Why is perfume a French “Savoir-Faire”?

Perfume has been around since (almost) the dawn of time, as it was commonly used in Egypt at the time of the pharaohs, and in ancient Rome. However, in true French fashion, once perfumery made its way to France, it was revolutionized into the iconic world of fragrance we know today. 

“Everything began to intensify in Grasse, a pretty little town on the French Riviera, during the middle of the XVth century. In Grasse, tannery trade flourished, which caused a major problem: fighting against the nauseating odors emitted by leathers and skins. The solution? Perfume, of course! Coincidentally, Grasse hinterland is a very fertile place for the cultivation of jasmine, rose, lavender, etc… Over the years, an entire perfume manufacturing industry developed, first scenting the skins used for belts, bags or gloves, but very quickly also– the people. A century later, the flourishing French perfume industry has become perfectly structured, and continues to grow, giving birth in the XIX century to major Perfume houses, like Guerlain. ” 

The next opportunity helped elevate  the “made in France” perfumery to shine worldwide: the rise of the Parisian Haute-Couture. A fashion designer, now almost forgotten, Paul Poiret, had the idea in 1911 to launch a range of perfumes “Parfums de Rosine”, named after one of his daughters. This precursor became the first fashion designer to market his own perfumes, considering them a central part of the feminine adornment. Other designers soon followed, such as Coco Chanel, who launched in 1921– a little over a century ago now– the mythical N°5. Perfumes and Haute Couture continue growing together in France, hand in hand. After the Second World War, Haute Couture declined, no longer finding its clientele and losing money. However, perfume developed enormously and became more democratic.

The balance shifted: now Haute Couture brings the image, while perfumes bring the money! The French designers of the 50s and 60s understood this, and put all their energy into promoting their perfumes in order to finance their Haute Couture collections that were becoming unprofitable. Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, and so many others have produced the most famous fragrances of the XX century, sold all over the world. Yet still today, at a time when perfume brands of all nationalities are launching their fragrances, most of them remain: designed and manufactured in France.

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