Transport yourself to the elegant era of the 1890s with five iconic fragrances created during the golden age of perfume.
The turn of the century was a time of innovation and creativity in perfumery. Brand new synthetic ingredients gave perfume makers an expanded palette for crafting complex scents. The field was still dominated by French houses, many with long and storied histories supplying royalty and nobility. Perfume took center stage as a luxury status symbol, particularly in Victorian and Belle Epoque high society.
While perfume styles may have changed over the decades, these fragrances from the 1890s still retain an aura of beauty, quality, and tradition. Their exotic blends of natural essences and extracts capture a lost world of refinement and artistry. With the right care and application, vintage perfumes can still smell rich, deep, and radiant today.
This article will explore the story behind five of the most influential perfumes from 1892. Discover their origins, unique note compositions, and lasting legacies. Then get tips for acquiring and enjoying these antique fragrances to channel the splendor of late 19th century perfumery.
The Leaders of Perfume’s Gilded Age
France dominated the luxury perfume industry in the 1800s, as it had for centuries prior. In 1892, most major French perfume houses had already been in business for decades if not hundreds of years. Their coveted scents were long associated with aristocracy and high society.
Yet this was also a period of innovation.Perfume makers were experimenting with new synthetic ingredients and production methods inspired by organic chemistry. These developments allowed perfumers to create increasingly complex fragrances.
Below are five of the most prestigious names in perfume as the 19th century drew to a close:
Guerlain – Founded in 1828, Guerlain was already renowned for luxurious, high-quality fragrances by 1892. The house would release its iconic Shalimar perfume in 1925. Guerlain took inspiration from the exotic East and used rare natural ingredients in its perfumes.
Houbigant – Established in France in 1775, Houbigant pioneered the use of synthetic compounds and animal extracts in its perfumes. The brand was a favorite of Marie Antoinette and later introduced floral blends like Quelques Fleurs in the early 20th century.
Lubin – Starting as the official perfume supplier to French royalty in 1798, Lubin was the epitome of classic French refinement. One of its most successful creations was the fruity-floral Idole launched in 1892.
Coty – Launched in 1904 by François Coty, this house brought modern innovations to perfumery. Coty introduced new techniques for blending essences and popularized the use of man-made ingredients. Known for chypre scents like Emeraude.
Baccarat – Originally a luxury crystal maker, Baccarat began producing perfumes in the 1870s housed in gorgeous glass flacons. Its 130-year-old fragrance L’Eau de Baccarat remains an icon today.
Capturing the Essence of the 1890s
The five perfumes profiled below offer a window into the golden age of perfumery. Each influential in their own way, their sophisticated blends and exquisite presentations reflected the beauty and style of the era. Discover the story behind each antique scent.
Jicky was one of the earliest modern perfumes, created by master perfumer Aimé Guerlain and launched under his family’s house in 1889. Breaking from traditional single floral fragrance families, Jicky mixed citrus, herbal, woody, and balsamic notes in an entirely new way.
The stimulating citrus opening of bergamot and lemon balanced intriguing hints of lavender, vanilla, and exotic spices. Named after a family nickname, Jicky foreshadowed the blending artistry that would come to define French perfumery. Its innovative formula has captivated perfume lovers for over a century.
Houbigant Fougère Royale
Introduced in 1882, Fougère Royale profoundly influenced modern perfumery. Created by Houbigant perfumer Paul Parquet, it was the first perfume based around a fern-like synthetic note called coumarin. Previously used sparingly, Fougère Royale deployed coumarin to give a green, herbaceous aroma letting Parquet evoke the scent of the fougère plant.
The perfume opened with Lavender, artemisia, and bergamot. Geranium, carnation, and orris root comprised the floral heart. But the real star was coumarin intermixing with oakmossabsolute in the base. Fougère Royale spawned an entirely new family – the fougère fragrances that reinterpreted the fern-like accord through the decades.
Idole arrived on the perfume scene in 1892 courtesy of the House of Lubin. Marketed as a sensual and aristocratic fragrance, its luminous floral bouquet contained May rose, jasmine, tuberose, and lily of the valley. Bright aldehydes lent a shimmering quality.
Base notes like amber, musk, sandalwood, and vetiver warmed and softened the florals. Considered one of Lubin’s triumphs, Idole was a romantic yet womanly scent – the epitome of Parisian femininity. Graceful florals accented by fruit evoked an aura of intimacy and lavishness.
When François Coty introduced L’Origan in 1905, it became the first blockbuster perfume of the modern era. Coty pioneered new techniques like enfleurage using animal fats to capture flower essences. With L’Origan, he blended synthetic ingredients with natural floral extraits in an innovative way.
