CARON AND THE FRAGRANCE OF BEAUTY

“These perfumes form the objects of a luxury which may be looked upon as being the most superfluous of any, for pearls and jewels, after all, do pass to a man’s representative, and garments have some durability; but unguents lose their odour in an instant, and die away the very hour they are used. The very highest recommendation of them is, that when a female passes by, the odour which proceeds from her may possibly attract the attention of those even till then are intent upon something else. In price they exceed so large a sum even as four hundred denarii per pound: so vast is the amount that is paid for a luxury made not for our own enjoyment, but for that of others; for the person who carries the perfume about him is not the one, after all, that smells it”. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book XIII

Perfumes are such stuff as life is made on. They contain the same elements that define Life. They are ephemeral, last less than we would expect, but nonetheless they can carry within them so much power and joy that we cannot go without them. Pliny was mistaken on one thing. Perfumes are made for our own enjoyment as much as they are made for the pleasure of others.

From the beginning of time, the power of scents has been used to give pleasure, to communicate, to attract, to change our moods and sometimes to poison. Perfumes are the most delicate and evanescent of all human creations.

This is not a post on the history of perfumes but it is on the story of a company which played a significant role in creating that history. This is the story, one of love and complicity between two talented people that founded a company that created, in the 20th century, some of the most remarkable scents that still preserve their timeless appeal. The post is a chronicle of unrelentless sensory pursuits.

The 1900 World Fair in Paris marked, in the perfumery business, the transition from an artisan culture to an industrial and artistic one. The development of synthetic essences to complement the limited and costly resources of natural essences lead to the creation of sophisticated scents that paved the way to the industry we know today. The growth and prosperity of French perfumery is lead by a new generation of innovative entrepreneurs. One of these was, Ernest Daltroff,A young Russian Jewish emigré in Paris, belonging to a cosmopolitan and bourgois family, discovered his vocation for perfumery while traveling to South America and the Middel East

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Luca Turin  in his book “ Perfumes- the Guide”) refers to the period 1918-1939 in perfume industry as the Golden Age:

Many factors then conspired to make the period 1918-1939 the golden age of mass perfumery: working women vying for the remaining men, cheap aroma-chemicals, cheap labor to harvest the naturals, flourishing visual arts and music, the obsolescence of prewar bourgeois dignity, replaced by irreverence and optimism.”

The origins of CARON parfums dates back to 1903, to a tiny town on the river Seine, Asnières-sur-Seine, on the Île de France.

In 1903 Ernest Daltroff, ventured in two small operations that would mark the origin of one of the most successful perfume companies of the 20th century. He bought a small and unknown business founded in 1899 by Émile Cahen d’Asnières in the small town of Asniéres-sur Seine that produced and supplied scents and Eau de cologne and four perfumes to local customers: Royal Émiia, Endymion, Senteurs de Printems and Violette Diamant. The second step was to buy the rights to the use of the name CARON, a well-known circus acrobat of the times, from Mme Anne-Marie Caron who already owned a perfumery in rue de Rossini, Paris.

In need of a strategic address to open his first shop, Ernest Daltroff located the perfect spot in 10, rue de la Paix, close but not too close, to important names such as Guerlain, Hermès and Boucheron. The first perfume to be launched is Royal Caron that will replace Royal Émilia, and Radiant . Daltroff was very determined in identifying names that would drive the sales of his fragrances.  In this he was extremely successful, linking his production to the major events and transformations occurring in those years. Radiant evoked the brilliance of the new century and probably was also inspired by the discovery of Radium by Pierre and Marie Curie, while London-Paris was related to the 1904 treaty, the Entent Cordiale, between France and Great Britain.

In 1906, Caron registered 41 perfume names.

HOW DEEP, AND SCENTED, IS YOUR LOVE

As in the case of the synergy  and complicity between Hans and Florence Knoll, Charles and Ray Eames in the design industry, Baron Adolphe de Meyer and his wife Olga Cracciolo in fashion photography, the perfume industry can register in its history the successful bond between a perfumer and a 32 year old Parisian dressmaker, Felicie Wanpuoille, who jointly transformed a dream into an enduring reality. The dream expanded overseas reaching the enchanted society people of North and South America.

Felicie Wanpouille, the perfume stylist, is in charge of the “packaging” of the luxurious scents, perfumed powders and lotions her partner’s acute “nose” creates. Bel Amour is an homage to this new love.

The year 1911 marks the consecration of Caron as perfume house. His Narcisse Noir, still in production today, is a perfect scent symphony of orange blossom, bergamot, petitgrain, lemon, rose, jasmine, Persian black narcissus, musk, vetiver,civet and sandalwood. The fragrance joins the pantheon of great perfumes of the times such as François Coty’s Rose Jacqueminot and L’Origan. This floral oriental and seducing scent probably was a symbol of the couple’s romance who had yet to be crowned with marriage six years after their first encounter.

