Good As Gold – Why I’m Choosing My Next Perfume By Sight, Not Scent

From Chanel No.5 to Shalimar, look at almost every iconic perfume from the past century and you'll see they've all got something in common, they've all gone for gold...


Can you smell a colour? Can you see a scent? Technically, no. So why is it that a cut glass bottle full of amber coloured perfume smells way better than a black bottle full of clear perfume? Who decided that gold was the most alluring colour for perfume and why is it that something we smell is so controlled by what we see?

I guess the real question is, should I start choosing my perfume with my eyes instead of my nose?

If I’m going by legendary perfumer Francois Coty’s rules, then the answer is a firm and flamboyant yes. Treating perfume as an object to be looked at rather than smelt (someone had his priorities in order), Coty teamed up with master glassmaker Rene Lalique in 1907 to create the first bottle specifically designed for a perfume, L’Effleurt. A pioneer perhaps, but he didn’t exactly take the masses with him.

Possibly the most quoted woman ever, Gabrielle Chanel of course had something to say on the matter, announcing, ‘If I were a perfumer, I would put everything into the perfume and nothing into the presentation…and to make it inimitable I would want it to be extremely expensive.’ And lo Chanel No.5 was created in 1921 and became one of the most iconic perfume bottles of all time. Ironic, non?

#ecatVisuals Shalimar par Guerlain. Quick 15 min sketch.

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The winning formula? A cut glass, clear bottle filled with golden perfume.

But why?? Would No.5 have missed the history books if the bottle was brown or the perfume green? What is it about seeing that colour that tells our brain, 'Yup, this is gonna smell great'.

Frankly, ‘Because it’s rich and luxurious’, at least that’s what perfumer and expert nose Roja Dove thinks. ‘There’s something luxurious in the natural aesthetic of a perfume, something which is much more appealing than spritzing your wrist with a perfume that’s a toxic looking green or acidic blue.’


Golden amber is the colour of scent because ‘that’s the colour that most natural fragrance ingredients become when they’re extracted from the original flower or plant’ boutique perfume brand Shay & Blue’s Dom tells me. ‘We extract or distill perfume from real flowers, fruit and spices. Occasionally the perfume reduces down to a soft green colour, but most high-perfumery ingredients are golden coloured. Jasmine, ylang-ylang, orange blossom – they’re all orange after distillation. They’re attractive to us because for hundreds of years these colours have signalled authenticity, real-ness and expense.’ In short, it’s all about snobbery.

Throughout history we’ve been obsessed with gold. Its power, its value and yes, its shinyness. So it makes sense that we want our perfume to be part of that by association, if nothing else. The irony being that the rarest of perfume ingredients cost more than gold actually does (a fact not lost on Roja Dove who had a wry inside joke with himself and his fellow perfumers when he added gold leaf to his ultra-bling Roja Haute Luxe scent).


When we get down to brass (gold?) tax, it’s really a matter of science. ‘Nearly all substances found in nature that emit a complex golden color involve time as an element in their construction. Think of the time spent by hundreds of bees to create honey, the time required to mine the metal itself; precious oil extraction and enfleurage, and the formation of prehistoric amber.’ Gold means quality, and to us, that’s worth paying for. 

Unless you’re Lady Gaga that is. Ever one to make a statement, Gaga insisted that Coty create the first ever black perfume for her debut into celebrity scents, telling VOGUE, ‘The fragrance is called Fame; it must be black. It must smell enticing. You must want to lick and touch and feel it, but the look of it must terrify you.’ Each to their own I guess.

Me? I'll stick to trying before I buy. But if the perfume happens to be golden, well, it would technically be a crime against nature not to...

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