Once in a decade, Chanel launches a new perfume to take our breaths away, literally. And this month, Chanel introduced Gabrielle in the Palais de Tokyo, Paris. As Chanel always sticks to its root with a touch of contemporary, the event was filled with virtual reality and selfie booths for the millennial guests with Kristen Stewart being the face of the perfume. But the class and elegance of the iconic Chanel perfume, from the fragrance to the bottle and packaging remains legendary.
Previously, we got a chance to visit Grasse, the perfume capital of the world in South of France, where we got familiar with the process of perfume making in some of the oldest perfumeries. The whole concept of perfumes and what it takes to be a ‘nose’ make us wonder – why and how did it all happen?
Everything has a particular smell by default. It is said that a scent is used to hold a memory, and different scents hold different memories for every nose. Also, every time a scent is sprayed, it is going to smell different, as its effect changes with time and weather.
Although nowadays, we use special fragrances to smell good, maybe for some of us, it is just another luxury product. But in ancient times, people used fragrances to keep away unpleasant smell. Only the Royals could afford to wear a pleasant scent, just like King Louis XIV, ‘the perfume king,’ not only wore scented clothes but also used scented furniture, walls and even crockery. While the one who could not afford such luxuries had one more element added to differentiate in their status, hence, they started using cheaper versions of scented oils.
The invention of fire was a turning point in the civilisation of perfume and the very significance of the word ‘perfume’ means ‘through smoke’. It gives out a hint of the origination of the scent in ancient times. The fragrance of different flowers and herbs were discovered while they were burnt for medical and culinary purposes. Women would stand near the burning flowers to trap the smoke in their hair to smell good. Soon, people started using such flowers and herbs for religious purposes. It was said that to make a scented sacrifice would make the God happy.
Soon, the art of perfume making was invented to preserve the pleasant smell. The map of perfumeries in the ancient time takes us from the Middle East to Indus valley in India and to France and England in Europe. The Islamic and Mughals widely used scented oils and incense sticks for beautification. The scented flowers, herbs, wood and fluids from animals were crushed to excrete oils. It was mixed with a proportionate amount of water and alcohol in distilleries to create the perfect cologne.
Strong and spicy scents were used for colognes for men while milder and sweeter scents were used for women. However, the kings and queens would customise scents according to their own preferences. Colognes had a history of seduction, for instance, we are familiar with the story of Cleopatra spraying strong cologne on her knees for Caesar to smell, bringing him down to his knees. Apart from the beautification, killing was another purpose of scents. The chemistry gave its way to different mixtures of venomous oils from the animals and poisonous herbs as the scent were not only sprayed on clothes but also rubbed on the skin.
As the art of perfume making evolved, use of animal fluids or testing on animals was banned and synthetic oils were developed. Also, 100% perfumes are expensive to afford, so, different variations of colognes were introduced. Of course, the cheapest one has the least amount of perfume and doesn’t stay on your body for long.
Even unintentionally, our likes and dislikes always involve the smell of the product. Even if we don’t notice, a no-smell product has a smell. Everything smells, there could be no good or bad, as it is different for every nose.
Where do you think perfumes will take us in the future?
Text: Pinanki Shah
Images: Le Labo, Perfume Society, Chanel