Scented unmentionables: the racy history of boudoir & lingerie perfumes

The practice of perfuming your underwear is centuries old – a trend we’ve recently seen re-emerging from the boudoir with a come-hither glance, and fragrance houses urging us to spritz our scanties with perfume specifically made for lingerie, or being directly inspired by the materials they’re made from.

In our hot-off-the-press on-line magazine, The Scented Letter – which is a perk of being a Perfume Society V.I.P. Club Member (find out more here) – we take a closer look beneath the perfumed petticoats of history, but here we wanted to take a look at some of the more eyebrow-raising stories of how women have variously tantalised, beguiled and terrified men with the fragrant wafts from dressing rooms and, indeed, beneath their dresses…

Silk, lace, velvet and satin are materials often likened to smells – texturally sensual, they bring to mind opulent scents, and of course many perfumes past and present have taken inspiration from their names as well as the more esoteric sensations they bring when worn close to the skin, or used to swathe the moody surroundings of a boudoir. [NB ‘Boudoir’ is from the French ‘bouder‘, meaning to sulk or pout, so boudoir literally means a ‘sulking room’!]

Vivienne Westwood – ever one for slipping a sly wink to the naughtier end of fashion – released an unashamedly vampish fragrance in 1998, seeking to conjure that private pouting place reserved for women flouncing about in silky garments. And the name? Of course it had to be, Boudoir. A spicy chypre-floral laden with velvety roses, narcotic orange blossom, powdery carnation and a milky, tobacco-musk base, it smells illicit – the unmistakable waft of warm flesh beneath lacey undergarments.

Vivienne Westwood Boudoir £56 for 50ml eau de parfum
viviennewestwood.com

Describing the scene of a lover stealing into his lady’s dressing chamber to have a sneaky peek at what women get up to in their boudoirs, in The Lady’s Dressing Room 18th C. satirical poet Jonathan Swift documents the scales falling from the eyes (and nose) of Strephon, who first spies ‘petticoats in [a] frowzy heap’, and then, to his growing disgust, the smell emanating from the room. Swift’s language reveals the extreme distaste poor, deluded men feel when realising that women are not born as delicately scented, perfect flowers of femininity.

‘To stinking smoke it turns the flame
Pois’ning the flesh from whence it came,
And up exhales a greasy stench,
For which you curse the careless wench;
So things, which must not be expressed,
When plumped into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from whence they fell.
The petticoats and gown perfume,
Which waft a stink round every room.
Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away…’

Poor Stephron, we weep for him I’m sure. Men snooping around in ladies private retiring rooms, and being horrified by what they find (and smell) there is a frequent literary device. In Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth-Braddon describes ‘the elegant disorder of Lady Audley’s dressing-room,’ and how George Talboys (one of the male intruders) feels so out of place among the ‘womanly luxuries.’

‘The atmosphere of the room was almost oppressive for the rich odors of perfumes in bottles whose gold stoppers had not been replaced. A bunch of hot-house flowers was withering upon a tiny writing-table. Two or three handsome dresses lay in a heap upon the ground, and the open doors of a wardrobe revealed the treasures within.’

Women have been known to use fragrance as a weapon within their private dressing quarters, too, with devastating effect. In A History of Fragrances, Brian Moeran describes Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine, as being ‘fond of heavy, animal scents’, and recounts how ‘When summarily dismissed, in an act of olfactory revenge she drenched the walls of her dressing room with so much musk, civet, vanilla and ambergris (smells that the Emperor disliked) that their combined fragrance still hung in the air of the château de Malmaison seventy years later.’ Now, we’re wondering if the ‘seventy years later’ is stretching it a bit, but clearly this scent bomb in her boudoir was a message that hit its mark!

In the longer feature – Frills and Spills – within The Scented Letter magazine, I recommend a number of contemporary perfumes that whisper of boudoirs and lacey undergarments, including the beautiful trio of Ideo Parfumeurs Lingerie Perfumes, available at Roullier White. From the overtly wanton 4160 Tuesdays Tart’s Knicker Drawer to Sarah Baker‘s sophisticated allure of Lace, there’s something to tempt every taste (so long as its racy). VIP Club members, log-in to have a read now, International Online Subscription also available, or purchase a print version for full-on glossy seduction…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

By Kilian scented lingerie works with body heat…

Niche fragrance brand By Kilian are launching a capsule collection of perfumed lingerie, created in collaboration with French luxury brand Fleur du Mal, featuring By Kilian’s Love, Don’t be Shy fragrance. With Oriental notes of orange blossom, iris, rose and amber, things are clearly going to get rather steamy…
Designer Jennifer Zuccarini worked with handcrafted lace from the Solstiss Lace Mill in Caudry, France, and the entire lingerie collection uses micro-encapsulation techniques to weave the garments with the fragrance, gradually released with the body heat and movement of the person wearing it. And with the additional help of any special friends, um… also enjoying the lingerie, one assumes!
‘There’s something intriguing and intimate about fragrance and lingerie that I’ve always wanted to explore,’ says Jennifer. ‘With this collection, we’ve been able to add an element of sensuality that enhances the experience of intimacy.’ So, what can you expect to be wafting forth while shimmying in your scented scanty things? By Kilian describe Love, Don’t be Shy, composed by perfumer Calice Becker, as follows:

Opening: As tender as orange blossom, as luscious as a marshmallow.
Vibe: A fragrance with a sweet tooth, like when you love someone so much you just want to take a bite of them!
Drydown: The amber base adds sensuality.

The collection features three curated sets: lingerie, accessories and pyjamas, with prices ranging from £360 to £620, they’re available at bykilian.com, KILIAN boutiques, fleurdumal.com and speciality boutiques worldwide.
Designed to last between four and five washes, once the initial fragrance has worn off, one could pick up a bottle of the perfume and continue the perfumed passion the traditional way. According to founder and Creative Director, Kilian Hennessy, Rihanna is a big fan Love, Don’t Be Shy – and as she certainly isn’t known for being backward in coming forward, we say pick up a bottle and spritz away (on lingerie, skin, hair, sheets, perhaps even your special friend…) to your heart’s content.

 
By Kilian Love, Don’t be Shy £205 for 50ml eau de parfum,
Buy it at Selfridges
Perhaps if trying to win favour as a gift, and lingerie seems a little too… forward; might we suggest adding the cheeky, slogan emblazoned clutch-bag style case?
£225 with clutch-bag case
Buy it at Selfridges
Written by Suzy Nightingale