My dainty little potted perfume history…illustrated by yours truly…JOGB
DID YOU KNOW…?
PERFUME HISTORY: THE EARLY YEARS
Historically perfume spread throughout Europe during the 17th-century tradition by luxury glove makers that made perfumed gloves to cover the smell of treated leather which was prepared in ammonia. Wealthy Parisians would pop into a ‘salon de parfumer’ to have their wigs and gloves scented while catching up with the latest gossip.
The word ‘perfume’ comes from Latin “per fumus” which means “through smoke”, as the first scents were from the smoke of resins and other burned odorous materials rather than essential oils.
We all love a cologne: one of the oldest and still going is the 18th-century 4711, named after its origin Glockengasse No. 4711 by Wilhelm Mulhens of Cologne. It’s now owned by P&G and recently celebrated its 225th anniversary. The first cologne was actually inspired earlier by Italian Giovanni Maria Farina when he moved to the German city of Cologne in 1709, because the scent reminded him of ‘a citrus fresh Italian spring morning’.
PERFUME HISTORY: PRE-WAR PERFUMES
Ah the 20s, a big decade for perfumery and for women’s liberation: the two go hand-in-hand throughout history. Think all the fragrance greats from the House of Guerlain: Jicky, Shalimar,Vol de Nuit, Samsara…each one a story and a journey. Then meet Coco Chanel, No5 (her lucky number as she was deeply superstitious) in 1921, a fragrance that is still considered No1 in the world today. Watch out for Chanel’s new long-awaited Gabrielle by perfumer Olivier Polge. Destined to become a classic in itself for floral lovers, it features all the white flowers: jasmine, ylang-ylang, tuberose and orange blossom. Out Sept 17.
Happier times? Joy by Jean Patou was launched in 1929 in the middle of the Great Depression to ‘chase the blues away’. It subsequently became synonymous with the 30s & 40s era – a vision of positivity amidst the gloom: of quality, prestige, and opulence. Once deemed ‘the costliest floral fragrance in the world’ where around 28 roses and 11,000 jasmine petals made just one ounce of oil, today it would be far more likely synthetic.
Our sense of smell is at its best in our teens then deteriorates rapidly from then on, a bit like the memory itself too. Anosmia is the word for an inability to smell. Loss of this most vital sense has been shown to be a possible symptom of an oncoming illness like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease; in fact studies suggest a loss of our sense of smell may predict death within five years. (Yeah, sorry – fascinating though eh!?)
On a brighter note! Smell is responsible for up to 80% of flavour when we eat, with taste just 20%. Hence when we have a cold or are becoming unwell our food tastes ‘wrong’ or bland. Maybe this could be the next new diet fad…’Scent Your Shape’? Especially as research says those of us with a poor sense of smell lean towards eating junk food.
Just for fun! as I sense you may still be dwelling on 5? Over 9 million homes in the UK have a pet: that’s an awful lot of aroma going on there! Interestingly, while we humans have around six million cells in our nose to detect odour, our darling dogs have around 220 million. Who needs to bathe the most?
Sex in a bottle. The shape of the bottle for Femme by Rochas in 1944, an original classic, sexy chypre, was designed to mimic the hourglass figure of Hollywood’s then biggest box-office star Mae West.
A big birthday: About now, 1947, came along Miss Dior, now celebrating its 70th this September with the launch of a new version. I love the Dior stories: Christian Dior’s lucky number was ‘8’, mimicking the hourglass figure of his best client…a woman. This tailored shape (illustrated above) is known as ‘The Bar’. His favourite flower was Lily-of-the-Valley, seen as a good luck token (Dior used to deliver a little posy of the flowers to journalists desks to mark Spring as a gesture). So superstitious was Christian Dior, he used to sew tiny buds into the hemline of his models before a show for good luck. Needless-to-say, Miss Dior was based around this delicate flower.
FERFUME HISTORY: 50’S AND BEYOND
Post war, scents were more simplistic: bath oil (think Estee Lauder origins with Youth Dew) and single note flowers which were hugely popular. Nature V nurture. Women becoming increasing assertive (Little known fact: during WW2 airplane test runs were carried out by women – there were no men around to fly them). More independence… breastfeeding became de rigueur. And of course: our sense of smell is the first sense to develop when we are born. A newborn baby can recognize its mother by the aroma of skin and milk, even when it can’t quite focus. We can sense over a trillion different smells in a lifetime and can distinguish desire, fear, and disgust on others through perspiration.
The 70s? Wow, I love some of the classics at this time. Plus the fragrances in this decade mark my own scent beginnings, as I was immersed in the power scents my mother wore at this time, including YSL Rive Gauche, Cacharel’s Anais Anais, Revlon’s Charlie. In ’77 I wore YSL Opium aged 14: I thought I was so grown up and sexy. Best of all was the way the original scent clung to my jumper for days after, smelling more and more luscious with every passing minute.
Then came the 80s – power-dressing shoulder pads and strident scents, such as Dior Poison, Clavin Klein Obsession, and Giorgio Beverly Hills. Sadly the era became so associated with vulgarity; for pervading the atmosphere in a cloud of perfume that stole all the attention away from the wearer. Restaurants and hotels famously banned the wearing of the named and shamed Giorgio Beverly Hills from elevators and restaurants (most notably New York’s Richard Lavin) as rules of decorum were ignored: ‘perfume should not be smelled at a greater distance than an arm’s length of the person that wears it.’ Yet the 80s also bore softer skin scented stars such as my beloved Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien. So let’s not generalize!
Perfume can boost your mood…and improve your memory. Buy a new perfume and start wearing it when you are at your happiest. Every time you subsequently wear it, you can help trigger happy memories because information of the scent is stored in our long-term memory and has strong connections to emotional memory in the brain.
So enters the mood-boosting 90s, from uplifting spiritual waters such as L’Eau D’Issey by Issey Miyake and Escape by Calvin Klein, to energetic emblems in scent such as Happy by Clinique and Gucci Rush and androgynous scents such as CK One.
I’m quickly passing over the next ten years of celebrity scents…I never wore one of them. I’m not a perfume snob, it’s just that the idea of one fragrance being produced in mass quantities – not for longevity because it’s beautiful and timeless but because that person has a window of notoriety that needs fuelling with a named fragrance is kinda repulsive to me. You don’t have to agree; we all have our own opinion. Celebrity obsession is sick, especially in scent discovery – find it for YOU, not because someone with a big following supposedly wears it – chances are they’ve never even smelt it. I was once ‘nicely’ told by an editor in the late 90s that if I didn’t write about celebrities I would be out of a job within two years – well I got through that decade intact thanks! The first time I have written the name Kardashian is HERE, right now! And I apologize profusely.
PERFUME HISTORY: TODAY & BEYOND…
And Now… we’re in a beautiful era of fragrance and scent discovery. While the majority of big perfumes in advertising are owned by just a handful of cosmetics corporations including L’Oreal, Coty, Shiseido, Estee Lauder and LVMH; the power and energy behind unique, exquisite artisanal perfumes including Byredo, Demeter, Thameen, Ideo Parfumeurs and dear Artisan Parfumeurs who I would like to credit with having stayed true to their ethos since their beginning, is where the excitement is today. For these brands the spirit, the founder, and the juice is everything: it is a complete story. Think of it like a rebirth in perfumery, more akin to the beginning of the last century…with a new freshness we have in essence, come full circle!
Be original, be you, don’t follow the fragrance crowd: experiment, originate, develop your own scent history and memories that have an effect on everyone around you – close up of course!
MY FAVOURITE FRAGRANCE ‘HOW TO’s’
- Perfume is traditionally applied to the pulse points – behind the ears, the nape of the neck, and the insides of wrists, the crook of the arm and behind the knees – where you’ll naturally warm the aroma fastest and release it into the air; if your skin ‘turns’ a scent, try it on your hair or your clothing instead.
- Scent your surroundings. Take a bottle of perfume, spritz the air around your ankles before your guests arrive and it will scent the room beautifully as heat rises. FYI: the unique Frederic Malle Spray Can was originally inspired by Coco Chanel who apparently sprayed the air above her showroom floor before guests arrived to make the room smell fabulous.
- Wear whatever takes your fancy, regardless of whether it’s for men or women, or unisex: around 33% of men’s fragrances are worn by women.
- The more the skin absorbs perfume, the longer it will last. Ideally, apply after a warm shower to make the skin damp and more receptive.
- Keep lighter perfumes for summer weather as heat intensifies any aroma.
- If you have dry skin and find your perfume doesn’t last, apply a body cream first to help it last longer.
- When shopping for a new scent, never test more than three fragrances at a time otherwise you will “confuse” your nose. Pause between sniffing. The best fragrance shops have fresh coffee beans on hand for you to sniff to help “reset” your nose.