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History

This website is an extension of a guide I created on my perfume history site Cleopatra's Boudoir. On this site, I will discuss the history of the perfumes presented by Rosine, the perfumery by designer Paul Poiret of Paris France. He has the express distinction of being the first fashion designer to establish a perfume company.





All black and white photos have been colorized by me, they may not be accurate, but I think it makes them a little more interesting.

A designer at Doucet before joining Worth, Paul Poiret opened his own fashion house, on the rue Pasquier, in 1904. 



Poiret first came to the attention of the haut monde by reconceiving the female silhouette: he refused to imprison his mannequins in constrictive corsets that left them breathless and misshapen, with the bust and posterior pushed out. It was his opinion that this S-shaped silhouette "made the lady look as if she were hauling a trailer". Instead he made them have a more streamlined silhouette and bound them with gathered fabric around their ankles, creating what would be known as "hobble skirts", forcing them to take mincing steps. Loosely draped fabrics, daring harem pants and exotic textiles were his forte. 



Paul Poiret shop c1904. image: lula.pl


Poiret married Denise Boulet on October 4, 1905 at the Church of the Madeleine. Denise was the daughter of the clothier Emmanuel Boulet, owner of a textile factory in Elbeuf. Denise served not only as a partner in his Poiret's fashion empire, but also as his muse.







Paul Poiret eventually branched out from fashion and created three divisions of his company: Atelier Martine, named after his youngest daughter, which specialized in the decorative arts and furnishings, Les Parfums de Rosine, named after his eldest daughter, and Atelier Colin, named after his son, which was an art studio. 



Poiret initiated the idea of couturier fragrance in 1910, in conference with Henri Almeras where they discussed the synthesis of natural plant extracts of which to date had only been employed in the form of base essences, including orange blossom, rose, jasmine, iris and violet, etc. Spurred on by the conversation, this led him to study the possibilities offered by new synthetic extracts such as ionone, a synthetic violet essence. In 1911, Poiret approached his college friend, Dr. Midy, who happened to own a pharmaceutical laboratory and collaborated with him on the orchestration of various perfume formulas. He was interested the conventional extraction of odors derived from rare flowers, pungent woods like cedar and pine and even unusual exotic scents such as coffee. His first experiments was so encouraging that he soon set up his own laboratory in the mews (a row of apartments that have been converted from old stables) of his house.


It was in these rooms that Poiret set aside in his late 18th century mansion at 39 rue Colisée for his experimentation in the creation of Rosine perfumes. At first, Paul Poiret used to blend scents for his own use as a relaxing diversion, some were used for his own person, not long after, his friends began to inquire if they could purchase his results.



Some fragrances were sprayed in the salons to refresh the stuffy air from poor ventilation, then his salon customers would ask him to create scents for them as well. It seemed that all of his friends and customers wanted perfumes, rather than partake all of the costs involved with making the fragrances himself, the designer took the leap and industrialized his concept and a small perfumery case was installed in the salon holding a few fragrances.

He expanded his perfumery line and opened a small shop in 1911, Les Parfums de Rosine, located to the left of the entrance of the 107 Faubourg Saint-Honore building which housed the Atelier Martine studio. As I had mentioned earlier, the company was named after Poiret's eldest daughter, Rosine. Les Parfums de Rosine sold perfumes, toiletries and cosmetics as fitting accessories for his avant-garde fashions. 

Rosine perfume lab


Many artists and illustrators worked for Rosine. Poiret believed that the success of the fragrances should be as great as his fashions, so he spared no expense in the creation of its packaging. He opened a glassworks and a cardboard factory at 37 Boulevard Verdun in Courbevoie, for the production of bottles and packaging, where he installed thirty to forty staff in these new premises. 

Before 1914, he employed some 300 people working in various spaces in the buildings in the compound. The working hours were from 8am til 7pm, and the factory workers are served a luncheon and wine each day.

