International Exposition of Paris 1867

Agriculture, Industry and Fine Arts

April 1, 1867 - November 3, 1867


Back - List of Pavilions

French perfumery

French perfumery at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

It would, at least, be useless to recall in a short note on the French Perfumery or the Exhibition, the past of this industry which, in all civilizations, among all peoples, has been associated with the cult of beauty, borrowing from natural sciences their secrets, asking flowers for their perfumes, composing this innumerable quantity of preparations intended from time to time to come to the rescue of fading charms and freshness.

If we were to go back only to the history of the Hebrews, we would find this illustrious princess who

.... Was careful to paint and adorn her face.

But this retrospective review, besides offering little interest to the clients of Messrs. Pi-ver, Petit or Demarson, would have the very serious fault of taking the few lines granted to me, and of giving, without use, to the dead what very legitimately belongs to the living.

It will therefore suffice for me to establish that modern perfumery prevails as much over the perfumery of the Egyptians, the Hebrews, the Greeks, and even the Romans, as the science of the Trousseau, the Michel Lévy, and the Blanche, prevails over the very limited observations and discoveries of Galen or Hippocrates.

This industry, which died out, so to speak, during the Middle Ages, and which found its rebirth and restoration in Florence under the Medici, borrowed from botany and alchemy - they did not yet call it chemistry - the exact notions that enabled a few scientists, such as Réné, Ruggieri, etc., to preserve and immobilise, so to speak, that which is most volatile, perfume.

It is from the reign of Catherine de Médicis, in fact, that we date the creation of an industry which was to develop rapidly, thanks to the protection of a rich and gallant Court, and which, once it had entered the habits, the customs, the very life of the nation, was to let the exaggerations of Spartan simplicity of 92, 93 and 94 pass, only to reappear more brilliantly under the Directory. Athens replaced Sparta, and the arts, luxury, and festivities were welcomed back with that fury which three years of struggle and painful preoccupations explained.

Since that time, perfumery has taken an important place in the industrial movement. Its production rose rapidly between 1796 and 1810 from 2 million to 11 million.

Since 1810, the progression has not slowed down. One estimates today at 35 or 38 million the products of the French factories - factories or distilleries - devoted to the manufacture of perfumes or perfumed objects. Exports amount to about fifteen million. Finally, the progress made in the last few years, for which chemistry can claim the honour, allows us to hope for a significant increase in production and export.

We know, in fact, that apart from the questions of freshness and beauty, perfumery raises a serious question, that of hygiene. Seeking, above all, active and powerful agents, chemists asked the animal and vegetable kingdoms for the oils, colours and reagents that gave the fastest results, without worrying about the disastrous consequences that these preparations could have on the human organism.

This is how the make-up prepared for actors contained principles of formidable activity. The white of ceruse, to quote only one, so frequently used formerly, brought many accidents. The reds used in the theatre also contained real poisons. Finally, the oils and fats used in the composition of ointments, ointments, etc., became, by their corruption, the cause of diseases which gradually aroused the attention of competent men.

In the presence of very serious accidents which were multiplying and the source of which our courts had to seek, the chemists were moved. Carefully studying the various make-up, perfumes, ointments and waters used by artists, they recognised the existence of poisonous substances in quantities strong enough not only to alter the complexion or the fineness of the tissues, but also to affect the nervous system, to slowly but surely attack the epidermis, then the cellular tissue, and finally to cause profound disturbances in the entire organism.

A trial, which has remained famous in the theatre, gave the coup de grâce to this deadly industry. A young woman, an artist, presented to the court of the Seine an arm completely atrophied by the use of the white that artists use in the theatre. The condemnation of the perfumer became a powerful argument in favour of the innovators who wanted to replace mineral agents with vegetable agents. A revolution took place in perfumery. Within a few months, a host of products were produced - harmless, it is true, but also inactive. This time, science was watching; and, ready to do justice to dangerous compositions, it did not spare those preparations which have the same effect on the complexion, the teeth, the hair as a breadcrumb pill has on the stomach. One of the most ardent soldiers of this crusade, a distinguished chemist, established by numerous publications that the incriminated agents could be easily replaced by compositions equally beneficial to beauty, and which had over their adversaries the eminent advantage of being completely harmless.

And as there is no truth so good that material and palpable proof does not make it even more obvious, M. Arrault, retired to his laboratory, composed make-up, ointments and toilet waters which he delivered to the examination of the chemists, his peers, without even giving them the trouble of a long analysis. For he gave the formulas.

