back

20th Century: ‘bonjour’ to designer perfumes…

POIRETHaving set a new trend for more complicated (and much less shy) fragrances, the House of Guerlain was busy.  After launching Jicky – a swirl of lemon, bergamot, lavender, mint, verbena and sweet marjoram (with so-sexy civet as a fixative), Au Bon Vieux Temps (1890) and Belle Époque (1892), Apres l’Ondée (1906) and L’Heure Bleue (1912) followed. But Guerlain had competition from a young Corsican man called Francois Coty (born Francois Marie Joseph Sportuno), who learned the art of perfumery by working in Grasse for the House de Chiris, then pioneering the creation of many synthetic essences.

Coty’s first order was for just a dozen bottles of La Rose Jacqueminot, from the Grands Magasins du Louvres, in 1904. He’d knocked on the doors of speciality perfumeries and department stores, only to be sent away. But legend has it that sheer frustration led to success: exasperated at being turned down yet again, Coty (who by then had taken a name based on his mother’s maiden name of ‘Coti’) smashed a bottle of La Rose Jacqueminot on the counter – and clients were so spellbound, the buyer immediately snapped up Coty’s entire stock.

L'EffleurHe understood:  it’s not just about the ‘juice’, it’s about the bottle.  He teamed up with both Baccarat and the great Art Nouveau jeweller Lalique to offer fragrances for his luxury clientele. René Lalique designed not only the bottles for early scents like Ambre Antique and L’Origan, but the beautiful Art Nouveau labels. Savvy businessman that he was, Coty also sold smaller, plainer bottles to less affluent customers. ‘Give a woman the best product to be made, market it in the perfect flask, beautiful in its simplicity yet impeccable in its taste, ask a reasonable price for it – and you will witness the birth of a business the size of which the world has never seen,’ said Coty. (It’s a business mantra which is equally true, over a century later.) Coty’s other then-daring brainwave was to allow women to sample fragrances before buying them:  Lalique designed the testers, signs and labels that beckoned a customer to try a dab of Le Muguet, or L’Éflleur

Parfums_de_RosineThe very first ‘designer’ fragrance was created by Paul Poiret.  Poiret’s clothes were fluid and sensual, a world away from the tight corsetry which had ‘imprisoned’ women for well over a century. He named the fragrance company Les Parfums de Rosine in honour of his late daughter Rosine, which featured packaging designed by Erté, Raoul Dufy and Paul Iribe – and Poiret became the very first designer in history to associate a perfume with a line of women’s clothing. (There’s still a Parfums de Rosine boutique even today, in Paris’s Palais-Royal – which we visited for our Paris Perfume Guide: Right Bank.) Poiret’s original kimono-cut coats, harem pants and plumed turbans echoed a growing mania for Eastern design, and his perfumes – with evocative names like Nuit de Chine and L’Étrange Fleur, were daring blends of synthetic and natural materials evoking the mysteries of the Orient…

And then the most famous moment in perfume history…Read about how Coco Chanel changed everything, here