By 1919, the production at the Courbevoie factory had filled 200,000 bottles each month. The exotic fragrances were not only destined domestically for the Rosine shop and high end shops in France, but also to department stores in America. WH Calman & Co were his sole agents in Britain. Before Rosine had a opened a retail store in 1928 at  29 W. 37th Street, New York City, the perfumes were distributed by Maurice Levy, Rosine's sole agent in the USA. 


Antique Rosine catalogs have shown lesser known products that prove to be very rare to find today, including travel-sized items, perfumed sachets in the scents of Nuit de Chine, Borgia and Toute la Foret. In addition to perfumes, cosmetics such as daring eyeliner and colorful nail polish. Like French perfumery Molinard had done with their famous Habanita scent - Rosine offered perfumed cigarettes and the ampoules of the exotic scents of Borgia, Le Balcon, Hahna, Maharadjah, Nuit de Chine and others.

Paul Poiret in his perfume factory c1920s. Image: lula.pl

Paul Poiret in his perfume factory c1920s.


Originally a representative for perfumery glassware, Maurice Schaller was invited to run Paul Poiret's perfume department. Schaller then took a keen interest in perfume technology and helped create some of Poiret's perfumes such as Nuit de Chine and his father-in-law, Emmanuel Boulet who both worked worked with him until the start of World War I. After the warhe went on to create other successful perfumes for companies such as Revillon (Carnet de Bal). After the war, Poiret collaborated with perfumers such as Henri Almeras, the creator of Jean Patou's famous perfume, Joy.


The Rosine perfume names evoked the exotic with names such as Le Fruit Defendu (The Forbidden Fruit), Borgia, Nuit de Chine (Night in China), Le Balcon, and Sakyamouni. Nuit de Chine was created by Maurice Schaller and was originally called Nuit d'Orient.


It was the designers at the Atelier Colin workshop who silk screened the paper and cloth which covered luxurious presentation boxes. The packaging of his perfumes and cosmetics resembled the look and materials of his fashions, with great emphasis on vivid colors, opulent textures and harlequin and Oriental lampshade patterns as seen in the fabric covered powder boxes below. 


The perfume bottles for Rosine were produced by French glass manufacturers Depinoix and Lefebure. It was the students at Atelier Martine who carefully painted by hand the fragile glass bottles, especially those for the Rosine Eau de Colognes and the atomizers in vibrant colors. 


The bottles, some of the most beautiful, were very costly such as the luxurious black glass flacon for Borgia. Presented in a unique black crystal bottle with real gold dust in the glass, called "floating gold". Deluxe flacons were manufactured in France by Depinoix. 





Poiret tells a story in his autobiography that indicates that Francois Coty offered to buy his perfumes. 
I was with Rousseau [the chief bookkeeper] in my office, when one morning I saw arrive M. Coty, small and mild mannered, laced into a pale grey suit, with a little straw hat on his head. I didn't know him. A song of my youth came to my lips..he was a little man/All dressed in grey/Hey, hey... 
He seated himself with assurance in an armchair and made me the following declaration: 
"I have come to buy your perfumery business." 
"But", I told him, "it is not for sale." 
"If you continue as you are doing", he answered, "you will take fifteen years before you reach any great importance. If you come with me, you will profit from my management, and in two years you will be worth as much as I am." 
"Quite so, ut in two years, my business will be yours, while in the contrary case, in fifteen years it would still be my own property."  
"You understand nothing about business, Monsieur", he replied, rising brusquely, and squashing his boater on his little head, he departed raging. Silently we watched him go; M. Coty had the dimensions of Bonaparte. 





