History of Perfume: the 19th century

The nineteenth century marks a turning point in the history of perfume through the synthesis and evolution of manners.

We continue our journey back in time to explore the history of perfume. After the frenzy that perfumes experienced during the Renaissance, the art of fragrances was completely disrupted in the 19th century thanks in particular to the revolution of synthesis. Perfume, then used as a remedy, began to emancipate itself from its curative mission to become a real hygiene and beauty product. New scents are created and the perfume becomes the symbol of a typically Parisian refinement! Let’s discover the evolution of fragrances during this period, an era marked by great changes.

Perfume facing the History

The Revolution put a stop to perfumery. At the time, perfume remained very strongly associated with the court of Louis XVI, the splendour of the monarchy and the wealth of the upper class. Perfume is a symbol of the high society privileges and the population rejects it as a sign of contestation.

Perfumers then tried to create fragrances with suggestive names such as Parfum de la Guillotine or the fragrance Nation, to get closer to the people and separate the image of the Court from the fragrances one. Fortunately, this disenchantment will not last. A few years later, a new frenzy of luxury and pleasure takes over society and Paris becomes the capital of fashion and refinement.

The Empire of perfume

The perfume quickly become likable again and the Empire would once again erect it in a place of honour. This period also marked the arrival in France of the now famous Eau de Cologne, created by Jean-Marie Farina. This fresh and citrus water captivates the country the high society, even the emperor himself. Bonaparte already has a real passion for all types of perfumes, which he uses everywhere: in the bath, on his clothes, in his hair…

From the freshness of the Eau de Cologne…

The Eau de Cologne inspires him to such an extent that it will become his lucky charm. He drank it before each battle and could consume up to 40 liters per month! Napoleon always wanted to show himself at his best, and hygiene and appearance were very important to him. Thus, he took everywhere with him his toiletry bag, containing his precious fragrance. Moreover, Jean Marie Farina very quickly became the emperor’s official supplier. He went so far as to create a special bottle called “the emperor’s roller” that could easily fit into an officer’s boot. During his exile in St Helena, Napoleon, desperate, made himself a still to produce his own Eau de Cologne.

…to opulent perfumes

But Napoleon the First was not the only one to succumb to the charms of perfume. His wife, the Empress Josephine, wears vanilla scents, influenced by the smells of her childhood in Martinique. She will then establish again the trend of heavier and opulent fragrances, including patchouli, tonka bean and wood.

It was thanks to her in particular that patchouli set Europe on fire at that time. Coming from Indonesia, the perfume of this tropical plant finds its place in new compositions. People enjoy wearing chypre, woody and oriental fragrances. Patchouli spreads through the noses and is found everywhere, in particular thanks to the fashion of cashmere shawls brought from India and Indonesia… If you are wondering what connection can exist between patchouli and shawls, we invite you to read (again) our article about this flagship ingredient. The 19th century is also associated with powerful and animal ingredients such as musk and civet, adopted by the Muscadins and their extravagant style. Spices are also fashionable, and nutmeg is very popular. The perfume writes a new page of its history…

Hygiene for all

Cleanliness is set fair

At the dawn of the 19th century, perfumery was mainly present in the form of dry perfumes. We find mixtures reduced to powder, and sold in sachets. They were intended to be integrated into wigs and clothing to hide the bad smells of poorly washed bodies. But under the influence of the Emperor, hygiene and cleanliness became once again essential concerns for all social classes. This era will mark the history of perfume with a real sanitary revolution! The trend is confirmed with the publication of numerous treatises on savoir-vivre and hygiene, which once again promote the merits of washing and bathing, beneficial for the skin and health. Public baths are reopening and the practice is becoming common.

Basic hygiene practices are taught to children at school and to older in the army. Cleanliness once again became the major factor of social distinction, under the influence of the new bourgeoisie. The big winner of this revolution will be the soap. Although it has been known for a long time, it experienced a real boom in the 19th century.

The perfume does not cure anymore

Scented soap, Eaux de Cologne or lavender, toilet vinegars, lotions, oils, hair ointments… spread very quickly among a population who can now afford these products. The most privileged use more concentrated scented extracts in liquid form. At that time, perfume was referred to its only hedonic dimension, and the bad smell of the disease was gradually dissociated in the collective imagination. It becomes a sign of a certain cleanliness and purity, and its use is revealed as an accessory of seduction.

The synthesis revolution

While the first part of the 19th century was marked by light, floral and soft fragrances, thanks in particular to the Eau de Cologne, the Second Empire turned to more heady scents, with animal smells. This was made possible by synthetic chemistry. This is the century of great names, great perfumers, some of whom have come down to us.

The beginning of organic chemistry

At the beginning of the 19th century, some researchers began new work by isolating interesting olfactory molecules in nature. Synthetic materials are emerging and this is a real revolution for the world of perfumery. Synthetic ingredients are created from scratch, with no natural equivalent. Creativity explodes and new fragrances appear. Coumarin, vanillin, artificial musk, aldehydes, ionones and heliotropin… all new products that are now used in many compositions. These molecules were quickly imposed by the great names in perfumery such as Guerlain with its famous Jicky and its vanillin scent.

Gradually, the prices of these new fragrances become more affordable. These scents are incorporated into natural products, bringing new hints to the compositions. Perfumery is starting to become popularized and is no longer reserved for an elite. The synthesis plays its cards right!

New scents

Extraction with volatile solvents also appears and makes possible to obtain different natural raw materials that multiply the creative possibilities for perfumers. All these new products will be widely used in formulas with great influence on the aesthetics of perfumes of that time. With the introduction of these raw materials moving away from nature, a new field of creative exploration is opening up. New and more abstract olfactory families emerge, such as oriental or ferns. Perfumery is an industrial phenomenon throughout Europe. At the end of this century, France now has 300 manufacturers, 2000 retailers and 20000 workers working for this new industry!

The 19th century has thus marked a significant turning point in the history of Perfume, between technical progress and popular belief. This era saw the birth of the modern perfume industry, finally very close to what we know today.

Did you know the history of perfume in the 19th century? Did you think that synthetic chemistry appeared at that time? See you in a month to continue our fragrant journey…

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