Annick Le Guérer

Perfume From Early Times to the Present Crisis Publication date : October 13, 2005

Ovid tells us that the sorceress Medea resuscitated and rejuvenated Jason’s father, King Aeson, by replacing his blood with an aromatic brew. Far from being regarded as a vital life force, as it was in mythology, perfume today has become a banal consumer product, sold in department stores. How, asks Annick Le Guérer, did perfume lose its prestige?
The development of modern perfumery has been slow, but it has been marked by a series of progressive breaks. First, perfume broke with its sacred function; later, it broke with its therapeutic and pharmaceutical uses; and, more recently, it has broken with nature itself. The perfumer-priest gave way to the perfumer as apothecary, doctor, glover, couturier, artist, chemist and industrialist. Chemistry and the revolution brought about by synthetic molecules have broken the age-old links between perfume and the vegetable and animal world. As a result, perfume has become an abstract, disembodied product to be marketed.
Annick Le Guérer relates the history of perfume from ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman times to the modern age. She describes the golden age of the French court at Versailles, the era of Coty, Guerlain, Caron, Chanel, Lanvin and Patou, and the triumph of large industrial cosmetic and detergent groups.
She examines the state of perfumery today and some of its most creative trends. Given contemporary industrial concentration and the commercial strategies of large distributors, she asks if luxury perfumers and the new “independent” companies will succeed in providing the creative impetus to a sector that should remain linked to the realm of fantasy.
This complete panorama of a fascinating area of the fashion and luxury industries offers a wealth of historical information in a clear, elegant style. It is also a careful examination of the state of the art of perfumery today. The author sees the opposition between creative diversity and industrial concentration as the main challenge facing the sector today.

An anthropologist, historian and philosopher, Annick Le Guérer specialises in the study of scents, perfume and the sense of smell. She is the author of Les Pouvoirs de l’odeur