Fragrance is one of the oldest beauty products in history. In fact, based on ancient text and archaeological discoveries, researchers date the creation of perfume — then just a simple concoction of flowers and oil — back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia around the 2nd millennium B.C. Fast-forward a few thousand years (aka right now) and we’re still just as obsessed with smelling delightful.
Perfumes are so much more than just a fragrance, though. They have the power to make a statement without saying a word. They evoke beautiful (and not so beautiful) memories, and they are one of daily life’s simplest, but most enjoyable, little pleasures that we do just for ourselves.
“Fragrance helps us create an identity,” says Eduardo Valadez, marketing director at the storied French fragrance house, Diptyque. “Fragrance is something that’s very personal; it’s about a sensation. I think how people today wear fragrance is ‘I want to feel a certain way’.”
And one of the most beautiful aspects of perfume is that there truly is something for everyone and every environment. Most of us wouldn’t wear the same perfume on a wild night out with friends as we would for brunch with our grandmother — and with so many varieties, you don’t have to. The world of fragrance is your oyster.
Because there are so many different aromas, formulations and types to choose from, narrowing down your top few can be intimidating. But the good news is that scent is one of those things in which you’ll know immediately whether you love it or hate it — and there’s rarely any in between.
“The sense of smell is one of the strongest things connecting us to memory and attraction,” explains Ross Barry, national perfume artist for Atelier Cologne. “So often, it’s worn out of a place of nostalgia. It triggers a memory in us and there’s something comforting in that.”
According to Nest New York founder Laura Slatkin, fragrance simply makes you feel good, and can have the same effect on those around you. After all, fragrance impacts not only the person who wears it, but everyone they come into contact with. “Without it, encounters are, well, boring,” she adds. “Indulging in a magnificent fragrance lifts my spirits and everyone I touch.”
Before we jump into our favorite fragrances from top perfume brands, there are a few key elements to understand first.
The Different Types of Perfume
Eau de parfum is the strongest type of fragrance, says Slatkin. “It has a higher concentration of fragrance oil than an eau de toilette.”
Eau de toilette is composed of a slightly lower concentration of perfume oil, and the scent leans more light and fresh versus heady or rich, like a parfum. An eau de toilette will smell slightly different than an eau de parfum, even if they are produced by the same brand and composed of the same notes because the chemical makeup of each is unique, meaning they will develop on your skin in different ways.
Eau de cologne clocks in as the gentlest type of fragrance. “In the fragrance world, the order of highest to lowest concentration is eau de parfum, eau de toilette then eau de cologne.”
Light and fresh: If you tend to like your perfumes smelling like a ripe, just chopped lemon or a valley of wildflowers, it could be that you favor the sweet citrus or floral families.
Intense and dense: If you like spicy over sweet or deep over light, then a heady, exotic oud, vetiver or woodsy aroma could be up your alley.
And now, here are the 36 best perfumes for women, according to our experts. From the classics to modern masterpieces and everything in between, these top perfumes are not only great for upping your scent game but double as stellar fragrance and beauty gifts. In fact, these perfumes make for some of the best gifts for any woman on your list, so you really can’t go wrong.
Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium Eau de Parfum
This is a scent designed to make your heart race, with strong opening notes of adrenaline-boosting coffee mixed with a sweet vanilla base and a burst of floral notes. And who says you have to save sexy perfumes for the evening? Not Slatkin. “Some people like to be seductive, whether they’re out on a romantic evening or grocery shopping,” she says. “And that’s the wonderful thing about signature scents.”
Atelier Cologne Vanille Insensée
Notes of sweet gourmands are a rising fragrant trend, Barry shares. “Both smoky scents and vanilla are making a huge comeback,” he says. “A great vanilla perfume is Atelier Cologne’s Vanille Insensée,” which is pleasantly sweet but not sickeningly so thanks to the balancing notes of lime and amber.
