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Scents and Sensibility

10 fragrances that hit the right notes

Women's hand spraying mist of rose in mid-air on white background

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Selecting the perfect perfume is a deeply personal choice involving style, emotion and memory.

Choosing a fragrance is kind of like love at first smell. There’s no logic to it — just an emotional “gotcha” feeling. Our taste in everything keeps changing, so why shouldn’t our noses rove? There are more than 100 new fragrance launches every year, and most of them have a trendy here-today-gone-tomorrow life. Certain scents are best-sellers with a consistent following (and FYI, there is no such thing as an age-appropriate fragrance). They make loyal partners even if you have a few wild fragrance flings. These 10 pass the sniff test every time.

1. Shalimar Eau de Parfum by Guerlain. The 1925 powdery-smoky-vanilla-floral perfume is the grandmother of many modern scents. Still going strong at 93, its spicy kick and sexiness sneak up after the first ladylike whiff. Let the citrus top notes settle as your body heat turns the combo of jasmine, rose, patchouli, leather and incense into Mata Hari. Yup, it’s pricey — but heavier scents used sparingly are empowering.

2. Eternity Eau de Parfum by Calvin Klein. Like the namesake diamond eternity ring, this modern green floral is timeless. Since 1988 it has never waned in popularity. The classic blend of citrus, floral and woods — freesia, lily of the valley and spicy carnation — comes together in a light-handed way. It's more watercolor than oil painting.

3. Fracas Eau de Parfum by Robert Piguet. This black-bottled elixir started the white-floral trend in 1948. Everyone from Madonna to Martha Stewart loves the fusion of tuberose, gardenia, white narcissus and lily of the valley grounded with sandalwood and vetiver. As with any famous scent, ignore reviews that claim today’s Fracas (or whatever you wear) is not the “original.” All perfumes get silently updated depending on flower crops year to year, with the substitution of synthetics for banned animal-derived ingredients. The current Fracas, reformulated in 1998, is the real deal.

an ad for La Vie Est Belle by Lancome

The Advertising Archives / Alamy Stock Photo

4. La Vie Est Belle Eau de Parfum by Lancôme. Yes, Julia Roberts is the face of the campaign for this free-spirited scent created in 2012 — and it’s a good personality match. The iris-and-patchouli blend has a mellow, bohemian attitude hiding in that very feminine pink bottle. It delivers a feel-good message that’s sweetly nostalgic but very much in the moment, whether you are wearing it with a floral dress, pearls and slingbacks, or vintage-wash jeans, Birkenstocks and stacks of beads. And yes, the link between memory, emotions and smell will stick with us forever.

5. L’Ombre dans L’Eau Eau de Parfum by Diptyque. This Left Bank Parisian fragrance brand was a best-kept secret of models and celebs in the '60s, but now it’s available to all. It really does smell like a walk along the Seine on a rainy day with a stop at the flower market, thanks to a clever mix of fresh roses, wet green notes and black currant leaves. The fragrance is still under the radar enough to get compliments of "You smell delicious! What is that?” — if you like a little je ne sais quoi.

Chanel No. 5 Eau de Perfume by Chanel


6. Chanel No. 5 Eau de Parfum. This iconic 1921 scent says “expensive” in an elegant, tasteful way … like a quilted-leather chain strap shoulder bag. Chanel wanted a mysterious, complex fragrance, with none of the ingredients identifiable as a standout. It was the first perfume to use aldehydes (a synthetic that smells like clean linen dried outdoors) along with bergamot, lemon, roses, jasmine, lily of the valley, vetiver, patchouli and amber. Chanel’s secret sauce was Marilyn Monroe’s signature scent, so who can argue with that? Apply any scent to damp skin — preferably after a bath or shower — or over any plain body cream to make it last.

7. Hesperides Grapefruit Eau de Parfum by Fresh. This popular artisanal brand’s citrus blend of grapefruit, Italian lemon, bergamot, tangerines and oranges — with hints of jasmine, rhubarb and peach — arrived in 2007 but continues to be a crowd-pleaser with its truly uplifting and energizing aromatherapeutic effect. It is a great “work” fragrance that won’t get elevator glares. And believers swear it relieves stress headaches, too. Store your scents away from light, heat and humidity; a bedroom or closet works better than a bathroom or near a window.

Angel by Thierry Mugler Eau de Parfum

adrian lourie / Alamy Stock Photo

8. Angel Eau de Parfum by Thierry Mugler. The blue star-shaped bottle popped on the fashion scene in 1992 and sweetened our scents-ability to start the nearly edible “gourmand” trend. Angel is basically a patchouli and vanilla spicy scent, although devotees swear they detect caramel, coconut, honey, cotton candy and chocolate … without the calories! To sample any scent, don’t spritz a paper strip or rely on scent tabs in magazines. Go to a store and apply the fragrance directly to your skin at the wrist or inner elbow. Wait 15 minutes for the top notes to flash off, and give the fragrance time to bloom with your body chemistry.

9. Wood Sage & Sea Salt Cologne by Jo Malone London. A calm outdoorsy alternative to floral, citrus and spicy scents, this blend of minerals, sea salt (no kidding!) and driftwood really smells like a walk on the beach. It’s an escape from urban or suburban life in a bottle — no plane tickets necessary. Jo Malone’s fragrances are known for their unusual but simple formulas. Stop trying to analyze scent choices by reading top, middle and bottom notes … just breathe. Fragrances are often created simply by layering — just as we do with clothes. Remember, it’s the total effect that creates style.

10. Black Opium Eau de Parfum by Yves Saint Laurent. The original Opium, launched in 1977, caused a scandal for its name alone (since the formula was really an innocent spicy floral). This much racier 2014 update in its black-sequin bottle has a glam rock 'n' roll edge. It amps up from the start with black-coffee notes that get the adrenaline going, and stays floating through a blend of white flowers, vanilla and patchouli.

For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style issue.

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