Clove and carnation gave L’Origan spicesweet warmth. Jasmine added white floral richness. Citrusy bergamot and orange blossom kept the composition from becoming too heavy. Coty wished to make high-quality perfume affordable to the bourgeois classes. L’Origan was approachable yet utterly elegant – the original designer perfume.
Baccarat Eau de Baccarat
Baccarat had been producing crystal flacons for perfumes since the 1870s. Sensing the potential of the fragrance market, the company finally launched its own in-house perfume in 1870: Eau de Baccarat.
The name highlights the transparency and purity associated with Baccarat crystal. Crisp citrus notes of bergamot, neroli, and petitgrain evoked light sparkling through a prism. Herbs like lavandin added an unexpected twist. Hints of musk and cedar softened the bright accords.
Splashed in a faceted crystal bottle, Eau de Baccarat embodied luminous freshness with understated sophistication. Its citrus-herbal aroma made it effortlessly wearable. For Baccarat, perfumery represented one more art form to be shaped by the hand of a master artisan.
How to Apply and Appreciate Vintage Perfume
Thanks to dedicated perfume collectors and conservators, samples and bottles of these antique fragrances can still be acquired today. Here are some tips for making the most of vintage scents:
- Start with mini sample vials to test out new-to-you perfumes before purchasing full bottles. Vintage perfumes can be more concentrated than modern versions.
- Use a light touch when first applying so vintage fragrances don’t overwhelm. You can always reapply more. Prime wrists, throat, collarbones, and shoulders when testing.
- Pay attention to how perfumes evolve and waft as body heat warms key notes. Vintage perfumes reveal multiple layers over hours. Give each phase time to develop.
- Smell the fragrance up close then step back several feet to appreciate how scent projects. Vintage perfumes are designed to leave an impression.
- Take notes on your impressions of each perfume for comparison. Evaluate what you enjoy and look for in a vintage fragrance.
- Store vintage perfumes properly in a cool, dark location to prevent deterioration. Never expose bottles to heat, humidity or direct light.
- Rotate your vintage perfumes to give them equal wear. Fragrances can start to evaporate and deteriorate if left sitting too long.
- Consider wearing your most precious antique fragrances only for special nights out. Vintage perfumes have a timeless charm perfect for momentous events.
The allure of antique perfumes owes so much to their rich histories and aura of timeless glamour. With proper care, fragrances from even over a century ago can remain captivating masterpieces. A touch of the past on your skin.
Common Questions About Vintage Fragrances
Experimenting with antique perfumes often raises new questions for perfume enthusiasts. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
How do I know if an old perfume has expired?
Signs of a spoiled vintage perfume include change in color, cloudiness, separation of liquids, musty/sour odor. Still generally safe to test on skin but may have lost complexity.
Where can I buy authentic vintage perfumes from the 19th century?
Specialty vintage perfume retailers online, antique stores and shops, estate sales, auction sites like eBay. Confirm legitimacy of products when able.
Why don’t some antique perfumes smell as strong?
Age can cause subtle top notes to deteriorate. Doesn’t mean the perfume is rancid. Base notes last longer in vintage fragrances.
Is it risky to try old perfumes on my skin?
No, unless bottle contents clearly show signs of spoilage like mold. Apply lightly. Discontinue use if any irritation. Test on smaller skin area first.
How long does antique perfume last on skin vs. new perfume?
Vintage scents often contain a higher concentration of perfume oils, so may last longer with only minimal application.
Were vintage perfume ingredients better quality than today?
Not necessarily better, but different. Many vintage perfumes relied more heavily on natural plant extracts vs. synthetic notes in modern perfumes.
Why aren’t 19th century perfumes still sold today?
Changing consumer tastes, trends, and regulations. Some vintage perfume houses closed over time or discontinued certain fragrances.
How should I store antique perfumes?
In a cool, dark place with minimal temperature fluctuations. Keep bottles away from heat, light, and oxygen exposure. Store tightly sealed in original packaging when possible.
Can I wear antique fragrances daily like modern perfumes?
Better suited for occasional wear due to age, rarity, and strength. But no hard rules against daily wear if you use a delicate touch.
Immerse Yourself in Perfume’s Gilded Past
Once seen as outdated relics, vintage perfumes now offer a portal into perfumery’s glamorous past. Their appeal owes so much to their rich histories and the near-mythical origins captured in those antique bottles. With patience and care, perfume lovers can experience what once delighted the most refined figures of a bygone era.
Have you tried any of the 19th century perfumes described in this article? Share your thoughts on these vintage fragrances and how their magic endures after so many decades. The right antique perfume still possesses the power to conjure images of beauty, luxury, and style at the dawn of the modern age.