A new bible for lovers of perfume

For his 1996 book Perfume Legends, Michael Edwards interviewed 160 perfumers, bottle designers, couturiers and executives. That book has become a collectors’ item.

Now Edwards has released Perfume Legends II, which tells the stories of 52 fragrances. There is Coco Chanel in 1921, making the propitious choice of the fifth fragrance shown to her by Russian-born perfumer Ernest Beaux (it became Chanel No. 5). And Madame Grès, the extraordinary couturier whose talent was matched only by her stubborn lack of self-promotion: her 1959 perfume Cabochard is a lost jewel. There is Paloma Picasso’s “olfactory self-portrait” from 1984, and the evolving story of how fragrance became integral to fashion brands.

In this edited extract, he reveals the glamour, teamwork and sheer serendipity behind some of our favourite scents.

Aimé Guerlain named Jicky after his nephew Jacques, who went on to create Mitsouko. Supplied

Jicky (1889)

Created by Aimé Guerlain

Jicky is often called the first synthetic perfume. The name was a diminutive of Jacques, the nephew of Aimé Guerlain, and was intended for both men and women – at that time, fragrances were interchangeable. When Truman Capote met French novelist Colette in the late 1940s he wrote: “The room smelled of her perfume. At some point, I asked what it was, and Colette said: ‘Jicky. The Empress Eugenie always wore it. I like it because it’s witty without being coarse – like the better conversationalists. Proust wore it, too.’”

Mitsouko (1919)

Created by Jacques Guerlain

Mitsouko is a chypre, a family of fragrances with the scent of autumn forests and mossy woods named for the island of Cyprus (birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love). The name Mitsouko came from a character in a romance novel set during the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, the young wife of a Japanese admiral who falls for a British naval attaché.

Jacques Guerlain, Aimé Guerlain’s nephew and Mitsouko’s creator, said: “The Japanese didn’t just defeat, they crushed the Russian fleet. Most of my compatriots saw Japan as the new Great Britain, whose king and traditions had long fascinated them.”

Tabu (1932)

Created by Jean Carles for Dana

Tabu’s patchouli/carnation accord “is a scorching whiff from an era when liqueurs cured ills, and jewellery looked like candied fruit”, wrote perfume critic Luca Turin. The Tabu violinist, originally painted in 1898 by French artist René Prinet was first used to advertise Tabu in 1941. Everyone assumes that the lady is wearing Tabu, a brew so potent it causes the man to forget both music and decorum. Letters addressed to ‘Tabu violinist, New York’ were known to reach the company.

Tabu became a sensation thanks to this advertising image. Supplied

Femme (1944)

Created by Edmond Roudnitska for Rochas

Femme was born in December 1944, three months after the liberation of Paris. Alcohol and glassware were still severely rationed and the house of Rochas was allocated only enough to produce a few hundred bottles. The scent was presented in a numbered crystal flacon designed by Marc Lalique, and dressed in Chantilly lace.

“White lace inside, close to the body; black lace, the face to the world,” explained Helene Rochas, widow of fashion pioneer Marcel Rochas (who introduced the bustier and put pockets into skirts). “The black lace signature came from when my husband met Mae West. She always had black lace on things.”

Fidji used the new phenomenon of holiday travel to sell its image of a 1960s woman. Supplied

Fidji (1966)

Created by Josephine Catapano

Robert Salmon became marketing director of Lancôme when it was acquired by L’Oreal in 1964. “Later that year I was in Morocco at the Club Med. People had become richer and were hungry to escape the winter to a place in the sun. People from the States were flying to the Caribbean. We realised [travel] was a worldwide megatrend.” Fidji linked the cachet of French fashion designer Guy Laroche to the happy island dream. No French perfume of repute had used such American-style marketing techniques before and it changed how prestige perfumes were sold.

Opium (1977)

Created by Jean-Louis Sieuzac, Raymond Chaillan and Françoise Marin

After designing bottles for Y, Rive Gauche and Pour Homme, designer Pierre Dinand was asked to create the bottle for a new Oriental perfume, at that time named Ichi (Japanese for No. 1). He showed Yves Saint Laurent a design, originally intended for Kenzo, based on inrō, small decorative boxes that Japanese men used to hang on their belts. In Marrakech, Yves was enthusiastic. “That’s where the samurai kept their medicine and their opium pellets,” he exclaimed. “Opium … Opium? Oh, that would be a fantastic name.”

