And Now, Our List of the Best Perfumes of All Time

And Now, Our List of the Best Perfumes of All Time

The olfactory equivalent of a designer handbag or a great pair of shoes, when it comes to beauty investments there is nothing quite like a great signature scent. Fragrance is the ultimate beauty statement maker—but at the same time is something that we all connect with on a deeply personal level. The best perfumes have the ability to boost our mood, evoke fond memories, and conjure emotions, and we’re all drawn to different scents for reasons that are beyond any scientific explanation. “Fragrance fits, regardless of your BMI, your bank balance, your heritage, or your age,” says fragrance expert and presenter Alice du Parcq. “There is something fantastic out there for everyone and it’s the only beauty ritual that you can’t make a mistake with, because it’s so entirely subjective. Whereas skincare, make-up and haircare are all things that we ‘need’, fragrance is something that we ‘want’, so it’s emotionally led and always a positive experience.”

It’s this personal aspect to fragrance that makes the appeal of finding a signature scent so compelling, but when shopping for fragrance there are a few key things to consider. Are you someone who likes to make a statement with their scent as soon as they enter a room? Or do you prefer a subtle, more intimate fragrance experience? Are you after a one size-fits-all scent that works no matter what the time of day or season? Or are you building a fragrance wardrobe, with options for day, night, spring, summer, autumn, and winter? Of course, another key thing to consider is what notes you’re drawn to. If you like sweet scents then seek out notes like vanilla, tonka bean, and almond. If you’re drawn to bright, fresh fragrances then look for citrus notes, or if you prefer warmer, deeper scents, keep an eye out for woody notes like cedar, sandalwood, and oud.

If you’re struggling to pick just one, be open to the idea of having a selection of different perfumes to choose from. “My advice when looking for a signature scent is always to think plural, not singular,” says du Parcq. “Aim to have a few signatures that work for four or five typical scenarios where you would wear fragrance.” Du Parcq advises keeping those four or five ‘moments’ in mind when out shopping for perfume and identify whether scents fit into one of those. “For instance an easy, comfortable work-office one; an outdoorsy or cosy scent for a weekend away with friends; an elegant but subtle one for a restaurant dinner; a glambomb for a cocktail party; a Sunday morning hangover splash,” she explains. “Above all, you need to ask yourself if it gives you joy.”

One way to start the search for your signature scent is to look to the fragrance hall of fame. Think instantly recognisable classics like Chanel No 5 and Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 which will always have a place on ‘best perfumes’ lists. But if you’re looking for something new or less well known, what exactly is it that differentiates the best perfumes from the average ones? According to du Parcq, it’s the ability for a scent to be polarising and statement-making. “I feel like anything in the room-rocker shoulder-pad-perfume category deserves a place in an Icons list because it shows true courage and balls to send a fragrance into a consumer world that you know loads of people might not like,” she says. “Think Dior Poison, Calvin Klein Obsession, Tom Ford Black Orchid, Mugler Angel, even the more recent Chanel Le Lion.” These scents are all powerful, unique, and highly complex. “Above all, they’re fun and fabulous,” adds du Parcq. “That renegade attitude is really missing today – most major launches are so very safe, polite and restrained.” Fragrance expert and content creator Nicole Koremblum is of the same opinion. “It must have that ‘je ne sais quoi’, ‘never been done before’ aspect to it, it must break ‘fragrance rules” as we know them, and it cannot be considered a classic without evoking very strong feelings in its users,” she adds. “People must be divided in two categories, those who love it and hate it—no in between.”

While even some of the best new perfume launches can go in and out of style, there are a handful of fragrances that stand the test of time—or are set to. Indeed, the best perfumes remain wearable and timeless for years to come—and there’s a version for every occasion, season, and personal taste.

From perfume classics created by the iconic fragrance houses of Chanel and Dior, to innovative offerings from new and niche fragrance brands like Phlur, Jo Loves, and Boy Smells, this is our official list of the best perfumes for women. Whether you’re after the best floral perfumes, the best daytime perfumes, the best winter perfumes, or the best long-lasting perfumes, there’s something on our list for everyone.

Key notes: Aldehydes, ylang-ylang, neroli, iris, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, oakmoss, vetiver. Clean, floral, and powdery; Chanel No 5 tops bestseller lists every single year. It’s over 100 years old but there’s still nothing quite like it.

Key notes: Cotton candy, coconut, jasmine, honey, blackberry, orchid, patchouli, caramel, vanilla. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying it’s iconic. “Angel breaks fragrance rules by being so unique and by mixing an overload of gourmand and patchouli into what was supposed to be a typical floral,” says Koremblum.

Key notes: White musk, mimosa, blonde woods, rice steam. Diptyque launches never fail to surprise and delight. This light, powdery scent is clean but soft, woody but delicate—to me it smells like the pages of a new book.