It is under the influence of a few men of this school, conscientious, honest and educated, that perfumery has entered a new path, and it is, entirely transformed, freed from the old practices, and presenting only one danger, that of ruining husbands, that it presents itself today at the Exhibition.

If I were to adopt the prolix catalogues of the perfumers, I would not have enough space in this issue to enumerate the innumerable productions due to the imagination of some inventors. In short, everything is reduced to a few products that are more or less the same, and whose purpose is to maintain cleanliness, beauty and health, which, for me, is the same thing. The names vary, the perfumes may vary too, but the basics remain the same. When we have seen the "toothpaste waters" which, from Botot's water to that of Dr. Pierre, are composed of alcohol and aromatic plants of the same family, the "toilet waters and vinegars" - also of the same nature, whether they bear the almost illustrious stamp of the Farinas (more or less Jean-Marie), or the no less famous one of J. Vincent Bully, - the "toilet powders", which are made of alcohol and aromatic plants of the same family. Vincent Bully, - the "toothpastes" which always revolve around a rather restricted circle of raw materials with added perfume, - the "perfumed waters for handkerchiefs" which embrace the flora of both worlds, and distress lexicographers with their nonsensical names, - the "ointments, philocomes, comogen oils, etc.," etc., - the "soaps and creams", etc, etc.," "soaps and pastes, dulcifying, lenitive, etc.," we have covered the entire field of this industry, which saves itself from the accusation of frivolity by the services it can render to health.

There are six or seven main products that perfumers transform, with the help of a more or less new perfume, but which, as a base, remain the same.

Thus, today, the fatty parts are almost universally borrowed from tar. The hygienic properties of this material, which Raspail strongly recommends, have been recognised. Among the plants used in the preparation of perfumes, all those which chemical analysis has declared harmful or simply doubtful have been rejected. Zinc white, whose perfect harmlessness has been established by numerous experiments, replaces the disastrous white of ceruse. Similarly, in make-up, in powders, in ointments, such as cold-cream, the same raw materials
serve as a base with insignificant variations.

I was saying earlier that French perfumery has taken, by its turnover, an important place in our industrial movement. In the past, the Orient supplied us almost exclusively with the raw materials, that is to say the plants, corals, minerals and vegetables of all kinds which enter into the composition of perfumes. In this way, France has created a source of wealth, and perfumery has become a truly national industry. It is, in fact, today, Grasse, Nîmes, Nice, Avignon, Montpellier, which supply us with plants and, in all these cities, important factories prepare the perfumes which are then sent to the laboratories in Paris. Bordeaux, Metz and Nancy have vast distilleries from which come vinegars, essences and various waters that coquetry uses under a thousand different names.

All these workshops employ a considerable number of people; but if one thinks of the immense quantity of porcelain, crystal and glass vases, of cardboard, ebony, oak and lemon boxes, of bottles of all shapes and sizes used by the perfume industry; if one calculates (I would like to do so, but it is in one's own interest) the number of leaflets, price lists, explanatory notes, etc., etc., with which each perfumer wraps his products, the number of bottles, the number of bottles, and the number of bottles of all sizes, with which each perfumer wraps his products, one finds oneself in the presence of an army of workers, from the gardener who takes care of the roses, the jasmines, the violets, to the "shop girl" who wraps the bottles and attaches a pink or lilac favour. What happened to the 38 or 40 million of earlier? Do you see the considerable movement that this so-called luxury industry is imparting to ten indifferent industries?

We have often spoken of the considerable profits made by the perfume industry. Nothing should be exaggerated. Like all businesses which borrow part of their success from fashion, perfumery makes big profits or causes heavy losses. Whether a vinegar, an ointment or a perfume is adopted by the elegant public, the fortune of the creator (I cannot say the inventor) is made. Are they not well received,-which may depend on the shape of the bottle or the name of the commodity,-the perfumer who has manufactured a certain quantity of his product, who has spent quite a lot of money on porcelain or crystal, on advertisements, etc., sees perishing in his hands a fund to which vogue alone can give a value. In the industries which touch on fantasy, does not skill consist in introducing one's own taste to the public, in creating fashion? And does not this skill legitimise success?

French perfumery is represented at the Exhibition by its most distinguished leaders. Among the names of the exhibitors, some have acquired a legitimate reputation. I am not going too far in quoting the Piver, the Guerlain, the Demarson, the Chardin, the Petit and a few others, whose names will come up in turn.

