En­ter­tain­ing romp through a cen­tury of per­fumes

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fra­grance has al­ways been wrapped in so­cial and eco­nomic is­sues, con­tro­versy, mem­o­ries and his­tory as Lizzie Ostrom so per­sua­sively shows in the lively Per­fume: A Cen­tury of Scents.

The 10 chap­ters — each de­voted to a sin­gle decade — ex­am­ine 10 dif­fer­ent per­fumes that in­flu­enced that decade.

A sharply fo­cused in­tro­duc­tion to each chap­ter fur­ther puts the decade — and its fra­grance fash­ion — in per­spec­tive.

While Per­fume is by no means an en­cy­clo­pe­dia about scents, it is a solid pop cul­ture guide that in­cor­po­rates fra­grance fash­ion into the shift­ing tides of so­ci­ety.

Many of the per­fumes men­tioned through the decades have dis­ap­peared — a mere whiff of a mem­ory — no mat­ter how pop­u­lar at the time. This is true not just of those from the 1920s but also those man­u­fac­tured in the 1990s. Oth­ers such as Chanel No. 5 have been clas­sics from the first day and re­main fa­vorites of all gen­er­a­tions.

Ad­ver­tis­ing fra­grances not a new idea.

In 1908, the Bri­tish firm Gos- is nell’s launched a hot air bal­loon shaped like the bot­tle of its Cherry Blos­som to fling out fly­ers over crowds — an idea that seems mod­est next to per­fume foun­tains that threw fra­grance into the air dur­ing the Vic­to­rian era in Eng­land. What has changed is the rise of the in­ter­net and cer­tain sites that cu­rate myr­iad scents in one-stop shop­ping, mak­ing ex­otic per­fumes even more ac­ces­si­ble.

Celebri­ties’ in­flu­ence on fra­grance also goes back decades. Com­pare the Gib­son Girls of the 1900s men­tion­ing the “ut­terly ob­scure” Poin­set­tia with the avalanche of cur­rent pop stars such as Tay­lor Swift or Justin Bieber hawk­ing their scents.

Tech­nol­ogy and chem­istry gave com­pa­nies new ways to pro­duce scents, tak­ing it away from the rich and elite of so­ci­ety and mak­ing it avail­able to the masses.

Ostrom shows that each decade had cer­tain scents that de­fine it.

Dur­ing the global de­pres­sion of the 1930s, Joy by Jean Pa­tou, “the most ex­pen­sive scent ever re­leased”, was in­tro­duced and is still avail­able to­day.

World War II brought a new chal­lenge as many per­fumeries urged their cus­tomers to “trea­sure your last pinch” of fra­grance as ad­ver­tis­ers urged against buy­ing un­til af­ter the war.

As a re­sult, France ceased be­ing the epi­cen­ter of fra­grance pro­duc­tion as more be­gan to be man­u­fac­tured in Amer­ica.

The re­turn of fra­grance dur­ing the 1940s was seen as a sym­bol of hope. That’s a far cry from the “big, bad, loud-and­proud per­fumes of the 1980s” when many restau­rants put up signs ban­ning Gior­gio Bev­erly Hills, along with smok­ing.


Per­fume:ACen­tu­ry­ofS­cents, by Lizzie Ostrom, ex­am­ines in­flu­ences of per­fumes.

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