In Paris modern dance introduced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and the American dance have conquered the city. Caron dedicates a Greco-Roman amphora bottle depicting Isadora’s barefoot dance, designed by the sculptor Julien Viard to the perfume Isadora in 1912. 

N’AIMEZ QUE MOI – 1917 ; NARCISSE NOIR – 1911; ISADORA 1912

The Caron-Wanpuoille’s during theri 14 year realationship, created a scented diary of their love story in which unexpressed words were synthetized in sensual notes. The couple continues to imbue their creations with the desires and aspirations they feel for their love: L’Infini  is born in 1912, in which eternal love is expressed in a blend of Lily of the Valley, Jasmin, Tuberose, Tonka and Vetiver and enclosed in an oval Baccarat crystal bottle. In 1917, after 10 years of relationship and a World War still being fought, Caron presents “N’aimez que moi”, a mysterious and seductive fragrance on the notes of rose, lilac, violet, iris, vetiver, cedar, sandal, vanilla, amber and musk. Still, no marriage in sight but in 1920 an equal partnership in the business was stipulated.

Some say that marriage is a contract, well, in that case it was of a different kind but for a woman in those years, it can be considered, if not a sign of love and devotion, at least a symbol that would mark the history of women’s emancipation.

A perfumer searches for components as a poet searches for words to compose his poetry. In a letter to his partner, Daltroff writes in 1913:

You have dressed our creations with a magical yet mathematical precision and I can tell you without any false modesty that I feel a complete osmosis between us, an osmosis that carries the name Caron.”

In 1919, Caron celebrated the 100th anniversary of one of his iconic fragrances. Tabac Blond, my favorite perfume. Each of its alluring drops carries the unique story of a timeless essence. The perfume was originally developed for men but, sometimes, social and cultural transformations in society give a new and unexpected direction to dreams that turn into ideas and finally into projects. Society was beginning to recover from the terrifying effects of WWI. A New Woman emerged from its ruins. Charleston invaded the dance clubs, the haircuts à la Garçonne bobed with the body’s motions, women drove cars in their low waist evening dresses, holding tight to their carved cigarette holders. The combination of leathery note of this cyphre fragrance mixed with carnation, ime, iris, vetiver, cedar, vanilla and amber musk evoked the aromatic scent of the sweet Virginia Tobacco recently imported to Europe and immediately adopted by the new emancipated women.  The name Tabac Blond was evanescent as a puff of smoke and it can be, probably, considered the first no gender perfume in history.

In 1929, on the banks of Bellagio, on the Lake of Como, Italy, Bellodgia is born, emerging from the  earthly Gardens of Eden of the lake town. The geometric and architectural purity of its Baccarat bottle conceived by Félicie is a sublime Art Déco design.

While the Great Depression continues to unfold its dramatic effects, the memories of courageous women of the First World War still linger in the imagination of Darltroff and Félicie.

The second Caron fragrance I love the most is En Avion, created in 1932 and inspired by the first women pilots: Helen Boucher, Amelia Earhart, Jean Batte, Maryse Hiltz. Daltroff was fascinated with the Machine Age and world of speed and technology, of dreams and visions of space. The fragrance captures, with its rich deep floral Oriental with a leathery spin, the lust for life and adventures of the modern woman. And the modernist bottle, a piece of art in itself, reflects the mood of the era too. The original version was designed as a half-moon lying on a cubic stand with a metal compass encrusted at the top of the stopper and completed by a box replicating an airmail parcel The first example in perfume design to combine glass and metal.

EN AVION – 1932

En Avion could also have easily be inspired by Félicie’s secret marriage in 1926, to a hero pilot of the first World War, Jean-Gabriel-Isidore-Joseph Bergaud

AVANT-GUARDE DESIGN AND MERCHANDISING

Caron’s perfumes and cosmetics where sublime combinations of essences, modern packaging and artistic avertisements designed by Félicie Wanpouille and Paul Ternat – who also designed most of the perfume boxes – that appeared on the most relevant fashion magazines: Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Jardin des Modes, La Femme Chic.

What we see today in contemporary packaging, in some case Félicie anticipated it 100 years ago. In 1923, the champagne bottle that contained Caron’s latest creation, Bain de Champagne,  an eau de toilette for the bath, was a tribute to the Parisian party mood during the roaring 20’s.

CARON GOES TO AMERICA

1932: Success in America is sealed by the Caron’s new American headquarters in 389 5th Avenue , New York. Their biggest successes like Narcisse Noir, N’amiez que Moi, Le Tabac Blonde, L’Infini, La Mode ( that followed the presentations of the fashion collections) , and others start to be displayed in department stores an worn by famous Hollywood stars.

CARON – 1945

This advertisment dated 1945 is clearly an homage to the 1935 NORMANDIE poster by the UAM member, graphic designer by A.M. CASSANDRE.

