You Won't Believe What Fragrance Your Mother Wore When She Was Your Age

Joelle Nealy

Scandal is ageless. Every generation finds a way to shock the one that came before. The perfume that is now deemed “old ladyish” was once the scent that young women wore despite their mother’s warnings. Here’s a look through the decades at some popular and controversial vintage fragrances.

1920s - Caron Tabac Blond

Designed for the newly emancipated woman who dared to smoke in public, Tabac Blond’s accord of leather and lipstick traces on a cigarette was meant to blend with the smell of the lingering smoke, and it was quite a contrast to the floral fragrances that preceded it. Released over a century ago, it is still available (and still chic) today.


1930s - Tabu by Dana

Tabu was released in 1932 but experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 1950s. The original brief given to perfumer Jean Carles was to “make something a whore would wear.” The resulting bomb of spice, civet, and incense has since been embraced by respectable ladies from all walks of life, night and otherwise.


1940s  - Bandit by Robert Piguet

Created by Germaine Cellier and released by couturier Robert Piguet in 1944. Legend has it that Cellier got her inspiration for this iconic leather scent by referencing - and by “referencing” we mean sniffing - the unwashed skivvies of Piguet’s models after they’d walked in his show. Combine that animalic leather accord with the sharp green of galbanum, and you have the rebel genius that is Bandit.


1950s  - Max Factor Primitif

The word “skanky” comes up a lot in reviews of Primitif, although it’s usually in a loving, non-pejorative way. Released in 1956, the aldehydic top notes contrast with a drydown rife with the animalic civet and nitromusks of the era. Although it’s hard to imagine now, the floral chypre was marketed to younger women and was available presented in the “Sophisti-cat” bottle, a small bottle with a black velvet cat-shaped holder.


1960s - Patchouli oil

Whether it was to mask the scent of marijuana or simply because they loved the earthy smell, the use of patchouli oil was so ubiquitous with the flower children of the 60s that even today it is associated with the hippie movement. Part of its popularity stemmed from a newfound interest in travel to the Indian subcontinent, where patchouli leaves have been used as scent and for moth-repellent for centuries.


1970s - Fabergé  Tigress

Although it was originally released in the 30s, the fragrance gained in popularity as a drugstore fragrance in the 70s. With its faux tiger fur wrapped lid, it fit in perfectly with the aesthetic of the decade. Its spiced amber and floral sensuality reflects the sensuality and decadence of the zeitgeist.


1980s - Dior Poison

Eighties perfumes were designed to make a grand entrance and a lingering exit. The brazen incense and grape gum accord were ubiquitous - one might even say inescapable -- during the Me Decade. With a bottle design is reminiscent of forbidden fruit and its ominous name, it's not hard to believe the potent fragrance was actually forbidden by some NYC restaurants during its heyday due to its overpowering sillage.


1990s - CK One

Released in 1994, CK One was one of the first commercial fragrances marketed as as unisex. The juice itself may seem pretty innocuous, but ads for CK One were some of many controversial campaigns from the brand. The heroin chic aesthetic, androgyny, and use of a very young Kate Moss had critics outraged.

What will be the next controversial fragrance trend? Only time will tell.