When did all of the hoohaa used to sell perfume begin? Let’s take a trip back to France in June 1791 where we find Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, their two children and their governess, Marquise de Tourzel, and the king’s sister Madame Elisabeth in a carriage attempting to escape revolutionary France. The plan went tits up in Sainte-Menehould after the king was identified by the local postmaster who recognised the king from his portrait on a coin.
Houbigant, who began their perfume business in 1775 and supplied fragrances to the court of Versailles, had a different version of events. According to them, the entire plot was foiled due to someone recognising Marie Antoinette because of her Houbigant perfume because it only could have been afforded by royalty.
However logic would dictate that it would take buckets of perfume to make anybody stepping out of a stuffy carriage packed with six people in the middle of summer smell good.
For decades brands have used royal warrants and celebrity endorsements to convince customers theirs was the one worth buying. To this day nothing has done more for the sale of Chanel No.5 than Marilyn Monroe saying it was the only thing she wore to bed. But that doesn’t change the fact you can’t smell words, and the best way to sell a fragrance is to simply get it under people’s noses.
In post-war America, Lee Swartout and Charles Granville began their perfume business, Angelique, on Skunk Lane in Wilton, Connecticut, affectionately nicknamed The Skunk Works. They tried everything from creating scented snow to bombing Los Angeles with perfume dropped from planes manned by pin-up models in their attempts to sell their Black Satin fragrance. Both were spectacular failures. According to a 1950 article in Life magazine, none of the perfume was able to penetrate the Los Angeles smog and just drifted out to sea instead.
Marie-Louise Carven had better success with her launch of Ma Griffe in 1946. In her book, A Century of Scents, Lizzie Ostrom writes, “Vying with Angelique, the couture house Carven in France performed a classier version, attaching mini-bottles of their new fragrance, Ma Griffe, to parachutes and dropping them daintily over Paris. Their campaign has since become one of the legendary examples of buzz-building. It demonstrates a poker-faced conviction that the women of Paris would not just run around scooping up as many freebies as they could stuff in their handbags but would fall in love with this unusual new perfume, rushing to buy it as soon as their samples ran out.”
Few things are better than letting the scent speak for itself.