfumeur
One of the first niche houses that is now a classic. There's something for everyone in their impressive collection, from the friendly and floral to the stunning and weird.

11. Dzing!- Inspired by the circus, this scent has hay, rubber, smoky leather and dusty vanilla. Haters talk about barnyards, tigers and elephants with some wet cardboard. Even they don't claim boredom. I love it with a passion.

The Modern Ones:

Tauer Perfumes
Andy Tauer makes magical perfumes. I'm limiting myself to only two here, but honestly, everything he bottles is a personal journey made with love, integrity and inspiration.

12. L'Air du Desert Marocain- This is as close as I get to a Holy Grail scent, and while it's a unisex scent, I don't think my husband has ever dared wearing it. It's too much me.

13. Incense Rose- A happy incense. I wore it recently on some of the hottest days of the year. Incense Rose blooms and radiates its beauty without ever turning beastly or suffocating.

Vero Profumo
As niche as it comes. Vero Kern from Switzerland has only three perfumes, very different from one another. All three tell stories and are uniquely beautiful. Currently only available from Vero's web site (easy to navigate and purchase), but will be released in the US this fall.

14. Onda- A fierce vetiver that speaks of days long gone, silent movies, dark lipstick, velvet gowns and bold jewelry.

CB I Hate Perfume
The name might be a bit of a gimmick but Christopher Brosius makes beautiful perfumes that have a sci-fi quality in his Williamsburg, Brooklyn studio. They are multi dimensional and have the ability to transcend time and space. Beam me up.

15. Revelation- This is a fig tree, from the roots up. It's not milky or coconuty and has none of the sheer, easy qualities you'll find in most fig scents. Instead you will get an evocative glance at faraway places, where these fragrant trees grow.

Comme des Garcon
A quirky, whimsical fashion house that produces quirky, whimsical perfumes, with a masterpiece thrown here and there for good measures. They are mostly unisex with a leaning towards the masculine edge. I don't find everything wearable and their patchouli has tried to kill me once, but when they're good...

16. Zagorsk- A dark and broody incense, with a pencil shavings cedar base and a melancholy violet and iris heart that illuminates the gray smoke.

Miller Harris
Perfumer Lyn Harris makes pretty and easy to wear scents. They are all nice, but I usually look for something more to catch my fleeting attention span. So far I've fallen in love with two creations from this house. Here's the most striking.

17. L'Air de Rien- Inspired by singer Jane Birkin who wanted a scent that smells of everything and nothing, this is a wonderful skin scent with patchouli, musk and moss. The result is both naughty and comforting, salty and a little sweet and doesn't resemble anything else.

Frederic Malle
Imagine that: A perfume house that gives its noses the freedom to create the best thing they can. Frederic Malle hires the most interesting talent (and also Jean-Claude Ellena) and gets beautiful scents, many can already be considered classics. Even the ones that fight with my skin are things of beauty when you sniff them in the boutique's smelling booths. Available from Barneys.

18. Vetiver Extraordinaire- A bitter green, take-the-boardroom-by-storm masculine that softens considerably on my skin and shows its woody side. A Dominique Ropion Creation.

19. Musc Ravageur- They weren't kidding about this name. Musc Ravageur belongs to the Shalimar school of seduction with its innocent bergamot opening that gets spicier and naughtier until a vanilla-musky drydown. Maurice Roucel is responsible for this gem.

Parfumerie Generale
Pierre Guillaume brings originality and fun to this old game. Almost every bottle offers a unique point of view and they are all worth exploring.

20. Musc Maori- Last musk for today, I promise. This is a sweet (and probably a little girly) confection. Bitter chocolate, vanilla-tonka and a not-so-clean white musk. A happy scent with a couple of secrets by day, a men slayer by night.
21. Bois Blond- A sharp, resinous scent that cozies up to cedar lovers and softens as it develops its rich tobacco personality.

Resurrected Classics:
Robert Piguet
New versions of 1940-50s (and in the case of Cravache 1960s) elegant scents. They've been modernized and tweaked, but still retain a certain dignity that's hard to find elsewhere. I chose here the two most notable, but have also a soft spot for Visa, a fruity-leathery that does interesting things on skin. The French-made version is supposed to be better than what we have here in the US (different alcohol). Still, these are great scents with a larger-than-life personality.

22. Fracas (parfum concentration)- The queen of tuberose. It doesn't get more femme than this . The parfum is more understated than the take-no-prisoners death by sillage EdP, but I still wouldn't wear it to a PTA meeting or to be introduced to your future in-laws.

23. Bandit (EdP)- Somewhere in the Bible Belt there's a preacher who started his career when he smelled this and saw sin.

The uber-luxurious:
JAR Perfumes
Joel Arthur Rosenthal is not alone in the break the bank category, but as far as I'm concerned he's the one who does it best. There's a whole ceremony when you go to smell them at the JAR boutique (Paris or NYC) , considered by some a dog and pony show. I think it's fitting of these creations.

24. Diamond Water- A shiny and sparkly floral scent, with a peppery opening and a sweet, incense-tinged drydown. For an opening night at the Met, a royal wedding or a very special date.

And the almost mainstream:

Tom Ford
Controversial and brilliant, nasty and glamorous, fashion designer Tom Ford is master of provocation. When the hype dies down, what's left is a bunch of surprisingly (or not) beautiful scents. His Private Blend line is worth exploring in itself, but his first feminine fragrance has the making of a classic.

25. Black Orchid- Blackcurrant, gardenia, a mysterious black orchid, chocolate, black truffle, patchouli and vanilla. On the wrong skin it might turn into a mess, but when it works for you, this is a rich, intoxicating fragrance that can turn an evening into an unforgettable night.

Please visit Perfume Shrine, Smelly Blog and Savvy Thinker for more suggestions, and add your own suggestions for the brilliant and available.


  1. Hi G., your comment on Bandit had me snorting coffee. She's a villain all right! I've compiled my own list on Grain de Musc: we only have five in common, but we agree on lots of the houses!

  2. It's uncanny, because I have 5 common as well :-)
    But I like almost all of those you have listed! Well, it figures...

    Gotta love the villainess of Bandit! It's so good in the heat too :-)

  3. I'll have to steal that line about Bandit sometime...

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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