Salon de la Perfumerie

by Lucy Jane Santos

For more of an overview of L’ Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes read

With 15,000 exhibitors spread across twenty countries, there was a real need for the exhibits to be divided into categories. So, the displays were separated into 37 different classes under five broad categories. Group III ‘La Parure’ encompassed classes 20 to 24 – clothing, accessories, fashion, perfumes and jewellery.

That this group was so large and necessitated such subdivision goes a long way to showing how important it was to the French and how important the industry was considered to be to the economy. In fact, Group III was considered an important decorative art in itself.

Perfume (classe 23) was probably only second to fashion in importance and, since many of the haute couture fashion houses had their own perfume lines completely intertwined.

Group III exhibits were displayed in several different locations over the 72 acre site including the Pavillon de l’Elégance, Pavillon Parfums Fontanis, Rue des Boutiques, Three Barges and at the Grand Palais.

It was at the Grand Palais where there was the largest selection of perfume exhibitors – at the specially designed Salon de la Perfumerie. This was a large, octagonal shaped room crowned by a cone shaped ceiling lined with white pleated muslin. Beneath this magnificent focal point the upper half of the room was covered by six metal panels – etched with abstract stylized motifs. And if that wasn’t enough underneath there was a magnificent glass waterfall by René Lalique. This, known as the Fontaine des parfum, was made from interlaced sheets of frosted glass to form a cascading fountain design. This was the centrepiece for six vertical design cases – coloured panels of deep purple with silver fluting – that housed the exhibits of perfume houses including Rosine, Gueldy, Lublin and Plassard.

These central cases clearly had pride of position in the salon and were designed to highlight the products from each house. Whilst you can be sure that each company would have displayed their most successful and most beautifully designed items there are very few descriptions that detail exactly what each company chose to exhibit. However, we can put these together from various sources. So, we know to give one example, that Paul Poiret’s Parfums de Rosine displayed bottles of the Lalique designed D’ou Vient-II, as well as Coeur en Folie, Nuit de Chine and Toute La Foret in its magnificent green and gold bottle.

Not content with this impressive central display there were also a series of small alcoves around the outside wall of the room fitting in even more exhibitors – each of whom had their names in bright lights above their display.

Surviving photographs do not always do this display justice – and descriptions are sketch and incomplete. We know from contemporary writers that each exhibit in this area was slightly different: that there was one that was decorated all in gold, another that used green silk wall coverings as decoration, another had painted panels installed with representations of flowers.

It’s possible that it is this display – from the perfumers Bourjois – that is the painted flowers as you can just about see something like a tree or daisy at the back. Certainly, it was described by contemporaries as being a ‘temple of beauty’ due to its altar with an idol of a naked woman made from gold atop of it. In this image, you can just about see that at each side of the entrance were glass enclosed pillars containing their exhibits – makeup, creams and perfumes. Again, we do not know exactly what was on display here – it certainly wouldn’t have been Soir de Paris (Evening in Paris) as that didn’t launch for another few years. But we can see from advertisements of the period what they had for sale during 1925 and take a good guess at what visitors would have seen.

Bourjois advert, Vogue  (USA) 1924

Sometimes the images are good enough to just about identify what was on display. This case is from the perfumers Corday et Jovoy and on the second shelf you can just about make out their signature perfume bottle which was a gold bird cage with love birds handing in the centre. 

The perfumery Isabey presented 6 fragrances on their display including

Le Lys Noir, La Route d’Emeraude, L’Ambre de Carthage, Cyprus Celtic, Sir Gallahad and Jasmin of Isabey.

The Exposition was the ideal opportunity to showcase new products and new display techniques so they also presented Le Collier d’Isabey – six bottles made from iridescent glass created by the glassworker André Jollivet who perfected the technique of adding laquer to blown glass to create the effect. Le Collier won Isabey a gold medal at the Exposition which was a feather in the cap for the company.

Maison Violet showcased perfumes such as Pourpre D’Automne (in its bottle made by the French goldsmith and jeweller Lucien Gaillard) but also its metal gold tone compacts and lipstick. They won a Grand Prix for excellence.

Berlan, Lederlin et Cie manufactured metal powder boxes many of which were on display and featured in La Parfumerie Francaise et l’art dans la presentation and Lesquendieu showcased makeup kits in green and gold.

L. T. Piver displayed their perfumes Volt and La Vallée des Rois as well as contributing a souvenir for the fair. This gold tone metal powder compact features a profile of a woman’s head and tiny powder puff decorations. On the back is inscribed ‘Souvenir De L’Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, 1925. L.T. Piver, Paris.’ Am not sure if these would have been on sale or given away but it is certainly a beautiful piece.

The whole effect would have been visually stunning but not, we should note, an olfactory overload as the perfumes were all kept behind glass cases. 

The President of the Perfume Section of the Exposition, R. Bienaime, later wrote: “In the history of French Perfumery, the year 1925 will mark an important date, because the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts, by placing Perfumery at the forefront of the luxury industries which contribute to the adornment of women, has restored to it its real place and consecrated its exact role in the most personal production of our country, where French measure and taste are manifested, all of the art industries, which are the finest jewels of our expansion throughout the world.”[1]

Lucy Jane Santos is a historian specialising in leisure, health and beauty. Her book ‘Half Lives – The Unlikely History of Radium’ was published by Icon Books in 2019.

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