American Cloak and Suit Review, Volume 7, 1914:
PAUL POIRET MAKES SOME CORRECTIONS. PAUL POIRET of Paris writing in Harper's Bazaar has the following comment to make. "The articles written about my trip to America have been shown me now upon my return to Paris and I am quite aghast at what I am supposed to have said. Happily for me, I hope that the public will judge by my work and not by my words, for the latter have, in most cases, been singularly distorted. The only statement in all these articles which I wish to repeat again and again, is that all styles are admissible, provided they suit the women who wear them.  
Eclectisme is my watchword. But I never said that trousers or trouserettes should be generally adopted. I never said that slit skirts were the correct skirts to wear. I never said that women should dress in loud colors. I never advocated the use of heavy perfumes. I never said that small hats were more attractive than large ones. Those who understood me to make such statements mistook my meaning entirely. I said that a woman should wear whatever is becoming to her, and nothing that is not becoming. That is my first last and only principle."

 




Notions and Fancy Goods, Volume 50, 1916:
"Paul Poiret , perhaps best known to American as the premiere couturier, is also a maker of high grade perfumes, and during the past two years has worked his way up amongst the world’s leading perfumers. Some of his productions, which owing to the high cost of their ingredients are somewhat expensive have nevertheless proven a success wherever shown., particularly the perfume known as Nuit de Chine. This is put up in a replica of an antique Chinese bottle with a blue stopper set in a gold neck and two side handles of blue, enclosed in a gold lined box of gold and deep blue Chinese brocade. This, however, gives but a faint idea of the attractiveness of this package.


The cut herewith illustrates as well as can be done in black and white one of his newest productions. The beauty of the coloring of both the bottle containing the perfume and the box must be seen to be appreciated.
 One of his specialties which is not shown here consists of two long cut crystal bottles with square necks and caps, joined together and put in a box of gold and silver canvas paper. It is called Madame et Monsieur. The label on the box is a very clever sketch in silhouette of a gentleman and lady both having evidently reached the age of contentment and happiness. The two bottles are filled with perfume, one being light to match the silver covering, the other being of an amber tint, matching the gold. The label on the perfume called Madame is a little square of silver with a gloved hand holding a single rose, and that of the perfume called Monsieur consists of the same square, but In gold, and with a gentleman’s gloved hand holding a cigarette. As before stated, both bottles are connected; if you remove one from the package, you must remove the other. This is a very clever idea for an engagement or a wedding present, and gives a slight conception of the very original ideas evolved by this very clever man.
This is very interesting line is put out under the name of Les Parfums de Rosine, Poiret not putting his own name on as the manufacturer, but simply a small label on the bottom which states “Les Parfums de Rosine, Sont Approuves Par Paul Poiret.”



 







