Versailles isn’t called the “perfumed court” for nothing. Since the renowned King of France has moved the capital 10 miles west-southwest of Paris, the court’s halls and salons were always deluged with aromatic perfume. Even the furniture and the fountain were sprayed with perfume, making Versailles powerfully fragrant.
It has a quirky history, though. King Louis XIV has always been scared of bathing, with claims saying he had only taken three baths in his entire lifetime. It was deemed then in the 17th century that water spread diseases, which the less you bathed, the less you’re susceptible to catch any illnesses.
King Louis XIV
Also called the Sun King, it was King Louis XIV who took the fad of perfumery into greater heights. He tasked his perfumer to produce a new scent every week, allowing perfumes to develop massively throughout the 18th century. With the evolution of society, various trends, scents, and tastes also arose. By the time of Marie Antoinette, perfumery had evolved into an art, giving birth to many influential perfumers.
Today, wearing perfumes is a genuine way of life in France, and the country’s iconic perfumes have also been known across the world. Here, let’s look at the best French signature perfumes, scents that will not only make you feel special but remind you of the craft’s redolent history.
Guerlain is among France and the world’s perfume houses. Established in 1828, it started as a small business in Paris founded by Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain. A master perfumer, Guerlain customized fragrances for his customers in the capital and catered his scents to the rich and famous like Napoléon III, Empress Eugénie, Queen Isabella II of Spain, and Queen Victoria.
Guerlain’s son Aimé continued the business and then passed it to his nephew Jacques. Jacques passed it to his grandson Jean-Paul before it was acquired by the multinational LVMH. In its nearly two centuries run, the brand has produced nearly 350 perfumes. Today, they remain one of the most-loved perfume brands in the world.
Another perfume maker with a rich history, Fragonard was named after renowned Grasse-born Jean-Honoré Fragonard, paying tribute to Grasse, a town on the French Riviera famous for its long-established perfume industry, and for being an insignia of 18-century art.
Eugène Fuchs purchased two perfumeries in Grasse, namely Muraour and Cresp-Martinenq, and opened Fragonard. Fuchs ran the business in line with traditions and soon boomed in the succeeding generations and expanded to Eze and the City of Lights and Love, Paris.
Now, the perfumery is adapting to new cultural dimensions, pacing with new current market desires and needs, while staying devoted to its antiquity and original spirit.
Lancome was founded by Armand Petitjean in 1935, launching its first five fragrances (Conquete, Bocages, Tendre Nuit, Tropiques, and Kypre) at the Brussels’ World Fair. These perfumes were complex, placed in gorgeous bottles, and their embellished packaging opposed the minimalism concept of the Art Deco style famous during the 1930s.
Since 2014, its La Vie Est Belle L’Eau de Parfum Spray has become its best-selling fragrance in the historic French market. Well-loved for its enticing, warm, and rich fragrance, the La Vie Est Belle blends pear and black currant, with jasmine, iris, and orange bloom as middle notes, and patchouli, praline, tonka bean, and vanilla as base notes.
Lancôme has also expanded its business into skincare and makeup products, providing everyone all they need to turn heads and make life beautiful.
While it’s relatively a newer perfume brand, Diptyque’s beautiful perfumes are as quickly recognizable as the first ones on this list. It was established by three talented individuals Desmond Knox-Leet, Christiane Gautrot, and Yves Coueslant in 1963 as a quirky bazaar first selling fabrics they designed.
As the fabrics didn’t fare well in terms of sales, the three ventured into offering fragrant candles (Cannelle, Thé, and Aubépine, Cannelle), which became an instant hit. It eventually led to the introduction of their signature eau de toilette, L’Ombre dans l’Eau.
A scent inspired by pomanders and potpourri recipe, the notes of the fragrances are rosebud twigs, orange flowers, and blackcurrant berries, capturing the noses of any scent-lover.
Today, the French perfume brand continues to provide exceptional fragrances for both men and women, with its original boutique still open in Paris, and branches in key cities around the globe like London, New York City, Las Vegas, Chicago, Tokyo, Doha, Milan, Dubai, and Hong Kong.
Envisioning to have a scent that is as important as her clothing collection, French couturier Coco Chanel launched the iconic Chanel No. 5 in 1921, transmogrified the way women smell, and became one of the household names in perfumery worldwide.
The scent came from a portfolio of fragrances created by French-Russian chemist and perfumer Ernest Beaux, who took inspiration from scouring other places on the planet, from Venezuela, New Caledonia, Comoros, and as far away as the Arctic Circle.
Coco Chanel chose the fifth scent. Thus, the name of the signature perfume. It veered away from the simplistic, single-flower scents at that time and rather boasted a complex, opulent floral fragrance.
Adding the design of the geometric-shaped, lab-flask-looking bottle with black block letterings, the perfume broke boundaries and started a new, lasting fragrant tale in the industry. Eventually, it became the best-selling perfume of all time.
Chanel released other fragrances through time and continues to dominate the market and provide fresher scents, reflecting the timeless brand.
Founded by Ernest Daltroff in 1904, Caron provided the world with many unique blends of fragrances, reflecting the founder’s innate love for scents and travel.
Its famous perfume Narcisse Noir was released in 1911, giving women a floral fruity fragrance with top notes of African orange flower and Narcissus, middle notes of rose, jasmine, and orange, and base notes of musk and sandalwood. It transcended the French market, being able to reach Hollywood and mentioned in some of its flicks.
Yet, in 1934 when men were used to wearing only colognes, Caron released the very first perfume for men – the legendary “Pour Un Homme,” which simply translates to “For A Man,” a fragrance with a perfect blend of vanilla and lavender notes.
Other iconic perfumes from the brand include Narcisse Blanc with its classic white floral notes and the Tabac Blond, Tabac Exquise, and Tabac Noir, all coming with enticing tobacco and leathery scents.
Starting as a fashion house established by Maria “Nina” Ricci and her son Robert in 1932, Nina Ricci created its in-house perfume division in 1941 and launched its first perfume, Coeur Jolie (Beautiful Heart) in 1946.
It was in 1948, however, when they introduced the fragrance L’Air du Temps, which helped cement the fashion house’s name in the perfume industry. Its name translates to “the current trend,” perfectly encapsulating the elegance, love, passion of the emerging generations.
While Nina Ricci was purchased by the Spanish fashion and beauty group Puig in 1998, their collection and apple-shaped perfumes are still easily recognizable. L’Air du Temps remains a favorite to many perfume enthusiasts and as a best-seller.
No rundown of the best perfume brands will be complete without Dior. After the ground-breaking success of his “New Look,” Christian Dior knew that it isn’t about just looking good but smelling beautiful as well. As such, “Miss Dior” was introduced in 1947 and quickly rose to become one of the remarkable fragrances of the 20th century.
Since then, Dior has produced quality scents and set the bar so high. Some of its other best releases include Dior Homme Intense, Dior Sauvage Eau de Parfum, J’Adore, and Dior Diorissimo. Today, the brand continues to glorify the art of perfume, producing luxurious fragrances and a wide array of products for all types of noses.
That’s the roundup of some of the best signature French perfumes only bound to keep you smelling fresh and beautiful. Yet, there are more other perfume-makers awaiting for you to discover, proving perfumery’s rich history and how it’s celebrated as an artform in this stunning country.