Paul Poiret was a pioneer and he was the first to create the “parfum du couturier”.
It was a perfume invented by an anonymous creator of scents, which carried the name and the code of a Couture House. Today, the idea of a perfume tied to the name of a brand is absolutely common. But at the beginning of the century that idea was pure avant-garde.
Many other Couture Houses had taken the original idea of Poiret and they developed and enriched it, keeping in mind the potential success of this innovative creation.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the perfumes and the Couture houses seemed to belong to different universes. On one hand, there were the ancient maison de parfumes, as Garlain, Houbigant, L.T. Piver, Pinaud, Lubin, and on the other hand there were the new generation of designer, such as Worth, Paquin, Doucet, who were shaping the future of fashion.
Only Poiret, though, had the intuition to organize his fashion shows, with the scent sprayed all over in the room, surrounding his guests. The idea was heavily criticized by the press as they described the show as bizarre and ridiculous.
But Poiret was deeply persuaded that perfume was the final touch to reach the perfect woman’s elegance.
“This dress will make you feel beautiful, but with a dash of my perfume on its collar, you’ll look wonderful“
In 1911 Poiret created with great expectations “Le parfume de Rosine”, naming the company after her first daughter’s name. He opened a laboratory for creating the scent and opened a glassware factory to produce the bottles and he studied the perfect packaging, opening a laboratory, exclusively dedicated to it. He hired the best chemist Maurice Schaller, who would be replaced soon by Henri Alméras, who gave origin to all perfumes signed Poiret.
Thanks to this investment, Poiret produced 36 perfumes between 1911 and 1929. Aladin, Borgia, Hahna l’étrange fleur, Sakya Mouni, Maharadjah were all inspired by the exotisms, mixed up with the occidental culture and history, Coup de Foudre, Coeur en folie were dedicated to love and Jasmin, Violette e Lilas were dedicated to flowers. Boldness and innovation where the key words for Poiret’s work. He took meticulous care of the presentation of his perfumes and he decided to collaborate with the same artists, he used to work with for its collections: Paul Iribe, Georges Lepape, Raoul Dufy, Mario Simon, André Marty.
After Poiret, a lot of other designers understood that a perfume could make their House more popular and that it could express their creative universe, attracting various and different costumers, who couldn’t afford a couture dress. They instead could afford buy a perfume, which was expressing the same spirit of the dress.
Poiret was a genius!
Gabrielle Chanel gave another interpretation to the universe of perfumes, hiring Ernest Beaux and using a different and new olfactory “material”. She chose a squared bottle and named the scent with the simplest name in the world: in 1921 N° 5 was born.
During the 20’s a lot of young designers created their own perfumes (Callot Soeurs, Lucien Lelong, Vionnet and Molyneiux) in order to be more popular. Jean Patou was the only one who took benefit from the experience of Poiret, buying Les Parfums de Rosine, after the bankrupt of Poiret’s company. In 1925 Patou produced Amour Amour, Adieu Sagesse and Que sais-je? with Alméras, who created also the famous Joy, a few years later.
Jeanne Lanvin inherited from Poiret the great taste for quality. Lanvin, speaking about Arpège used to recall:
“While creating a dress I used to buy the best fabrics and I had no hesitations. To create my perfume I had to buy the best scents and products, which other designers couldn’t offer.”
With Arpège and N°5 couture perfumes gained an iconic place into fashion. They became a timeless classic, going beyond the initial idea of their creator Poiret.
The entrepreneur Louis Amic, whose company was specialized in the treatment of raw materials, understood the potential of the business of couture perfumes. He established a link between his company and the designers, in order to create for them bespoke and unique scents. He created a team of talented parfumeurs completely devoted to satisfy the demanding needs of couturiers. He used to work with the great name of fashion, from Schiaparelli to Lelong, from Rochas to Nina Ricci and with Dior.
With the perfume Diorissimo, Dior wanted to express the passions shared by the designer with the parfumeur Edmond Roudnitska, the creator of the scent. The lily of the valley was the protagonist of the scent, mixed up with the simplicity of the lines, the graciousness of the shape and the pure sophistication.
Another fundamental step in the evolution of perfumes is the launch of Opium. Opium signed the difference between the couture perfumes and the birth of “parfums de marque”. Since that moment designers and parfumeurs had worked together to produce the scent, the bottle and to plan the communication. After World War II, American company developed other strategies for their perfumes. They went for new and unusual scents and they created modern way to communicate with customers.
Opium was the perfect example, which represent the new way to create perfume. Opium was first of all a provocative name, which was perfectly in line with the evolution of taste of its decade (the 70s). Yves Saint Laurent was the best interpreter of its time, but it was also fascinated by the past. With Opium he wanted to revisit the enchanted world of Poiret and its “Parfum de Rosine”. The bottle of jade was designed taking inspiration from the extravagant oriental traditions, covered by paper, which should imitate the traditional Chinese silk.
Yves Saint Laurent started from that idea:
“After “Y”, I wanted a luxurious, rich and indolent perfume. “Opium” should evoke all that I loved the most: the Eastern elegance, the Imperial China and the exotisms.”
He was searching for a link between his aesthetic and the concept beyond the perfume of its brand:
” I was expressing myself through the creation of the perfume, the same way I did while creating my dresses.”
My Final Thought
Paul Poiret was a genius. He was able to legitimize the aesthetic coherence between couture and perfumes. The scents created by him had a style. Style is a term very difficult to define in the world of fashion and it’s even more difficult to determine in the world of perfumes. And Poiret wasn’t only remembered for his couture efforts, but also for the great intuition about the business of perfumes.