Fragrant February

This month the Belles took an aromatic journey through the decades with Odette Toilette, as she talked us through the fascinating world of fragrance.

Odette (AKA Lizzie Ostrom) takes a more unusual approach to talking about perfume, by connecting it to social and cultural events and themes.  Her recent book Perfume: A century of scents explores 100 perfumes that defined the twentieth century, so we sniffed our way through a taster of some of the most significant scents of the decades…

1900s: Après L’Ondée


What did it smell like?  Violets, baby lotion, soap

The 1900s were a time of technological change, and this was one of the first perfumes to use synthetic violet rather than real plant extract. This was a scent for a wealthy woman!

1920s: Huile de Chaldee


What did it smell like?  Powder and sun cream

The 20s were seen as a decade of illicit behaviour and vices, as women openly smoked, drank and sunbathed (a trend set by Coco Chanel).  You could buy a perfume named after champagne bathing, and a mock cocktail bar to mix your own perfume! Huile de Chaldee was originally a scent used in a tanning oil, and was made into a floral yet spicy perfume.

1940s: Femme


What did it smell like?  Peppery and sultry

Here we took a detour into film noir and the image of the femme fatal defining the decade (think Rita Hayworth as Gilda). Tip: the scent she left behind would betray her true motive…  Femme portrayed a strong sense of femininity with deep woody and spicy plum tones.

1970s: For her – Rive Gauche


What did it smell like?  Lily of the valley, smoky, chlorine!

Before now perfumes had generally been unisex, but in the 70s his and hers scents began to appear. Playing on the changing roles of women, and emerging feminism and air of free spirit, Rive Gauche was designed to be something lighter, more flexible, and just for you.

1970s: For him – Jovan Musk Oil


What did it smell like?  Citrus, woody, heavy

Enter Barry White, shag pile rugs and the decade of musk…  The 70s were also all about the boudoir and for men particularly, the popularity of musk aftershave grew. Heavy and overtly sexual, Musk Oil was literally meant to conjure up the smell of sex!

1980s: For her – Giorgio Beverly Hills


What did it smell like?  Tropical, pineapple, candy

Enter power dressing and the decade of excess, with elegant and bold perfumes to match. Californian glamour, sunshine and shopping were captured in a bottle by one of the first concept stores. The Giorgio Beverly Hills shop put Rodeo Drive on the map, and their fragrance captured the spirit of the times (although it was also banned in some Beverly Hills restaurants it was so strong).

1980s: For him – Kouros


What did it smell like?  Very strong and spicy

Aftershaves of the 80s also represented the body beautiful – with adverts presenting men as powerful and toned, emphasizing body perfection. Kouros was inspired by the Gods of Ancient Greece, perfectly matched for the decade that sang about holding out for a hero 😉

Fragrance facts

  • Most people have selective anosmia (so can’t smell certain aromas) so each of us will smell the same thing differently
  • Why does fragrance smells differently on different people? If you have dry or oily skin that can affect the evaporation rate of difference ingredients; likewise your diet can change how a perfume smells on you.

You can find out more about Odette’s perfume events at