The Commission has given the perfumery a square room, quite large, occupied internally by the perfumers of Paris, who finish and sell the products of this industry, and externally by the manufacturers or preparers of raw materials intended for ointments, vinegars, cosmetics, etc. - It seems only fair to begin the review of exhibitors with the latter.

I will first mention Messrs. Méro and Boyreau, from Grasse, who did not obtain any medals for the simple reason that they are "out of competition"; but the decision which made them members of the jury is based on the numerous awards that these manufacturers have obtained at various exhibitions. The gold medal was given to Mr. A. Chiris, raw material manufacturer and distiller in Grasse. The jury rewarded the finesse and beauty of Mr. Chiris' oils. The other awards were given to distillers, a bronze medal to Mr. Séméria et Cie of Nice, and an honourable mention to Mr. Nègre, Mr. Fiédler and Mr. C'%, who run a large steam plant in Nîmes for the preparation of toilet vinegars. Finally, M. Michel won a bronze medal for a charming basket of flowers and fruits; each fruit (grapes, currants, etc.) is a bottle of scent.

One name - I have already said almost illustrious - stops the visitor at the door; it is that of J. M. Farina, who did not disdain a little corner in the special perfumery square, when he could be satisfied with the famous fountain that visitors to the Exhibition know.

The room reserved for the Parisian exhibitors has a charming appearance, and were it not for the atmosphere saturated with perfumes which make any stay a little prolonged painful, one would have been pleased to sit at the foot of the statue which rises in the middle, and to rest one's eyes on these elegant showcases, so coquettish and so seductive.

Each exhibitor has taken it upon himself to give - to his compartment - those harmonious arrangements of which the Parisian merchants have the secret, and which give I don't know what attraction to the most ordinary object.

We have here, moreover, the masters of perfumery, Piver, who, as one of the first, has sought in our indigenous plants the hygienic principles and has introduced into perfumery, since 1842, one of the most salutary agents, the juice of lettuce. As a member of the jury, Mr. Piver had to distribute to competitors the awards he so well deserved. It must be acknowledged that the jurors here acted with taste and fairness, and the public will agree with me when I have named M. Coudray (silver medal), who has found a new perfume in a plant from Mexico, the mamey; - M. Violet (silver medal), - supplier to the Empress; - Messrs Vibert frères, who, in their factory in Montreuil, manufacture from 12 to 1500 kilograms of ointment daily (aren't you afraid? ); - M. Guerlain, whose merits have long been known; - M. Ed. Pissaud, who has no less than four branches in Paris and who has well deserved the silver medal for the enormous development he has been able to give to his industry; - M. Petit aîné, whose shop window is a marvel of elegance; - M. Bleuze-Hadancourt, who has found a process - the transmutative fluid - for dyeing hair. I don't know if the process is successful on live hair, but I can affirm that the strands of all the shades exhibited - half-finished, like the medieval clothes, are perfectly successful. I do not want to pass over in silence MM. Chardin-Hadancourt and Gellé frères, who obtained silver medals, nor Mr. Delettrez, perfumer of the elegant world, who saves himself from the small ridicule of the epigraph painted on his window "as nobility, title obliges" by the good taste of his exhibition.

I will have finally settled my accounts with the exhibitors when I have reminded you of the names of Messrs J. R. Vincent Bully (bronze medal), Delabrierre-Vincent (bronze medal), a very varied exhibition of perfumes for handkerchiefs; Dr. Pierre, whose toothpaste water deserved better than an honourable mention; Bonn, bronze medal for hygienic perfumery; finally, Laboullée, who won a medal for his products, which range from perfumes for handkerchiefs to powders and toothpaste water.

I have gone over the representatives of French perfumery a bit quickly. There are some who deserve a closer look; such as the house of Piver. But all those I have named can share to some extent in the praise I have given to the efforts and progress of this industry. If one is surprised at the relatively large number of awards that our exhibitors have received, one should consider that France owes to its climate plant productions that its industry knows how to use; that apart from chemical combinations where we already have a certain superiority, our manufacturers distinguish themselves by a taste, an elegance, that one rarely finds elsewhere. And, to tell the truth, does not all this fine pottery, so delicately painted, these boxes so elegant, these favours so fresh, all this belong to what has been generically called the Paris article? Well, in spite of the mania of enthusiasm for foreign products which distinguishes this century, Paris - and not Vienna - will have the upper hand, whenever it is a question of lightness, elegance and taste.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée