The growth of the urban environment in the eighteenth century gave meaning to fragrance for the masses. Overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and pollution made life unbearable. Fears of unknown diseases lurking in the water kept people from bathing. Perfumes emerged as the panacea for the great-unwashed populace. Crudely made perfumes and colognes could be bought on the street by roving self-appointed perfumers who hawked their fragrant wares from garments which looked like cook's aprons. Scent bottles filled the many pockets. The French Revolution put a stop to royalty's fragrant revelries and perfume didn't regain its popularity until the early nineteenth century, when Napoleon became emperor. There was no limit to his fragrance indulgences. He virtually bathed in eau de cologne, and never went into battle without a full supply of his favorites. His wife, Josephine, loved roses and musk, and she surrounded herself with them night and day. But, when Napoleon left her for Marie Louise, Josephine filled the rooms of Malmaison with the overpowering scent of musk, which she knew Napoleon disliked intensely. Visitors to Versailles report they smell it still.
Chanel No. 5 advertisement. Chanel launched its No. 5 perfume in 1921. It was one of the first and most popular of the fashion designer perfumes that dominated the fragrance market of the twentieth century. The Advertising Archive Ltd. Reproduced by permission.
referred to as the invisible accessory by merchants and the media, to be worn on special occasions. Then, in 1921, the great couturier, Gabrielle Chanel, set the fashion world on fire when she launched her breakthrough creation, Chanel No. 5. It was the first aldehydic type that is characterized by its rich sparkling quality. It became an overnight sensation and established a new category for the perfume world.
Chanel was not the first designer to sniff the potential of scents, however. Credit must be given to Paul Poiret, whose exotic designs were inspired by the mysteries of the Far East and who achieved recognition and applause for his art deco costumes for theater and ballet. Fascinated by the imaginative and ephemeral, he adored fragrance and became a perfume entrepreneur in the early 1900s. He established his own laboratory and facilities for blowing glass and packaging his "small wonders." His company, Parfumes Rosine, was named for one of his daughters. Of the more than fifty perfumes (floral, spicy, and oriental types dominated) introduced between 1911 and 1924, several carried his daughter's name. La Rose de Rosine was presented to the public in the mid-twenties as was La Chemise de Rosine and Mon Choix de Rosine. In 1927, inspired by the flight of Charles Lindbergh, Poiret launched Spirit of St. Louis, which was one of his last fragrance creations.
Poiret's couture clients, artists, actresses, and the wealthy, in the U.S. and abroad, quickly became his fragrance customers as he encouraged them to consider fragrance one of his most important fashion accessories. They responded enthusiastically. After World War I, however, his fashion house floundered. His fragrances continued to enjoy popularity in the United States where they were reintroduced. Poiret closed his business in 1930.
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