Dora Dockhand and Dolly Deb are neck and neck at the perfume counter. It's a 50-million-dollar scramble, and the manufacturer wins . . . by a nose
LONG BEFORE a Frenchman named Farina invented Eau de Cologne, long before Cleopatra À discovered that a little aromatic spice sprinkled in her hair could make Mark Anthony sit up and bay at the moon, women were using the subtle magic of perfume to enchant unwary males. Leading a man to the altar literally by his nose probably started with Eve, but what has happened to the perfume business since then is enough to make the ancients revolve in their shrouds.
The bottling of exotic smells has grown into a fabulous business, and this year, in Canada and the United States, women from all strata of society will spend more than $50 millions on perfumes. But even this is only a small slice of the perfume melon. Maybe you didn’t know it, but there is perfume in glue, floor polish, paint, shoe leather, blotters—even the suit you wear. Also, perfumes in America are an important ingredient in the half-billion dollar business of toilet soaps, shampoos, shaving lotions, cold creams,
talcums, dentifrices, deodorants, and other cosmetics.
And gone are the days when only the sultry sophisticate could splash herself with some mysterious and heady scent at $80 an ounce. Today the girl on the assembly line is using expensive perfumes (and they run as high as $100 an ounce) with all the nonchalance of the deb who wallows in mink. In fact one of the big problems confronting the perfume trade today is the training of its salespeople not to make rude noises when a lady bus driver or riveter walks up to a swank perfume bar and asks for a costly odor guaranteed to “smolder behind the tips of the ears” with the “delicacy of moonbeams.”
During the war everybody had money for luxuries, and good perfumes were in demand as never before. Soldiers, sailors and airmen wanted their wives and sweethearts to smell like the angels. Lady shipyard workers and welders chased the smell of smoke and grease and ether by sprinkling themselves with heavenly scents that made them feel as irresistible as Bacall putting the blast on Bogart.
Some perfumers were actually alarmed at the overuse of their wares. One large firm issued a warning to women not to plaster themselves with perfume like
a schoolboy whitewashing a board fence. Another urged—“Attract him, don’t stifle him.”
The Dominion’s two most, perfume-conscious cities, Montreal and Toronto, which in normal times accounted for about three out of every five bottles of good perfume bought in Canada, suddenly found themselves competing with prairie towns and small cities booming with new industry. Orders for rare and expensive fragrances rolled in from all parts of the country—from hamlets perfumers had never heard of before. Finally, dwindling stock piles of fixatives and oil concentrates forced many perfumers to ration their “odeursSome even had to stop producing.
Even today things are far from normal. With the spotlight shifting from the girl in uniform or work slacks to the white-collar girl; with the emphasis again on femininity, perfume sales continue to skyrocket. Christmas demands for perfume were at an all-time high. Most perfumers in this country say that, because of this heavy demand, if Lulu wants to smell as “wonderful as a promise . . . maddening as a hope,” she may have to wait many weeks for the goods, even though she has the $40 required to buy herself an ounce of bottled romance.
In Montreal a wholesaler of perfume told me he expected more perfume to be sold in Canada during the next two years than ever before. “War has changed things,” he said. “Women who used to be satisfied with dime-store perfumes are now insisting on the best. We who used to cater to women with ermine pocketbooks have discovered there’s gold in them thar coveralls, too.”
But while the war was patting the perfume trade on the back with one hand, it was knifing it with the other. Manufacturers found themselves cut off from many of their basic materials.' Gone were the famous floral oils from the sprawling jasmine, tuberose, carnation, heliotrope and
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mignonette farms of southern France. Bulgaria stopped shipping attar of roses. And on the other side of the world the ilang-ilang flowers of Malaya and the vetiver and lemon grass of the Dutch East Indies were lost to the Japs. Even sandalwood from India and myrrh from Arabia were denied to perfumers because of a lack of shipping space.
How are perfumes created? Many come into being by design. Others are bornaccidentally. Sometimesa perfume owes its existence to a happy combination of both factors.
