On average, art reflects society but sometimes an artist can jump ahead of their time (like Turner, Picasso or early Tracy Emin). Perfume doesn’t mirror life, it sums up epochs (it takes more time to develop a scent than to make a painting), but a genius Nose can also catch a whiff of the future. This post is the first in the series that juxtaposes art and scents. Need your feedback — I don’t know if this idea would work out.
1905. L’Origan de Coty
In L’Origan, Coty pioneered synthetic ingredients in a mix with natural materials (carnation, orange flower, violet), creating an oriental floral scent.
The perfume summarised Belle Epoque, its opulence, prosperity, its asymmetric designs based on natural forms and the exuberant show-off of the bourgeois class, just as the epoch was drawing to a terrible finale.
Change, or rather desire for change, was in the air, and could be felt in all walks of life.
In 1903, Isedora Duncan developed free dance, revolutionising the way people moved and inadvertently pushing fashion towards accommodating the new movements (but it will take a while for the new shapes to pick up). Same year, Salon d’Automne opens in Paris with future cubists, fauvists, dadaists, and expressionists lining up the walls with their first attempts to break away from both classicism and the decorative traditions of Art Nouveau.
And as the highly decorative Art Nouveau style was about to yield way to the industrial and futuristic Art Deco, L’Origan hit Parisian stores.
If I were to choose an artist to represent L’Origan, it would be Mucha, because if Art Nouveau were a brand, he would be its marketing & creative director. Mucha’s art never ventured into anything new or mildly novel, just as L’Origan failed to see the explosion of crazy styles that would smash the art world to pieces in the next ten years.
Matisse’s wife, dressed to the latest Belle Epoque fashion standard, looks back at her husband, wondering, perhaps, why his new painting style (soon to be branded wild and beastly) is not accompanied by a new fragrance for her. Well, there wouldn’t be no new scents (really new, not just variations of the existing ones) for the next 12 years, when the same perfumer, Coty, delivered Chypre. So….
1917 Chypre de Coty is coming next!
P.S. Perfume experts say the industry now has circled back to 1900’s “floriental” scents. Are we nearing the end of our own, past WWII, Belle Epoque?