American Legends

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The evolution of American fragrances

American Legends is the long-awaited companion to Perfume Legends, the cult book in which French perfumers spoke openly for the first time about their work and the sources of their inspiration. “There is no book like it,” stated Edmond Roudnitska, the celebrated perfumer.

Now, in American Legends, Michael Edwards documents the evolution, the richness and the sheer originality of American fragrances from Elizabeth Arden’s Blue Grass (1934) to Le Labo’s Santal 33 (2011). The result is living history, told through the words of the creators behind forty legendary American perfumes.


The evolution of American fragrances

Contents Preface ......................................... 6 Foreword ...................................... 8 1752 to 1929 The Birth 10 1934 Blue Grass 18 1938 Jungle Gardenia 26 1938 Old Spice 32 1943 White Shoulders ............. 38 1953 Youth-Dew ..................... 44 1963 Aramis ........................... 54 1964 Brut .............................. 60 1968 Estée .............................. 66 1968 Norell ............................ 74 1971 Aromatics Elixir ............. 82 1972 Aliage 88 1972 Jōvan Musk 94 1972 Tea Rose 100 1973 Charlie 106 1973 Private Collection 114 1975 Halston ....................... 122 1976 Halston Z-14 ............... 132 1977 Oscar de la Renta ......... 138 1978 Polo & Lauren ............ 144 1978 White Linen ................. 152 1981 Giorgio ........................ 158
Contents Preface ......................................... 6 Foreword ...................................... 8 1752 to 1929 The Birth 10 1934 Blue Grass 18 1938 Jungle Gardenia 26 1938 Old Spice 32 1943 White Shoulders ............. 38 1953 Youth-Dew ..................... 44 1963 Aramis ........................... 54 1964 Brut .............................. 60 1968 Estée .............................. 66 1968 Norell ............................ 74 1971 Aromatics Elixir ............. 82 1972 Aliage 88 1972 Jōvan Musk 94 1972 Tea Rose 100 1973 Charlie 106 1973 Private Collection 114 1975 Halston ....................... 122 1976 Halston Z-14 ............... 132 1977 Oscar de la Renta ......... 138 1978 Polo & Lauren ............ 144 1978 White Linen ................. 152 1981 Giorgio ........................ 158


Perfume is my passion and profession. I am a taxonomist. I classify information. Specifically, perfumes. During the past forty years, my team and I have matched more than fifty thousand perfumes and made online fragrance finders possible. Modern perfume history has always fascinated me but there was very little information about how the iconic fragrances were actually created. Until this century, perfumers were invisible, rarely acknowledged.

While checking my classifications, I would ask perfumers about their newest creations. To my surprise, most were more than willing to talk.

One insight led to another and in 1996, Perfume Legends : French Feminine Fragrances was published. For the first time, perfumers spoke about their work and the sources of their inspiration.

“There is no book like it,” stated Edmond Roudnitska (Eau Sauvage 1966), the most influential perfumer of the 20th century.

I always intended to follow Perfume Legends, with American Legends. One of my first interviews, for example, was with perfumer Joséphine Catapano. I spoke to her about her creation of Fidji (1966) but took the opportunity to talk also about her creation of Youth-Dew (1953) and Norell (1968).

All the fragrances in both Perfume Legends and American Legends have been very carefully selected. Each legend introduced either a new note, a new accord so innovative – Chanel No 5 (1921), cK one (1994) – that hordes of competitors flocked to copy it, or made such an impact that it created a new trend (Opium (1977), Giorgio (1981).

Some inclusions may surprise: Antonia’s Flowers, for example, has disappeared, but it deserves a listing because it pioneered headspace technology.

I am often asked why American Legends took so long to complete. The answer is that my team and I were overwhelmed by the avalanche of new fragrances; in the thirty years from 1995 to 2024, we matched some forty-seven thousand new fragrances.

My sources and the people I interviewed are detailed by fragrance, in chronological order, at the back of this book, My interviews were mostly face-to-face, conducted over a period of twenty-seven years.

American Legends is the result and the first book to document the richness, the sheer originality of American fragrances.

It is living history.

