The original pioneering perfume

12 Sep 2017

Perfume is changing. Today a new generation of perfumers are using new synthetic ingredients to challenge the way we think about scent.

Synthetic ingredients transformed the perfume industry. Paul Parquet of Houbigant was the first to deploy them in 1884, closely followed by Aime Guerlain’s perfume Jicky in 1889. But it was not until the turn of the century, when a young entrepreneur, Francois Coty, saw the potential in these new materials to bring perfume to a mass market that the modern perfume industry as we know it today was born. This rapidly expanding menu of synthetic aroma chemicals allowed Coty and other brand founders to create completely new styles that stood out from the soliflores and other timid women’s scents of the day.

His iconic fragrance L’Origan de Coty was first released to the market in 1905 and was pioneering in its use of synthetic ingredients in conjunction with natural materials. Coty partnered with chemists Chuit & Naef to incorporate the latest new scent molecules. Notes including carnation, orange flower and violet contributed to a powdery, cosseting style quintessential to the Belle Epoque era. 

L'Origan de Coty Advertisement, circa 1950
L'Origan de Coty Advertisement, circa 1950
L'Origan de Coty
L'Origan de Coty

Crucially, Coty also understood the lifestyle aspirations at play in the new department stores. He took fine fragrance’s codes – ornate packaging, intriguing names, sophisticated compositions – and replicated them at an industrial scale making them available to the many. It was the first floral oriental perfume, and it style has come full circle and retuned as ‘floriental’, which has dominated the mainstream perfume market in the last decade.

L’Origan de Coty is one of ten iconic perfumes from the 20th century featured at the start of our Perfume exhibition. Whilst vintage bottles trade for large sums amongst a dedicated online community of fumeheads, the fragrance as it was in 1905 is no longer available commercially. Thankfully, Coty have recreated the scent of L’Origan especially for the exhibition, allowing you a rare chance to experience the original scent of modern perfumery.

Iconic fragrances in Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent
Iconic fragrances in Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent

Reconstructing L'Origan

Unlike wine, once bottled perfume has a relatively short shelf-life of about five years. To experience a fragrance as it was in 1905 the only option is to recreate it, a challenging prospect given that anyone attempting to can only rely on anecdote and general knowledge of how perfume smelt at the time.

Finding the right materials as they would have been in 1905 also provided a substantial hurdle. Some ingredients have changed over time, due to different extraction methods, whilst others are no longer available - animalic ingredients, for example, having been substituted as they are no longer considered ethical. Working from an original 1950s formula, and after a number of iterations, Coty were able to recreate an approximation of the scent as it was at the turn of the century. A beautiful perfume to reconstruct, it was also an expensive one, given its reliance on rare and hard-to-source ingredients, in particular the floral oils.

‘You are literally smelling history, the smell of the Belle Epoque”

William Andrews, Coty

Whilst it is impossible to know whether the scent recreated for the exhibition is identical to the 1905 L’Origan de Coty, the fragrance produced is a true ‘old-fashioned’ fragrance and allows you to revisit another era through your sense of smell. Furthermore, by placing it next to ckOne within the exhibition - the defining scent of the 1990s - you are able to experience the transformation of perfume over the duration of a century through two era-defining fragrances.