Most large cosmetic and perfume houses maintain laboratories in which j chemists, their sensitive noses at the 1 alert, devote many weeks to discovering ! or isolating a single new fragrance.
I Their tools are the floral oils, oak moss,
' musk and coal-tar products from which all perfumes are born. To these they add the animal products that act as fixatives. One of the chief differences between a highand a low-quality perfume is the fixative used in it. These fixatives give a perfume its ability to “cling.” Good perfumes last for hours. Cheaper lines lose their scent quickly when exposed to the air.
Good fixatives are expensive, and many of them must be imported. Ambergris, the stuff a whale secretes when his tummy is upset, is one of the better - known fixatives. Another is tonquin, a substance extracted from the musk glands of the Tibetan deer. And until war moved into Africa, Ethiopian civet cats were the source of a valuable fixative.
One Toronto perfumer smilingly told me, “The Ethiopians collected this fixative by chasing civet cats through a narrow opening in a fence. As the animals scurried through, some of the hardier natives walloped them across the rear with a paddle. Like kicking a skunk, I imagine.”
Though this method of separating the civet cat from its fixative no doubt got results, I found no enthusiasm among Canadian perfumers for adopting similar methods. At Sparkill, N.Y., however, Charles V. Sparhawk has put the socially ostracized skunk to work as a stand-in for the Ethiopian civet cat.
For years chemists on this continent had attempted, without success, to separate the skunk’s fixation element from its skunky smell. Then along : came Sparhawk with a chemical that j did the job. He calls his finished proI duct Petra and it sellsfor$5.25anounce. Perfumers are already buying this fixative as fast as Sparhawk can persuade his skunks to produce it. And though milady may be shocked by the news,, essence of skunk has become an important part of the perfume industry.
Experts Are Born That Way
At the big new Colgate factory in Toronto, C. S. Brown, a tall, friendly Jamaican, who looks more like an artist than a chemical wizard interested in smells, told me, “The fixative not only keeps the oils from evaporating too quickly but some fixatives give a perfume that sultry, intoxicating appeal t’hat is supposed to transform a rational dignified male into a four-alarm fire.
“A good perfumer,” sávs Mr. Brown, who does not consider himself an expert, “is born, not made. He must
have a good nose.....a natural ability to
isolate and identify smells. Not all noses are sensitive to smells. A perfumer should be able to pick out maybe 15 or more separate odors in a perfume,
where the nose of a layman would identify only one.
“A chemist’s nose can tell him a lót about a perfume,” he says, “but it can’t tell him whether or not he has created a hit. Bringing out a new perfume is an unpredictable business— a gamble. An intriguing name, a lavish bottle or package coupled with clever advertising may help sell the product. But the perfume itself has to be good too.”
Mr. Brown, who is primarily interested in scenting soaps and cosmetics, knows from experience the pitfalls of the perfume business. “For instance,” he explains, “you may develop a scent that is wonderful. Then you put it in a soap and a few days later the odor has changed completely. Instead of being delightful it’s obnoxious. Itwould break your heart.”
Months, sometimes years, are spent in developing a new perfume formula. One of the famous Ciro odors was seven years in the making. Another leading perfumer spent five years developing a new odor that turned out to be a magnificent “bust.” Chemists considered it a masterpiece but the ladies tilted their noses, and five years of research, along with the new perfume, went back into the company’s vault. Maybe some day they’ll give it another try.
Perfume formulas are closely guarded secrets. Typical of these is Coty’s famous Chypre. Chanel No. 5 is another perfume formula guarded as carefully as the most precious stone. Some of the largest perfume houses own thousands of formulas. Each night they are locked safely away in the company vault or safe. And don’t think you can have a bottle of perfume analyzed into betraying its make-up like a tube of tooth paste or a bottle of soda pop. Perfumes—some of them containing as many as 35 or 40 different constituent odors—can’t be analyzed.
