Thursday, March 1, 2012

Top 20 Best-Selling fragrances for women in France (2011)

The difference between what's sold as connoting "French" and what actual French people prefer is a rather wide one. Despite the usual glamouralisation of French culture (not without its own marketing reasons, I suppose), the reality is French people are not widely different or widely more sophisticated than the rest of the world: They don't as a rule have a penchant for classic chypres, elegant aldehydics or byzantine orientals as the average perfumista in the USA imagines (though fashions in the past did create a "type" of perfume defined as "French style perfume"). Instead the French mostly buy what is contemporary and familiar, as does any normal human being to the degree that they don't have an obsessive interest in perfume. (The French do learn to use perfume from a young age onwards and not be too sparing with it, nevertheless, which is a huge difference compared with some other cultures). The globalisation as well as the agressive marketing of the fragrance industy bears interesting fruits in those regards.

Fanny Ardant and Emmanuelle Béart in Nathalie

So let's discover the top 20 best-sellers in feminine fragrances in France for the year 2011:

Dior J'Adore
Dior Miss Dior Chérie
Thierry Mugler Angel
L'Eau d'Issey by Issey Miyake
Dior Hypnotic Poison
Guerlain Shalimar
Lolita Lempicka by Lolita Lempicka
Viktor& Rolf Flowerbomb
YSL Parisienne 
Rochas Eau de Rochas 
Rem by Reminiscence
Givenchy Ange ou Démon
Guerlain Idylle
Paco Rabanne Black XS pour elle
Narciso Rodriguez Narciso For Her
Jimmy Choo by Jimmy Choo
Paco Rabanne Lady Million
Nina Ricci Nina (apple bottle)
Lancome Trésor
Kenzo Flower

List thanks to, a French webzine, in no particular order.

Another list (top 7) from a French source,, runs thus (again in order of presentation, not necessarily bulk of sales):

Lolita Lempicka by Lolita Lempica
Kenzo Flower Le Parfum
Nina Ricci Ricci Ricci
YSL Parisienne
Dior J'Adore
Thierry Mugler Angel
Chanel No.5

The exact order, as per the prestigious NPD Group, of the top 3 perfumes in France for 2011 can be seen here.

Additional observations, courtesy of yours truly, are captured in my short memoir "Snapshots of Phantasmagoria" about a Paris trip in winter.

Perhaps more fittingly, nonetheless, since this is a fumehead blog with more sophisticated interests & tastes than the average person in the street, what we consider that should be popular in France is more a propos. So in that spirit, if you hadn't caught it when I first posted it back in 2009, please read Drapeau Tricolore: 12 Quintessentially French Fragrances.

But more importantly and I'm interested in opinions, rather than hard facts:  
What do YOU consider French-smelling? And why?


  1. Quite a diverse list. I was surprised to see Lolita Lempicka such a big seller; though I think it's very well done, it just doesn't seem sophisticated enough for the French women of my imagination. It would be interesting to compare the French list to what the best-sellers are in the US.

    What I think are "french smelling" perfumes are probably those that have been marketed in the USA as what French women wear, not what they *actually* wear. Fragrances with aldehydes and traditional chypres come to mind, but I also think of any sultry oriental as being something "french".

    Interesting topic!

  2. Anonymous01:06

    Younger french women wearing a little bit more what other european and american women are wearing than 30 years ago is because of globalization but also because the big brands such as Chanel and Dior used to market their perfumes solely to "la bourgeoise" or the upper-middle class french woman who was more educated and refined than working-class women who would only wear a generic Eau de Cologne.

    The 90s changed everything, perfume brands no longer had class and elegance in mind profits, they were in the business of selling fragrances to the most women possible.
    Mass-marketing when it comes to fashion or fragrances means absolute mediocrity, we all know that by now, don't we?


  3. Interesting that there's no Chanel on the first list! I still think this list is a bit fancier than the top 20 American scents would be. I'd imagine that list would be filled with Britney Spears, JLo, Pink Sugar, and other generic fragrances.

  4. annemariec06:31

    Okamoss. That is my idea of Frenchness. I would nominate Deneueve by Catherine Deneuve as a great examplar: dense, mossy, a bit dirty. Recently I came upon a third of a bottle of Laura Ashley No. 1 that I had forgotten I had, and the oakmoss struck me very forcibly. But the fragrance is also very clean and soapy as well. Not French!

  5. B,

    thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    LL is indeed very popular as is Angel: I think they capture that indulgent, sinful side that the French (and many other Southern Europeans) enjoy so much (a case of living life instead of just living to work, "being part of the machine" etc.)

    That was exactly my point: what you so succinctly refer to as perfumes marketed in the US as "smelling French". Yes! The US is a HUGE, almost PROGRAMATICALLY conditioned market for selling "Frenchness". I'm surprised that it's not more obvious that this is what it is to the average person (I guess that's because they haven't been to France for the most part and therefore rely on received knowledge? I could be wrong). Witness the hundreds of fashion mags dictates (wear the little black dress, pair it with pearls, wear some red lipstick, put your hair in a bun), the hundreds of books that perpetuate this myth and the whole "glamourised", "amourised" French culture, as people in France don't actually dress/behave that way. I still recall how an American friend was ill advised to drop the jeans when packing to Paris and when we met her jaw dropped to find out that this outdated advice was at odds with the actual French women who dig jeans (then again, they don't wear them with trainers, that's for sure).

    These issues are indeed interesting, thanks for contributing!

  6. Emma,

    I think you intelligently point out a very painful truth: that the actual quality of mainstream fragrances (French included) has dropped dramatically in the last 20-25 years.
    When someone bought -for instance- a Dior all those years ago it was a high artistry product, envisioned by Edmond Roudnitska or such, and with the necessary spacing between releases to really cement itself into the routine and the memory of the wearer and those around her/him. Now Chanel is launching shampoo-budget perfumes and they have the dare to line them up beside No.19, for crying out loud. It's a travesty, but the banksters are ferocious and unrelenting I suppose.

    What a shame...and what a loss of a great marketing tool, as perfume has always stood as heavy-industry (in the sense of contributing a huge % of world contribution) for France. I think we're glimpsing the future eclipse of that, much as it has been with fashion (everyone looks to London first for innovation these days and Milan for pret-a-porter), unless they act now rather than later.

  7. V,

    I was surprised not to see Chanel either! Chanel is rather a popular brand with the French bourgeoisie (and this is empirically corroborated) and for good reason: the brand always stood for code for streamlined elegance and the bourgeois feels best when they mingle well with their own.

    I beg to differ on what makes it to the top of the tops in the US lists thoug (must put a post with those results as well, will do!): there are a lot of interesting results (classics, good quality thigs) and not as many celebritoid bubble-things as one would surmiss from the exposure these latter ones have in the media. Again, the media broadcast & promotion and what actually happens in the real market are two distinctly different things!
    We just love to dump on the American pop-culture, but it doesn't always deserve it. Know what I mean?

  8. AMC,

    oakmoss by rights should be connected to the Balkans, I'd think. LOL! (its source being there and its history in perfumes starting there as well)

    But I do agree with you! This mossy, perfume-y thing is intextricably tied to images of classic French perfumes: they did those so well. :-)

    Deneuve (which you mention and I love) however was not marketed to the French audience but to the American one! The actress had a specific licence with US Avon to distribute in the US only. Isn't that fascinating? I wish they're bring this one back, it's a perfect green chypre and very very sensuous too.

    As to soapy and clean being popular US concepts on fragrances, nothing wrong with that: Private Collection and White Linen for instance are like that, they're quintessentially American and all the better for it! (I consider them masterpieces)

  9. Mimi Gardenia15:17

    Hello Dear Elena !

    What no Chanel No. 5 at the top ?? Mon Dieu !

    J'adore - the last time I smelt J'adore on a lady it smelt like a hot synthetic mess.

    Though, I do have a couple of the J'adore flankers which I love L'or and Absolu , the original J'adore , I think , has been 'fiddled with' and smells cheaper .

  10. Mimi Gardenia15:21

    Elena- I was so busy being shocked that No. 5 was not on the first list - I forgot to say...........

    Annemariec has said it - oakmoss and also Guerlain. Guerlain always smells incredibly french to me - the classics and not particularly the newer offerings.

  11. Eleonore15:57

    Hi E! I'm French as you know and agree with everything you wrote (with Emma too..) so sad we go for the cheap and easy...Though with some niche brands such as Frédéric Malle's Editions de parfums and a few others, there is some "resistance", thank God for that! :-)

  12. As others pointed out, the lack of Chanels from the list suggests that the webzine must be run by the lamentable Arnault group (see also the Dior presence).

    But to what is French - yes, the stereotype is chypre or aldehydic. At least from an Italian point of view, the stereotype has always been of Italians making simple, fresh easy things (eau de cologne, pine, etc.), and the French the real elegant fragrances.

    Ironically, some of the more traditional smelling examples of the category are now produced by the very American Estee Lauder, who, unlike the Pinault-Arnault competitors, has preserved its old masterpieces in a much more recognizable state.


