Survey reveals most ‘iconic’ scents of the past five decades…and the smells that summed up the good old days!

Now is an appropriate time to cast our minds back to the ‘good old days’ – and what better way with one of the strongest of our five senses, our sense of smell. So what scents most encapsule the 70s, 80s, 90s, noughties and teens?


Online perfume retailer PerfumeDirect.com asked 2000 UK adults to take a trip down memory lane and vote for the top fragrances that defined their decade.

The 70’s

There were some clear classics from the 70s that stood out to our senses – including YSL’s Opium; Anais Anais, Chanel No.19, YSL Rive Gauche, Charlie Blue and Estee Lauder’s White Linen. The ‘must-have male scent of the decade was Faberge’s Brut – famed by its distinctive packaging, advertising slogan “essence of a man” and celebrity advertising campaigns.

The 80’s

As the fashions of the 80s got bolder, so did the scents – with Calvin Klein’s Obsession, Giorgio by Giorgio of Beverly Hills, Poison by Dior, Kouros, Paris (YSL), Coco, Beautiful Estee Lauder, Ysatis (Givenchy), Cool Water, Eternity, Exclamation (Coty) all voted as 80s classics.

The 90’s

The 90s was a decade that introduced exciting new technology, some great music, movies, and television, as well as some fresh and fruity new fragrances. A clear winner as the memorable scent was CK One by Calvin Klein, along with Jean Paul Gautier Classique, Clinique Happy, Hugo (Hugo Boss), Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds, L’eau d’Issy (Issey Miyake), White Musk, Angel by Thierry Mugler (still one of the world’s best-selling scents).

The noughties

While celebrity fragrances became a ‘thing’ – from Britney to Beyonce – it’s not these that we remember as the scent in the city – it is Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel, Mugler’s Alien (2005), J’Adore (Christian Dior) Allure (Chanel), Light Blue (Dolce & Gabbana), Flowerbomb (Viktor & Rolf), Black Orchid (Tom Ford) that all topped the list.

The 2010s

And the 2010s saw the launch and dominance of some super fragrances (with a price tag to match) that we most associate with the twenty teen years, including Aventus Creed, Prada Luna Rossa Extreme, Dior Homme, Mon Guerlain, Love by Chloe, Bleu de Chanel, Daisy (Marc Jacobs), Chanel Chance.

Jonny Webber from www.PerfumeDirect.com, who carried out the research into what scents evoke nostalgia in the nation, explains why some perfumes can define an era.

“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. Our survey shows there are some wafts that were so popular back in the day, they have been voted for in their hundreds as the scents that truly defined the 70s, 80s, 90s, noughties and 2010s.

“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.

“Floral based fragrances are said to be popular in times of uncertainty or naivety, whilst those from the Chypre family (warm, mossy scents with citrus top notes) have often emerged following dramatic events or tragedies such as war or recession. In contrast, Oriental fragrances are often seen as feel-good scents which are popular during more light-hearted ‘party’ eras.

Whilst the brash and bold go-to fragrances of the 80’s including Giorgio by Giorgio of Beverly Hills, Poison by Dior, and Calvin Klein’s Obsession defined this decade, the 1990’s saw the emergence of ‘the unisex fragrance’ which saw a new era in perfumes.

“Launched in 2001 the sweet scent of Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel was a clear winner as the scent of the noughties, whilst with its floral, woody and amber revelations made a refreshing contrast to the caramel, honey and praline sweetness of Angel.”

Jonny added: “What was interesting about our research was how many perfumes, which were actually launched more than 40 years ago, are still among our best selling products in 2020.

“Many fragrance houses have updated their iconic scents with a more modern twist, for example YSL’s Black Opium launched in 2014 and a 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.”

“Another interesting finding from the survey – which goes to explain why sales of these iconic fragrances remain so high – was that more than 20% of females over the age of 40 have one signature scent they’ve used for more than 20 years”, says Jonny.

‘Of those surveyed, on average people said they had experimented with just six different fragrances over the course of their lifetime. Overall, 25% 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, revealing that as a nation we tend to stick to what we know and like when it comes to perfumes.”

So what does Perfume Direct predict as the iconic scents of the 2020s?

Mood-boosting scents are big sellers for 2020. Scents containing fragrances that can have a positive effect on your brain, such as Ylang-ylang, jasmine, citrus, vanilla and rosemary are all hugely popular right now.

Fragrances for her current best sellers include: Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau So Fresh, Chloe Nomade, Gucci Bloom and Jimmy Choo Illicit Flower – all fragrances that lift our mood and spritz-up our spirits.

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

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.