The History of Perfume in the 20th Century
The 20th century has experienced technical progress together with synthetic chemistry enabling new and more creative scents to be enjoyed by people in everyday life.
Perfume was initially perceived to be a luxury item and was available only to the wealthy. Today it is everyone’s daily accessory including men, teenagers and anyone who chooses to wear their own fragrance.
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Fashion and fragrance go hand in hand, and this is still true today.
Perfume has always reflected the evolution of a changing society and during this century of great social transformation it has evolved and become a fashion accessory to any outfit you wear, providing a statement as to who you are and what you stand for.
Since the beginning of this century fashion and fragrance gets together giving a new lease of life to perfumery.
It was Gabrielle Chanel however who put haute couture and perfume on the map forever being linked to one another. At that time women emancipated themselves and started working, dashing the image of the dutiful wife who stays at home and looks after the children. With Chanel No5 Coco Chanel plays tribute to a liberated woman who wears for the first time a perfume built around aldehydes.
After the First World War, the 30’s are synonymous with the Great Depression and the economic crisis. Unemployment reached new heights and a second world conflict broke out together with fascism and genocide.
Despite this however fragrances became more popular than ever.
They were inspired by Hollywood cinema promoting opulent and very feminine fragrances. Michel Rochas created Femme whose bottle is reminiscent of the curves of the actress Mae West. During the second World War the perfume sales suffered but gained real enthusiasm post war period both commercially and olfactory.
New fashion houses started to appear and in 1947 after having revolutionised fashion with his new look Christian Dior unveiled the famous Miss Dior perfume making haute couture perfumes the ones to stand out from the crowd.
The 1950’s marked a turning point in the history of perfume. At the time of the Cold War the focus turned to the United States and life suddenly changed with consumption being in the forefront.
Sex symbols from across the Atlantic, blue jeans and rock ‘n’ roll, teenagers, housewives and men all living the dream. Ready-to-wear fashion became commonplace, and fragrance was more accessible.
The Eau de Toilette started to appear going against the more traditional perfumes and appealing more to men in softer, fresher compositions.
The ritual of shaving was accompanied by men proudly applying their Eau Sauvage by Dior or Monsieur by Givenchy.
Trends from the United States
The trends from the United States continued to influence Europe and in the 1960’s when the hippie movement started in San Francisco, it eventually spilled over into France.
People adopted the ‘Make love not war’ slogan that became synonymous with the hippie movement. They demonstrated against the Vietnam War and fought for sexual liberation. This enthusiastic but peace-loving rebellion is enveloped in the scent of patchouli which became the symbol of this ‘flower power’ generation with strong ideals.
In the 1970’s clothing styles evolved even further with gay, punk, neo-romantic or bohemian movements emerging.
Fragrance changed to follow these new generations. Advertising became increasingly important appealing to provocative, sophisticated and natural women alike and men started wearing full bodied fragrances designed specifically for men, separating its use from aftershave.
Genders were intensified; while men’s fragrances were aimed for sportsmen with energising water, women’s perfumes were becoming more and more sensual thanks to oriental and amber scents. Fragrances from the United States continued to impact European trends and fruity notes were gradually being used in compositions.
In the 1990’s after all the frenzy of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s perfume was to be renewed.
People were looking for more gentleness, purity and a strong desire for simplicity and authenticity. Men and women exchange their fragrances and like to smell clean.
With the spread of AIDS unconscious fears resurfaced and people opted for comforting fragrances with gourmand scents and vanilla made a big comeback.
The 20th century ended with a return to nature and sobriety. To embrace a new era of perfumery and make its mark on its history by seeking out more natural fragrances.