Five Fabulous Flapper Fragrances

You've got the drop-waisted frock and a Charleston Chasers CD, you've got the bob and the pearls. But have you got it all? Here are five perfumes that were all around in the 1920s and still available today. They've all had some tweaks over the years, but should still give you a whiff of the Jazz Age.

If you're used to wearing modern perfumes, I recommend you go to your local chemist and take advantage of their testers, as perfume trends change over the years as much as clothes fashions do and you may find these a little strange at first. However, think of perfumes as being like food: if you've only eaten chicken nuggets all your life, you're going to find your first curry, or chili, or rare steak a bit of a challenge. Likewise if you're used to wearing the simple, intensely sweet perfumes that are currently popular, you're going to find the aldehydes of Chanel No. 5 or the tobacco of Molinard Habanita quite overwhelming at first. Persevere. True beauty is never simple.

Oh, and if you want to start wailing, "But it smells like an old laaaaady," please don't. Like fezzes, old ladies are cool, and they definitely have the best perfumes!

Chanel No. 5
This is first on my list because you can get it absolutely everywhere. EVERYWHERE! All sorts of stories surround its creation, but the one thing you can depend on is that it's been well-loved since its launch in 1921. A certain blonde bombshell revealing that it was all she wore in bed didn't hurt its mystique either. Chanel No. 5 is one of those wonderful perfumes that is appropriate just about anywhere, for work, going out, or just to please yourself. It's heavy with jasmine and rose, and has aldehydes in the top to give it 'sparkle'.

Guerlain Shalimar
I could have picked another Guerlain, Mitsouko, for my list. However, 1925's Shalimar is the one I've opted for. Rich in vanilla and bergamot, with an underlying animal note, if Shalimar were a garment it would be one of those amazing 1920s coats with a wrapover fur collar. I do find the current version starts off strangely on my skin and usually have to give it a few minutes to calm down, so if you do sample some in a chemist or department store, give it a little time. Shalimar is a LOUD perfume, so start off with a tiny bit. I have very dry skin and very few scents travel far from my skin, but even on me Shalimar stands out, and I only usually wear it in winter. You don't want to spoil your workmates' day with an intrusive fragrance.

Lanvin Arpege
You can find the current version of this fairly cheap (especially compared to the others on this list). Originally made in 1927, Arpege was reformulated in the 1990s, so if you can find a bottle from before then snap it up. However, the new version is said to be very close to the original, and also very lovely. Like Chanel No. 5 it's an aldehyde.

Coty L'Aimant
Cheap as chips, this one! Seriously, you can get the Parfum de Toilette in Boots for under a tenner. At that price, you know you'll be getting a lot of synthetic ingredients, and if you can get the vintage stuff that's always a better option, but the current version is still a good buy. Aldehydes were trendy in fragrance in the 1920s, and this is another one from that family, with the sparkling top notes that Lanvin Arpege and Chanel No. 5 have, although it's punchier than either of those. For the modern flapper on a tight budget, it's a jolly good substitute for Chanel No. 5.

Molinard Habanita
Like Shalimar, this is a big, party girl perfume. It's last on my list because it's a little harder to get hold of than the others. (If you're in London, Les Senteurs stock it – that's where I got my bottle.) That said, an Eau de Parfum version has just been released, which may herald a wider release, and by all accounts the EdP is very good. Habanita's got an unusual history compared to a lot of perfumes as its first incarnation was in a bottle with a dipper, and you put it on cigarettes to surround yourself with clouds of fragrant smoke. This in itself tells you a lot about the sort of girl who used Habanita, because in 1921 it still wasn't the case that every girl smoked. Inspired by the cigar-making girls of Havana, it has a tobacco note, but it's the fruity warmth of cigar tobacco, along with lush flowers. It reminds me of hot skin, but in a good way: definitely the lure of sunshine and good times in there. (I've done a longer review of Habanita.)


  1. I must admit that whilst I enjoy classic perfumes, 20s styles really don't do it for me. Mind you, some elements of 20s style don't either, so perhaps that's why! The exception is Shalimar, which I will happily wear.

  2. It is odd how perfumes have distinct styles. My bugbear is the 80s tuberose/orange blossom monsters - Poison, Giorgio and their kin. I usually go for 10s-30s chypres.

  3. I made the mistake of spraying on some Angel at duty free before a flight back in February. Blech. Migraine central! I like a good sweet perfume as much as the next girl but I always pinch some of my mum’s Chanel no 5 or Shalimar when I go up to visit.

  4. "Like fezzes, old ladies are cool, and they definitely have the best perfumes!" - this made me giggle!! Though it's definitely true!

    Wonderful post, especially for a fragrance novice like me. I can't wait to get a whiff of these old fashioned scents!

  5. I wear Arpege regularly; its one of my favourites along with Chanel No.19. The Habanita sounds like a scent I could wear too though.

  6. I just do not suit No 5, at all. Will have to try Arpege x

    Penny Dreadful Vintage


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