Paris and Sydney



I happen to love perfume!

I’m not alone. Millions are drawn to its magnetic, wonderfully evocative qualities. As alluring as fragrance is on a personal level, it’s also big business.

In American Legends, Michael Edwards delivers a living history, decade by decade, of fragrance in America. From historical, cultural, industrial and creative perspectives to the personalities behind the world’s favorite perfumes, the book in your hands captures it all.

It is a story of American ingenuity, creativity and business growth; but, ultimately, it is a love story.

The creation of perfume is a passionate endeavor, a search to find the elusive blend of ingredients that will turn heads.

Fragrance creation is truly both art and science, akin to a high wire performing act. Once the blend is perfected, the design of bottles and packaging must accentuate its characteristics and speak to its heart. Behind the scenes, perfumers, bottle designers and creative directors work together in graceful collaboration, making the magic happen.

The history of perfume in America is a fascinating one.

By the 1950s, the French were renowned as perfumers, while Americans were newcomers. Early fragrance entrepreneurs had to take enormous risks; among them was my mother, Estée Lauder.

I mention my mother because her story very much illustrates the genesis of the American fragrance business. In 1953, she introduced Youth-Dew, a bath oil that doubled as a skin perfume.

Youth-Dew wasn’t subtle. It was bold, a scent that demanded attention and lasted all day long. Notably, it was a fragrance that was marketed to women to buy for themselves. It wasn’t a delicate glass vial that sat on a dressing table, only to be dabbed on for special occasions. Women loved it! I believe that men did, as well.

In the competitive world of fragrance, many competitors were eager to dismiss Youth-Dew. However, my mother understood American consumers, and Youth-Dew wasn’t just hugely popular; it helped set the stage for a new style of perfumery in America, the success of which soared throughout the world.

In the end, the perfume industry in the United States came to reflect American ingenuity and creativity at its best.

After all, what better way to break into the market—and break through!—than to break the rules and take chances?

The goal was to win the hearts of Americans.

It is in this book that you will find the stories of creative women and men who did just that and more.

Our author is not only a wonderful storyteller, but I happen to know he spent decades researching the material for American Legends. The fragrance industry owes huge gratitude to Michael for his decades of dedication to the topic.

There is so much to say about American Legends, but I’ll close with this: Read it! Give it to every business student, entrepreneur and marketer you know. Give it to the historians in your circle. Most importantly, share it with people who are passionate about perfume and all who appreciate beauty.

As I said from the start, it’s a love story. Like a wonderful perfume, who can resist?


The Birth of American Perfumery

To the French, perfume is liquid art; to the Italians, liquid style; to the Americans, it is liquid money. Nowhere else are the rewards of success so rich. Nowhere else does the illusion of art clash so fiercely with the reality of commerce. The result is a unique American style at once brash, strong, loud and crass yet, at its best, innovative, spirited, elegant and rich.

“The story of perfumery is the history of our civilization,” said perfumer Ernest Shiftan, the father of American perfumery.

Perfume’s birth in the United States was inauspicious. To many early American Puritans, it was the devil’s elixir, a fragrant apple that lured men from their Godgiven tasks.

“During the 1700s, the English parliament passed laws against the use of cosmetics. The law declared that women could be punished for witchcraft and have their marriages annulled if they used ‘perfume, paint, artificial teeth, wigs, stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes’ to find a mate,” explained Victoria Sherrow in her book, For Appearances’ Sake. “Colonists brought these attitudes with them to America. The Quakers as well as the New England Puritans banned the use of cosmetics, and the practice was frowned upon through the colonies, some of which also enacted laws against them and declared them immoral.” 1

politicized and finally policed – if not prohibited altogether. Witness alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, fat, pornography. Take perfume, more and more considered to be a drug and, like all drugs, both venerated as medicine and despised as poison. Perfume is threatening because it is so insinuating.” 2

In 1910, the Manufacturing Perfumers’ Association urged action against articles in the daily papers and magazines, like Ladies’ Home Journal and The Smart Set, which discouraged the use of perfume. “There are many people brought up under puritanical environments, who are strongly prejudiced,” warned perfumer Theodore Ricksecker. “You must educate such people to understand that the use of perfumes is really as much evidence of refinement as the use of the natural flowers.” 3

Potent words, “evidence of refinement”. To many in the increasingly wealthy American cities, hard to resist.

