Fragrance has always been personal, but it’s only recently that women have shown a tendency to experiment with their picks. In the early to mid 20th century, it was common for women to choose one perfume and stick with it throughout their life, marking it as their signature scent. Those preferred by some of the era’s most stylish women remain popular to this day, becoming known as the respective House’s signature fragrances. For many, the fashionable face and the iconic perfumes have become inseparable — think of Chanel No 5, and Marilyn Monroe immediately comes to mind — while other pairings, like Katherine Hepburn’s love of Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit, are lesser known. Timeless and effortlessly chic, these are the iconic perfumes from the 1950s that could be your perfect new scent for 2021.
The sultry star of film noir classics like The Big Sleep and romantic comedies such as How to Marry a Millionaire was reportedly a fan of Diptyque’s perfumes, with the L’Ombre Dans L’Eau a particular favourite. Inspired by nature in summer, the perfume blends the rich fragrance of blackcurrant berries with the floral tones of roses.
Her marriage to Rainier III, Prince of Monaco seemed like a Hollywood fairy tale — a beautiful American actress turned Princess, marrying the love of her life in front of guests that included both cinematic and national royals. To celebrate the union, the Prince commissioned a special perfume from the esteemed fragrance house Creed for Kelly to wear on their wedding day. Designed to complement her wedding bouquet, the now publicly available scent blends floral notes of rose, violet and iris with citrusy hints of bergamot and tuberose.
Known for playing independent women, actress Katherine Hepburn’s preferred perfumes were as strong as her characters. Reportedly an aviation fan since playing a pilot in her second film, Christopher Strong, one of Hepburn’s favourite fragrances was Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit, created in 1933 in homage to pilot and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with the Art-Deco inspired bottle design featuring a airplane propeller. A spicy and rich oriental scent with notes of orange, jasmine and narcissus.
Hepburn’s relationship with Hubert de Givenchy is legendary, with the actress seen wearing the French designer’s styles throughout her films, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Sabrina. Givenchy created the fragrance L’Interdit (French for “forbidden”) exclusively for her in 1957, and there are rumours that Hepburn didn’t want him to release the creation to the public. Luckily, though, the House decided to make it available in the 1960s, and Hepburn became the first actress to model for a perfume when she became the face of its campaign. A white floral fragrance with notes of jasmine, narcissus, and sandalwood, this intoxicating perfume is appropriately timeless.
The bombshell actress and singer’s love of Chanel’s classic perfume was notoriously confirmed when, during an interview in 1952, Monroe revealed that she wore “five drops of Chanel No. 5” and nothing else to bed. The quote is so famous that Chanel even used the original footage of the interview as part of a campaign in 2012. The perfume remains one of the world’s most popular, with one glass bottle of the golden fragrance sold worldwide every 30 seconds.
When it comes to style, the Cleopatra actress is immediately connected with her jewels, especially the diamond given to her by Richard Burton. But the actress was also a pioneer of the celebrity perfume range, launching her own acclaimed collection of scents that included White Diamonds, which to this day is the top best-selling celebrity fragrance. Before she launched her empire, Taylor opted for the opulent scent of Jean Desprez’s Bal á Versailles. Inspired by the balls held in the Palace of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, the fragrance uses over 300 of the world’s most expensive natural ingredients, creating a spiced scent of bergamot, cedarwood and three rose varieties.
The first ever oriental perfume created by a luxury house, Guerlain’s Shalimar was reportedly the favourite fragrance of the 1940s filmstar. The intense perfume of bergamot, iris and vanilla notes was created in 1925, concocted to tell the imagined love story between an emperor and an Indian princess. The bottle design, which was inspired by the basins of the famous Shalimar gardens and created by Raymond Guerlain, is so impressive that it won first prize at the Paris Decorative Arts Exhibition the year it was made.
According to her equally stylish daughter Isabella Rossellini, the Casablanca star exclusively wore Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps. First launched in 1948, the fragrance was designed to capture and celebrate post-war optimism, combining fresh notes of carnation and gardenia with more sensual scents of jasmine, orris and Mysore sandalwood. Presented in an elegant twisted glass bottle with a silver dove top, the joyfulness of Nina Ricci’s original fragrance is just as appropriate today.