Home Beauty Through the decades, iconic fragrances have captured the mood and spirit of our times. Here, take a look back at the evolution of a few major fragrances from the ’60s through today.

Through the decades, iconic fragrances have captured the mood and spirit of our times. Here, take a look back at the evolution of a few major fragrances from the ’60s through today.

by белый

Whether a throwback or a modern mainstay, certain scents—their notes, their faces, their campaigns—have defined the moment.

Over the decades, iconic fragrances have captured the mood and spirit of our times. Sparkling citrus notes marked the changing times in the ‘60s; spicy, sensual scents ushered in the days of disco; powdery violets were the perfect accouterment to the age of ‘80s excess; and beginning in the ‘90s and continuing today, technology and the power of celebrity took fragrances of all olfactory families to new heights.

“Fragrance is a choice for a moment, for a period of life,” explains Karine Lebret Leroux, director of fine fragrance creation and development at L’Oréal Luxe, a division of the French cosmetics company that houses brands like Prada, Valentino, and Yves Saint Laurent. “Behind each iconic fragrance is a strong emotional impact that finds the right balance between surprise and familiarity.”

For me, this rings true in two big ways. First, time travel. When I miss my grandma, I reach for one of her go-to flowery perfumes, like Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds, for a rush of scent memories; other days, I'll transport myself to the 1970s (my personal pinnacle of all things style, music, and culture) with a spritz of YSL‘s Opium, a permanent fixture on my vanity. Secondly, fragrance is a vehicle for experimental self-expression, particularly as a millennial in a post-COVID world. My expansive fragrance wardrobe allows me to flit between many of today's biggest fragrances based on the season, current style obsession, or how I'm feeling in that particular moment. That's because the current generation of fragrances—both in ethos and the sheer volume of offerings—puts an emphasis on individuality and fluidity.

As someone who loves looking back to better understand and appreciate the present, I recently took some time to trace some of the most successful fragrances through major moments and shifts in the zeitgeist. An endlessly fascinating exercise! Here, how fragrances have been elevated to new levels of craft and sensory storytelling through the decades.

The Late 1960s and '70s

The '60s—its latter half in particular—ushered in an appetite for newness, reflecting the decade's excitement and liberation. While our grandparents may have been sticking to their tried-and-true scents from the previous decades, our parents, the baby boomers, were getting their first taste of a new era of fragrance.

In 1969, just two years after the hippie movement–ignited Summer of Love, Lancôme came out swinging with Ô de Lancôme, a fresh and invigorating zing of citrus and floral that conjures up summer all year long. Much like the vintage advertisement pictured above, the bottle design (both original and current) captures the energy of running water through a stream, an ever-fitting symbol of changing times.

Then, in the ‘70s (a decade defined by glamour and hedonism), many decade-defining creations came to the fore. Of course, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium, a spicy, sensual blend of jasmine, vanilla, and myrrh, would go on to become one of the best-selling fragrances of the century and emblematic of the Studio 54 era.

Another hit of the decade was Cacharel’s Anaïs Anaïs, a romantic and enchanting green floral bouquet featuring blooming hyacinth and a dash of warm musk. Lebret Leroux says these kinds of warm, sensual, and skin-loving scents were led by a “cocooning intimacy,” especially in France.

Through the decades, iconic fragrances have captured the mood and spirit of our times. Here, take a look back at the evolution of a few major fragrances from the '60s through today.

The '80s

In the '80s—an era marked by excess and more-is-more expression—fragrance mirrored the bold shapes and vivid color palettes of the clothes. “In the ‘80s, perfume was really perceived like an accessory,” says Lebret Leroux. “It was ornamental.” If your earliest perfume memories from your childhood are extra strong like mine (the women in my family loved a hyper-powdery or intensely floral fragrance), you have the fragrances that grew in popularity in this decade to thank.

One of the best-sellers of the decade was YSL's Paris, a powdery violet bouquet inspired by damask rose, launched in 1983. A spritz of the chartreuse green bottle immediately evokes a stroll through the Tuileries Garden in springtime with its green and floral notes, like hyacinth, damascenia rose, and lily of the valley, combined with a base of musk and woods.

A few years later, Cacharel came out with Lou Lou, inspired by silent film star Louise Brooks, who film critic Kenneth Tynan once described as “the most seductive, sensual image of woman ever committed to celluloid.” A sequel of sorts to Anaïs Anaïs, Lou Lou, was darker and more sensual, an amber floral with top notes of plum and violet with a heart of tiare flower and base of vanilla and tonka bean. If your grandma was a Turner Classic Movies–bingeing clothes horse like mine, this was probably on her vanity tray.

The '90s

Through the decades, iconic fragrances have captured the mood and spirit of our times. Here, take a look back at the evolution of a few major fragrances from the '60s through today.

In the ‘90s, a paradigm shift began—not just in what fine fragrances called for, but how they were marketed. This is the decade that celebrity entered the equation, and it is impossible to forget the iconic and boundary-pushing primetime ad spots we grew up with.

It began in 1991 with Lancôme’s light, fruity-floral fragrance Trésor, its campaign fronted by Isabella Rossellini and shot by fashion photographer Peter Lindberg. “It was an incredibly powerful commercial because there was so much emotion and so much sincerity; it didn’t look like advertising,” explains Cyril Chapuy, president of L’Oréal Luxe. “It was a beautiful portrait of a woman in love, and this is what fragrance is all about: emotion, sincere emotion, and creating that goosebumps feeling when you watch the commercial.”

