A Stellar Vintage Trio: Perfume History of Chanel No. 5, Mitsouko, Joy. A Special Series. | Author Jan Moran
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.

A Stellar Vintage Trio: Perfume History of Chanel No. 5, Mitsouko, Joy. A Special Series.

Perfume History of Joy by Jean PatouA trio of some of the world's most beloved perfumes, Chanel No. 5, Joy, and Mitsouko are among the classic fragrances that have fanned the flames of romance for nearly a hundred years. The perfume history behind these favorites is the stuff of legend today.

For years I worked in the beauty industry; I cataloged thousands of new and classic perfumes for women and men, and created touch-screen programs (Scentsa, a.k.a.Fragrance IQ) for Sephora, DFS, Nordstrom and JCPenney stores, work for which I received a FiFi award from The Fragrance Foundation in New York.

When I began to write, it seemed natural to write about perfumery. Scent of Triumph, a historical romantic-suspense novel, follows a French perfumer during the 1940s. Perfume and aromas are her professional frame of reference, so vintage perfumes are laced throughout the book.

Today I’d like to feature the background perfume history on three classic perfumes that are still popular around the world. Even if you've never worn them, chances are someone you know does. Our olfactory sense—our sense of smell—is the strongest memory trigger we have, with a direct path to the limbic center of the brain, the seat of memories and emotions.

While these perfumes might conjure memories of your mother or grandmother, they’re still hot, haute scents for fashion-forward women.

In The Perfumer: Scent of Triumph, my protagonist, Danielle Bretancourt, has specific memories or encounters with each one of these perfumes. (Without giving the scenes away, I wanted to share the history on each perfume, so when you read Scent of Triumph, you’ll have extra insight as to why these were included.)

Each one of these fragrances is different; Mitsouko is warm, elegant and mysterious; Chanel No. 5 is powdery and sophisticated; Joy is rich in flowers and exuberantly feminine. Try them all, but choose the one that speaks to your soul.

Perfume History: Classic Perfumes of Yesterday and Today

Perfume history of Guerlain

Courtesy of

Mitsouko by Guerlain (1919) – Created on the eve of the Roaring Twenties, Mitsouko reflects the Far Eastern style that became the rage in the flamboyant years after World War I. Third generation perfumer Jacques Guerlain developed Mitsouko for women of passion, intensity, strength, and introspection.

Mitsouko opens with fruity top notes of tangy bergamot and smooth, mellow peach. A lilac blend follows, dissolving into a woody chypre drydown, redolent of vetiver, oakmoss, and amber. Mitsouko is a sensual, voluptuous fragrance, like a dark, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.

Mitsouko means “mystery” in Japanese and was inspired by a character in the Claude Farrère novel, La Bataille, or The Battle. The story revolved around the ill-fated love of an English officer and the wife of the ship's commander–a beautiful Japanese woman named Mitsouko. Farrère had mentioned another Guerlain fragrance, Jicky, in one of his novels, so Jacques Guerlain reciprocated the honor by naming his fragrance after a Farrère character. And so Mitsouko lives on, in print and in fragrance. It remains one of the great jewels of the House of Guerlain.

Chanel No. 5 (1921) – Chanel No. 5 was the first fragrance from Parisian couturier Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who was one of the first designers to introduce a perfume. According to Chanel, the secret behind Chanel No. 5 is an extraordinary, powdery blend of aldehydes–ingredients that defy categorization–combined with rich floral and warm amber notes. Take a tip from Marilyn Monroe–when the press once asked what nightwear she wore to bed, she smiled and answered, “Chanel No. 5.” And that was all.

What inspired the numeric name? Chanel once reported that when she asked Ernest Beaux to create a fragrance for her, he presented her with several scents, and she selected the bottle numbered “5.” Coincidentally, her couture collection was scheduled for presentation on the fifth day of the fifth month–May 5. Interpreting this as a good omen, she bestowed upon the fragrance the name of Chanel No. 5. It was the popularity of the early Chanel fragrances that spawned the designer fragrance industry of today.

Joy by Jean Patou (1930) – French couturier Jean Patou had set out to create a fragrance “free from all vulgarity” at any cost, as well as “impudent, crazy, and extravagant beyond reason.” Indeed, the sumptuous scent quickly became revered as the world's most extravagant perfume and to this day Joy remains one of the costliest perfume to produce, according to the Patou firm.

The dominant notes are absolute of jasmine and Bulgarian rose, two of the world's rarest and most expensive essences. Each ounce contains the essence from more than 10,000 jasmine flowers and twenty-eight dozen roses.

Jean Patou launched his quest for Joy in 1926 when he took his assistant, cafe society woman Elsa Maxwell, with him to Grasse to work with perfumers on the new scent. Together they searched for a fragrance that would meet the exacting requirements of the best-dressed and most discriminating women of the world. After exhaustive testing they were presented with the formula for Joy; it called for twice the amount of essential oils that other popular perfumes contained. But alas, the perfumer told them it was too expensive to be commercially viable. That cinched it. Hence was born the “costliest fragrance in the world,” and women the world over had to have it.

Vintage Perfumes by Jan Moran book coverLove to hear your memories and experiences with these vintage perfumes for women, or others you adore. This is the first in a series, so stay tuned for more posts on classic perfumes for women. See also my Vintage Perfume Guide post. If you'd like to read more about perfume history, turn to my book, Vintage Perfumes.


Where to Buy Jan's Books

  • Buy on AppleBooks
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Buy on Barnes & Noble
  • Buy from Google Play
  • Buy from Kobo
  • Buy from IndieBound
  • Buy from Audible

Jan’s books are also available to purchase in Deutsch, Dutch, Italiano, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian. More languages coming soon!

Our website uses cookies which may collect information about your visit to improve our website (anonymous analytics), to show you media (video and audio), targeted advertising, and social media feeds. Please see our Cookie Policy page for further details or agree by clicking the 'Accept' button.

Cookie settings

Below you can choose which kind of cookies you allow on this website. Click on the "Save cookie settings" button to apply your choice.

FunctionalOur website uses functional cookies. These cookies are necessary to let our website work.

AnalyticalOur website uses analytical cookies to make it possible to analyze our website and optimize for the purpose of a.o. the usability.

Social mediaOur website places social media cookies to show you 3rd party content like YouTube and FaceBook. These cookies may track your personal data.

AdvertisingOur website places advertising cookies to show you 3rd party advertisements based on your interests. These cookies may track your personal data.

OtherOur website places 3rd party cookies from other 3rd party services which aren't Analytical, Social media or Advertising.