Key notes: Blueberry, tangerine, rose, geranium, magnolia, musk, patchouli. Perfect for a night out or a party—as would be expected from a fragrance created by Rihanna, this is the fragrance equivalent to wearing a bold red lipstick or six inch heels.

Key notes: Bergamot, apple, black tea, black amber, musk, oakmoss. Each fragrance from niche fragrance brand Vilhelm Parfumerie is inspired by key memories and moments from its founder, Jan Ahlgren. He describes Dear Polly as “a love letter in scent to my wife…Familiar and new, comfortable and invigorating, it is a fragrant brew for two: lovers can wear it and recall each other. Even with distance they’re never apart.”

Key notes: Sichuan pepper, turmeric, may rose, Turkish rose, Bulgarian rose, patchouli, tonka bean. It may contain three different types of rose, but this is a fresh, modern take on the classic scent. The spicy top notes and sweet base notes combine it into something altogether rich, glamourous, and intoxicating.

Key notes: Lemon, watery notes, ginger, petitgrain, tangerine, musk, amber, oud. & Other Stories never fail to impress with their affordable perfume launches—so much so that it was almost impossible to choose just one for this feature. Created by Jérôme Epinette (the perfumer behind a number of Byredo scents), Sicilian Sunrise is an ode to an Italian summer—fresh, green, and aquatic.

Key notes: Pink pepper, iris, ambrette seeds, ambrox. “Glossier You isn’t just a skin scent,” says du Parcq. “It’s a chase-you-down-the-street attraction magnet that makes you smell like you’re a quiet billionaire with an exclusively white wardrobe.”

Key notes: Pomelo, rose, vetiver, clove, patchouli, suede. The best perfumes for day time tend to feature light, fresh notes, which is why this clean, citrusy fragrance is perfect. What’s more, it’s also available in Jo Loves’ unique ‘perfume pen’ format, so you can keep it on hand for top ups throughout the day.

Key notes: Opoponax, cognac, labdanum, violet, geranium, vanilla, patchouli, incense. Although it’s a relatively new launch, this scent smells like a really classic perfume—it has the same kind of show-stopping impact as floral fragrance icons like Chanel No 5 and Tom Ford Violet Orchid—albeit with a modern Byredo twist. It’s rich and boozy, perfect for date night.

Key notes: Watermelon, violet leaf, galbanum, tuberose, ylang-ylang, vetiver, amber. An explosion of fresh white florals with a bright aquatic edge and a ripe green base, this is basically spring in a bottle. 

Key notes: Jasmine, blood mandarin, bergamot, orange blossom, neroli, musk, driftwood, salt. In Phlur’s signature style, this scent is at first musky, woody, and animalic. Leave it to settle on your skin however and you’ll notice that the classic summery notes of mandarin, bergamot, and orange blossom lift it into something altogether sweet and citrusy.

Key notes: Plum, bergamot, leather, rum, amber, milk, patchouli. Part fruity and part leathery, Dark Rum is one of those unique fragrances that works as well for summer as it does for winter, which is why it’s one of the best perfumes for autumn (in my opinion). The rich aromatic scent will see you from the last golden days of summer through to winter’s fireside cosiness.

Key notes: Cloves, pink pepper, orange blossom, chestnut, guaiac wood, juniper, vanilla, Peru balsam, cashmeran. Rich, sweet, boozy, woody, cosy—it’s impossible to run out of words to describe this intoxicating scent. Needless to say, it’s exactly what the best winter perfumes should smell like, and yes, it is best worn while curled into an armchair beside by a blazing fire.

Key notes: Aldehydes, bergamot, sweet pea, Egyptian jasmine, orange, white musk, sandalwood. This is one of those clever and captivating fragrances that smells different on everyone, which is why it’s one of the best unisex perfumes to launch in recent years.

Key notes: Cardamom, pine, patchouli. Sharing is caring, and here at Who What Wear UK we’re big proponents of the idea that really, fragrance is genderless. Although it’s billed as a men’s fragrance, this fresh, spicy scent smells great on everyone.

Key notes: Milk, marshmallow, musk, mahogany, tonka bean. Thanks to its sweet, soft, and altogether neutral notes, this perfume is perfect for layering with others—especially those that you want to mellow out. It makes a great base, especially to perfumes that sit within the amber or wood families.

Key notes: Juniper berries, angelica, cardamom, orange, pepper, leather, orris root, vetiver, cherry, amber. The best long-lasting perfumes will see you through from day to night. Spray this sweet woody perfume on in the morning and you’ll not only still be able to smell it on your skin, hair, and clothes by the end of the day, but two days later as well. Yes, even after showering.

Key notes: Musk, bergamot, jasmine, cyclamen, neroli, orange blossom, white musk, sandalwood, white wood. This delicate and intimate scent won’t have any impact when you walk into a room, but it’s certain to draw in compliments from those immediately around you. It’s inspired by an intimate embrace with someone you love, so it’s subtle but comforting.