Diptyque Do Son Eau de Toilette
“The way that we work on composing fragrance, it’s really about celebrating a specific story that we’re trying to capture from our founders,” Valadez says. This light, floral eau de toilette recalls the beloved memories of Diptyque founder Yves Coueslant’s childhood summers in Do Son, Vietnam. Brewed with spicy tuberose, softened with orange blossom and topped with jasmine, this women’s perfume is simultaneously light and potent.
Jo Malone London Earl Grey & Cucumber
Inspired by the mid-afternoon British ritual of High Tea, this perfume from Jo Malone blends notes of traditional Earl Grey with cucumber as a nod to those mini cucumber sandwiches that typically accompany the tea. Even if this unique scent may not seem like an obvious choice, cofounder of D.S. and Durga David Maltz recommends trying it anyway. “Never fear making mistakes — it’s no big deal,” he says. “It’s like anything else; try everything and learn as you go.”
Chanel No.5 Eau de Parfum
Perhaps the most popular perfume in the world, Chanel No.5 needs no introduction. It’s subtle, powder-fresh sensibility was considered the epitome of femininity upon its launch in 1921, and it’s remained a vanity staple ever since.
D.S. & Durga Amber Teutonic Eau de Parfum
Another one of Maltz’s favorites, this luxury perfume by D.S. & Durga smells like a magical forest with notes of Alpine cedar, cardamom and green mandarin. “Spray liberally on wrists,” he says. “I always tap my neck with my wrist. And, I like to wear it heavy sometimes, but you do you.”
Maison Margiela Replica By the Fireplace
Barry reaches for this “creamy and smoky” Replica fragrance when the temperatures start to dip and deeper scents are embraced. “It’s perfect for this time of year, and I love it with a sweater and leather jacket,” he says, adding that it’s a great “going-out scent.”
Nest New York Turkish Rose Perfume Oil
“Perfume oils are a more sensual and personal way to wear fragrance,” explains Slatkin, calling them “a true moment of self-indulgence.” One of her favorites, Nest’s Turkish Rose, may seem like a traditional scent, but the blend of black plum and blonde woods push the boundaries of what you’d expect from a rose floral. “I love massaging the oil into the tops of my hands, neck and décolleté, letting it melt into my skin,” she says. “The process is steeped in wellness.”
Le Labo Santal 33
Chances are, you’ve smelled this incredibly popular unisex Le Labo fragrance at least a few times a week just walking around your city. It smells like a roaring fire with billows of thick smoke — spiked with a cocktail of cardamom, iris and violet notes — to present the most intoxicating, can’t-get-enough kind of scent.
D.S. & Durga St. Vetyver
“I personally love old-fashioned fragrances, like St. Vetyver,” Moltz says. “You know what you like.” But yet, don’t close yourself off to a scent profile because of one or two notes — you may be surprised about what the formulation brings. As Moltz says, “Be excited about exploring.”
Atelier Cologne Oolang Infini
“I have 67 fragrances at home, so it is really hard to choose a favorite,” laughs Barry. “But a go-to is Atelier Cologne Oolang Infini. It’s a clean tea and skin scent, but has a smoky Gaiac wood base to round out a multilayered finish that evolves throughout the day,” he adds.
Le Labo Another 13
Le Labo’s Another 13 is this writer’s own signature scent (I’ve worn it nearly every day for years and have lost count of how many compliments it’s received, but the most memorable was from the cashier at the grocery store who started his compliment with, “This may be weird, but…” and went on to say that I smelled really good.) No doubt about it, it’s a versatile, classic fragrance.
Ralph Lauren Ralph’s Club
“I am really loving Ralph Lauren Ralph’s Club right now for fall,” says Barry of this herbaceous aroma of cedarwood, patchouli and lavandin. Forget the ‘men’s fragrance’ label — plenty of women wear “masculine” scents when they want to feel powerful.
Nest New York Indian Jasmine Perfume Oil
“I typically don’t like florals, and, most importantly, my husband really doesn’t like me wearing floral fragrances,” Slatkin says. “But the brand’s just-launched Indian jasmine perfume oil is so beautiful, I can’t stop wearing it. And, my husband loves it on me, which is a very big endorsement.”