Richard Klein in his book, Get a Whiff of This: Breaking the Scent Barrier, goes further: “In American culture, descended from Puritans, all universal sources of pleasure are eventually medicalized, then

At the birth of the nation, and during its early history, perfumery was largely the domain of the apothecaries who prepared a variety of simple perfumes for their customers. The earliest American apothecary, Dr. Hunter’s Dispensary, dates back to 1752. It was opened by William Hunter, a Scottish-born doctor, in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1833, two businessmen, John Caswell, of Newport and William Massey of New York City bought the apothecary, changing its name to Caswell-Massey in 1876. Today, it ranks as the fourth-oldest company in the United States.

In addition to specializing in midwifery medicines, Hunter also imported fragrances from

1752 to
The oldest American fragrance in continuous production since 1772

In the 1890s, Charles Dana Gibson (1867–1944) created the ‘Gibson Girl’, a vibrant, new feminine ideal who became the visual embodiment of the ‘New Woman’, and set the standard for beauty and fashion

Europe and blended some himself to demonstrate how civilized and cosmopolitan the colonies were.

One fragrance, Number Six Cologne, created in 1772, was George Washington’s favorite. CaswellMassey maintains that he liked it so much that he bought two cases of Number Six as a gift for the Marquis de Lafayette, to thank him for supporting the American revolution. Today, Number Six Cologne ranks as the oldest American fragrance in continuous production. 4

Florida Water (1808) was another American success story. An orange-accented citrus accord with spicy notes of lavender and clove, it was created by New York druggists Lindley Murray and David Lanman.

For those who could afford them, imported perfumes from Britain and France were on sale. The Philadelphia City Directory of 1839 advertised perfumes from Guerlain, Lubin, Piver and Renaud.

Lubin’s expansion into the United States began in the late 1830s when the company’s first American representative, Theo Studley, was appointed in New York. His success was such that Lubin sales in the United States surpassed those in France.

Solon Palmer was the first American perfumer to manufacture perfumes on an industrial scale. In 1847, he set up business in Cincinnati, Ohio and organized a travelling sales force to ensure wide distribution. His agents hawked Palmer fragrances and cosmetics across Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, and Ohio. In 1860, the Pony Express delivered Palmer products as far afield as Sacramento, California, and then on to San Francisco by steamboat. Palmer built his success on dozens of ephemeral products that came and went. It was not until a decade after his death that the company created an enduring seller: the rich floral Gardenglo, released in 1913.

The rise of the fragrance industry in America brought about the creation of essential oil houses devoted to the production of raw materials. The oldest, Dodge, Colvill & Olcott, originally importers of pharmaceuticals and chemical products, began the distillation of aromatic raw materials in 1859. At their factory in Brooklyn, they treated products from the United States, as well as imports from Europe and the Far East. A second plant was devoted exclusively to the processing of vanilla beans, for which the firm gained renown. European oil houses, eager to join the American market, began establishing branches

in the United States.

The first American perfume to gain the status of a classic was Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet (1872), created by Swiss perfumer William Ungerer. Colgate began as a manufacturer of soaps and candles before expanding to perfumes in the 1860s. When the company decided to launch their first perfumed soap, they sought a particularly novel formula and approached Ungerer. He had established his reputation as a talented perfumer while at Ed. Pinaud in Paris, before leaving France for America to establish Vosburgh & Co., a manufacturer of perfumes, flavors and soaps. Ungerer composed for Colgate a sultry floral based on rose and violet, amplified by woods, amber and musk. The fragrance had a peculiar ginger effect, rumored to be Canadian snakeroot oil, while its distinctive balsamic note came from benzoic acid obtained from gum benzoin. The soap was named Cashmere Bouquet, a nod to the famous rose fields of the Kashmir Valley. It proved so popular that within months of its launch there appeared a matching perfume, and Ungerer was hired as Colgate’s chief perfumer. Colgate brought perfume to all classes of American women, establishing a mass market. In 1906, the company’s centennial year, the Colgate product line featured no less than six hundred and twenty-five different perfumes. 5

Cashmere Bouquet remained Colgate’s flagship product and was frequently imitated – so much so that it became a standard accord in the American perfumer’s repertoire. By the time Ungerer left Colgate to set up his own oil house, Ungerer Brothers, in 1893, he had won a reputation as ‘the dean of American perfumery’.