Theatre Magazine, 1922:
You all know Paul Poiret as the great designer, the great artist in costume. But we wonder how many of you know him as a master creator of perfumes as well. Yet he is as incomparable in this metier as he is in that of frocks and their bye products. M. Poiret has created marvellous scents, odours to enhance the charm of women. 
He has captured them from plants, from trees, from fruits, from sources which until his originations, were supposed incapable of being transmuted in this fashion. And the results have been a series of perfumes with a subtle quality. a fascinating novelty and modernness hitherto unknown.  
We interviewed M. Poiret at the Ritz the day before he sailed nine thirty of a wild and stormy September morn. And already at that brisk hour, we were third on a list. M. Poiret had been seeing people since eight o'clock. Let no one tell you the artist is an unbusinesslike person, impractical diffuse in talk, unpunctual to engagements. In many instances, we have found him more businesslike and efficient than even the so called professional business man. That is at least, the big artists.  
Our interview with M. Poiret for example, was as smooth, as suave as utterly time-saving, as the best efficiency expert could wish. It flowed in a beautiful curve from the moment when M. Poiret opened the door of his suite for us himself, swankily clad in brown and scarlet cravat, to the end of the half hour when the door closed on us again, the exact measure of gracious courtesy from M. Poiret that the occasion demanded not a superfluous phrase in the telling of his story. Here it is as he gave it in his fluent and excellent English, delightfully tinged with French idiom and accent.  
"To begin with," said M. Poiret, "I have had a very definite purpose as parfumeur... I have tried to create a new aesthetique with my perfumes, as with my clothes, to teach a new way of perceiving odours and scents in general, a new technique in smelling. It occurred to me when I was in the country, and I sleep on the grass, and I smell the verdure, the foliage around me, why is it that people always make perfumes from flowers?... Why not from these things as well? Surely, they are as stirring, as thrilling... these scents of the damp earth, and the leaves, the pine trees, the salt marshes, as those of flowers...much more so to some of us. So I make a perfume from the grass...You know how fragrant it is when you crush it in your hands...And from the boxwood.... And from the ivy... And from the moss... I have made a perfume even from the plants that grow deep in the sea... They have a sharp a bitter smell... how you say amer? Yes, pungent. And when I do use a flower, I take an unusual one like geranium, for instance. "I have made a very wonderful perfume from ivy leaves and geranium leaves combined. I will show you I have some on my dresser."  
M. Poiret makes a swift dart into another room and returns with a small, round bottle with dark, ivy colored stopper. "Mea Culpa is its name." We are urged to put some on the fur collar of our coat, where we are assured it will linger a long time. A French trick evidently, this mingling perfume and fur. We remember it was the manner in which Vorska perfumed us with the divine Sarah's favorite odour... Which reminds us to ask M. Poiret whether he believes in one perfume for a woman, that is always to be identified with her, that lies in the scent of her glove, her handkerchief, that lingers in a room after she has left it... But no, he agrees with us that we are more complex nowadays... A woman needs many scents... But she must choose only those that reveal herself... 
"Some days she is good tempered", twinkled M. Poiret, "and some days she is bad tempered," modifying this momentary lack in French gallantry, with one of the two smiles he permitted himself during the half hour... "So that she must have scents for each mood... and she should have the same diversity for each costume...Just as you say, Madame... But these scents, whether they are six or twelve, all will be in the same tone the same key...They must harmonize with her personality." 
And did M. Poiret believe in any scent for men? We know the Latin thinks differently from our men about that.. The usual American feels that he is not a 100 percent, red-blooded male if he uses any scent, except possibly a touch of eau de cologne, or lavender water after shaving... But why should he not, if he likes perfumes, why should he not wish to use them. 
"There is no reason at all," answers M. Poiret quickly. "But my perfumes are best of all for him, because they are not from flowers, they have a tang...what you call over here 'pep'.. they mingle well with tobacco.. With some of my bottles I have a glass stopper, and with that, one may perfume one's cigarettes. We cannot buy them already perfumed in Paris, since the government owns the tobacco, and we must buy the kind of cigarettes he makes himself.

"I start in making perfumes first as an amateur, for my own amusement and pleasure.. I make them in my own house... And then my friends like them so much they ask me to make some for them... And then I make so many I must ask people to pay... And finally I take up the making of perfumes seriously and now I have my own factory I am happy to see so many of my perfumes in the stores here, too... I have a perfume that is made from old leaves, that rich, damp smell of the woods in autumn... There is one made only of fruits...' Forbidden Fruit' I call it...
 
"Just before I leave Paris, I have made a perfume which I shall call 'Bosquet d'Apollon'. It represents Versailles... all the foliage, the verdure there, after a rain, the scent that comes from the grass and the leaves as you crush them underfoot in walking... It will be ready in a few weeks... I like always that my scents become well known before they are actually ready to be sold. A perfume to be right must stand, be matured in the wood some time, like wine, like a true liqueur..."  
There we found our time was up. And so fascinated had we been by M. Poiret's descriptions, we rushed forth to a round of the various 'beauty counters' to discover who kept the Poiret perfumes, and what were their various names and odors. Succumbing to their lure, we bought two wicked ones for ourself, and three others for Christmas presents. 



Paul Poiret's Fashion Salon:



He had his salons and boutiques renovated with a more modern aesthetic. For instance, Poiret commissioned Edgar Brandt, the premier Art Deco ironworker, to design the grillwork doors and interior staircase shown in the photo above, for his atelier at 1 Champs-Elysées Round Point, 1925.


