Chanel No 5

What Makes Perfume a Classic?

If you read fragrance forums, you have probably come across proclamations that this fragrance is timeless or that one is a new classic. I’m really struggling with this term “classic”. I remember when in 2001 when 50 Cent’s album Get Rich or Die Trying came out. I was living in New York at the time and every other person I knew was doing the finger clap proclaiming that the album was a new classic, yada, yada, yada. I admit, it was a good album, actually, I think it was his only album worth listening to but then that’s just me. My point, though, is how do people know that something has reached the status of a classic? What does it even mean?

50 Cent

So I did some thinking on the topic, while in the shower of course, and I came up with the following criteria a fragrance must meet to be considered a classic.

A fragrance to be considered a classic it must:

  1. be universally recognized as a perfume of superior quality;

  2. have had a long-term influence on the fragrance industry;

  3. have a multi-generational following.

You may not agree with this definition but before you bash it let me give you my logic. Here it is:

  1. Universal Recognition as a Perfume of Superior Quality

Think of anything that you would consider a classic – from Christmas carols to Old Spice, any product or piece of art that is considered classic is universally liked. This doesn’t mean that just because a fragrance is universally liked you must like it and wear it. In fact, many fumeheads don’t even wear fragrances that are too popular. They, however, tend to respect and appreciate them. Old Spice, for example, is rarely worn by connoisseurs. Most of them agree, however, that it is a good fragrance.


  1. Long-Term Influence on the Fragrance Industry

A fragrance can’t be considered a classic just because many people happen to like it. Lady Gaga’s Fame is a top seller. If sales is any indication of how liked a fragrance is, then Fame must be very liked. Fame, however, just like Beyonce’s Heat and Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday, are not classic because they have not brought any long-term benefit to the fragrance industry (sales don’t count, just like gimmicky black juice doesn’t, sorry Gaga).

Sample-vialsClassic fragrances are beacons of change, they show a new direction, they are emulated and start revolutions that have ripple effect in many decades to come. Royal Fougere created a genre named after it. Coty’s Chypre did too. Mitsouko became a cornerstone of the genre Chypre created and got to define it. Green Irish Tweed and its smaller brother Cool Water started the acquatics, which 30 years later remain the preferred scent for many. This is what classics do and it is way more than just being popular.

  1. Multi-Generational Following

Back to Lady Gaga and Nicky Minaj, just like most celebrity juices, their fragrances have a limited lifespan. They are, in a way, like shooting stars – they shine really bright for a few seconds and then they die out. The classics are more like the sun – they shine a long time. Again, just like the sun, because they have been around for so long people tend to ignore them and take them for granted. Take Chanel No. 5 – soon it’s going to be a centenarian and it hardly draws much attention. The buzz is reserved for the newcomers, not for the old-timers.

Guerlain Shalimar

Classic fragrances have multi-generational following. It’s inherent to their nature. Consider Chanel’s Egoiste – it’s not unusual a father and a son to wear it. Many Creed perfumes tend to be considered signature scents and worn as a symbol of lineage. The best example of multi-generational following, though, is Old Spice. Men of all ages and walks of life have worn it and continue to wear it for the past several decades. It’s become so entrenched in our culture that it has come to define the smell of a man and of a dad (at least for North Americans). It is probably the only fragrance that is safe to give a gift to any man of any age.

How would you define a classic fragrance? What are some of your favourite classics?


2 thoughts on “What Makes Perfume a Classic?

  1. Dear Bond
    An intriguing reflection on the nature of the classic.
    It simply has me wondering whether anything can be ‘universally liked’ these days. Just as there could be no modern version of The Beatles of Elvis, perhaps the perfume world is to fractured too?
    Just a thought.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy


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