A Look Back at the Rich History of Fragrance at Avon
Fragrance is — and always has been — at the heart of Avon.
From Musk to Sweet Honesty to the iconic Imari, Avon has a habit of creating unforgettable best-selling scents. To match the beauty of its fragrances, Avon has fashioned some of the most remarkable bottles of the perfume world. Many of these vintage Avon perfume bottles have become sought-after by collectors around the world.
Are you ready to take a fragrant walk down memory lane? Browse our photographs and memories that tell the story of the rich evolution of our fragrance offerings, with a few top notes for nostalgia and base notes of beauty.
1886 to 1949: The Early Years
The story of Avon’s iconic fragrances started with an act of generosity. The owner of the Union Publishing House, David H. McConnell, began to give away a bottle of perfume to every customer who made a book purchase, as an incentive to buy his books and to thank his customers for their loyalty. But the perfume soon became so popular that McConnell, recognizing happy customers and a good business opportunity, changed the name of his company to the California Perfume Company in 1886. He also changed its focus away from books to – yes, you guessed it – perfume!
‘Little Dot Perfumes’ were the first products sold by the California Perfume Company. They were created with five single-note fragrances — lily of the valley, violet, heliotrope, white rose, and hyacinth. Today, the Little Dot Fragrance Gift Set is highly sought-after by collectors, both as a vintage Avon perfume and for its antique Avon bottles.
After the success of the ‘Little Dot Perfumes,’ Avon started making a wide variety of fragrances. In this early photo, California Perfume Company workers bottle fragrances in the Soap and Perfume Manufactory in Suffern, New York. (1902)
In 1906, Avon introduced its musk perfume to the world. The popular fragrance was sold in wonderfully nostalgic antique Avon bottles. The classic scent returned as Soft Musk in the 1980s, and became the most popular scent of the decade. Its musk fragrance with additional notes of jasmine, rose, spices, and vanilla were described at the time as sexy and deep. (1906)
Avon began to create scents for men in 1949 with Avon for Men cologne. The scents included musk, lavender, coumarin, and geranium.
By the way, the story that perfume was invented by the French is a myth. It seems perfume has been around for as long as we’ve needed to mask bad odors. What are thought to be the world's oldest perfumes were found by archaeologists in Cyprus and date back more than 4,000 years. Kept in tiny alabaster bottles, the perfumes were scented with extracts of lavender, bay leaves, rosemary, pine or coriander.
1950 to 1990: The Avon Fragrance Empire is Born
Perfume products had been launched under the Avon brand name since 1928. Its first brochure had been published in 1896 and Mrs. P.F.E. Albee – Avon’s very first sales Representative – had established the company’s direct-to-you sales model. By 1902, Avon had 10,000 sales Representatives and pioneered career opportunities for women at a time when most women didn’t work outside the home or were limited to clerical or domestic work.
Using this strong foundation to build on, and with their evocative Avon perfume names and beautifully crafted bottles, by the 1950s Avon had become the symbol of feminine beauty that was within every woman's reach.
Every woman had a dreamy look in her eyes when an Avon Representative stopped by and the expression “Avon calling!” became an iconic phrase across the U.S. and in other parts of the world. A fragrance try-on allowed women to sample different scents from the comfort of their own homes – taking beauty products to women wherever they were and making them feel pampered and special in the process.
The “Ding Dong Avon Calling” campaign ran until 1967. A visit from an Avon Representative was something every woman looked forward to. (1966)
The classic scent for men – Wild Country – was launched in 1967. Introducing top notes of coriander, lavender, basil, anise, bergamot, and lemon; delicious middle notes of carnation, sandalwood, heliotrope, cedar, and geranium; before mellowing into base notes of tonka bean, amber, musk, benzoin, oakmoss, and vanilla. Collectors to this day are still on the lookout for vintage Avon bottles of Wild Country – whether stage couch, cowboy boot, motorcycle, or pony express rider pipe.
Sweet Honesty was launched in 1973 and went on to become one of Avon’s best-selling perfumes. The feminine scent is a classic blend of floral, honey, citrus, and vanilla. Sweetness and honesty definitely found happiness together.
If you’ve already welcomed a grandchild or two, this fragrance will have special memories for you – whether as “a shower in a bottle”, “perfect to wear with jeans”, or the scent you wore to junior high – Sweet Honesty is what memories are made of.
Old Avon bottles produced for Sweet Honesty included the cutest little lamb and a cat with blue eyes, a prima ballerina, and little girl, as well as the classic translucent bottles with their pink tops.
Most serious perfume bottle collectors by now had vintage Avon perfume bottles in their collections. The immense variety of shapes and sizes of bottles made them fun to collect - from birds, rhinos, kittens, brides, Betsy Ross, mermaids, faucets, gas pumps, RVs and wine barrels.
The ’80s got a little zany. Bright colors and busy patterns adorned perfume bottles in this eccentric decade. The floral green fragrance of Zany was the perfect accompaniment to a decade of firsts – from aerobics, Game Boy, and the personal computer, to Princess Di, Top Gun, the Walkman, and MTV.
Imari is a “fragrance to fire the imagination,” blossoming with musk, incense and spice. This best-selling, sensual scent was introduced to the world in 1985. Do you perhaps remember seeing this on your mom’s dresser? Or it might have been the very first fragrance you bought yourself – a scent that made you feel beautiful, elegant, and mature.
In 2015, Avon celebrated 30 years of Imari fragrance by launching three editions in newly designed flacons. Imari and Imari Seduction were Avon tried-and-loved compositions while the third was a brand new addition – Imari Elixir. Imari fragrances’ chypre-floral composition produces warmth and sensual aromas, which bloom along with incense, musk, and irresistible shades of vanilla orchid.
