The most iconic scents of the last five decades revealed
15th October 2020

Whiff of nostalgia! Experts reveal the perfumes that defined each decade from brash aromas like Poison in the ’80s to the sweet scent of Alien in the noughties (so, which are YOUR favourites?)

  • PerfumeDirect have revealed the scents that have defined the last five decades 
  • As voted for by UK adults, retailer revealed smells that evoke nostalgia in nation
  • Includes Opium by YSL in the 70s and Obsession by Calvin Klein in the 80s 

Certain scents can often bring back nostalgic memories, and smelling a specific perfume can have the power to transport us back to whenever we last wore it. 

And now experts have revealed which fragrances have defined the last five decades after online perfume retailer PerfumeDirect asked 2000 UK adults to vote for the top perfumes that defined their 70s, 80s, 90s, noughties and teens. 

Jonny Webber, Head of eCommerce, explained why some perfumes can define an era, including why people in the 80s preferred brash and bold fragrances like Dior’s Poison, while those in the 90s favoured sweet scents such as Jean Paul Gaultier Classique. 

The research showed Tom Ford’s dramatic signature Black Orchid scent was a hit in the noughties and Daisy by Marc Jacobs was popular in the 2010s, while Chloe’s Nomade is set to be one of the defining perfumes of this decade.   

Online perfume retailer PerfumeDirect has revealed the top fragrances of the last five decades as voted for by UK adults. Pictured, Charlie Blue which was a top scent in the 1970s 

The research showed people in the 80s preferred brash and bold fragrances like Dior’s Poison (left), while those in the 90s favoured sweet scents such as Jean Paul Gaultier Classique (right)

The most popular scents of the last five decades 

 The 70s

  • Opium by YSL
  • Anais Anais 
  • YSL Rive Gauche
  • Charlie Blue
  • Estee Lauder’s White Linen  
  • Chanel No.19   

 The 80s

  • Calvin Klein’s Obsession 
  • Giorgio by Giorgio of Beverly Hills, 
  • Poison by Dior
  • Kouros
  • Paris by YSL
  • Chanel Coco 
  • Beautiful Estee Lauder
  • Ysatis by Givenchy
  • Davidoff Cool Water
  • Calvin Klein Eternity
  • Exclamation by Coty 

 The 90s

  • CK One by Calvin Klein 
  • Jean Paul Gaultier Classique 
  • Clinique Happy 
  • Hugo by Hugo Boss
  • Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds
  • L’eau d’Issy by Issey Miyake
  • White Musk by The Body Shop
  • Angel by Thierry Mugler 

The noughties 

  • Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel 
  • Alien by Thierry Mugler
  • J’Adore by Christian Dior
  • Allure by Chanel
  • Light Blue by Dolce & Gabbana
  • Flowerbomb by Viktor & Rolf
  • Black Orchid by Tom Ford

The 2010s  

  • Aventus Creed
  • Prada Luna Rossa Extreme 
  • Dior Homme
  • Mon Guerlain
  • Love by Chloe
  • Bleu de Chanel
  • Daisy by Marc Jacobs
  • Chanel Chance

The 2020s

  • Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau So Fresh
  • Chloe Nomade
  • Gucci Bloom 
  • Jimmy Choo Illicit Flower
  • Dior’s Farhenheit and Sauvage
  • Hugo Boss Bottled 
  • Prada L’homme
  • Tom Ford’s Black Orchid 



He explained: ‘Sense of smell is linked to the part of the brain that is responsible for emotion and memory.’

‘So perhaps more so than music and fashion, perfumes evoke strong feelings of nostalgia. 

‘When looking back over the past 50 years, perfume is up there alongside fashion, music and film when it comes to defining the mood of the nation. 

‘In fact some fragrances became cult products because they reflected what was going on in the world at the time’.   

Tom Ford’s Black Orchid is already making it something of a cult icon in the fragrance market, making the list of noughties iconic fragrances, and is a scent likely to appear high on the list of the scent to the 2020s

Jonny explained that floral based fragrances are said to be popular in times of uncertainty or naivety. 

Meanwhile he revealed that warm, mossy scents with citrus top notes have often emerged following dramatic events such as recession. 

In contrast, Oriental fragrances are often seen as feel-good scents which are popular during more light-hearted ‘party’ eras.

The brash and bold go-to fragrances of the 80s include Giorgio by Giorgio of Beverly Hills, Poison by Dior, and Calvin Klein’s Obsession. 

Jonny told floral, woody and amber scents were a hit in the 2010s. Daisy by Marc Jacobs was a perfume that made the list of the decade’s most nostalgic scents 

Mood-boosting scents are big sellers for 2020 and PerfumeDirect predicted that Chloe Nomade could become one of the defining scents of the decade 

The 1990s saw the emergence of ‘the unisex fragrance’ which saw a new era in perfumes and included scents like Jean Paul Gaultier Classique and CK One. 

He explained: ‘Launched in 2001 the sweet scent of Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel was a clear winner as the scent of the noughties.

What will be the popular scents of the 2020s? 

According to the experts, mood-boosting scents are big sellers for 2020, with scents containing fragrances that can have a positive effect on your brain flying off the shelves. 

Fragrances with Ylang-ylang, jasmine, citrus, vanilla and rosemary are all hugely popular right now, and PerfumeDirect predict could become the defining scents of the decade. 

Best selling women’s fragrances currently include: Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau So Fresh, Chloe Nomade, Gucci Bloom and Jimmy Choo Illicit Flower. 

And for men’s scents, Dior’s Farhenheit and Sauvage, Hugo Boss Bottled and Prada L’homme are capturing the mood of the nation at the moment.

The unisex appeal and highly recognisable smell of Tom Ford’s Black Orchid is already making it something of a cult icon in the fragrance market, and a scent likely to appear high on the list of the scent to the 2020s.

‘Whilst with its floral, woody and amber revelations made a refreshing contrast to the caramel, honey and praline sweetness of Angel.’

Jonny noted that many perfumes launched more than 40 years ago, are still among their best selling products in 2020.

‘Many fragrance houses have updated their iconic scents with a more modern twist’, he explained.

‘For example YSL’s Black Opium launched in 2014 and an Opium Black Neon was announced this year, yet the original still out-sells it. 

‘Similarly, Mugler’s Angel Eau de Toilette is a lighter and fresher version of the original, but Alien is being worn by hundreds of people still today.’

He added: ‘Another interesting finding from the survey was that more than 20 per cent  of females over the age of 40 have one signature scent they’ve used for more than 20 years.’  

Of those surveyed, on average people said they had experimented with just six different fragrances over the course of their lifetime. 

Overall, 25 per cent of both men and women questioned discovered their signature scent 20 or more years ago and have had little reason to change it over the years. 

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