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Two years later, there was the introduction of gourmand icon Mugler’s Angel, an “olfactory shock” (as The Perfume Society puts it) that eschewed flowers for raw materials: sparkling Calabrian bergamot, sweet praline, and sensual woody patchouli. From 1993 to 1997, it was fronted by supermodel Jerry Hall with captivating print and TV ads. Over the next 30 years, faces of the fragrances would include other major stars of their time like Naomi Watts, Eva Mendes, and Hunter Schafer.

The Early 2000s

After the turn of the millennium, there was a new emphasis on "haute" fragrances, making luxury and high fashion more accessible to the masses, both old—and, in my case—young. Editors' note: The Sephora teens of today have nothing on the Flowerbomb-chasing youth of yesteryear.

In 2004, iconic Italian fashion house Giorgio Armani unveiled its haute couture–inspired Armani Privé fragrances, which, from their sleek bottles to their atelier-level scent craftsmanship, signaled a new level of luxury.

The following year, there was the smash success of newcomer Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb, which many consider the ultimate early aughts fragrance, housed in its unmistakable pink grenade bottle. Inspired by the Dutch design duo’s Flowerbomb fashion collection, the addictive bouquet utilized florals (rose, peony, and jasmine) that would play off its wearers’ individual pheromones.

Continuing the runway-oriented trend in 2009, Maison Margiela’s first fragrance, Replica, was inspired by designer Martin Margiela’s 1994 Replica collection. It truly embodied the brand's cerebral and deconstructed house codes.

The 2010s

Through the decades, iconic fragrances have captured the mood and spirit of our times. Here, take a look back at the evolution of a few major fragrances from the '60s through today.

By the 2010s, fragrance launches became more global and amplified by celebrities than ever. One example forever embedded in my mind is, of course, Lancôme’s La Vie est Belle. The floral gourmand—which combines bright iris and warm vanilla inside a bottle the shape of a smile—is synonymous with its longtime ambassador, Julia Roberts, and the “million-dollar smile" so many of us grew up with on-screen in films like Pretty Woman and My Best Friend’s Wedding. “She embodies happiness, smiling, and positive vibes,” explains Chapuy.

Another major fragrance magnified by an Oscar-winning actress during this era was Giorgio Armani’s warm and smooth fruit chypre, Sì, for whom Cate Blanchett became ambassador in 2013. “Cate perfectly embodies the extreme elegance and intelligence of a brand like Armani,” says Chapuy. “When Cate receives an award, she always delivers a speech that is extremely articulate, intelligent, simple, minimalistic, and it’s totally Armani.” This is why you may reach for a sophisticated fragrance like Sì before a big job interview or center-of-attention moment, wanting to move through it with that extra dose of confidence. I know that I do.

Through the decades, iconic fragrances have captured the mood and spirit of our times. Here, take a look back at the evolution of a few major fragrances from the '60s through today.

Further into the 2010s, there was first YSL Beauty's Black Opium (a major favorite amongst millennials), which built on the warm and spicy original with a more modern, rock 'n' roll edge, incorporating gourmand black coffee and vanilla. Its current face? Hollywood's ultimate cool girl, Zoë Kravitz. A few years later, they also introduced Libre, a bold floral scent fusing lavender, Moroccan orange blossom, and musk accords, fronted by Dua Lipa. “A Saint Laurent fragrance must be daring and dangerous because this brand is all about that,” says Chapuy of why these faces match their respective fragrances so well.

And then there was Valentino’s warm and floral Born in Roma, an olfactory ode to Rome featuring models Adut Akech and Anwar Hadid as its ambassadors. Its bottle is bedecked in the Italian fashion house’s tell-tale studs, making it an accessory in and of itself and one that’s more accessible than a pair of Rockstud heels or crossbody bag. It's one of the most attainable and evocative ways to embody house codes.

The 2020s

Through the decades, iconic fragrances have captured the mood and spirit of our times. Here, take a look back at the evolution of a few major fragrances from the '60s through today.

Needless to say, the onset of the 2020s was marked by the pandemic and its dramatic impact on the role of fragrance in our lives. As Lebret Leroux puts it, “There was a before- and after-Covid.” Ultimately, it underlined both the value and power of our sense of smell, catalyzing a greater emphasis on and appreciation for fragrance. This influence has been reflected in the market, with luxury fragrance sales increasing since the pandemic. There’s also the impact of Gen Z and young millennials, who have a more fluid and individual attitude than previous generations. “For the new young generation around the globe, fragrance is all about self-expression,” says Chapuy. “So they love having many fragrances, they love having a fragrance wardrobe, and depending on the situations, they mix, they change, and they even layer to really express themselves in an even more individualized way.”

In today’s climate crisis, another value younger generations seek is sustainability. In this vein, major fragrances are taking steps to reduce waste and environmental impact. Take, for example, Prada's Paradoxe, an avant-garde floral bouquet housed in the Italian house’s signature triangle. Fittingly, its spokesperson, Emma Watson, has advocated for sustainability throughout her career. It is also among the first major 100-percent refillable luxury fragrances, a facet that is becoming increasingly vital both for our planet and sustainably-minded consumers who want to explore and consume more mindfully.

All in all, the 2020s are something of a fragrance free-for-all. Fragrance lovers like myself have more options than ever, whether they're looking to carve out their signature scent or build out an expansive fragrance collection. Either way, what sits atop one's vanity is a reflection of not just the scents they're drawn to but an expression of their personal values and identity. And that's the most revolutionary part of today's fragrance landscape.

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