Since the beginning of the 20th century, perfume and haute couture have shared a common history. They are so strongly linked that it is difficult today to dissociate fashion from fragrances. While these relationships seem obvious at first glance, given that perfume is such a fashion accessory, they can also be quite paradoxical. Trends fade but fragrance remains… Between visible and imperceptible, tactile and olfactory, perfume and fashion constitute the panoply of seduction for everyone and allow us to affirm our identity. From the appearance of designer perfumes to the reasons for this success, let’s trace the thread of this passionate story.
The birth of haute couture perfume
From the 20th century, haute couture and perfume began to forge real links. Until then, compositions and other perfumed products were sold by grocers and apothecaries during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Then, the masters glovers-perfumers, whose story is told here, carried out this trade. Perfumers finally stepped in from the 19th century and the rise of modern perfumery. Before the early 1900s, no haberdashery or cloth merchant had devoted themselves to the art of perfume.
The very first couturier to really work on perfume was Paul Poiret in 1911. To pay tribute to his daughter, he created a specialized company: “Le parfum de Rosine”. If the success was important, the couturier’s mistake was to highlight his daughter’s first name and not his own. As a result, Poiret did not really capitalize on the notoriety and image associated with his fashion house. The famous Rosine will thus pave the way to other great names of couture in the 20s.
Among them we find Gabrielle Chanel, who launched her iconic fetish number in 1921. Coco, for her part, understood the interests of this diversification. She would focus on the brand’s universe and values, which were already well established in the minds of consumers. The audacity of the juice, the sobriety of the black, beige and white bottle, all the Chanel DNA is imbued in this creation. Faced with such success, several fashion houses participate in the game: Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin or Worth. At their turn, they will create fragrances that will mark their era. The pioneers of haute couture perfumes thus introduced a concept that would later make the fortune of luxury brands. The fashion houses, which at the time had a very elitist clientele, now offer accessible products thanks to fragrances, opening up their universe to a much wider customer base.
After the war, fashion opens its nostrils wide
In a post-war world, the population is getting back in touch with perfume, which is the subject of a very strong revival of interest. Gagged for many years, the desire to undertake and creativity reemerged after the end of the conflict. Many fashion houses were born at this time. For these new couturiers, perfume was an essential step towards quickly diversifying their brands. Pierre Balmain is launched in 1945, and the following year is marketed his first perfume. The same goes for Carven, Givenchy and Christian Dior, who unveiled Miss Dior in 1947, the same day as the fashion show for his first collection. The haute-couture perfume having paved the way, watchmakers, saddlers, jewellers and other leatherworkers will soon be lending themselves to the game.
Perfume is the finishing touch to a dress. A perfume is an open door to a rediscovered universe. That’s why I became a perfumer: by opening a bottle, you can see all my dresses and every woman I dress leaves behind a wake of desire.Christian Dior
From haute couture to ready-to-wear, perfume frees itself
From the 1970s onwards, fashion and fragrance became more international and more accessible. It is the advent of ready-to-wear. New brands, less prestigious than those of haute couture designers, tried their hand at perfume: Cacharel, Hugo Boss and Lacoste. At the same time, cosmetics brands are also putting their noses into the creation of fragrances. Perfumery gradually freed itself from luxury to be sold in popular retails such as Prisunic in France as early as 1978.
Perfume is still synonymous with elegance and refinement. However, it is becoming more and more popular to stick to the new habits of the general public. Women and men are less and less loyal to their fragrance and like to change with the seasons. At the beginning of the 90s, some brands tried for the first time ephemeral creations with summer juices. More playful, fragrance became a luxury accessible to all.
A new competition for perfumers
Since the 20s, and consistently throughout the 20th century, fashion houses have little by little made their mark on the fragrance market. Between 1919 and 1930, more than 800 fragrances blossomed. The competition then becomes tough for the traditional producers, those who were “simple perfumers”. If the factories in Grasse were delighted with this new consumption, perfumers were really affected. In 1927, the newspaper L’Excelsior wrote: “Is the great couturier qualified to create perfumes? This kind of trade seems unworthy of them, who do not need to encroach on other people’s territory in order to increase their turnover.” At the beginning of the 40s, perfume houses still dominated sales, but from the second half of the century the trend was finally reversed. Haute couture fragrances became more widespread, to the point of marginalizing traditional perfumers.
Perfume and haute couture: the reasons for success
Fashion fades but fragrance remains…
Unlike a seasonal clothing collection, perfume is made to travel through times and trends. If the innovations brought by fashion bring a modernity and a new topicality, perfume also needs a dimension of longevity. Maintaining strong links between perfumery and fashion is essential for fashion houses. The bottle plays a key role in reflecting the image that the house wishes to convey. So very often, brands rely heavily on their olfactory creations to highlight them and make them a true emblem for a wide audience. At the same time, the renewed news from the latest fashion shows is helping to put fragrances back in the spotlight. It’s by combining the ephemeral and the perennial that fashion houses manage to find the right balance between innovation, history and image.
Luxury accessible version
Perfume is a gateway that leads us straight to the brand’s universe. Not everyone can afford haute couture dresses, but almost everyone can give in to a perfume, owning a luxury item and taking part in the history of the House. Because in the communication, from the shape of the bottle to the choice of a world star muse, everything reflects the idea of luxury. For these haute couture brands, perfume plays a double essential game. In a world where everything evolves quickly, it allows them to stop time with timeless olfactory creations. But it also allows creators and artistic directors to appeal to a different clientele, while ensuring high profitability. Originally a simple accessory, the fragrance now carries brands over time, while fashion is their most beautiful showcase.
Do you consider perfume to be a real fashion accessory? Do you have as much confidence in designer brands as you do in perfumer ones?