Is fragrance timeless?
Not according to Erwin Creed, 25, the seventh generation of a family of esteemed French perfumers. Reached at his Paris office, the youngest Creed in the family business dished about an industry secret: Perfumers tinker with the chemistry of fragrances through the years, even when the names on the bottles remain the same.
So classic Chanel No. 5, as it was in 1921, he said, it would smell a lot different. Perfumers know that people's taste in fragrance evolve, just like their taste for everything vogue.
"It's a little bit like a car - an old car (versus) a new car," he said. "The old cars look old. It's the same thing for smell."
Similarly, perfumes for young women uniformly used to contain vanilla. Now young women don't want to smell of the bean, said Creed, who is being groomed to take over the business.
The House of Creed, which has been making perfumes for 245 years, rests comfortably in the top echelon of perfumers. Unlike most, its fragrances rely heavily on natural oils for their scents, rather than chemicals.
Creed's newest invention is called Love In White, and a 1-ounce bottle of eau de parfum retails for a hefty US$110. It's the company's first fragrance in five years.
"The best perfume - you can make something very special - should be modern," Creed said. "But not too much."
With that in mind, here's a guide to help you get started if you're looking for something new, rather than something classic. All scents listed are available at major department stores or cosmetic/fragrance shops unless otherwise noted.
And remember that there are often a half dozen or more "notes," or scents, in a single fragrance. We've just listed the most dominant or the most interesting.
Donna Karan: Labdanum. Named after a resinous oil from a Mediterranean bush, this has a striking, peculiar scent and can be used with other Karan scents for a layering effect. Eau de Toilette spray, 3.4 ounces, US$165, in South Florida, exclusively at Neiman Marcus at Bal Harbour.
Christian Dior: Miss Dior Cherie. Tangerine, strawberry and - get this - caramelized popcorn. Eau de Parfum, 1.7 ounces, US$64.
Elizabeth Arden: 5th Avenue After Five. Black plum, followed by jasmine and saffron. Smells light, lemony and mildly spicy. Eau de Parfum Spray, 2.5 ounces, US$40.
Calvin Klein: Euphoria. Green notes, lotus blossom, mahogany. Eau de Parfum Spray, 1.7 ounces, US$55.
Kenzo Oriental: Flower. Rose, vanilla and pepper. Eau de Parfum spray, 1.7 ounces, US$70.
Lanvin: Arpege Pour Homme. Woodsy with hints of vanilla, nutmeg and Tonka bean, light and gently sweet. Eau de Toilette, 3.3 ounces, US$62.
Bond no. 9: Bleecker Street. A unisex scent filled with vanilla, aromatic woods, musk and patchouli notes. Eau de Parfum Spray, US$110. At Saks Fifth Avenue exclusively.
Liz Claiborne: Soul by Curve. Top notes of bamboo and green apple, followed by lavender and spice. Probably better for a younger man. 1.7 ounces of cologne spray, US$45.
Georgio Armani: Black Code. Lemon and bergamot with woody notes. Eau de Toilette, 1.7 ounces, US$50.
Kenneth Cole: Signature After Shave Balm. Preponderance of spice. 3.4 ounces of aftershave, US$49.
SMELL OF CELEBRITY
Fragrances marked with a celebrity's name should be viewed with some skepticism. Normally these perfumers are entirely driven by perfume manufacturers, rather than the star himself or herself, which begs the question: Was the scent not good enough to sell itself?
The other issue to consider is that the shelf life of a celebrity perfume lasts only as long as the star can draw a crowd, and chances are that won't be for long.
So don't expect your recipient to discover a smell they can make their own for years to come. Still, if you're game, here are some flashy, new scents:
Precious Jewel by Ashanti. Smells first of jasmine, next of light musks and finally of powder, sweet and strong. Cologne Spray, 3.5 ounces, US$39. At Wal-Mart exclusively.
Fantasy by Britney Spears. Lycee, quince and kiwi, according to promotional material. Eau de Parfum spray, 1.7 ounces, US$45.
Live by Jennifer Lopez. Fruity, floral, with pineapple and orange. Eau de Parfum, 1.7 ounces, US$40.
Spirit Antonio Bandaras for Women. Promo material says it has freesia and peonies with base notes of sandalwood and incense, but we frankly had a hard time discerning any of that. Eau de Toilette Spray, 1.7 ounces, US$30.
Carlos Santana For Men. Bergamot, maja soap, cypress and cedar wood. Eau de Toilette spray, 1.7 ounces, US$40.