Viktor&Rolf‘s award-winning perfume smells like a sexy garden party, with bright notes of jasmine, rose and cattleya mixed with vanilla and patchouli for a scent that’s incredibly and luxuriously feminine.
Tom Ford Lost Cherry
Lost Cherry, one of the best Tom Ford perfumes for women, is a beautiful masterpiece of contradictions: decadent black cherry and bitter liqueur blended with Turkish rose and Arabian jasmine offer an explosion of warm and spicy notes, creating a full-bodied perfume intended to provoke imagination and sensuality.
Dior Miss Dior Eau de Parfum
Reminiscent of a fresh bouquet filled with lily-of-the-valley, peony and rose, this fragrance is an all-the-way flowery scent that’s one of the best Dior perfumes for anyone who adores the floral scent family. “I think that fragrance has really become more like a wardrobe,” Valadez says. “We don’t just have one white shirt, and I think fragrance is the same way. Some might have five or six in rotation.”
Designed for both men and women, one of Byredo’s best-selling fragrances conjures a fantasy of walking through an old, beautiful library, complete with aromatic wood panels and tables, musty old paper and books with rich leather bindings. All of these elements create a luxury fragrance that is simultaneously comforting and exciting.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540
Although the price point may cause you to pass by this lavish scent, do yourself a favor and give this expensive perfume a whirl. Perfect for a romantic night or those who make every day a luxurious celebration, it’s an incredibly rich and long-lasting perfume (seriously, one spritz will linger until the next day). Notes include spicy, bitter saffron, red cedar from the mountains of Virginia with hints of juniper and Egyptian jasmine for a gorgeous finish.
Juliette Has a Gun Not a Perfume
Ah, the perfume for the people who don’t wear perfume. Everything about this perfume is different down to the way it’s formulated, ensuring that it smells literally like no other perfume out there. Skipping the standard notes process, this perfume is made of just one ingredient, cetalox, which smells like the Earth — but not dirt or trees, per se. Just try it and you’ll see what we mean.
Ellis Brooklyn Super Amber
“Right now with the colder weather, I’ve been gravitating towards cozy fragrances, like Super Amber,” says perfumer and founder of Ellis Brooklyn, Bee Shapiro. “It’s musky and has a cashmere feel that makes me feel comfortable.”
Maurice Roucel Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur
One of Shapiro’s favorites, this “marvelous fragrance,” as she calls it, has an ambery Oriental sensibility with strong notes of clove, sandalwood, musk and amber. It’s balanced with smooth vanilla and lavender that perfumer Maurice Roucel designed to be sensual, dramatic and mysterious.
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille
“It’s just stunning,” enthuses Shapiro. “It’s vanilla, but it’s so sophisticated and intoxicating.” Shapiro’s rousing endorsement should surprise no one, because if Tom Ford understands one thing, it’s how to be sexy and dripping with confidence. Spritz on this supercharged scent when you need to remember all the power you wield.
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle
Shapiro calls this perfume “a masterpiece,” as it “nails the Chanel aesthetic and has beautiful structure, composition and lift.” Falling squarely in the Oriental fragrance family, one of Chanel’s best perfumes features hints of fresh, energizing orange with accords of jasmine and May Rose topped with vetiver’s grassy accents.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Silk Mood
“I think it’s best to throw the whole idea of specific notes out the window,” Shapiro says. “Instead, think of what mood you want to be in. Is it warm and cozy? Is it effervescent and flirty? Then, seek out scents with that same vibe. You may find something that surprises and enchants you.” And that goes for this fragrance, too — it feels mysterious and thrilling, like when vacationing somewhere on the other side of the world or tasting a new, exotic dish.
Byredo Mojave Ghost Eau de Parfum
If your spirit runs more wild and free than traditional or scheduled, this could be the perfume for you. Inspired by the rare, miraculous “ghost flower” that lives without water under the most difficult, arid conditions in the Mojave Desert, this woody composition is light with musky Ambrette. Additionally, it emanates Jamaican nesberry, violet sandalwood and a base of crisp amber and cedar that takes anyone who wears it on a true adventure. As Shapiro says, “A bold fragrance on the right person can come off daring.”
Yves Saint Lauren Libre Eau de Parfum
When shopping for a new women’s perfume, Slatkin says to “wait for the perfume that physically moves you when you experience it. If it makes you smile or say, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing!’ out loud, that’s a good thing.” And we bet you won’t be able to help but smile once you give this perfume brimming with notes of Moroccan orange blossom, vanilla extract and lavender essence a whiff.
Gucci Flora Gorgeous Gardenia Eau de Parfum
Bright, juicy and floral come to mind when experiencing this fragrance that’s one of the best Gucci perfumes for women full of positive energy. “A great trend I see,” says Maltz, adding that “kindness is cool.” Amen.
Burberry Her Eau de Parfum
Blueberry and other fruity scents, like black currant and raspberry, are the top notes of this fragrance. Meanwhile, a base of musky amber delivers a punch of sour-sweetness that is delicate and extremely modern.
“Sometimes, we have connotations of what we think we like or don’t like,” Valadez says. “We have this idea that a floral or rose are very mature fragrances, kind of like a grandma scent,” yet he sees time and time again where people think they hate a note, but actually love the way it blends with other raw materials. This full-on floral perfume could easily be written off as a ‘grandma’ fragrance, but the notes of jasmine and Rangoon creeper — a fun south Indian plant that smells sweet and fruity — keep it feminine, flirty and youthful.
Chloé Atelier des Fleurs Papyrus
Inspired by a gift from his grandparents, a papyrus covered in hieroglyphs, perfumer Alexis Dadier set out to capture the refreshing and smoky papyrus scent for Chloé. The result is a dry, gently woody women’s perfume, offset with verdant, lush notes, that’s light enough for daytime wear and can easily be layered for a sultry evening scent.
Captivating and simple, this scent is one of the best women’s perfumes for a minimalist who just wants to smell great and a little neutral. Blackcurrant nectar, mandarin and orange blossom are at the forefront, with warm vanilla anchoring the fragrance and rounding everything out. The fruit and vanilla combo is pretty and easy to wear.
Narciso Rodriguez For Her Eau de Toilette
A longtime favorite among beauty editors, this essence features a trio of floral, amber and woody notes creating a long-lasting fragrance that is truly intoxicating, memorable and timeless.
Marc Jacobs Daisy
If happiness could be bottled up, it might look (and smell like) like Daisy by Marc Jacobs. Effervescent, full-bodied and straightforwardly sweet (think honey-sweet, not cupcake-sweet), this perfume for women emphasizes crisp fruits and dreamy florals. You’ll find notes of strawberry, violet and jasmine offset with the teensiest touch of sultry sandalwood. Plus, this smooth scent can easily be mixed, matched and layered with other scents if you want to play master perfumer.
Ellis Brooklyn Myth
“Myth is always a favorite of mine,” Shapiro says. “The combination of white musk, jasmine and white cedarwood is just my scent. It creates a beautiful, calm mood for me.”
Diptyque Eau de Minthé Eau de Parfum
“I love the idea of fragrance bringing joy,” Shapiro says. “There is magic in our sense of smell; it can literally stop and seemingly reverse time with just a sniff. It can also open up a whole new world — an invisible one, for sure — but so powerful all the same.” Everyone knows what mint smells like, but this Diptyque perfume for women turns that notion on its head with a reimagined take, resulting in a lively, thoroughly modern — and definitely joyful — geranium and patchouli-infused mint.
The Best Ways to Apply Women’s Perfume
Where and how you spray perfume is everything. To ensure your scent lasts all day, spritz directly onto the skin. Don’t do the spray-then-walk-into-it thing — all that will do is waste your expensive perfume.
Focus on the pulse points, which are the warmest parts of your body, with the go-to spots being the wrist and neck. However, there are plenty of other lesser-known areas that will maximize your perfume’s longevity and intensity, like behind the ears and in the elbow creases.
Fragrance also attaches best to hydrated skin, which is one more reason to moisturize regularly and in humid climates (and is also the reason why everything smells a little bit more in the summer, for better or worse).