There are many lesser-known but still storied perfume and skincare brands that may not be known worldwide like Coty and Revlon but are famous within the confines of their own countries. Many of these companies produce hand-made and hand-packaged natural products as they have for decades if not centuries. People who are “in the know” are patrons of some of these houses because they understand the quality and appreciate the care and attention that goes into manufacturing their products.
To give you an example of a fragrance house you’ve probably never heard of let’s take the Pharmacy of the Convent of Santa Maria Novella (PCSMN) in Florence, Italy. Florence has been the Italian capital of fragrance since the Renaissance and since 1612 the PCSMN has been manufacturing different ointments, elixirs, essences, tinctures, creams, and soaps on these premises. In fact, some of their products are still made according to the original formula of the Dominican monks. During the 1700s they began to export their products and amassed a small but loyal following which continues to this day. If you ever visit Florence and are interested you should visit the Convent and perhaps purchase either one or both of their most famous offerings a calming elixir (top of the page) and/or their pomegranate soap.
Acqua di Parma from Parma, Italy is another lesser-known but far more famous house that made one line of fragrances and skincare products. The LVMH Group acquired the brand in 2001, since then they have not only expanded their global reach but also created line extensions. The original Acqua di Parma was just the Colonia. It became an instant success in Europe due to the lightness and freshness of the cologne which was in direct contrast to the fragrances of the time which were very heavy. In its heyday, during the 1930s and 1950s, it became to go-to fragrance for celebrities, royalty, and high society.
Another giant in Europe and the symbol of French perfume making but lesser known here in America is Guerlain. Back in 1828, Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain opened a perfume counter where he began selling British perfumes. Soon though he began manufacturing his own fragrances, creams, soaps, and ointments. In 1834, he introduced Creme Ambroisie of which a version is still available today. In 1842 he developed the first of many perfumes that became the favorites of Parisian high society. Coty was the first to bring perfumes to the masses, prior to him fragrances and perfume were very expensive and only the ultra-wealthy at the time could afford them. Then in 1853, he introduced Eau de Cologne Imperiale which was made specifically for Empress Eugenie. After Geurlian as mentioned two other houses, Coty and Heubigant became major players, and to this day they are still the top three most prominent and most important perfume houses in France.
The first cologne as you might guess did come from Cologne (Klon), Germany, and traces its genesis in 1792 when Wilhelm Mulhens was given a wedding present of parchment with the recipe for “Aqua Mirabilis” which means miracle water by Franz Carl Gereon Maria Farina who was a Carthusian monk. It became the original Eau de Cologne which translates directly to “water of Cologne.” It was named 4711 Echt Kolnisch Wasser. Soon after the wedding, Mulhens began distilling the fragrance in his home which was located at 4711 Glockengasse in Cologne. It sold very well and was eventually copied by many and sold under the same name. This caused his grandson to register the name of the original under the 4711 trade name to distinguish it from the imposters. To this day the recipe is still a secret, but like all fragrances back then, it was created with citrus notes. In addition, it has notes of rosemary, neroli, and lavender. Not surprisingly these scents, herbs, and flowers are still used today in thousands of different combinations because we love them so much. Logically 4711 was also the first unisex fragrance in history.
Creed today is a far better-known fragrance house than it was in the late 20th Century. However for those who don’t know it has been around since 1760. James Henry Creed was a tailor in London. Shortly after opening his shop, he began to manufacture perfumes that quickly caught on in high society across Europe and became very popular. Empress Eugenie who was Napoleon IIIs wife and an avid fan of perfume convinced Creed to relocate to France in 1854. Creed had created a perfume specifically for her which he called Jasmin Imperatrice and she wanted a constant supply. Having him near ensured this would be possible. Creed created fragrances that were adopted by film stars, monarchs, high society, and athletes. In some department stores, they have a list of famous people who wore various different Creed fragrances. Creed is known for making specific fragrances for individuals; for example, Aubepine Acacia was created for Jane Fonda and Selection Verte for Mohammad Reza Pahlavi the last official King of Iran. These fragrances are still available today. In fact, Creed has so many fragrances that they cannot all be available at the same time. They release and claw back fragrances all the time. Queen Victoria had her favorite which was Indiana and Empress Sissi of Austria loved Vanisia. Creed even famously created a fragrance for The Titanic based on Algae, seaweed, and honeydew melon. Today Creed still uses an unusually high percentage of natural ingredients compared to the industry. They weigh, mix, wash, and filter all of their ingredients by hand. You’ll definitely pay for a bottle of Creed but if you find a fragrance you love, chances are you’re not going to find someone who wears the same fragrance.
England is not to be outdone by any country. It is the birthplace of many very important perfumers and cosmetics manufacturers. Bronnley founded in 1883, a soap and perfume maker touts themselves as the “makers of the best soaps in the world” and they consistently receive all royal warrants available at any given time.
Penhaligon founded in 1870, also makes fragrances, soaps, and creams. Floris was founded in 1730 and were the perfumer to Queen Elizabeth II when she was alive. D.R. Harris founded in 1790 make what they call the Morning Reviver Pick-Me-Up Elixir as well as fragrances, shaving, soaps, skincare, and bath and body products.
Of course, there is Yardley of London founded in 1770 also a fragrance, bath, and body product manufacturer. Then there are the upstarts and young companies such as Lush who make soaps, body sprays, and bath bombs that cater to the younger more hip set with imaginative modern names while at the same time keeping very high standards with carefully selected natural raw materials. With all of that said most of these English manufacturers’ products are also available the world over and most (not all) are at price points that are easily affordable for those who wish to explore these types of preparations.
Not to be outdone America has Kiehl’s which was founded in 1851 and produces extremely high-quality hand-made products. They do not advertise and prefer to remain traditional producing shampoos, cleansers, lotions, creams, and lipsticks to name a few that once tried, win over almost everyone. Kiehl’s supplies countless, celebrities and high-profile individuals who desire the finest apothecary skincare available.
Mme V. Fontaine (Fashion Blogger for ChicChicChic.com)
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