Ariane, Timeless, Candid and Foxfire are four of Avon’s best-selling fragrances. Candid and Timeless are still sold in similar bottles today.
Although discontinued, Ariane is still sought-after online – for its beautiful fragrance as well as its lovely etched vintage Avon perfume bottle which has a gold-tone rim and carved rose stopper.
Another Avon classic that has stood the test of time is the aptly named Timeless. The vintage Avon bottles as well as the new, have retained their luxurious, classic appeal. The scent with its top notes of fresh greens and sheer florals, middle notes of jasmine, patchouli and vetiver, and base notes of amber, oakmoss, and musk, make this long-lasting scent perfect as a daily or night-time scent that is especially warming in fall or winter.
Candid is still a fabulous way to add a touch of elegance to any outfit. This exotic, woodsy, and fresh fragrance remains an Avon favorite for everyday wear as well as special occasions. Top notes of sparkling bergamot and jasmine, middle notes of blooming tuberose and ylang-ylang, and bottom notes of sandalwood, vetiver, and sensual patchouli make it a perfect scent for fall or late summer.
Odyssey, first appeared on the market in 1981, promising a fragrance adventure to the tropics with top notes of jasmine and tuberose, middle notes of ylang-ylang, and bottom notes of sandalwood and vetiver. For almost thirty years now, women have relied on the scent for a cool, sweet, intoxicating pick-me-up that’s as good as a tropical cruise, but without the hefty price tag.
Avon’s iconic Night Magic was another classic born in the eighties. Its aromatic scents continue to make this a fragrance that can warm up a winter’s day or add spice to a spring night. Top notes of neroli, muguet, and jasmine, middle notes of rose, ylang-ylang, and sandalwood, and bottom notes of amber, incense, and musk are for women who like to feel elegant and sultry no matter what the occasion might be.
Not forgetting that men like to smell good too, Avon Black Suede was first launched in 1980 as a classic oriental fragrance. An updated version of the scent, Black Suede Touch, was brought out in 2006. The top notes of ginger and middle notes of patchouli and pepper keep this fragrance light and fresh, while base notes of cashmere, wood, nutmeg, musk, and vanilla introduce a slightly heavier masculinity to the fragrance.
1990 to Now: The Future of Avon’s Fragrances
While Michael Jordan was setting basketball courts alight, the fashion world had gone plaid-crazy, television churned out hits like Seinfeld, ER, and NYPD Blue, and Beanie Babies fever swept the malls. The nineties also produced some of the best music ever.
Always tapped into the mood of the day, Avon launched music artist Fergie’s Outspoken in 2010 – her first Avon fragrance.
“I’m always seeking out new ways to express myself, and fragrance is the perfect opportunity to share my originality and confidence with my fans, and the Avon customer,” she told us.
The fragrance was aimed at strong, courageous women who had high self-esteem, understanding, and who were all about celebrating the complex nature of femininity. Top notes of the perfume include frozen blackcurrant, starfruit and wild saffron in contrast to floral notes of tuberose, jasmine and passionflower and base notes of ebony, leather and vetiver.
Along with the scent presented in a femininely curved teardrop bottle, the collection includes a perfumed body cream.
Did you know that sense of smell is closely linked to memory? Just one whiff of a fragrance and you’re right back in the kitchen baking cookies with your mother at age 11. Or maybe the smell of jasmine reminds you instantly of your first kiss, and apples bring back the memory of summer picnics.
Now, scientists have discovered that scent can also affect our mood and even our behavior. According to Scientific American, scent has a powerful effect on the brain when it becomes linked to our past experiences. For example, the first time you remember the smell of apples was on a family picnic – you were happy at the time and had a strong sense of wellbeing. From then on the smell becomes what’s called “a conditioned stimulus”. Now you breathe in the scent of apples and immediately you experience a sense of happiness and well-being. What’s interesting is that recent studies show that these mood responses can have an effect on our physiology – your skin may become more sensitive to touch, and your heart-and blink-rate might increase or speed up, for example.
This is all the more reason to try out new scents that leave you feeling calmed, elegant, sexy, or ready to take on the world.
For a truly modern fragrance, try Avon Today Eau de Parfum with notes of citrus, magnolia, Lily of the Valley, sandalwood, and cedarwood with a modern twist of hibiscus, silk musk and butterfly blossoms.
As methods for making perfume improve through the ages, the result is an eau de parfum spray line Avon Haiku Reflection, with its perfectly balanced top note of crisp pear, capucine, and radiant water accord; middle notes of magnolia, acacia blossom, and freesia; and base notes of firmenich captive musk, apricot skin, and amber wood. This fragrance is unmistakable in a bottle crafted to evoke the mysteries of the East.
Then again, sometimes a fragrance is discontinued but we bring it back because that’s what our customers have asked us to do. One example is Avon Always – part of the Today Tomorrow Always Collection. Created by perfume genius, Oliver Cresp, this beautiful classic opens with top notes of joyful citrus, watery green notes, and pink peppercorn, then glides smoothly into middle notes of magnolia, Lily of the Valley, and jasmine petals before settling down to warm base notes of sandalwood, cedarwood and elegant musk.
Perfume is deeply personal and we’ve always been aware of that.
It’s been quite a journey. For over a century, we’ve loved our fragrance family. From sweet to spicy to subtle scents, our perfumes are what make Avon special. What is priceless, is that the story of Avon fragrances is what memories are made of. Here’s to another century of beautiful fragrances, interesting Avon perfume names and that bottle on your dresser that’s bound to be a vintage Avon collector’s item.