Ask a perfumer how he makes a perfume and you’ll shock him as much as if you tossed acid in the face of his dear old mother. And few men in the business will talk to you about production costs. They, like the formulas, are trade secrets. I did find one wholesaler whose realistic estimate put the actual cost of most perfumes at $1.40 an ounce or less. This doesn’t mean, however, that the difference between the $1.40 and the, say, $17 an ounce plus tax which you pay for a perfume is all gravy for the perfumer. He has to spend a lot of money on luxury packaging and extensive advertising. Then, too, the stores selling the perfume take a sizeable cut. Many work on an 80% markup. Some get as high as 100%.
But women, quick to protest a cent rise in the cost of butter or soap flakes, seldom holler about the price of a perfume. In fact, years ago perfumers discovered that the best way to boost the popularity of an odor was to boost its price. Back about 1925 the perfume trade had its eyes popped when a new brand hit the market at the unheard-of price of $27 an ounce. But. the ladies went for it with open purses, and perfumers discovered that glamour is often judged not by quality but by the price one has to pay for it.
“It is a fact,” Mr. Brown told me, “that some women feel more confident about their perfume if they know it cost a lot of money. There are, indeed, women who select a perfume by its price alone. Goodness knows why.”
But, of course, there are many other factors that influence a woman in the choice of her perfume.
“You’d be surprised,” says Miss
Anderson of the Helena Rubinstein Salon in Toronto, “how many women choose a perfume because it has an intriguing name. In many cases manufacturers actually dream up a name first and then develop a fragrance suited to it.”
There’s no doubt about it—odors labelled “Danger,” “White Flame,” “Tabu,” “Surrender,” “Follow Me,” “Laughter,” or “Secret de Suzanne” have a hypnotic affect on a woman who longs for the day when the man in her life will become putty in her delicate fingers.
Neither is there much doubt about the effect advertising has had in building the greatest perfume rush in history. The slogans around which many perfume ads are fashioned are subtle, suggestive—and, in many instances, not too logical. But they do the job. Women don’t care whether the ad makes sense or not. For instance a woman reads about a new fragrance that is “as precious as the memory of your first kiss,” and she dashes out to buy a bottle even though she’s spent the last 10 years of her life trying to forget that her first kiss came from a 14-year-old redhead with buckteeth and freckles as big as quarters.
And what female wouldn’t be impressed with the perfume that is billed as, “Forbidden—not to be worn unless you can meet its challenge.” Or the one that boasts that it is “a secret weapon . . . makes you so sure of yourself, you can be nonchalant—no matter what happens.”
Some of the perfume ads have a double-barrelled appeal—aimed at both men and women. One famous scent promises, “He will if you wear it . . . She will if you give it.” Another teases you with, “a distinctive, arresting fragrance—not for the timid. Be man enough to give it—and face the consequences.” And still another which warns, “a special perfume, delicately spicy, feminine, haunting as a lovely melody. A little is enough to turn a man’s head.”
Bombarded from all sides by these heady appeals it is little wonder that a woman today splashes herself with a high-powered scent and goes out of an evening feeling somewhat like an atom bomb on legs. Small wonder, too, that women are often confused when it comes to selecting a perfume for personal wear.
“The selection of the correct perfume is a tricky business,” says Miss Anderson. “Back in the days of the hoop skirt a young lady usually selected a refreshing floral scent—just one—and stuck to it. Today a woman knows better. One scent is not enough. She should have several different perfumes on her dressing table—one for every occasion.”
In a large Toronto department store a pretty brunette behind a perfume counter explained to me, “A modern woman should have a perfume to suit each of her men. She should have one to match her personality, her moods— even the clothes she wears.”
Young girls and elderly women, I was informed, should always choose light, refreshing floral scents. Never the exotic, sultry perfumes designed to drive a man out of his wits. College gals should also stick to the lighter odors except on special occasions when a dance date might merit a more haunting blend. If you happen to be the dark, heavy type, you can wear either a light, evasive odor to contrast with your type of beauty or you can use a “smoldering” perfume to harmonize.
“Perfume should always be used with restraint,” another salesgirl told me. “It should whisper—but never shout.”
This advice applies even to the floral scents and bouquets which, incidentally, are recommended for spring and summer wear. “Heavy perfumes are for cool, crisp evenings or for winter,” this young lady told me. “A woman who wears a heavy perfume on a hot sultry day smells like a funeral parlor.”
