100-Year-Old Scents That Have Only Gotten Better With Age

Acqua di Parma_Coffret Colonia - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Acqua di Parma

These four perfumes helped define the fragrance industry today and make the perfect gift for the most difficult person to shop for on your list.

Some people are truly impossible to shop for. And while it might seem like the latest gadget or wine of the month club might do, the best gift for such types is really only a true classic. While hundreds of new fragrances hit the shelves each year, with every celebrity releasing their own line or 10, only a handful of truly original scents can stand the test of time.

We’ve rounded up the best scents that have lived on for 100 years or more. These are scents commissioned by barons or queens and are made today by the same proven formulas and processes. They are scents that have only gotten better with age, scents that tell a century or centuries' worth of stories in one tiny bottle. For the truly hard-to-shop-for, these timeless bespoke scents may be just the thing for the man or woman on your holiday shopping list. 

Acqua di Parma: Colonia

Celebrating its centennial this year, Acqua di Parma launched with the Colonia Classica in 1916. The signature scent remains one of the most popular. A reimagined release this year encased in sterling silver was an instant sell-out. Fortunately for the holidays, a gift set complete with shower gel and body cream is available, packaged by hand in the brand’s iconic canary yellow hatbox created to invoke the memory of shopping at Parma’s top boutiques.

Commissioned by Baron Carlo Magnani, grandson of famed set-designer Girolamo Magnani, Colonia was created in a small laboratory in Parma, Italy, from fresh, natural ingredients. Master tailors began using the scent as the final touch before delivering their suits to their most refined clients. Later, the signature Colonia Art Deco bottle with its Bakelite cap became a signature of Italian glamor among pre-war and post-war American and European Hollywood elite. 

The Colonia is famous for its long-lasting notes that change throughout the day. On first spray, the scent’s Sicilian citrus (bergamot, lemon, orange, clementine, grapefruit) are strong. Later floral notes of neroli, rosemary, lavender, Bulgarian rose and jasmine come through. And afterward, woody notes amber, oak moss and vetiver round off the unforgettable fragrance that is both lightly sweet and incredibly rich.

Guerlain: Jicky

Guerlain began creating fragrances in 1828. Of more than 800 creations, 111 are available today. One of the house’s most famous creators, Aime Guerlain, was fascinated with the U.S., although he never traveled there. He created fragrances with titles including Far West, Extrait de la belle Americaine, Bouquet Americain and one even called E Pluribus Unum, the country’s unofficial motto until 1956.

But it wasn’t until 1889 that Guerlain launched his masterpiece, Jicky. He created the fragrance in honor of a young woman named Jicky he fell in love with during his student years in England. By coincidence, the nickname of his nephew Jacques also was Jicky.

Jicky paved the way for modern perfumers, and historians can distinctly divide periods of “before Jicky” and “after Jicky.” Like the abstract Eiffel Tower in the same age, Jicky was the first of the abstract perfumes, created in the laboratory, as opposed to the traditional figurative perfumes of the time. It also paved the road to the brand’s later signature scent Shalimar.

Jicky is the definition of the unisex fragrance. Adored by both men and women, it’s a fresh and vibrant fragrance that can be worn throughout the year. Jicky is made up of spicy notes over lavender and lemon on top of a base of patchouli, amber, vanilla and woody scents that gets better throughout the day. For the holidays, it can be purchased in both the brand’s signature bee bottle or a very collectible refillable gold canister.

Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella: Acqua di Santa Maria Novella

Visitors to Florence, Italy, are well-advised to make the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella a stop on their tour. Inside the unassuming shop doors on Via della Scala is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. Marble floors lead the way to counters offering the products up for sale and to back rooms of vaulted cathedral ceilings covered with gorgeous original frescoes.

In the 13th century, the time of Dante and Giotto, Dominican monks set up a monastery in Florence. They began cultivating herbs in their gardens to prepare medicals balms and ointments in the convent’s infirmary in order to keep the friars in good health. In 1612, after fame of the monk’s products grew throughout the country, they opened up the pharmacy to the public, and legend of the shop later spread to Russia, India and China. Today, the same products are on offer, all handmade in the original method, from bath oils to mints to face creams to more than 40 eau de colognes.

The most famous of these, the Acqua di Santa Maria Novella, nicknamed “Water of the Queen," was commissioned by Caterina de Medici in 1533. Because she took it with her to France when she married Enrico di Valois, the brand labels it as a perfume. The scent is created from an abundance of fresh citrus notes over Calabrian bergamot. It has a long staying effect with a powdery finish and also is wearable by both men and women. The perfume is presented in a frosted square glass bottle that has set the mold for bottles used by the pharmacy for centuries.

Creed: Fleurs de Bulgarie

The House of Creed has been around since 1760. With royalty in its blood, it set up shop to supply the English Court with tailored clothing, scented leather gloves and fragrances on order. In 1845, the House officially moved to Paris, and today all fragrances are still made in France. Sixth-generation master perfumer Olivier Creed carries on the family tradition through an ancient infusion technique of weighing, mixing, macerating and filtering each fragrance by hand.

One of the brand’s most famous scents dates back to 1845: the Fleurs de Bulgarie. While many scents today make use of the lush Rose Valley in Bulgaria, this is the original. Made for Queen Victoria, the Tudor monarch wore the House of Creed fragrance throughout her reign from her start on the throne as a young teenager to her death several decades later.

Notable for its balance of playfulness and classical timelessness, Fleurs de Bulgarie drapes bergamot, ambergris infusion and Bulgarian roses (using only the best blooms from each year’s crop) over a classic musk base.