  13. Barbara16:59

    Had to google the Rem by Reminiscence
    and floral aquatic does not fit my image of what French women smell like. Maybe teenage French girls!

  14. Mimi,

    it's always shocking considering not to see No.5 in lists, as it's so iconic. I think it has encapsulated a sense of Frenchness in its most distilled form: the desire for elegance, the spartan colour scheme, the aldehydic smell which can't be anything BUT perfume, the unapologetic story that accompanies it...

    I like the J'Adore flankers L'Or and L'Absolu because they're so superior to the reformulated original. Back when it came out it was something else.

  15. Mimi,

    I agree on Guerlain: they have this rich, sinful, patisserie thing down pat and they used to do an excellent bourgeois type (in the best possible sense) of perfumery: classy, not jarring or too individualistic, showing that someone made some effort, still rather restrained and never vulgar.

  16. Eleonore,

    thanks for corroborating from the French side of things!

    Being neither French nor American by birth provides me with a unique POV that never stops from fascinating me into seeing how one nation sees another. (and not just in perfume-land)

    I think the French are more easy with their use of perfume, in that they have much more fun with it on the whole. The Americans sometimes tend to emphasize very much on the performance of the perfume (does it last? is it posh? will it get me noticed/picked up/promoted/create a good impression?), a trait that is no doubt driven by the performance-principle that drives their whole society.

    Yes, it's great that French girls and women have discovered the niche lines and even the non niche that are a bit more obscure. ;-)

  17. M,

    you just made the wisest point: yes, it's ironic that the Americans (Lauder etc) have actually preserved their own classics so much better! They're Frencher than French at this point.

    I'm not sure that the webzine is run by the behemoth. Dior is indeed very popular in France and J'Adore and Miss Dior (Cherie) are HUGE sellers in France as they are in the rest of Europe. So that can't be it. It would seem that there are some constants on these lists, as last year's and the year's before have some of those very same things on them as well.

    Funnily, I love Italian fragrances. Apart from the whole EDC thing that is very popular all around the Med, I think your compatriots make for suave scents that are very skin-friendly and not too heavy. Fitting the lifestyle, I'd guess.

  18. Barbara,

    young French girls are not shunning aquatics! (they also wear White Musk by The Body Shop, to shatter another illusion, LOL!)
    It's just that we have come to so revile aquatics through overexposure to L'Eau d'Issey that we think badly of them en masse.
    There are some good aquatics out there if one cares to find them (a daunting task, I'll grant you that!) and the Reminiscence is a great one in the genre. I think you should try it! Aqua Motu is another one, take it from me ;-)

  19. My mother is French, so I always think of perfumes she'd wear: Chanel No.5, Vent Vert by Balmain. My aunt wore First by Van Cleef & Arples. My father wore Eau Sauvage by Dior. I'm going back several decades, so I'm thinking about the original fragrances not the reformulations.

  20. TFC,

    those are very elegant perfumes, all of them! Great smelling family you have!

    I have a theory that, in the old days, for a perfume to succeed and be on the market for any sustained period of time there had to be some marketing and advertising of course, but it also needed for it to be physically smelled on people around! People seemingly had more of a "perfume culture" gene that hadn't been surgically removed then, like it has been nowadays (at least in some parts of the world). Therefore they generally shared into more lovely fragrances than now, when everything is just marketing and we -well, some of us, granted- can't really smell perfume on people we encounter any more! (it's such a no no societally for most occasions, isn't it?)

  21. For me the stereotype of French perfume is Guerlain: strong, sweet, sexy, poised, all of these done in a classy way. I have never conected French perfume to aldehides and oakmoss because I consider both aldehidic and oakmossy perfumes as being 100% American style perfumes. Think Knowledge, Alliage, Cinnabar, Youth Dew etc. They don't smell European at all. Maybe most of the people are influenced by media clyches when they think of French perfumes. To me Insolence is what I consider to be a very French perfume. Also, for a more mature woman, Samsara. If I'd be to pick a tres French chypre , that would be Y from YSL.

  22. Anonymous21:35

    Hi does anyone know where I might be able to obtain a bottle of JardinClos?

  23. Rosabell,

    very interesting comment!
    I agree 100% on Y! :-)

  24. anon,

    there is some on Ebay right now!!

  25. Anonymous04:46

    How come there is no Fracas?? or Number 5??

  26. Ramon,

    it's a well known fact that Fracas is bigger in America than it is in France :-)
    As to No.5, it's in the best-selling lists, you didn't read carefully?


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