John Blocki was the most innovative of the early American perfumers. In 1865, he established his perfume house in Chicago, importing raw materials from around the world to wholesale and create the J. Blocki perfumes. His belief that art and nature deserved the same attention as commerce resulted in a remarkable 1907 US packaging patent for a perfume bottle in which a real flower would be painstakingly preserved. Blocki’s Flower-in-the-Bottle perfume collection included floral fragrances such as Empress Rose (1908) and Empress Violet (1908) and abstract scents named Unique (1908), Sanrovia (1911) and Ollantay (1922). He also had success with an extensive line of toiletries linked to a perfume

12 1752 to 1929
Right page: A rare air-balloon perfume bottle produced for the 1893 Chicago World Fair

named Esprit d’Amour (1916), said to contain twenty-seven different flower oils.

Blocki was a tireless advocate for American perfumery and dedicated much time to the trade. He was a charter member of the Manufacturing Perfumers’ Association and lobbied on its behalf. In 1903, Blocki opened the first Chicago boutique dedicated exclusively to the sale of perfumes. Known as the ‘perfume palace’ for its elaborate displays, it provided merchandising inspiration to retail merchants around the country.

Blocki resisted the urge to sell his perfumery. It remained a family business throughout his life. The Blocki name was revived in 2015 by his great, great grandson, Tyler (Blocki) Kraemer, and his wife, Tammy. Today, it is the only 19th century American perfumery company operated by the original family.

success and reputation allowed him to sell his perfumes and cosmetics via mail order, and to secure distribution deals with department stores across the country. Hudnut registered his company in both the United States and France, a move that legally allowed him to label his perfume bottles Richard Hudnut, New York and Paris. Among the bestsellers from the more than ninety fragrances he created were Yanky Clover (1898), Du Barry (1902) and perfumer Henry G. Dusenbury’s innovative Three Flowers (1915). Hudnut became the era’s most successful American entrepreneur in the field of fragrance and cosmetics, heralding the arrival of Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and Estée Lauder

Colgate and Blocki’s supremacy was challenged at the turn of the century by fragrance magnate Richard Hudnut. He had learnt the rudiments of perfumery in his father’s pharmacy in New York, at a time when pharmacists prepared a wide range of fragrances for their clients. At the age of thirty-three, Hudnut travelled to Europe to study fragrance manufacturing, and was greatly influenced by what he saw at the best British and French Houses. He returned to New York to transform his family’s pharmacy into a glamorous Parisian-style boutique outfitted with mahogany counters, marble floors, and crystal chandeliers. Hudnut offered a variety of his own fragrances in luxurious presentations, most famously Violet Sec (1896), a purple-colored perfume based on violet-smelling ionones, a great novelty at the time. His growing

The dawn of the 20th century saw the rise of the California Perfume Company (CPC), later renamed Avon. It was founded in New York in 1892 by David Hall McConnell, who had started his career as a travelling door-to-door book salesman. To encourage women to buy his books, he offered The Little Dot Box as a gift to any customer whose purchases over time amounted to fifteen dollars. The Box held three California Perfume Extracts and a Little Dot atomizer. His perfumes proved more appealing than his books and McConnell applied his door-to-door experience to the fragrance and beauty trade. He developed direct selling on a large scale, creating markets in rural America. In just two years, McConnell went from offering only The Little Dot Box to selling twenty-five different perfume and toilet products. Avon and the Avon Lady were born. McConnell believed in investing in the ‘juice’, with just enough spent on the packaging to be appealing.

14 1752 to 1929
Colgate’s Florient c.1921 Cashmere Bouquet 1872 Colgate & Co.

