Any beauty product bearing a French label already feels impossibly chic, but there's something particularly special about French perfume. Perhaps it's because a large ratio of history's most iconic bottles and scents bear Parisian ancestry. (Hello, Chanel!) Or perhaps French perfumers simply have a knack for creating olfactory magic.
Regardless, we felt it was time to shed light on 16 of the best French perfume brands of all time via the ultimate fragrance capsule. From the aforementioned House of Chanel to additional, less commercialized French perfume labels like Serge Lutens, Frédéric Malle, and Maison Francis Kurkdjian, we've curated a feast of French fragrances just waiting to be spritzed, complimented, and placed on top of your vanity. Keep scrolling for 16 of our favorite French perfume brands and the specific bottle we'd recommend from each.
Key notes: aldehydes, jasmine, neroli, sandalwood, bourbon vanilla
Growing up (and still to this day) my mom kept a shiny bottle of Chanel N°5 on display atop her vanity. It wasn't actually her signature scent, or even her favorite Chanel scent for that matter, but it was the perfume she saved for the most special of occasions. Exceptionally iconic, the signature blend of floral aldehydes deserves a place in every fragrance collection (even if it's just an ode to the bottle's legacy).
Yves Saint Laurent
Key notes: black coffee, white flowers, vanilla
French designer Yves Saint Laurent has its fair share of cult-loved fragrances, but if we were forced to choose, the Black Opium family (categorized by intoxicating variations of coffee, white flowers, vanilla, and more) has to be our most beloved. For anyone who loves warm and spicy fragrances, look no further.
Key notes: bergamot, iris, vanilla
If any French perfume could give Chanel N°5 a run for its money in terms of its famous legacy, it would be, without doubt, Guerlain's masterpiece, Shalimar. Fun fact: The bottle was designed by Raymond Guerlain and won first prize at the Paris Decorative Arts Exhibition back in 1925.
Key notes: galbanum, jasmine, patchouli, rose
No roundup of French perfume brands would ever be complete without a chic addition from Dior. Although J'Adore and Joy have gained legions of loyal fans, we're honoring the original Miss Dior, which was, in fact, the very first fragrance by Christian Dior and beautifully toes the line between boldly fresh and classically floral.
Key notes: jasmine sambac, Cashmeran wood, ambergris
It's almost impossible to choose between Mugler's two most beloved scents, Angel and Alien. We've found people live to hotly debate which camp is better, but if we had to choose, we'd be forced to go with Alien. The jewel-like bottle features a bold medley of jasmine, amber, and Cashmeran wood, and we're especially obsessed with the newest face of the fragrance, supermodel, activist, and mom Jourdan Dunn.
Key notes: sparkling citrus, applewood, white cedar
Though Nina Ricci has been owned by Spanish beauty and fashion group Puig since 1998, the brand has a historical French origin, founded by Maria "Nina" Ricci and her son Robert in Paris way back in 1932. As far as her collection of mouthwatering fragrances, you'll likely be most familiar with her apple-shaped confections.
Key notes: citrus, rose, jasmine, white musk, and vanilla
Although this is one of Lancôme's newer scent debuts (which Zendaya is the face of), I'm already predicting it will become one of the best, most well-loved fragrances of all time. Created by three female perfumers, the ultra-sleek bottle is like a fresh floral bouquet bursting with leads of rose and jasmine but kept grounded with earthy warm additions of white musk and vanilla plus an unexpected kick of citrus.
Key notes: fig leaves, fig tree sap, fig tree wood, black pepper
I'm a staunch believer that everyone should own at least one bottle from French perfume brand Diptyque. The Parisian brand is practically built on best-selling cult classics, which makes it difficult to select just one standout, but we'd be remiss not to name Philosykos, which is primarily influenced by the juicy, full-bodied fig. In fact, as the brand outlines on its website, the perfume is actually an ode to the entire fig tree, as it captures the green freshness of fig leaves, the decadent milky flavor of the actual fig, and the rich woodiness of the tree itself. Plus, the brand has added a quick pinch of spicy pepper to round it out.
Key notes: peony, lychee, freesia, magnolia, lily of the valley, rose, amber, honey, cedarwood
Although Chloé was founded in Paris over 60 years ago, the French designer (and its collection of lovely perfumes) has remained at the forefront of the fashion-and-beauty industry. That said, it wasn't until 1975 that the brand debuted this signature fragrance, which can be described as a classic, powdery floral.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian
Key notes: lychee accord, Damascena rose oil, peony, Centifolia rose absolute, musks
Meet one of our favorite (and one of the newest) French perfume brands to make our list. Born in 2009, the fragrance house is the result of an epic collaboration between renowned French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian and Marc Chaya, the co-founder and president of the fragrance house. Oh, and for all of you rose lovers out there, this French bottle will be your new favorite.
Key notes: Sicilian lemon, citron, grapefruit, green Mandarin, ylang-ylang, cypress, bergamot
Although not as well-known stateside, Annick Goutal is one of the most beloved French perfume brands. We recommend perusing all of its selections, but if you're missing a spring or summer vacation and would like to envision yourself basking in Italian sunlight, we recommend this practically bubbling bottle, which is a limited-edition creation from the brand.
Key notes: pear accord, ambrette seeds, clean accord, iris accord, rose petals, orange flower, patchouli, white woods, white musk
Maison Margiela's Replica collection of fragrances has taken the perfume industry by storm due to not only their beloved affordable price points but also their comforting points of inspiration (the fireplace, the flower market, the library, etc.) and addicting aromas. If you appreciate fresh, clean scents, you'll love Lazy Sunday Morning. It's basically your favorite crisp white T-shirt, bottled.
Key notes: hay sugar, iris, rose, honey, musk, incense, tobacco leaf, amber, sandalwood, leather
When it comes to wearing practically every hat one can within the beauty industry, no one does it better than Serge Lutens, who has performed duties as an art director, perfumer, photographer, filmmaker, makeup artist, and hairstylist, first arriving on the scene in a 1962 Paris. However, it wasn't until 2000 that he created his own eponymous line of makeup and fragrances. Chergui is just one of his many masterpieces, but its truly unique mixture of hot and heavy notes makes it far too special to leave off of our list.
Key notes: grapefruit, violet, rose, iris, raspberry, vanilla, sandalwood, white musk
Though an investment, any bold bottle from self-proclaimed perfume publisher Frédéric Malle is a true treasure. For more than 30 years, he has worked with the greatest perfumes in the world to create his own collection of incredibly special and unique olfactory creations. You can't really go wrong, but Lipstick Rose, Carnal Flower, and Portrait of a Lady are a few of Malle's most notable contributions to the world of fragrance. Lipstick Rose is a personal favorite, inspired by Old Hollywood glamour.
Key notes: aldehyde, rose, sandalwood
French fashion house Hèrmes has a rich and decadent history of perfume making dating back decades. This cult classic was the brand's first designed women's fragrance, which launched in 1961.
Key notes: bergamot, lychee, violet leaves, rose, Atlas cedarwood, angelica plant, patchouli, vetiver, oakmoss
Ex Nihilo is a Parisian custom perfume house everyone needs to have on their radar. Yes, it's one of the newer French perfume brands within our roundup (it was founded in 2013), but that only makes its sensational collection of fragrances all the more impressive. I recommend exploring its various collections to see what resonates with your own scent preferences, but French Affair feels especially appropriate given the nature of our list.