CARON POUR UN HOMME – THE FIRST FRAGRANCE FOR MEN

And now let’s talk about one of the celebrities in French perfumery that resisted the test of time and that is today appreciated by men and women: Caron pour un Homme, the first fragrance for men, is released in 1934, a refined, elegant combination of the freshness of lavender tempering the sweetness of vanilla. Daltroff’s favourite note is united, no pun intended, with Félicie’s love for vanilla. Could it represent “when man meets woman” ( and doesn’t marry her?). An advertisement invited to buy Caron Pour Un Homme for “the beauty of feeling a different man”.

CARON POUR UN HOMME – 1934

Other successful perfumes and cosmetics follow until the French occupation by Nazi troups. French Cancan in 1936,  Madame Peau Fines compact powders, Les Cents Fards blushes in 1937,  Alpona and Voeu de Noel parfum in 1939.

FAREWELL MR. DALTROFF

As World War II approaches, tragedy hits the company. Ernest Daltroff, escaped to America to avoid persecution, dies at the age of 74, depressed and debilitated by sickness. He never married Félicie, from whom he separated  in 1925, but they remained unique business accomplices until the very end.  At the age of 67, Félicie is the sole owner of Caron.

As any company that existed before the war, a few survived through terrible times characterized by limited supplies of raw materials, glass and paper. The requisition by the Nazi commanders  specialized workers and materials slow dramatically the production of glass and paper. The Syndacat National de la Parfumerie, urges all customers, in 1942 and 1943 to return empty bottles to the perfumer and this allowed to continue the reduced production of perfumes.

To reflect the dramatic tensions and terror of those years, Caron’s long time perfumer Michele Morsetti and Félicie release Tabac Noir, born in completely opposite conditions to the ones that inspired Tabac Blond, the festive years of the 20’s.

In 1949, Or & Noir , with its opulence without ostentation, aims to help forget the black years of the war . The luxurious crystal bottle by Choisy-Le-Roi ad Romesnil,  is covered by a think gold leaf. To unveil the bouquet of rose from Anatolie, geranium poweder, lilac, oakmoss and carnation, one had to lift the thick gold leaf with an encrusted stopper of two bees cut in relief.

Another outstanding piece of design artwork is the bottle created in the same year for With Pleasure. A barrell shaped Baccarat crystal is an invitation to sensuality bottle topped with a bar shaped topper that releases, when pressed, subtle drops of an inebriating floral bouquet  of rich green floral chypre with a dominant deep, dark musty rose note. Unfortunateley, With Pleasure was discontinued in 1954.

While the young Arab, haunted by the sell
Of her own mountain flowers, as by a spell
Sees, call’d up round her by these magic scents,
The well, the camels, and her father’s tents;
Sighs for the home she left with little pain,
And wishes e’en its sorrows back again.

Thomas Moore, Lolla Roukh

It is always sad for me to read about the final years of a life entirely dedicated to create beauty. In the case of Ernest Daltroff and Félicie Wanpouille it was a life immersed in scented worlds that helped women get through terrible times. Every time I get to the final pages of great biographies I would like to stop time and freeze the moment when the best has been revealed.  So that is what I will do here. The future of the Maison can be read in the book.  What always fascinates me about these incredible successful stories whether they concern a person or a company, are the founding years, the struggles, the first successes, the ability to maintain them. The end, is too human for my taste.

Perfumes are like an elastic that in an istant can pull us back in time, to a place, a person, a feeling. Every time I spray drops of Guerlain’s mysterious Mitsouko or the elegant Caron Tabac Blond my thoughts embark in a journey back to my childhood when I could smell these scents on my mother every time she dressed up for a party. For me, perfumes are the most powerful triggers of positive memories, a boost for good sensations indispensable for the soul.

As a perfume addict, one of my greatest pleasures would be to visit the The Osmothèque in the Chateau de Versailles. The perfume conservatory is the world’s largest scent archive that has been preserving, since 1990, the fragrances of the past and of the present from the wear-and-tear of time, and preventing their stories to be forgotten. The safe storage in the bank vault is the custodian of the formulas of forgotten essences of Paul Poiret, François Coty and many more. Today 4000 samples of perfumery, 800 of which are irreplicable or no longer exist, are carefully guarded.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The book CARON, published by in 2000, is a scented social, political, cultural and economic history of the 20th century. Each major event of the past 100 years is connected, scent by scent, to the releases of the dozens of timeless fragrances that constitute Caron’s heritage.

More, with the generous amount of images included in its pages, it is a visual narrative of the history of perfume bottle design and advertisement graphics. The book witnesses the impact of modernism on the perfume industry.

Last but not least, it narrates the life of an extraordinary woman designer turned commander-in-chief of the company that still occupies a relevant place on the Perfumery Olympus. A woman entrepreneuse that built her superb career surviving two world wars, a Great Depression, and personal loss.

What she managed to achieve, with strive for excellence, imagination and intuition is, I hope, of great encouragment for women of today.

TITLECARON
AUTHOR JEAN-MARIE MARTIN-HATTEMBERG
PUBLISHERÉDITIONS MILAN
DATE OF PUBLICATION2000
PAGES208
LANGUAGEFRENCH AND ENGLISH
PRICE63,00 + SHIPPING

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