Key notes: Saffron, jasmine, amberwood, ambergris, fir resin, cedar. Now this is the kind of scent people will smell when you enter a room—and probably for several hours after you’ve left as well. “It’s easy to see why this has taken the social media world by storm,” says Koremblum. “It broke fragrance rules with its ambroxan note and the fact that its overall scent that smells different to everyone.” It’s true, Baccarat Rouge 540 has an addictive and hard to describe DNA, which only adds to its charisma.

Key notes: Black pepper, olibanum, petitgrain, cedar, cumin, sandalwood, vetiver. I’m a perfume obsessive, but I’ve also experience scent-triggered migraines since my early teens… So it’s safe to say that sussing out the best perfumes for migraine sufferers is my life’s mission. When I polled my fellow migraine sufferers earlier this year, Aesop’s sweet but spicy Eidesis came out on top.

Key notes: Tomato leaf, basil, oakmoss, bergamot, lemon, geranium, musk, jasmine, plum. Sometimes the right perfume can be the difference between having an average day and a great day. Nothing boosts my mood and puts a spring in my step quite like Sisley’s Eau de Campagne. It smells like a bright summer’s day—brilliantly fresh, green, and aromatic.

Key notes: Iso E Super, pink pepper, lemon, iris. Ask any fragrance expert and they will tell you that Molecule 01 is not only the best skin scent in the world, but also one of the most iconic perfumes of all time. Even though it can smell invisible on your own skin, it’s guaranteed to draw in compliments from those around you.

Key notes: Cinammon, cardamom, orris, carrot, ginger, patchouli, papyrus. Simultaneously cosy and sexy, this warm woody fragrance draws upon softly spicy notes to give it a vibrant sensual allure. It’s almost like an amped up skin scent, with a powdery, papery base.

Key notes: Sicilian mandarin, pink peony, damask rose, peach, apricot, white musk. ‘Bouquet’ truly is the best word to describe this crowd-pleasing floral—it’s a perfect spring-summer scent. While traditional florals can feel old-fashioned, the sweet fruity notes and musky base make this extremely palatable.

Key notes: Ambrette seed, carrot seed, sandalwood, cedarwood, amyris, balsam, milk. Creamy and dry, this perfume is smoky, but without relying upon classically smoky notes like oud and leather. Instead, it has a clean and woody edge.

Key notes: Lime, orange, bergamot, basil, thyme, lilac, iris, vetiver, patchouli. Not only is this one of the best Jo Malone perfumes but it’s arguably one of the best citrus perfumes of all time. The bright citrus notes are balanced out in an unconventional way by the green herbal ones.

Key notes: Rose, cedar, vetiver, musk. Cedar is a popular fragrance note and although it’s used within many blends, it’s rarely given centre stage. That’s what makes this incredible woody perfume from Byredo so special—the small ingredient line-up allows the warm, sunny cedar to really shine through.

Key notes: Aldehydes, citrus, magnolia, white mint, clary sage, ozonic notes, musk. The best fresh perfumes feel like a breath of fresh mountain air or a strong sea breeze, which is exactly what this scent was inspired by.

Key notes: Fig, bay leaf, bergamot, cedar, vetiver, musk, tobacco, hay. Musk is another note frequently used as the supporting act within fragrance blends—it’s warm, woody, and has the ability to make a perfume smell cosy and familiar. It really stands out in this scent, perfectly complemented by sweet fig and warm cedar.

Key notes: Pomelo, black peppercorn, basil, rhubarb, cannabis leaves, pistachio, cypress, patchouli, sandalwood, labdanum. Although it’s at first spray fresh and green, this scent warms into a herbal, earthy aroma. It smells like a stroll through a luscious green forest on a hot summer’s day.

Key notes: Blackcurrant, pink pepper, bergamot, rose, geranium, davana, moss, patchouli, vetiver, musk. The latest launch from Maison Margiela, this fruity perfume is inspired by a warm afternoon spent in a French vineyard. It’s above all fruity, but floral notes of rose and geranium keep it feeling elegant and grown up.

Key notes: Vanilla, cardamom, juniper, pink pepper, black tea, bergamot, musk, saffron, ambergris. Spicy scents aren’t always the most palatable, but balanced out by sweet notes of vanilla and juniper, this is a warm, comforting perfume—the olfactory equivalent of a cosy cashmere jumper.

Key notes: Neroli, bergamot, ambrette, iris, orange blossom, musk, sandalwood, cedar. Some gourmand perfumes can smell sickly and cloying, but the beauty of this one is that it’s light and airy. Inspired by a Parisian patisserie, it brings to mind the warm, sweet aroma of freshly baked pastries.

Next Up: I Just Tried Tons of New Perfumes—These Are the 16 That Stood Out

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