The name scared Squibb Corporation, which co-owned Parfums Yves Saint Laurent with Charles of the Ritz. Progress stalled until the beginning of 1976, when marketing executive Chantal Roos came on board. “We were concerned that the wood gave it too rustic an appearance,” she said. “Monsieur Saint Laurent agreed. ‘Why not lacquer it?’ he suggested. Lacquer would have cost a fortune so we replicated it with a beautiful nylon plastic.”

Saint Laurent added a finishing touch at the last minute to enhance the plastic-covered Opium bottle. Supplied

Robert Miller, president of Charles of the Ritz, flew to Paris months later with the first production samples. Saint Laurent was uncertain about the plastic cover. “Unfortunately, we already owned some $US2 million worth of plastic material, so I told him we couldn’t do anything about that.”

“Yves was so upset by what he saw, he didn’t want to go ahead with the project,” says Miller. “We made it clear that we would never have developed a perfume named Opium on our own … that we had invested substantially … and if the project did not proceed, we would hold Saint Laurent accountable for any losses we sustained.”

Saint Laurent turned his thoughts elsewhere. “The perfume bottle was finished with a cord, knotted through a wooden ball,” Miller recalls. “‘It looks wrong,’ said Yves. He walked out of the room, and returned a few minutes later with a box of black tassels he had used that season for some of his couture clothes. “One by one, he took them out of the box and placed them against the bottle. Finally, he found the tassel he liked. Next, he told me to change the lettering of the logo. The O was too slim for his taste. Then he looked at the cap of the perfume bottle. ‘It’s too small,’ he said. He replaced the cap of the ½ oz bottle with the cap designed for the 1 oz bottle.”

“We could not change the ‘O’ for the first production run but we managed the beads and tassel,” says Roos. “We bought them from a shop in the centre of Paris. Imagine the time it took the staff in the factory to thread each bead by hand. Imagine the costs!”

Loulou (1987)

Created by Jean Guichard for Cacharel

Cacharel’s sensual but fresh Loulou combined vanilla and the scent of a Tahitian flower. Supplied

By the mid-eighties, competition in the French fragrance market had become brutal. In just one year, more fragrances were launched than in the entire 1960s. Loulou was a sequel to 1978’s Anaïs Anaïs and inspired by silent film star Louise Brooks. “In France, people say that a young girl’s skin smells of caramel. That is the smell of toffee,” says Guichard. “So we started working around the vanilla-toffee notes.”

In Tahiti he came across the beautiful tiare flower, which had a freshness he needed to balance the “gourmand” flavours. “We associate vanilla with something very agreeable, because, as children, we were spoiled by cakes and ice cream. More than that, it’s a scent that men find sexy.”

Portrait of a Lady (2010)

Created by Dominique Ropion for Frédéric Malle

Frédéric Malle of Editions de Parfums regards himself as a fragrance publisher or curator, and the perfumers as authors or artists. “He told us that we could do whatever we wanted,” says perfumer Dominique Ropion. “With no price or time limit, no panel tests, and no marketing influences.” The Editions de Parfums boutique in Paris resembles a gentleman’s library but with three floor-to-ceiling space-age glass tubes (‘smelling capsules’) and a large refrigerator filled with squat black labelled bottles. “You have put the church back in the middle of the village,” the perfumers told Malle.

L’Eau d’Issey (1992)

Created by Jacques Cavallier for Issey Miyake

The scent of the sea became one of the fragrance signatures of the 1990s. The aroma material used to replicate the scent of sea air was Calone. First synthesised in 1966, Calone was used primarily to give laundry products the scent of fresh linen. Issey Miyake had to be persuaded to launch a fragrance by Chantal Roos, who had steered Opium to market.

When Issey Miyake was asked what sort of fragrance he liked, he said ‘Water’. L’Eau d’Issey was the result. Supplied

When asked what sort of fragrance he liked, Miyake replied “Water, something that doesn’t smell at all.” With a month to go before the launch date, the perfumer Cavallier worked day and night to come up with something new. “The fresh ozone notes in L’Eau d’Issey are not the kind you find in other ozonic fragrances,” he says. “We wanted them to be purer and very natural, with the scent of fresh water rather than sea water.”

NEED TO KNOW
Where to buy Perfume Legends II is available at fragrancesoftheworld.com for $215. Also available is the latest edition of Fragrances of the World, Michael Edwards’ annual reference guide to more than 12,000 fragrances.

[“source=afr”]