Town & Country (UK)
Caron perfume once scented silver-screen film sets – now Baroness Rothschild is bringing it into the 21st century
How Baroness Ariane de Rothschild is bringing the legendary French perfume house Caron lovingly back to life
The story of Caron as one of the oldest French perfume houses might officially have started in 1904, when Ernest Daltroff opened his Parisian boutique. However, it was two years later, when the self-taught perfumer met his muse and business partner Félicie Wanpouille, that the real fragrance fairy tale began.
While Daltroff created category-defining scents, including Narcisse Noir, worn by Gloria Swanson on the set of Sunset Boulevard, Wanpouille designed the exquisite bottles and proved a brilliant brand ambassador. It was said that Daltroff fell in love with her, a passion that inspired N’aimez Que Moi (1916), featuring his favourite flower, the rose.
The brand’s popularity survived both World Wars, with Wanpouille protecting its legacy when Daltroff, who was Jewish, escaped Nazi persecution in 1939; he fled to America and died there just two years later. It was after Wanpouille’s death in 1967 that Caron’s fame started to fade as its scents seemed old-fashioned when compared to more modern perfumes such as YSL’S Rive Gauche.
Then, in 2018, Baroness Ariane de Rothschild’s investment company purchased the brand. Under her stewardship, together with the new house perfumer Jean Jacques, Caron’s audacious spirit is being revived.
‘The Rothschilds are pretty good at trying to uphold their history and the specific equilibrium between past, present and future,’ the Baroness says. ‘It was about asking, “How do you take Caron’s similarly rich history, with so many iconic perfumes, and make it feel relevant today?”’
That question is particularly apt considering fragrance’s association with nostalgia. Research by the Perfume Shop suggests that customers, triggered by the past year’s uncertainty, are returning to the familiar scents of their youth, increasing the appeal of heritage brands such as Caron.
To replicate its early success, the Baroness has made it a
priority to analyse what made the perfume house so distinctive. ‘I remember being struck that there was always this duality: from the pairing of Daltroff and Wanpouille to their fragrances’ contrasting facets,’ she says.
For Jacques, honouring this dichotomy is about balancing the brand’s past and future. He muses about revitalising classic scents from the archive as if he has been handed Dubroff’s personal fragrance cookery book, with the freedom to experiment with traditional notes or introduce new ones, as you might update a family recipe.
‘There are several ingredients that are Caron,’ he reveals. ‘First among them is tobacco, starting with the creation of Tabac Blond in 1919.’ This iconic, smoky scent was intended for men but loved by women and came to represent their new-found freedom after World War I. In its honour, Jacques recently unveiled several new tobacco fragrances, including Tabac Exquis, a category-bending blend of the leaf and dark chocolate.
‘It’s fascinating to take one of Dubroff’s original fragrances and bring out fresh qualities using newly available ingredients, or methods of extracting notes that weren’t previously available. In Dubroff’s time, there was no chocolate smell, so that is a great example of how we make something modern from a classic,’ he explains.
Jacques is exploring new categories too, including a collection of clean musks, currently missing from Caron’s portfolio. He is assisted by the Baroness’ youngest daughter, Olivia, who has just joined the company. ‘Having her onboard is an opportunity to connect with her generation,’ the Baroness says. ‘It’s one of my ambitions to make Caron loved again by a younger audience.’ She is also passionate about sustainability and making Caron a symbol of ‘generous luxury’ – ‘protecting the planet and the population’ through sourcing high-quality ethical ingredients and investing in local producers.
Consequently, Caron now obtains its vetiver essence from Haiti as part of the IFF For Life ethical programme, and the flagship store in Paris’ window display, designed by World Vision, utilises reused materials. At the opulent fragrance fountains, where you can fill up your own vial of scent, patrons are also invited to reuse the brand’s beautiful bottles.
‘It is about encouraging a new code of luxury behaviour,’ the Baroness concludes. ‘Perfume should be about joy, because, for me, a life without perfume is not a full life.’