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La Fabrique des Parfums, birth of a luxury industry


In the Age of Enlightenment, around 1750, people were looking for new smells and scents, finer, lighter than before; we discover new plants and the manuals of good living are full of advice on the choice of flowers. The perfume trade was born, as explained to us Eugenie Briot in " La Fabrique des Parfums - Birth of a luxury industry ».

Myths and Legends

In ancient times, man very often associated "perfume and poison". It was said that "Cleopatra breathed in the scent of flowers and committed suicide!" »And remember the scented and poison-soaked gloves of the Renaissance ...

In the 17th century, we sprinkled water and various perfumes to mask and fight bad odors, vectors of disease. Perfume and associated products such as salts, ammonia, vinegars, have gradually become objects of utility and public health. The flower is no longer a danger, quite the contrary.

During the Restoration period, it is fashionable to walk around with a bouquet in hand. The flower markets appear, the salons are adorned with flowers and plants, until the end of the 19th century when the purchase of flowers is no longer reserved for the aristocracy or the bourgeoisie: the housewife decorates her interior with flowers.

Floral dictionaries appear, a precise meaning is attributed to each flower, the language of flowers is born. The "ladies' manual or the art of elegance" is very useful for the choice of plants and the composition of bouquets.

From flower production to the sale of perfume

Parisian elegance struggles for refinement and that begins with the use of perfume items: odor extracts, toilet vinegar, ointments, rice powder, sachets in the cupboards.

Between 1810 and 1912, there was a real boom in the production and sale of these products. But establishing a turnover is almost impossible, the perfume market encompassing perfumes, cosmetics, soaps and sometimes gloves, brushes and other items. We can still say that the sale went from 2 million francs in 1810 to 80 million francs in 1900! Exports increased by 400% between 1837 and 1912: the French supremacy of Perfumery is recognized around the world!
The Chambre Syndicale de la Parfumerie Française was founded in 1890, with 70 members to organize itself in a better production and a better sales network as well as to fight against taxes and counterfeits.

Times are changing, chemistry is necessary because alongside "real flowers", we are moving towards odors with synthetic origins, thus marking the birth of modern perfumery.

Important developments

In the second half of the 19th century, there was little evolution in the perfume itself, because the flowers already existed and no new ones appeared.

Distillation processes change with the steam engine and new tools.

Research is also focusing on artificial products such as essential oils and artificial essences, to cope with the ever-increasing sales of certain perfumes and in particular the violet flower which is in short supply. A stabilizer is added so that the odor lasts and the quantity of fatty substance in the composition of the products is reduced.

The production and sale of scented soaps is increasing; it is the same for the toilet waters (eau de Cologne); around 1880 appears the "shampoo" as well as the perfumed sachets to put in the cupboards but also in the hems of the petticoats ...
Modern sales made their appearance when perfumery products were sold in department stores with displays, packaging and bottles different from those reserved for traditional perfumeries.

The etiquette manuals are published in large numbers with all the advice needed to make good purchases, to choose the right species and to use them well. Flyers and catalogs are distributed to attract customers to department stores, while traditional perfumeries tend to advertise in newspapers; the scented card was distributed at the end of the 19th century; the sample was born at the beginning of the 20th century and the real boom took place in the 1920s with the creation of a miniature replica of the original bottle; traditional perfumeries are transforming their storefronts and interiors to offer more comfort to compete with department stores. However, major events such as Universal Exhibitions are almost essential for the promotion of perfume products.

Paris has become the capital of French perfumery, but it would be nothing without Grasse for the production of perfume plants, nor Marseille for its soap production.

The book is interesting, the reader can learn a lot from it, but almost all the paragraphs are punctuated by passages from books; it looks more like a thesis with the multitude of scientific details. One could say that it is more intended for perfumery specialists, than for "current" readers ...

The perfume factory: Birth of a luxury industry, by Eugénie Briot. Vendémiaire, August 2015.


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