Our top pick? Chanel No. 5
For centuries, a lush carpet of fragrant flowers in the French region of Provence—romantically known as ~the land of a thousand scents~—has been harvested for use in exquisite perfumes by houses such as Chanel and Dior (among countless others). It goes without saying that with all these years of experience, the French truly know all there is to know about creating the most divine, intoxicating scents. For this very reason, we look to them for the latest and greatest in iconic, luxury perfumes, year after year.
Thus, we present to you the ultimate guide to everything French fragrance. Keep scrolling to find the best French perfumes—from the classics to the more obscure—definitively categorized & ranked, with the absolute *must-haves* highlighted along the way.
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Best French perfumes
Ahead are fourteen of the most iconic French perfumes. One of which might very well be your new signature fragrance.
#1 — Chanel No. 5
Easily one of the most famous fragrances in the world, Chanel N°5 was originally conceptualised in 1921 by belle of the Parisian social elite, Coco Chanel, as "a woman's perfume, with the scent of a woman."
The scent, imbued with jasmine, rose, sandalwood and vanilla, was an instant success, partly due to some of Coco's ingenious marketing tricks. She invited Beaux (her master perfumer) and friends to a popular upmarket restaurant on the Riviera to celebrate and decided to spray the perfume around the table. Each woman that passed couldn't resist the temptation to stop and ask what the delightful fragrance was and where it came from. "[In] that moment, consumers were smelling something they had never smelled before; it was an intervention in the history of perfume."—Tilar Mazzeo.
#2 — Guerlain Shalimar
Many myths surround the creation of Shalimar. According to some, the fragrance was first developed by accident when perfumer Jacques Guerlain, in a fit of madness, added ethyl vanillin to a bottle of Jicky. Others say that the fragrance was the perfumer's personal gift to his wife, not to be adorned by any other woman. One thing is for sure, though, in that year—1925—Guerlain crafted a timeless scent that would remain their best-selling, flagship product over 90 years later.
The fragrance is considered to be Oriental, often being described as vanilla, powdery, and sweet. It contains bergamot, lemon, jasmine, rose, iris, incense, opopanax, tonka bean, and vanilla. The coolness of the citrus notes leads to a floral heart ending with a warm and luxurious trail, a *must-have*.
#3 — Dior Miss Dior
With the horrors of WWII finally over, Christian Dior sought to "create a fragrance that is like love". In 1947, from notes of gardenia, galbanum and bergamot, he achieved just that. Entitling it "Miss Dior"—after his sister Catherine he so admired—it would represent the image of a strong, beautiful woman with a type of Parisian elegance that was simultaneously spontaneous, sassy, and refined. The face of the modern reimagination of Miss Dior is Natalie Portman, embodying Dior femininity as today's women claim their rightful place in the world.
The scent is simply divine; it is the perfume of love, spirit, elegant radiance, and the instant sensuality that is its signature. "All our senses are awakened by the sensuality of the new Miss Dior Eau de Parfum's floral bouquet. It celebrates the velvety and sensual Roses—heightened by a fresh Lily-of-the-Valley and biting Peony—enveloped by a powdery Iris."—François Demachy.
#4 — YSL Black Opium
To celebrate the new rock-chick aesthetic of the brand in 2014, Yves Saint Laurent Beauty released the latest reinvention of the YSL woman: Black Opium. Despite being one of YSL's best-selling scents of all time (selling 887 bottles A DAY), its history has not been without a heavy dose of controversy. Celebrating the house's history of female liberation, YSL released several glamorously scandalous ad campaigns, firmly cementing the perfume's position as a representation of the empowerment of women, but not without receiving thousands of complaints along the way.
It has a captivating floral gourmand scent, twisted with an overdose of black coffee for a shot of adrenaline. Imagine energy and sensuality married with the unique YSL edge. Addictive, unparalleled in provocation, and deliberatively seductive. Magnifique!
#5 — Chloe Eau De Parfum
The classic rose gets a beautifully modern makeover in this 2008-born Chloé perfume, creating a fragrance that's feminine, natural and undeniably attractive. It exudes a combination of floral powder notes, sprightly hints of peony and lychee, and the embellishment of springtime freesia. The airy, flirtatious head notes drift away to reveal magnolia and lily of the valley, as well as subtle intimations of warm amber and elegant cedarwood.
Intended for everyday use and more than suitable for becoming someone's unique signature scent, the confident nature of this floral bouquet will never disappoint. Fresh, subtle, and sophisticated, Chloé Eau de Parfum is the perfect gift for yourself or a loved one. Check out our best French deodorant post to see which is the best to pair with this gorgeous scent.
#6 — Aerin Ikat Jasmine
Aerin Lauder—Estee Lauder's granddaughter (yes, that Estee Lauder)—founded her lifestyle brand in 2011 and has since exploded into the popular domain for her cosmetics, jewellery, and purses. The house expanded to include perfumes and launched five of them in 2013, one of which being the instant-classic: Ikat Jasmine.
It is an embodiment of the modern woman—effortless style and intriguing femininity. The heart of the fragrance is built around jasmine, enriched with exotic tuberose fleur, honeysuckle, and sandalwood—a glorious combination. Some trivia: its outer carton was inspired by the blue and white floral wallpaper in Lauder's childhood bedroom.