Paul Poiret's studio.1925

Paul Poiret's studio.1925

Paul Poiret, Paris, October 1925 surrounded by luxurious textiles in his salon. © Lipnitzki / Roger-Viollet. Paris En Images.

Poiret’s coat-kimono. Paris, 1922. © Lipnitzki / Roger-Viollet. Paris En Images.

Poiret dress, 1925. © Lipnitzki / Roger-Viollet. Paris En Images.




Atelier Martine:


Display window at Atelier Martine c1925.

Paul Poiret, Maison Martine. Les salons du 83 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris. / Collections Roger-Viollet / BHVP



Les Parfums de Rosine Boutique:


Display windows for Parfums de Rosine. 1925 © Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet


Entrance to the Rosine perfumery 1925 © Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet

Entrance to the Rosine perfumery 1925 © Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet

 
Inside the Rosine perfumery 1925 © Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet

Inside the Rosine perfumery 1925 © Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet



Great Falls Tribune, 1925:
"Lilac, Poiret grants the most refined odor; chypre the odor one associates with the cafe girl. Flowers from the forest one allotted to the wholesome, vital femme who fills her lungs on foot, not in motors. The heavy oriental perfumes are to be used only by the girl with a dash of the orient in her dress and in her eyes. 
For the light blonde, flat, delicate odors are suggested, such as jasmine, lily of the valley; for the gray haired woman, he prescribes lilac or violet; for the brunette, a combination of rose, carnation, with a touch of chypre; for the sophisticated red head, a lighter odor for the more delicate Titian haired, perhaps a combination of jasmine, tuberose and mignonette. Rose, he tells me, is not for the blonde."



Poiret required ever increasing funds in order to sustain the lavish lifestyle which formed the necessary context for presenting and promoting his businesses which were becoming out of step with the modern times of the Art Deco movement. His orientalist fashions and fragrances were soon seen as old fashioned and dowdy, while designers such as Coco Chanel & Jean Patou kept up with the changing times with their streamlined and sober fashions influencing new trends such as beige suits, short skirts, little black cocktail dresses and sports clothes for women. 

In turn, Chanel and Patou's fragrances were up to date and used sporty and lighter formulas made with newly orchestrated ingredients such as sparkling aldehydes while Poiret's fragrances still were heavy and too far eastern in style. To keep manufacturing costs down, Chanel and Patou used simple, standard bottles to hold all their odors in contrast to Poiret's fanciful but ultimately expensive flasks. Sales were slumping in all directions and he found it hard to keep his businesses afloat. Poiret himself recounted the disdain of his investors: "What is the good of all this useless caprice?...Your flask and your new ideas, we don't want them, they cost too much!"

The perfume Coeur en Folie was introduced at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Poiret tried to keep Les Parfums Rosine in the public's eye and launched advertising campaigns and new perfumes to keep the interest such as Coeur en Folie and 1925




The death knell for the business was the extravagant stunt he put on for the Arts Decoratifs Exposition held in Paris in 1925. He organized three magnificently decorated barges..... 


Poiret lost all financial control in 1925, soon after the Art Deco Expo. In December of 1925, he was desperate to make some money and decided to sell some of his modern art collection including a landscape by Dunoyer de Segonzac which he originally purchased for 900 francs in 1912. It proved to be a wise investment because Poiret was able to get 95,000 for the same picture at his sale. The sale lasted for a few days and attracted many wealthy Parisians, actresses, politicians and even some agents for American collectors. His sale of modern paintings brought a record total of 580,000 francs.




In 1927, Poiret transferred his entire establishment: dressmaking,  interior the decoration (Martine) and the perfumes (Rosine), from the beautiful hotel in the Faubourg Saint-Honore for which he had occupied for many years to 1, Rond-Point des Champs-Elysees.

He set up the Rosine perfumes at his palatial house at Rond-Point as if in a bar, overlooking the famous circular vestibule, where on the ceiling, surrounded by the painted signs of the zodiac that indicated the stars at the moment of his birth, there reigned a classic nude figure of a woman.