Though many women don’t know it, the skin is an important factor to consider when buying a perfume. Never just sniff at a bottle stopper. Instead, place a tiny drop of the odor on the back of your wrist or hánd. Let it dry, then smell it. Many cheap perfumes lose their pleasantness when dry. Expensive perfumes sometimes smell even more fragrant upon evaporation. If the skin is acid the aroma of the perfume may be changed entirely. And persons with oily skins should avoid the use of perfumes containing a good deal of musk. What an oily skin does to musky perfume shouldn’t happen to a deer—not even one from Tibet.
Sunlight, too, is detrimental to a perfume, and bottles of rare odors should be kept in the dark as much as possible.
There are definite trends in perfume. During the war, for instance, musky perfumes—those with a frank animal scent about them—were in greatest demand. Many perfumers made no bones about it. They accentuated the primitive. One Ottawa druggist told me, “Maybe the manpower shortage is to blame. Whatever it is, women are demanding musk-type perfumes. To be quite frank, floral perfumes have no sex appeal. They are pleasing to the nose but they do not set off the fireworks in a man’s head.”
Choosing a perfume to suit a mood may be no cinch, but it is child’s play compared with the job of selecting an odor suited to the temperament of a particular male. But the perfumers try to be helpful. At almost any perfume counter a woman can find odors billed as ideally suited to the female whose man is “gay, lighthearted, debonair.” Or for the “brilliant, temperamental though not always dependable” man. Even the “stubborn, hard-to-understand, conservative” type is represented. One character the perfumers seem to ignore, however, is Harry the truck driver who likes to eat garlic sausage and drink beer and who snores unless he sleeps on his left side.
They Like to Dabble
While it is difficult to fit the perfume habits of Canadian women into any rigid pattern, a recent survey conducted by one of the Dominion’s leading beauty editors disclosed that 48% of the women queried chose a perfume because they liked its scent. Seventy per cent said they liked to experiment with unfamiliar perfumes—especially those with alluring slogans; 45% admitted they were swayed by attractive bottles or packaging; and 15% (probably the conservatives) said they chose the one scent most suited to their personality and stuck to it.
And despite the fact perfumers generally agree as to the types of perfumes suited to milady, they are by no means in agreement when it comes to saying how perfume should be worn. Some insist the only proper way to dispense a fragrance is from a handkerchief. But the handkerchief wavers are ridiculed by the behind-the-ear school, who in turn are jeered at by those who favor pinning a piece of perfumed cotton to the corner of a brassiere. Still others say perfume should be daubed on the hem of a skirt, there to rise and envelop milady in a cloud of fragrance as she walks. In Europe women apply perfume to their wrists, to the hollows
of their throats, to their hair, elbows— even along the tips of their eyebrows.
Not long ago, during a visit to Toronto, Esme of Paris created a sensation by saying Canadian women didn’t know how to apply and wear perfume. There was only one proper place for perfume, said Esme—and that was on the kneecaps.
“That suggestion is definitely of the gutter variety,” retorted a Toronto beautician. Others thought it vulgar.
One large perfumer makes a fragrance that is to be applied to milady’s pillow when she retires for the night. It is supposed to bring her sweet slumber—and, I suppose, dreams in Technicolor.
Colgate’s Mr. Brown says that regardless of where a woman wears her perfume “she should apply it behind closed doors. It is a ritual not to be conducted in public.”
For Men Too
While most men would sooner take orders from their mothers-in-law than admit they use perfume, manufacturers of men’s colognes and fragrances report a surprising upshoot on their sales charts. One needs only to thumb through the pages of any of the betterknown men’s magazines to see for himself that there is a new boom in smells for “him.”
A comparative newcomer to the male-perfuming field is the Seaforth line. Aimed directly at the male, this line has hit it rich with such sales appeals as . . . “Here are good grooming aids to set a man up with an air of Scotch heather and fern.”
