Egyptians have been making perfume since 3,000 BC. They believed that fragrance had a positive effect on their health and well being. Although “perfume” was originally used in religious ceremonies, later made available to royalty and the wealthy, and today everyone can wear the fragrance of their choice.
There are only about 500 perfumers worldwide. A perfumer (or “nose”) is an artist who creates fragrances by blending perfume mixtures…both natural and synthetic.
Coco Chanel was the “Grande Dame” of modern fragrance. Her fashion freed women of corsets modernizing the way they dressed. She then wanted a fragrance to reflect her fashion that was “clean and sexy”…the smell of soap and freshly scrubbed skin. Although she loved the scent of roses, she did not want women to smell like a “bed of roses”. Her collaborator was a French-Russian chemist, Ernest Beaux. To create the fragrance that Chanel desired, Beaux wanted to incorporate a scent he loved…that of fresh snow (a man after my own heart). To accomplish that he worked with synthetic compounds called aldehydes.
Beaux offered Coco Chanel 10 variations of his formula in vials numbered 1-5 and 20-24. She had difficulty deciding between #5 or #22, in the end choosing #5. When asked what it should be called, Chanel replied simply, “No. 5”. She presented her collections on the fifth day of the fifth month and instinctively felt that Chanel No. 5 would be lucky. The rest is history. That was in 1921. Today a bottle of Chanel No. 5 is sold somewhere in the world every 30 seconds making it the most popular perfume to this day.
Chanel wanted a transparent bottle for her perfume. It’s possible that it was modelled after a whiskey decanter belonging to her one true love, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Although the perfume bottle has been modified several times over the years, it has always maintained the same elegance and simplicity.
In 1942 after the family fortune was lost, Christian Dior and Catherine (his youngest sister) were forced to leave their country home and move to Paris. He found work in the fashion industry dressing the rich. She became a member of the resistance passing on information about the movements of the Germans. Catherine was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944, tortured and forced to work in camps. After months of starvation and hard labour, Catherine was released in 1945, a mere shadow of her previous self. After the war, in 1947, Christian Dior launched his “New Look” with yards and yards of luxurious fabrics. To compliment this fashion look he had a perfume created with the scent of “love”. He named it, “Miss Dior”, for his sister. To this day the scent is sprinkled throughout the Dior boutique on Avenue Montaigne.
The Miss Dior Original perfume bottle is iconic. Designed with a houndstooth pattern (the British men’s suiting fabric Dior admired) engraved into the bottle and tied with a white satin bow as a symbol of the gift of “love”. The words and script are English. This has become my favourite scent since my first trip to the Dior boutique. I just love it!
Recently I had an interesting and informative lunch with Larry Saccarello, from Holt Renfrew. Larry has a long history in fragrance sales in Canada and the US. He has also been a sales rep. supplying to retail outlets in San Fransisco and has supplied for Duty-Free. I was curious about what was popular in the Edmonton market. It turns out that Holt Renfrew customers favour Creed “Aventus” for both Her and Him. Creed opened in 1760 originally as a tailoring company in London. Their first fragrance was created for King George III. Being popular with royalty, the court, and the wealthy, it eventually became the official fragrance supplier to Queen Victoria and Napoleon III. Larry told me a romantic story about Prince Rainier of Monaco commissioning Creed to create a fragrance for Grace Kelly on their wedding day. The perfume had the same scents as the flowers in her bridal bouquet. Princess Diana and Prince Charles have also had fragrances made exclusively for them. Creed continues to be a father/son run business with high standards using a high percentage of natural ingredients in their products. It is very hands-on…each bottle is hand polished before it is hand packed and sealed.
I asked Larry how he helped clients choose a fragrance. He suggested that women should not get caught up in what ingredients are present in the perfume but instead make an emotional decision about how they want to feel or what they want others to remember about them. Fragrance is a powerful memory trigger. He said that many men will buy their wives/girlfriends the same scent that their mothers wore (maybe not always the best idea!). Larry suggested that if you were still unsure of what to try, consider a scent in the same “family” as a fragrance that you have previously liked. I also asked if he had any suggestions for women who had a sensitivity to fragrance. He suggested that they find a fragrance that uses mostly natural ingredients and to consider using eau de cologne or eau de toilette with lower concentrations of scent.
Modern women are more inclined to switch up their fragrances. Many change their scents seasonally. I, myself, am loyal to only a few perfumes. How about you? Have you found your signature scent?