The three California Perfume Extracts were created and supplied by Hilton H. Sawyer, before McConnell himself assumed the role of perfumer for several years and then, in 1896 hired Adolph H. Goetting Goetting created early successes like the powdery floral Trailing Arbutus (1900) and the soliflore Natoma Rose (1914), named after Victor Herbert’s all-American opera. Later Avon classics include the floral amber Jardin d’Amour (1926), renamed Persian Wood, and Cotillion (1934).

In 1909, the Swiss oil house Morana established an American branch, Morana Inc. Through various mergers, this company would become Van AmeringenHaebler and then, in 1958, International Flavors & Fragrances. IFF would create every Estée Lauder perfume until Knowing (1988), as well as many of the classic American fragrances of the 20th century.

The first American woman to train as a perfumer was Ann Haviland. Taught by Eugène Charabot in Paris, she opened her studio in midtown Manhattan around 1909. Lauded as ‘the poetess of perfume’ by silent movie actress Theda Bara, Haviland composed bespoke perfumes, but also created innovative home fragrances and scented a Broadway show. She specialized in soliflorals, oneof-a-kind creations. “Ann Haviland is an artist,” stated Harper’s Bazaar. “She is the only woman in this country who is striving to lift the compounding of a perfume out of the realm of the commercial. The ingredients in a perfume she chooses as

the artist selects his pigments and thru them endeavors to express that intangible something which is everything – personality.” 6

In 1915, Henri Bendel was one of the first specialty stores to introduce its own perfume with Un Peu d’Elle. The name spoke to American women’s fascination with French perfumes, which were perceived to be of top quality and generally packaged more attractively than American fragrances.

Mahatma (1915) was Helena Rubinstein’s first perfume for the American market. Hers was a tale that exemplified the American dream: born to a middleclass Jewish family in Krakow, she travelled to Melbourne, Australia, at the age of twenty where she made a name for herself selling face cream and other skin products. She launched her European enterprise in London in 1908 and in Paris four years later, opening lavish beauty salons in both cities. In 1914, she established the American branch of her everexpanding business but sold it in 1928 to Lehman Brothers for $7.3 million dollars, worth some $120 million in today’s money. During the Great Depression, she bought back the nearly worthless stock for less than $1 million and in the next few years increased its value many times over. Rubinstein was a vicious rival of Elizabeth Arden, and fought her in every beauty category, including perfume. Rubinstein’s most memorable creations were the white floral Apple Blossom (1938), the multifloral scent Heaven Sent (1941), and the woody amber Command Performance (1947), all created by her inJ.Blocki’s remarkable 1907 US packaging patent for a perfume bottle in which a real flower would be painstakingly preserved

15 1752 to 1929
First national Avon advertisement March 1906

house perfumer Jacques Jantzen. In 1916, Peggy Hoyt became the first American fashion designer to introduce a signature perfume, with the release of Flowers

The First World War brought immense change. “The shortage of imported finished perfumes as well as the shortage of perfume raw materials became so profound that the United States commenced with seriousness to find ways and means to produce the necessary raw materials within its own borders, and also to produce good, finished perfumes,” wrote Lady Evyan of Evyan Parfums in an English magazine. 7

Before the War, French perfumes were available only in limited quantities, sold at a considerable mark-up in the major cities. The war’s end gave a wider audience of Americans a taste for French brands. American troops returning home brought with them thousands of bottles of perfume, preparing a new market for imported goods. French perfumers, such as Caron, Bourjois, Houbigant and, most notably, Coty, leaped at the opportunity, battling for distribution and advertising space. French perfume and cosmetics became a key part of American consumer culture – symbols of taste and elegance.

To protect the local industry, the Manufacturing Perfumers’ Association began a publicity campaign in 1922 to promote American perfumes. Also that year, the government imposed a one hundred percent tax on imported perfumes. François Coty, never without a solution, registered a separate company in New York, Coty Inc, to avoid tariffs on finished goods.

“While the essential oils and artful packaging were shipped to New York, the perfumes were assembled with American alcohol. This enabled Coty to sell a perfume such as L’Origan (1905) for the same price as in France,” explains Geoffrey Jones in his book, A History of the Global Beauty Industry 8

French perfume fascinated Americans. In 1924, more than 100,000 people visited a major French Exposition at New York’s Grand Central Palace Hall. There, the French perfume houses recreated Paris’ rue de la Paix and built replicas of their Parisian perfumeries.

The 1920s saw an explosion of new perfume brands. In 1922, cosmetic queen Harriet Hubbard Ayer, famous for her Recamier Cream, launched no fewer than nine perfumes.

Prince Georges Matchabelli, a Russian émigré, introduced his first fragrances in 1926, named Princess Norina after his wife, Queen of Giorgia and Ave Maria. Norina Matchabelli is credited with designing the brand’s distinctive crown-shaped flacons, which appeared in 1928. Matchabelli died seven years later and would never know the immense success of his brand decades later, heralded by Wind Song (1952), a spicy floral composed by IFF perfumers Ernest Shiftan and Léon Hardy.

Charles of the Ritz launched its first fragrances A, B, and C, in 1927. The following year, fashion designer Hattie Carnegie, wife of the millionaire American philanthropist, commissioned Rallet, the house behind Chanel No 5 (1921), to create her eponymous fragrance, composed by Vincent

16 1752 to 1929
Richard Hudnut, Le Début, 1927

Roubert. Coty Inc. became publicly traded in 1925. “Net profits rose from $1 million to $4 million between 1923 and 1928. Coty’s U.S. sales reportedly reached $50 million dollars by the following year,” comments Jones. 9

The crash of 1929 brought many ambitions to an abrupt halt. Still, the next decade saw the rise of Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, as well as numerous other perfume brands that appeared and prospered during the Great Depression.

By then, perfumery was no longer the artisanal craft of an exclusive few. It had grown into a major American business. Still, “perfumery is an art”, insisted Ernest Shiftan and many other perfumers in the United States.

Between the two extremes, the clash of money and art, lies the story of American perfumery. America went on to develop a unique style of perfumery that would produce some of the most innovative fragrances of the next two centuries.

17 1752 to 1929
Prince Matchabelli Princess Norina, Queen of Georgia, Ave Maria Hattie Carnegie c.1925 The stopper is a bust of Mrs. Carnegie herself

Estée Lauder famously boasted that she had taught women how to use perfume. An exaggeration perhaps, but her influence on American perfumery cannot be overstated.

Her story is fascinating. Legend, fact and fantasy merge in a script she wrote for a beauty queen. Like a great actor, she played the role to the hilt.

In a 1986 Vogue profile Joan Juliet Buck wrote: “Estée Lauder is a magnificent and somewhat startling combination of common sense and chutzpah, good manners, self-promotion, and mystery.” 1

‘The sexiest fragrance ever’

Born Josephine Esther Mentzer on July 1, 1906, she was raised in Corona, New York, by her Hungarian mother, Rose, and Czech father, Max. The name Estée was a play on her nickname, Esty. Her lifelong fascination with beauty was sparked in high school when her Hungarian uncle came to live with the family. A cosmetic chemist, he made skin creams, in their kitchen to start with, then in a small laboratory in a stable outside.

Her social pretensions have been criticized, but in reality, Estée Lauder faced obstacles that must at times have seemed insurmountable.

Estée founded her company in 1946. By the mid-1960s, her cosmetics were among the leaders in upscale American specialty stores. Yet it was not until 1969 that her name first appeared in Vogue

“She wasn’t quite Vogue,” sniffed one editor when pressed for an explanation.

The irony is that by the end she out-WASPed society WASPs. By the 1980s, she had assumed a role in American society more royal than any royal. She had become an icon of beauty, a selftaught ‘nose’ who forced the world to take American perfumery seriously.

