In the group formed by the Parure group, a special place (class XXIII) has been reserved for the French Perfumery.
As a distinguished publicist, Mr. Georges Bourdon, has remarked, no one thought of being surprised today by such an initiative, which would have had no reason to exist if the Exhibition of Decorative Arts had been organised twenty years ago. During these last twenty years, in fact, the French perfume industry has become one of our great national industries, and has taken a greater part each day in our export trade: the figure of its foreign sales has increased from
59,712,000 francs in 1913 to 77,150,000 francs in 1918,
217,440,000 francs in 1919, 679,942,000 francs in 1920,
and, without wishing to tire the reader with other figures, it is permissible to hope that, in the near future, Perfumery will bring into France one billion francs of foreign currency each year. Like the other classes of the adornment group: haute couture, jewellery, it plays an increasingly brilliant role in our national economy, and can no longer be considered as a frivolity.
What the whole world is asking of France are preferably those products of luxury and taste which can only be produced in countries of very old civilisation where, for a long time now, a series of uninterrupted efforts has enabled certain arts to gain an advantage that younger nations, less skilled in bringing out and presenting all that makes up the charm and beauty of life, could not match.
We will try to explain how and why French perfumery has taken an eminent place in the world that cannot be taken away from it.
France owes first of all to the nature of its soil, to the mildness of its climate, to the variety of its physical aspects, a flora which, nowhere in the world, is richer in perfume plants. Provence, especially the region of Grasse, is a privileged land in this respect. Attempts have been made to acclimatise certain varieties of Provençal flowers in other countries, such as California, which are also bathed in light and heat: the results obtained have been magnificent from the point of view of colour and the appearance of the flowers, but these beautiful exiles had lost their soul and no longer gave any perfume. One cannot transplant the vines of Burgundy, Champagne and Bordeaux to make wines elsewhere that are as good as the wines of France; the same is true of Provençal flowers - there is no place in the universe that provides the perfumer with a richer palette of more brilliant and finer colours to compose his creations.
Secondly, the art of perfume, so well served by nature, requires of those who practice it a set of intellectual qualities which are either the result of an old national artistic culture or the product of particularly delicate scientific research. The great difficulty of this art is the need to bring together taste, a sense of measure and harmony, which, in the use and dosage of natural essences, these so complex compounds, make it possible to avoid dissonance and to present a whole that is both subtle and powerful.
In this respect, French taste is without rival in the world, because it has been formed over long centuries of polite and refined social life. The perfumers' guild dates back to 1190, when, under the reign of Philippe-Auguste, the choir of Notre-Dame de Paris was just completed. At the Court of our kings, especially since the sixteenth century and especially under the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV, the art of perfumers found the environment of refined elegance where it could best develop. Since the Revolution, the progress of well-being has not ceased to extend the use of perfumes, at the same time as the progress of chemistry has allowed us to better understand plants, the way in which nature, the most skilful of chemists, elaborates its perfumes, in the mystery of the silent existence of plants. It is not sufficiently known at home and abroad what a marvellous amount of scientific research has been carried out in our country over the last century, and particularly over the last thirty years, to make the most of our floral riches. Our scientists, more particularly our chemists, have succeeded in the study of perfumes as brilliantly as the Germans in that of colours, and their discoveries, obtained by this method at the same time clear, ingenious, patient and precise which is one of our intellectual privileges, are one of the most undeniable titles of glory that French science can claim.
Finally, these qualities of taste and technique would not have been sufficient to obtain for the products of the French perfumery the worldwide preference of which they are the object, if a pleiad of artists had not come to bring to the perfumers, in order to present their creations, the help of their own skill and talent. We are referring in particular to those master glassmakers who have completely renovated the crystal bottle industry over the last twenty years, and are now producing millions of true works of art. Alongside them, the master printers and cardboard makers add every day, with an inexhaustible fecundity of inspiration, always maintained in the rules of the most reliable taste, more elegance to the presentation of the boxes and caskets where the products of our great brands are enclosed.
For all these reasons, we can see how worthy the Perfumery was of the place given to it at the Grand Palais during the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs. There are indeed few industries which can offer such a synthesis of the natural riches of our soil and the intellectual qualities of our race. Its marvellous development is due, for the most part, to the one and the other; it is also due to the industrial and commercial effort made by the heads of our great companies. However, above the legitimate concern for personal interests, which, as we saw at the beginning, go so well with the national interest, the French perfumers place in a high spirit of trusting and cordial confraternity, the pride of serving and maintaining the artistic reputation of France.
©L'Illustration - 1925