The 20th Century: The Rise of Signature Scents, Designer Labels, and Synthetic Revolution

Posted by Emily van Oosterom on

The 20th century ushered in an era of transformation for the perfume industry, making fragrances an integral part of the fashion and beauty landscape. As the century unfolded, the industry evolved rapidly, fuelled by advancements in chemistry, global economic growth, and shifts in societal norms and aesthetics.

In this era, perfume experienced a mass-market explosion, morphing from a luxury commodity into a lifestyle accessory, reflecting an individual's personality, taste, and social status (Gilbert, 2008). This period saw the emergence of signature scents, a concept where a particular perfume becomes synonymous with an individual, brand, or celebrity. These personal scents not only captured the essence of the person wearing them but also became an extension of their public persona.

Fashion designers recognizing the allure and potential of the perfume industry started launching their signature fragrances, weaving a scented narrative around their brand. This trend was pioneered by fashion houses such as Chanel and Dior, whose fragrances have become timeless classics. The iconic Chanel No. 5, launched in 1921, symbolized a new era of modern, liberated women. Its distinctive blend of floral and aldehydic notes introduced an entirely new scent family and came to embody elegance, sophistication, and luxury (Mazzeo, 2010).

The increasing use of synthetic ingredients was a defining characteristic of 20th-century perfumery. Chemists began to develop synthetic aroma chemicals, not only as substitutes for natural ingredients but also to create new, never-before-smelled notes. This led to the creation of entirely new scent families like aldehydic, aquatic, and ozonic fragrances. Innovative scents that mimicked natural smells, such as ocean air, fresh-cut grass, or rain-soaked earth, were developed, adding a whole new dimension to the perfumer's olfactory palette (Turin & Sanchez, 2008).

In the latter half of the century, celebrities entered the fragrance market, lending their names to signature scents and thus bringing a new level of glamour and allure to the industry. This trend has continued to this day, with celebrities from various fields launching their perfume lines (Stamelman, 2006).

Moreover, the 20th century saw a dramatic shift in the marketing and branding of perfumes. Perfume was no longer solely about the scent; it became an emblem of personal style, identity, and aspiration. Through strategic marketing and brand storytelling, fragrances were positioned as gateways to luxury, romance, adventure, and self-expression. This period also saw the introduction of elaborate perfume bottles and packaging, further enhancing the allure. (Classen, Howes, & Synnott, 1994).




Gilbert, A. (2008). What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life. Crown.

Mazzeo, T. (2010). The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume. Harper.

Turin, L., & Sanchez, T. (2008). Perfumes: The Guide. Viking.

Stamelman, R. (2006). Perfume: Joy, Scandal, Sin - A Cultural History of Fragrance from 1750 to the Present. Rizzoli.

Classen, C., Howes, D., & Synnott, A. (1994). Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell. Routledge.

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment