The new lemon/sugar/butter cake scent from the pastry chef at Spain's El Celler de Can Roca has been getting a lot of attention, but perfumes that smell like foodstuffs are not a new idea. In fact, "gourmand" perfumes, man-made scents that smell like food, are almost a century old, and are currently riding a wave of popularity.
1925 Your Grandma Smells Like Vanilla
After World War I, when soldiers started coming back from Gay Paree with perfume for the missus, the U.S. perfume market kicked into high gear, with "Oriental" fragrances like Chanel No. 5 dominating (and no, we're not being racist—Oriental is a category of perfume that uses flowers, resins, spice, and wood historically found in Asia). French perfume company Guerlain released its vanilla-y Shalimar in 1925 to counter all that heavy musk and spice, and a generation of grammas smelled like baby powder cookies.
1944 Is That a Fruit Bowl I Smell?
Florals were the name of the game in the 1930s and early 1940s, with scents like Joy (created to counter the Great Depression) and Je Reviens dominating. With top notes of peach and plum and a lingering fragrance of orange peel, the fruity Femme is no longer made, but is still popular with vintage perfume fans, at least one of whom describes the fragrance as resembling Tang.
1954 Somebody Fell Into the Pepper Tree
Floral scents like L'Air du Temps and spicy florals like Youth Dew were a hit in the '50s; maybe that's why French Parfums Caron's Poivre, a big hit of black pepper, didn't really catch on.
1971 The Lure of the Lemon Grove
The burgeoning interest in "natural" cosmetics spread to the fragrance industry, amongst American teens mostly on the heels of one hot fragrance: Love's Fresh Lemon, made by the same people who made the ubiquitous '70s drugstore fragrance Love's Baby Soft. For the better-heeled crowd, there was Goya's Aqua Manda (smelled like oranges) and Aqua Citra (lemons), or Yardley's Love Lemon. There was also a line of drugstore scents called Skinny Dip, which came in Wild Strawberry, Lemon, and, um, Tingling Fluff. Actress Sandy Duncan was in a commercial for Skinny Dip; it's kind of completely insane, and it starts here at 8:19.
1985 Perfumes with Big Shoulder Pads
"Designer" scents, from fashion houses like Giorgio and Calvin Klein, were all the rage in the '80s, and no scent wafted from more necks and magazine test-strips than Obsession, the perfume that stunk of vanilla and carried with it an ad campaign replete with naked people that the quaint people of the '80s found shocking, not having yet seen padded bikini tops for second-graders. Obsession's competitor, Giorgio, was so stinky, by the way, that it was reportedly banned in one NYC restaurant.
1992 Cotton Candy at the Fair
Something of a tsunami dropped on the perfume world in 1992 with the release of Angel by Thierry Mugler. The fragrance was supposed to evoke a day at the fair, with notes of cotton candy, caramel, vanilla, and chocolate. It was sweet and sugary, and it sold like crazy, ushering in a trend for food scents that shows no sign of waning.
Noted gourmand fragrances that have followed in Angel's wake: Lolita Lempicka (cherries, burnt sugar, caramel, cotton candy), Prada Candy (vanilla, caramel, pineapple), Nina by Nina Ricci (lemon/lime, candied apple), and about 17 zillion drugstore versions, including Jessica Simpson's Dessert Line, which bombed a couple of years back, and the Demeter line, replete with scents like chocolate chip cookies and gin and tonic.