There are many others too-—Sportsman, Old Spice, The Guardsman, etc. Parfum L’Orlé, for instance, is promoting the Polo Spur series of masculine fragrances. Of course, they too have strictly masculine names — “Sage Brush,” “El Rancho,” and “Check Rein.” After all if a fellow wants to give out with a scent guaranteed to set the little lady panting like a 220-yd. sprinter, he doesn’t want to wear something called “Elusive,” or “Angel’s Kiss.” A fellow is sensitive about things like that, and manufacturers of men’s fragrances know it.
Most of the scents styled for men are blended into colognes, shaving talcs or lotions. They are light scents or bouquets, and they usually come in sets priced from $1 to $10. I was not able to find any perfumer yet with enough nerve to try and win a male following for some heavy-type, longlasting odor such as is so popular with milady.
But there’s no escaping the fact that great numbers of men today refuse to be satisfied with the old lather up, scrape and hot-water rinse technique of shaving. They’re slapping their cheeks with more perfumed lotions and delicately scented toilet waters than ever before.
And why not, ask the women? Most females like their men to smell . . . “clean and crisp as the autumn woods.” Or as another men’s perfuming slogan puts it—“as refreshing as Alpine air.”
Of course, he’s already scented whether he knows it or not. The people who manufactured the cloth for the suit he’s wearing added just enough faint perfume to it to mask the odor of the wool.
The use of perfumes is by no means a habit of this century. Years before man discovered how to use the fragrance of flowers, he delighted in the odor of dry resinous gums and aromatic spices. In ancient times Arab women perfumed their bodies by sitting in, or close to, the smoke from a slowburning fire of spices. As late as the 1920’s, squaws of the Sioux tribes of
Nebraska and South Dakota, following an ancient custom, perfumed their bodies by crouching over smouldering fires of sweet-smelling grasses kindled in holes in the ground.
About 140 B. C. Nicander and the Mohamme dan pharmacists are credited with compounding one of the oldest and costliest of all perfumes—attar of roses—an oil distilled from the petals of roses. In modern times Bulgaria supplies much of the perfume world with this rare fragrance. Bulgarian merchants get about one pound of attar of roses from two tons of rose petals, and the finished product sells for $200 a pound. This has long been one of the most valuable elements in a costly perfume—and perfumers have done wonderful things with attar of roses. Everything but make a perfume from it that smells like a rose!
The Greeks Started It
In ancient Greece perfume was used lavishly to scent hair, clothes—even wine. And it was the Greeks who first mastered the art of making liquid perfumes. Fragrant powders were mixed with oils and kept in a long, narrow onyx bottle called an alabastron. From Greece the perfume habit spread quickly to Home.
In the 10th century an Arab doctor discovered a method of distilling scented water from leaves, and it was through the Crusaders, from the Arabs, that the improved art of perfume making was brought back to Europe. Toilet water, first of the alcoholic perfumes to be distilled, originated in 1370 and was named Hungary by
Elizabeth of Hungary. It was about 1530 that France achieved her supremacy in the blending of rare perfumes, an honor she has never relinquished.
Perfume has often been a favorite with royalty. Henry VIII of England is said to have splashed himself with such great quantities of perfume that he sometimes fainted. During the rêign of Queen Elizabeth even public places were scented. Louise XV demanded a new fragrance every day in each of his apartments; and one of his favorites, Madame de' Pompadour, whose court was known as the “Perfumed Court,” is reported to have spent more than half a million francs a year on perfumes and cosmetics.
Even the mighty Napoleon was a constant user of toilet water and heavily perfumed soaps. After a bath he is known to have poured a whole bottle of Eau de Cologne over his head and shoulders. In three months he is credited with using more than 160 flasks of cologne.
That perfume could waft a susceptible male into the arms of matrimony was recognized long ago. In 1770 a bill was introduced before the English Parliament that had this to say, “All women of whatsoever rank or degree that shall seduce or betray into matrimony any of His Majesty’s subjects by the use of scents, paints, cosmetics, perfumes, false hair, artificial teeth, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes, bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law in force against witchcraft, and that marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void.”