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  • 7/28/2019 Scents of the Past

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    Scents of History

    Nothing captures the past like a drop of perfume, saysRoja D ove, connoisseur and curator of a recent survey

    of the history of perfume, as he sniffs out the fragrances that characterised their age.Point of Departure

    Scents of the Pastnew engagement w ith the history ofperfume is awakening the public to theskills and complexities of its creationand appreciation. Is it the thought ofeating warm, sweet .scented brioche or.the memory of spectral Madeleine's

    baked by Proust him.self that made us regain our.sanity and reject the miasma of mediocrity that makesup modern perfumery? Whether in Paris, London orNew York, the 'me to o' sameness of over-comm er-cialised scent is making anyone with a m odicum ofstyle, taste or refinement turn their back and look tothe past - the old is the new.

    Everything is cyclic. The ex hibition I recentlycurated for H arrods is in tune with a global trend,with the revival of classic Frencb b rand s such asI loubiga nt and Lubin. F.nglish perfum ery is und er-going a renais.sance too. The London house ot tiros-smith was founded in 1835 and closed its doors atsome time in the late 1970s. The husband andwife team of Simon and A manda Brookdiscovered that they weredirect de.scen-dants ofthefoundingfamily and setabout resur-recting the bra ndand its scents.Three of Grossm ith's most fam ous creations,Sliem-el-Nessim, H asu-no-Hanna an d Phul-Nana,have been revived and placed in exact reproductionsof their magnificent Baccarat bottles (named after thetown in eastern France where the cry.stal glassware ismade), dating from the early part ofth e 20th century.This fits in with an other current consum er tren d, ofpurchasing an item that is not disposable, that can bekepi for future generations and that has an intrinsicvalue beyond the scent within. 'The perfume industryplayed a crucial role in the development of packaging.

    I fell in love with .scent when I was a you ng boy,when I becam e aware for the first time that it has thepower to metamorphose; as my mother applied herperfume before leaving for a cocktail party it workedits siren's spell. A while ago a journalist I have know nfor years smelt a drop of I loubigant's classic Quelquesleurs extract, her eyes brimmed with tears and shewas lost for words, transp orted back to childhood as

    A chrome bo ttle in theshape of the SS Normandiehoused a scent created byJean Patou, 1935.

    the scent her mo ther wore worked its profound magic.Hou bigant, France's oldest perfume house, was

    founded under the sign of a basket of fiowers on therue du Fau bourg Sa int-Hon or in Paris by Jean-Franois Houbigant in 1775. From the start hisfragrances found favour with royalty and nobility,including Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI and hequickly became the perfu mer to all the royal courts ofFurope. As etiquette at the French court decreed thatone needed a difterent scent for each day of the year,Houbigant's business flourished. But, when the FrenchRevolution broke out in 1789, Houbigant began tolose clients. Marie-Antoinette a.sked for a specialdispensation on her way to the guillotine so that shecould tuck vials of Houbigant scent into her bodice togive her courage. Yet, as aristocrats fled F rance, theycontinued to order their Tloubigant .scents, spreadingthe house's reputation throug hou t Furope. A royalistgroup formed called the Muscadins, who showed

    their allegiance by wearing heavily musked scents:they sported hair that was short at the back, lavictime. Their perfumed taunts meant

    that they literally riskeddeath forwearing scent.

    By the early20th century the

    Floubigant house hada new joint owner,

    perfumer Paul Parquet. He was to make H oubi-not only one ofthe most refined pertume houses

    but also one of the most important, shapingperfume ry as we know it today. In 1882 he createdTougre Royale, the precursor to modern perfumery.Until its creation, scents had simple structures or werebased around an eaux de cologne theme. FougreRoyale introduced a more masculine mixture oflavender, oakmo ss and tobacco. Fougre Royale pavedthe way for (uerlain's Jicky, 1889, a uni.sex com pos i-tion of vanilla and lavender and th e olde.st perfumestill in production today. The Fougre remains themost popular of all masculine harmonies.

    Quelques Fleurs was launched by 1 loubigant in1912 and it was to chang e fioral fragrances forever.Today it is considered the definitive reference of afloral bouquet and, as extraction methods wereperfected, new materials became available, whichwere both intense an d stable. Until Quelques Fleurs,

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    Scents of History

    the majority of lloral composition s were simple, withblends often being no more complicated than roseand jasmine, or jasmine and frangipani. Houbigantpioneered the floral bouqu et in 1900 with a scentcalled L'Idal, Franois Coty also worked on a mixedbouquet with his 1906 creation L'Origan. But it wasQuelques Fleurs that was to balance a bou que t offlowers in such a way that w e are instantly trans -ported to a fiower garden where no one bloom dom i-nates. Com mercially this area of perfumery is themost important of all, the basis of most femininefragrances. Who know s how modern perfumerywould have developed without Quelques Fleurs^More than any other scent it was responsible forestablishing France's reputation for perfumery. Oncemore successful and famous than Chanel No.5, whichcould not exist without it, the memory of this beau-tiful bunch of fiowers lasts a lifetime.

