The Scent of French Women

French women didn’t have to wait to learn from scientists that our sense of smell is by far the most powerful of the five senses. Estimates are that 75% of all our emotions are generated by what we smell. Since the time of the Bourbon courts, scented fans, gloves, and rooms have been used to beguile and bewitch, equipping today’s French woman with several centuries of perfume lore at her disposal. Some of the most scent savvy woman stick to signature fragrances. As French Vogue editor, Carine Roitfeld advocates “Scents remind you of people and you should be faithful to them.” Other women collect perfumes throughout their lives (perhaps none so adventurous as Louis XIV who reportedly ordered his courtiers to use a different fragrance every day or Louis XV who requested a difference fragrance for his rooms daily.)

Knowing the fragrance someone chooses makes us feel we know them in a more intimate way than just their biographical information. Below are scents favored by some of France’s most famous women and it should come as no surprise that French fragrances predominate. Artists, entertainers, writers, business women, designers, royalty, and courtesans, all are represented in the list below. Some are French by birth, others adopted France as their home. All are endlessly intriguing and lend their own special “je ne sais quoi” to whatever scent they wear.

Catherine Deneuve: Chanel No. 22, Chanel No 5, L’heure bleue, Chamade, Chanel No. 19, Un Lys

Andree Putman: Nombre Noir

Annick Goutal: Passion (which she created for herself), Folavirl

Brigitte Bardot: Jicky, Vent Vert

Carla Bruni: Vol de Nuit

Chantall Thomass: uses her own fragrance, and also loves Serges Lutens

Carine Roitfeld: Opium for Men

Coco Chanel: Chanel 19 (created as her personal fragrance)

Colette: Jicky

Edith Piaf: Bandit, Le Cinq de Molyneux

Empress Josephine: was so fond of musk that even permeated her rooms decades after her death

Empress Eugene: Eau de Cologne Imperiale, Jasmine Imperatrice Eugenie

Fanny Ardant: Jicky

Gertrude Stein: Jolie Madame

Ines De La Fressagne: Apres l’ondee, Ines

Isabelle Adjani: En Avion, Fantasia de Fleurs, Apres l’ondee, Eau de Camille, Eau du Fier, Heure Exquise, Passion, Ce Soir Ou Jamais,

Isabelle Huppert: L’heure bleue, Folavril

Jacqueline Bisset: Arpege,

Jeanne Moreau: Eau de Charlotte, Folavril, Aubepine Acacia

Josephine Baker: Joy, Sous le vent was created for her

Juliette Binoche: Cristolle

Madame Dubarry: Houbignant cologne

Marie Antoinette: Houbigant, Sillage de la Reine (recreated by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian who based his interpretation on Elizabeth Feydeau’s book, A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie-Antoinette’s Perfume)

Marlene Dietric: Angelique Encens (made for her) Bandit, Fracas, Tabac blond, Indiscent, Vol de Nuit

Miou Miou: Zeste Mandarin Pamplemousse

There are also some “make your own” mixtures worth noting:

Madame de Pampadour to seduce Louis XV concocted a love potion of 5 drops rose otto, 7 jasmine, 10 orange and 10 mandarin

Madame de Montespan to seduce Louis XIV: 8 drops ylang-ylang, 7 patchouli, 4 cinnamon and 4 clove

Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor: layered L’heure bleue and Mitsouko

In addition to various publications, sites, special thanks for the information above go to, a fabulous resource for anyone interested in all things related to fragrance.


Filed under Beauty & Fashion, Paris

3 responses to “The Scent of French Women

  1. >This is a FABULOUS article…

  2. Jeanne

    This is a terribly important review….

  3. Jean

    Balmain’s Jolie Madame was created in 1953, Gertrude Stein died in 1946!
    How could it have been her favourite perfume?

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