“What chutzpah!” declared Helena Rubinstein of Estée. “What genius!” countered Annette Green, president emeritus of the Fragrance Foundation

It was skincare, not perfumes, that first interested the fledging beauty queen. Encouraged by her uncle, she dreamed of becoming a skin specialist and “making women beautiful”. 2

But in 1930, Estée’s ambitions were put on hold. At the age of twenty-one, Josephine Estée Mentzer became Josephine Estée Lauder. It was the start of the Great Depression, and her husband Joseph tried his hand at several businesses. None succeeded. Their first child was born in 1933. “I continued to love dressing up,” says Lauder. “When Leonard was very young, I searched for ways to pull all my loves together. It was simply not enough to stay home and play Mommy. I was yearning for the bright lights.” 3

She studied to be an actress, but a chance remark at a beauty salon, the House of Ash Blondes, changed her destiny. “What do you do to keep your

45 1953

skin looking so fresh and lovely?” asked the owner, Florence Morris. “I didn’t have to be asked twice,” recalled Estée. “The next time I come, I’ll bring some of my products,” she promised. 4

‘This was my first formal publicity portrait – the original Estée Lauder’

Dr. John Scholtz, her mother’s younger brother, was a cosmetic chemist who had started a small manufacturing company in 1924. “I was smitten with Uncle John,” Estée wrote. “He understood me. What’s more, he produced miracles. I watched as he created a magic cream potion that made your face feel like spun silk.” 5

Estée returned with four of Scholtz’s products and insisted on giving Morris a facial to demonstrate their worth. She was invited to run the salon’s beauty concession. Her clientele grew as more beauty shops discovered her products.

In 1939, Estée divorced her husband. “He was very wonderful and very patient. I was not so wonderful and very patient. I was building a business. I was single-minded in the pursuit of my dream,” she explained years later. 6

Shortly after, she met a man who was to have a profound influence on her career. Arnold van Ameringen was the elegant, Dutch-born owner of Van Ameringen-Haebler, an essential oil house that he would later transform into International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), one of the world’s largest suppliers of fragrances and flavorings.

“Van Ameringen-Haebler was a small raw materials company of little importance before the war,” recalled perfumer Guy Robert, IFF’s former European chief perfumer. “The real business developed when van Ameringen persuaded a remarkable perfumer, Ernest Shiftan, to join him.”

Shiftan had studied chemistry in Vienna. On graduating, he joined the I. B. Farben Chemical Company. In 1924, he became chief perfumer of Agfa Aromatic Chemicals in Berlin. With the rise of the Nazis, Shiftan moved to Paris, consulting to a number of perfume and cosmetics companies. In 1932, he became a partner of Etablissements Leopold Laserson. When the Germans invaded France, he was held in a prison camp near Nice, but managed to escape and make his way to New York.

Shiftan was an extraordinary asset to Van Ameringen-Haebler. “He knew every perfumer

who counted in France,” said Robert. “It was a time when they shared their knowledge, and often their formulae. Shiftan had them all. In 1941 he went to see the Wertheimer brothers, Chanel’s owners who had also left France, and proposed that they allow him to manufacture No 5 (1921) in the United States. The Wertheimers refused. ‘We’ll never reveal the formula of No 5’, he was told. ‘Here it is’, said Shiftan.”

It was indeed the formula for No 5. Complete and authentic. Shiftan’s audacity persuaded the Wertheimer brothers to allow Van AmeringenHaebler to produce No 5 stateside. He took the same approach with Worth for Je Reviens. By the end of the war, Van Ameringen-Haebler was a key supplier to the most important French houses.

Van Ameringen and Shiftan became his mother’s mentors, says Leonard Lauder, Estée’s older son. Van Ameringen advised her, encouraged her ambitions, and certainly financed some of her growth. Estée remained loyal to his company, insisting that she would work only with his perfumers. Their partnership produced a series of masterpieces, from Aramis (1965) to Estée (1968), Aromatics Elixir (1971), Aliage (1972), Private Collection (1973), White Linen (1978) and Beautiful (1985). Lauder and Shiftan transformed American perfumery.