In 1928, he and Denise went through an incredibly bitter divorce. 

 Roger Bloch, a financier and friend of Paul Poiret, helped him raise a loan and eventually helped him sell Atelier Martine, his decoration arts studio and Parfums de Rosine, his perfumery concern.

In 1929, his fashion empire folded as his Parisian clientele diminished. He had put up his extensive collection of modern art to help alleviate his crushing debts which seemed endless, but it was not enough to satisfy his creditors and investors. 

Les Parfums de Rosine was acquired by Societe Centrale de la Parfumerie Francais (L. Legrand) in 1930 and managed by Madame Nevarte Cordero. Rosine perfumes still sold were Arlequin, Maharadjah, Aladin, Borgia, Nuit de Chine, Chez Poiret, Coraline de Rosine, La Rose de Rosine, Le Balcon, Hahna, Mea Culpa, Le Bosquet d'Apollon, Le Fruit Defendu, Antinea, Toute la Foret, Pierrot, Mouchoir de Rosine, and La Coupe d'Or.

In 1930 he sold his luxurious villa in Mézy, designed by modernist French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens to the Countess of Foy, Elvire Popesco. The uncompleted project of renovation and design was so expensive that Poiret had never even lived in the main house, instead, he was staying in the caretaker's cottage. Unable to afford his palatial town house, he sold most of the furniture and paintings and moved into an apartment above the Salle Pleyel. 

In 1932, he received notice that his fashion salon on Rond Point was entered into bankruptcy. All of his sketches, fabrics, business files, personal correspondence notes, illustrated volumes he collected from around the world, even a manuscript of a play, a portrait of the Poirets painted by Benito, and above all, his sumptuous clothes were sold in bulk by the pound to the ragpickers.

To support himself after a short hiatus, in 1933, he produced ready to wear collections for the Liberty's of London shop and Paris's own Printemps department store. But this too seemed to implode as his fashions were still not up to date enough for the shop clientele. He was finally evicted from the salon on 21st August 1935 due to significant losses due to the Great Depression. Faced with extreme poverty and living on an unemployed "artists" dole of 10 francs twice a week, he frequented soup kitchens and received dry bread, soup and watery wine at the cost of 3 francs.

In 1936, he was living in a cheap apartment, seven stories up at No. 252, Faubourg-Saint-Honore. Living in a cluttered room somewhat akin to Miss Havisham's boudoir, he was surrounded by the luxuries of his once extravagant past. His exquisite tapestries are now moth eaten, his divans sagging and losing their shape, piled high with faded cushions, his objets d'art now covered in dust, the once sparkling mirrors now darkened with age, paintings draped with diaphanous cobwebs, stacks of papers now littered with the traces of mice and their nibbles. 

He ultimately resorted to bartending at his friend Regine's elegant bar to support his family. Regine, who was once one of his former models, took pity on her old employer and hired him to look after the Bar Corse she just opened at No. 4, Place du Theatre-Francais, not only to pour drinks, but to decorate the barroom, rinse bottles and polish glassware. Instead of being richly attired, he sported suits he made from chopped up tea towels, a shocking departure from the days of him being named the "King of Fashion" living an extravagant lifestyle. Regine gave him some money to purchase a new suit.



Les Parfums de Rosine, Inc. was opened at 20 West 37th Street New York.

Old stock was still being sold off, at drastically slashed prices in 1936. Most of the existing Rosine perfumes were produced until the 1950s in standard presentations.

Poiret took up writing and painting in the last few years of his life, he died from Parkinson's disease virtually forgotten by his once adoring public, in German-occupied Paris in 1944.





Les Parfums de Rosine was resurrected by Bernard and Marie-Helen Rogeon in 1991. Marie-Helen Rogeon is the great granddaughter of Louis Panafieu who created Eau de Colognes for the Emperor Napoleon III and a famous "Pommade des Mousquetaires", a preparation renowned for creating a lacquer-like-finish on moustaches.

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