#7 — Lancome La Vie Est Belle
Roughly translating as "life is beautiful", La Vie Est Belle rocketed to icon status after a memorable marketing campaign featuring actress Julia Roberts in 2012. Its composition continues to entrance women to this day, with the original fragrance claiming the title of "French women's preferred perfume" and even holding its own among the top 4 global women's fragrances.
The final formula is the result of three years and *5000* different versions. Iris is the key ingredient, surrounded by orange blossoms and jasmine in the heart. The composition's opening provides fruity flavours of black currant and pear, whilst the base is warm, gourmand and powdery due to almond-like accords of tonka bean, praline, patchouli and vanilla. It exudes such a warm, enveloping, sensual aura.
#8 — Sisley Eau du Soir
Eau du Soir has a wonderfully romantic origin story: it was created by Hubert d'Ornano for his wife (the Countess Isabelle d'Ornano) in 1990 and was her personal scent before becoming a global bestseller after a friend persuaded her to release it in 1999. Christine (their daughter) wears it today: "It's my signature scent for day and night. It reminds me of my childhood as my mother used to wear it, and it reminds me of when she used to come into my room and kiss me goodnight."
Feminine, elegant and eternal, its complex and rich composition is based on the perfect harmony of contrasted lines: fresh citrus, sensual flowers, warm amber and musk—emulating "an evening walk through the Spanish royal gardens".
#9 — Hermes Caleche
A calèche is a kind of horse-drawn carriage, and a hood 18th-century women wore that folded over like said carriage's bonnet. It speaks volumes about what this scent is trying to exude, in that it is not overtly feminine in any conventional way, yet is the epitome of Parisian chic: reserved, elegant, and well-thought-out without being fussy. With that said, it is notoriously hard to love at first.
If you give it a chance after the initial blast of nose-tingling aldehydes and unsugared lemon, you are greeted with its feminine floral heart, subtly embroidered with ylang-ylang, rose and jasmine, followed by a woody chypre afternote, emphasized by the nobility of iris. An unconventional classic.
#10 — Givenchy L’Interdit
If you know anything about the history of Hubert de Givenchy, you'll know he was daring. Unconventional and audacious in his designs, he breathed life into the 1950s fashion scene. In 1958—at a time when perfumes didn't have 'faces'—he created a revolution by asking his friend Audrey Hepburn to be the star of the advertising campaign for L'Interdit: the very first time that a movie star had appeared in a perfume advertisement.
The contemporary imagining of L'Interdit is a clashing of colours. The elegance of white flowers, bright orange blossom, addictive jasmine and creamy tuberose, paired with an "intense black underground" accord made up of smoky vetiver, earthy patchouli and a sensual ambroxan. The result: a tribute to bold femininity.
#11 — Jean Paul Gaultier Classique
Classique is a fragrance that promises pleasure, bold and sweet; it awakens the senses, and not just yours. Imagine that people can recognize you even with their eyes closed; *that* was Jean Paul Gaultier's vision for his signature fragrance for her.
The top notes combine a delicate rose scent, spiced by fresh anis. Middle notes blend the sweetness of orange blossom and exciting ginger, a powerful aphrodisiac. Vanilla and luxurious amber gently embrace in the base.
It is indisputably one of the best sensual fragrances of all time.
#12 — Diptyque Do Son
Do Son is a seaside resort near Hai Phong in the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam. This name, so evocative for Yves Coueslant (one of Diptyque's 3 founders), was to become the name for a perfume dedicated to his childhood memories of the fresh sea breeze and his mother's favourite cây hoa huê flowers.
The floral scent finds its balance by associating humidity with freshness. It plays on the heart note with rose, with orange blossom singing the top notes. Lingering base notes of iris, benzoin and white musk enhance a memory of flowers in all their sensual delight.
#13 — Ex Nihilo Honore Delights
As the new culinary talents reinvent the classics, Honore Delights is a tribute to Paris and its unique ability to renew itself. Like an expert pâtissier, perfumer Natalie Cetto deconstructed ingredients and played with unexpected texture associations to achieve the ultimate "gourmandise" in 2020.
The top notes are neroli and bergamot; middle notes are ambrette, iris and orange blossom; base notes are musk, sandalwood and cedar. A really quite delicate yet intoxicating French treat, with a unique Parisian "je ne sais quoi" and a classy modern touch.
#14 — Maison Margiela Replica
We *love* Maison Margiela's fragrance line 'Replica'; each scent has been created to reproduce familiar scents and moments to trigger comfort and nostalgia. As a relatively small French brand, though, we haven't seen as much talk about them as they deserve.
The Replica Lazy Sunday Morning fragrance is our favourite. Wake up to the summer softness and feel the immaculate sunlight gently warming your skin as you enjoy a lazy Sunday morning in freshly washed cotton sheets. The eau de toilette recreates the enveloping and delicate sensation of freshly washed linen on your skin thanks to the association of clean and pure Lily of the Valley and comforting White Musks.
Calum Torrington is the founder of FemmeNordic. He has worked as a beauty editor since 2020 and employs his analytical background in mathematics to thoroughly scrutinize complex INCI lists. Now, he helps over 1 million people per year to find the best beauty products.