Good Scents: FiFi Hall of Fame Frontrunners
by vishaka robinson
This year will see the launch of more than 1,400 new fragrances, encompassing offerings from couture houses, celebrities, fashion designers, and independent perfumers. Which will become classics—or even still exist a decade from now—depends on an uncertain alchemy; the average shelf life of a new scent is surprisingly short, with many being discontinued even before they reach their fifth anniversary.
“The FiFi Fragrance Hall of Fame celebrates the fragrances that have shaped the landscape and stood the test of time,” says The Fragrance Foundation’s vice president, Mary Ellen Lapsansky. “They need to have been on the market for 15 years or more and represent the whole package—the bottle, the advertising campaign, the juice itself; everything needs to come together.”
From ck one to Chanel No. 5, these bottles encapsulate entire decades in a single spray. “Winning a FiFi Fragrance Hall of Fame Award is akin to getting a lifetime achievement Oscar,” says Givaudan’s Kate Greene. “People feel incredibly passionate about the honored 30. They are the trendsetters; they are part of our history.”
This year’s 40th anniversary FiFi Awards, hosted by Golden Globe-winning actress Jane Lynch, will take place May 21 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Of the dozen scents in contention for The FiFi Fragrance Hall of Fame Award, a maximum of two (one men’s and one women’s) will receive the coveted prize. “A fragrance has to meet the gold standard,” says Lapsansky. Here are 10 that have made the grade, and made their mark on New York.
The divisive landmark scent, Angel packed a tight hit of chocolate and patchouli that reportedly had Bloomingdale’s shoppers racing to the bathroom to wash it off when it first appeared in the States in 1993. Now, 19 years later, it’s the sixth most popular fragrance in the US and is credited with starting the trend for food-inspired scents. A true labor of love, even the blue, star-shaped bottle took two years to refine. Angel, Thierry Mugler ($78). Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000
When Calvin Klein launched this fragrance 18 years ago, its timing was perfection. After a decade of in-your-face scents and corporate excess, the minimalist glass bottle, coupled with Steven Meisel’s unforgettable Kate Moss ads, nailed the new ’90s aesthetic. French and Spanish noses Harry Frémont and Alberto Morillas gained prominence with a fresh take on citrus, blending high notes of pineapple, papaya, and lemon with a base of sandalwood and amber. At its peak, 20 bottles were sold every minute. ck one, Calvin Klein ($40). Sephora, 200 W. 42nd St., 212-944-6789
Although Jean Patou’s fashion empire has been consigned to history, the French designer’s legacy lives on in his perfumes, none more so than Joy. Intended to be a benchmark of exclusivity, one ounce of Joy scent contains 10,600 jasmine flowers and 28 dozen May roses. It was the most expensive scent in the world when it launched in 1930. Joy, Jean Patou Paris ($150). Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave., 212-753-7300
In 1924 Chanel No. 5 launched in New York with just a small ad in The New York Times noting it could be bought at upscale department store Bonwit Teller & Co. Yet Coco Chanel’s seductive blend of ylang-ylang, jasmine, and May rose was an instant word-of-mouth phenomenon—so much so that by the end of World War II, when Chanel’s Rue Cambon boutique gave away free bottles to American GIs returning home, they were besieged. Today, a bottle of Chanel No. 5 sells every 30 seconds. No. 5, Chanel ($85). 139 Spring St., 212-334-0055
Grace Jones and Diana Vreeland were among the famous faces at the raucous 1978 Asian-themed launch party for YSL’s most seductive scent, Opium, held aboard the Peking, a tall ship still docked at the South Street Seaport Museum. Opium, Yves Saint Laurent ($85). Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000
When Dior’s Poison arrived in New York in 1985, it was impossible to ignore. A huge budget ensured that its heady combination of tuberose, coriander, and opoponax quickly became so popular that several restaurants reportedly banned diners from wearing it. Poison, Dior ($69). Bloomingdale’s, 1000 Third Ave., 212-705-2000
Ralph Lauren Polo
Since its launch in 1978, Ralph Lauren’s first male fragrance hasn’t fallen off the top 20 list of men’s fragrances. “The elegance, power, and energy of Polo are definitely reminiscent of a charismatic New York man,” says Carlos Benaim, the nose behind the unmistakable patchouli-centric scent. Now the original emerald-green bottle, fashioned to resemble a hip flask, has given birth to seven spin-off scents. Polo, Ralph Lauren ($65). 888 Madison Ave., 212-434-8000
Parisian nose Jacques Guerlain created Shalimar in 1925 as a tribute to the love story of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz, for whom the Taj Mahal was built. News of its enthralling mix of tonka bean, incense, and iris reached our shores when Madame Raymond Guerlain wore it aboard the luxury ship the Normandie. When it launched in the US two years later, there was already a waiting list. Last year over 5,000 bottles were sold in New York alone. Shalimar, Guerlain ($73). Sephora, 45 E. 17th St., 212-995-8833
Elizabeth Taylor famously adored perfume, so it’s fitting that her White Diamonds—which first sold for $200 an ounce at New York’s Marshall Field & Co.—remains the world’s best-selling celebrity fragrance to date, having generated more than $1 billion. White Diamonds, Elizabeth Taylor ($52). Macy’s, 151 W. 34th St., 212-695-4400
Just five years after Estée Lauder got her big break behind a beauty counter at Saks Fifth Avenue, she launched her first fragrance. She named it Youth-Dew and sold it on the promise that it was a bath oil that doubled as a perfume. In its first year Youth-Dew earned Lauder about $50,000; by 1984 the figure had jumped to over $150 million. Youth-Dew, Estée Lauder ($32). Macy’s, 151 W. 34th St., 212-695-4400
photography by david lewis taylor
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