    At around the same time the couturier Paul Poiretmade the first dressmaker's scent. He felt so stronglythat no one w ould buy a fragrance bearing a dress-maker's name that he opened his perfumery andnamed it after his daughter, Rosine. Coco Chanel toohad a scent created for her in 1921 by Frnest Beaux,who had been the last perfumer to the ImperialRussian C ourt. H is creation, No.5 was given as a gift toeach of Chanel's clients, the number derived from thefifth trial scent Beaux presented to her.leanne Lanvin had already been working on scentswhen she employed the only female perfumerworking in the industry, a mysterious Russian calledMadame Zed about which almost nothing is known.She created Mon Peche, which was not a success untilthe name was translated into English - My Sin.

    Along with this wave of creativity came a desire forrich, oriental-style sc ents, characterised by a surfeit ofamber, which were inspired by the work of Paul Poiretand the costumes he designed for Diaghilev's BalletsRusses. The first of these was created by the mos timp ortant of all perfumers w orking at the time,Franois Coty. He had already picked up on theadvance of wom en characterised by the suftiage

    Who know show modernperfumerywould havedevelopedwithoutQuelques

    Roja Dove

    movem ent, creating the wo rld's first mod ern C'hyprin 1917 called, most originally, Chypre. It u.sed t rad i-tionally masculine m aterials such as cistus labda num ,bergam ot and oa kmos s in a feminine accord and gavean entire genre its name. In 1921 he created theworld's first oriental scent, Emeraude. This was quicklfollowed by Molinard's Habanita, which wasproduced in the same year as a scent for women toperfum e cigarettes with. It was such a success that itwas launched commercially as a perfume in 1924.

    In the 1930s there was a fascination with travel.Ernest Daltroff, the owner of Caron parfums, launchein 1903, created En Avion in 1932 to commemorateAmelia Earhart's crossing of the A tlantic, .sold in abottle with a com pass fixed into its stopper. (uerlainlaunched Vol de Nuit in 1933 to celebrate An toine deSaint-Exupry's novel of the same n ame. R obertPiguet's Visa suggested that it was the scent thatenabled you to travel anywhere and in 1935 Jean Patoulaunched a scent in a chrome bottle in the shape of aship to mark the m aiden voyage of the French trans-atlantic liner SS Normandie. It was given as a gift toevery woman who travelled first class on the ship .

    After the Second World War a recurrent themeemerged of the sun rising once again over a darkenedworld. Jean Patou launched L'Heure Attendue (theawaited hour), Nina Ricci, Coeur oie (happy heart)in a bottle designed by Christian Brard, LucienLelong's Orgeuile (national pride) and Chanel,No.46. But the most fantastic of all was El.sa Schia-parelli's Le Roy Soleil in a Baccarat bo ttle designed bySalvador Dali. It depicts a sun whose face is made offlying birds. The b ottle sits in a magn ificent cojfret inthe shape of a shell alluding to Botticelli's Venus andthe rebirth of femininity.

    Each decade tells its own story. In the 1970s,Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, created theworld's first mass mark eted scent, Charlie, with itssexually ambigu ous advertising campaign . In the1980s Poison an d Giorgio were so overwhelminglypungent they were banned from many restaurants.The wom en wh o wore them did no t care, for theywere as brash and vulgar as the scents. For this was thedecade of the yuppie. Wliat hope did elegant Frenchperfumery have?

    The second oldest French house, Lubin, foundedin 1878, went to the wall. However, in tune withtoday's fervent desire for authenticity, Lubin has beenrevived along with other great houses which hadclosed their doors. Again we can discover, forexample, the beauty of L'Eau Neuve, a capriciousshim merin g cologne, created in the late 1960s duringthe time of the student riots in Paris and culturalrebellion. 1 gave a friend of m ine a little to sme ll; shethrew her arm s arou nd me and said it was the smell oher sister who had em igrated to Australia 20 yearsago. On her wrist were the caprices of sum mer s longago and the laughter of young w ome n with their livesahead of them. Nothing captures our own history likea few precious d rops of scent