After Joseph and Estée remarried in 1942, there were a few changes. “First of all, my primary identity would be Mrs. Joseph Lauder, not Estée Lauder. Second of all, we decided that Joe would give up his business and come into mine. We would work together: he would deal with the economics and practical aspects of the business; I would do the selling.” 7

Estée Lauder, Inc. was formally founded in 1946. “The line was short, only four skincare products, two lipsticks and a face powder,” recalled Evelyn Lauder, who married Leonard in 1959. Estée supervised her two initial concessions and refined her “secret weapon”. She explained: “In those days before television and high-gloss advertising, there were only two ways to communicate a message quickly: telephone and telegraph. I had a third. It was potent: Tell-a-Woman. Women were telling women. They were selling my cream before they

46 1953

even got to the salon. Tella-Woman was the wordof-mouth campaign that launched Estée Lauder Cosmetics.” 8

Estée exuded warmth and charm. She also had the ability to cajole and convince. “When you stop talking, you’ve lost the customer,” she said. Bonwit Teller became the first department store to take her line, but Saks Fifth Avenue was her dream. Month after month she tried without success to interest their buyer. “Then good fortune arrived in the guise of two different women,” recalled Estée One was an assistant Saks buyer, the other the daughter of a Saks executive. Both suffered from skin conditions that benefited noticeably from her skin treatments. Word spread.

Finally, Saks succumbed. “Mr. Fiske, the cosmetic buyer at Saks, called in while Mrs. Lauder was making a personal appearance at the House of Ash Blondes to say that he would take her line into Saks provided she made the packaging more attractive and brought her customer list of about two thousand names,” said Evelyn Lauder. “At that time, her products were packed in a white opaline jar with a black stock cap.”

The first Saks order was small, some $800, but it transformed the little company. “We closed down our counters at Florence Morris and at Albert and Carter to concentrate on Saks,” Estée recalled. “Our first home base was a former restaurant on Central Park West. We had to pay six months’ rent in advance. On the restaurant’s gas burners, we cooked our creams, mixed them, sterilized our pretty new jars with boiling water, poured and filled and planned and packaged.” 9

Younger son Ronald recalled that when she finally got her first boutique in Saks his mother was allotted a tiny space in the back of the department. “Disappointed but undaunted,” wrote David Patrick Columbia in the New York Social Diary, “she asked if it would be all right if she sent out some cards announcing the opening to her friends. Her request was approved. So, she sent out some cards – 156,000 of them. The opening day, Adam Gimbel, then the chairman and owner of Saks, arrived at the store to find thousands of women waiting for it to open. Soon he learned why they all wanted to get

to Estée Lauder’s space, because she was ‘giving away free samples.’ There were so many customers, the management decided she needed to be moved temporarily to a larger space. She suggested a spot in the front of the store. Temporarily. Forty years later, Estée Lauder Cosmetics still occupied that spot.” 10

The Estée Lauder’ promotional budget then was just 50,000 dollars. “No advertising agency was interested in so small an account,” says Leonard Lauder, “so we spent the money on giving free boxes of face powder to Saks Fifth Avenue customers and postcards to tell them of the giveaway. Later, around 1956, we converted the giveaways to gift-withpurchase.” This proved the innovative marketing tool that allowed Lauder to beat their much larger competitors.

Neiman-Marcus was the next store to fall under the Estée spell. I. Magnin followed.

In October 1951, Harper’s Bazaar featured a cream Estée had introduced the previous year and described it as a “genuine innovation”. Estoderme Youth-Dew Cream had arrived.

Two years later, it inspired a perfumed bathoil whose impact would shake the staid world of perfumery. Van Venneri, I. Magnin’s legendary cosmetics buyer, was convinced the idea first came to Lauder during a visit to the store. “Prince Matchabelli was a very elegant name at the time, and their new Abano (1934) bath-oil was going like hotcakes. Estée watched the impact it was having and asked her good friend who owned Van Ameringen-Haebler to give her something along the same lines.”

The potential of perfume had interested her. “Estée Lauder’s motto was simple: ‘traffic’,” said Beauty Fashion publisher John Ledes. “She figured that if you can get a woman to a counter, you can sell her skincare, make-up, and top up the sale with fragrance.”

“One evening at a dinner party, staring at one more dresser tray with three unopened pretty bottles of perfume, I had an idea,” Lauder recounted. “I’d convince the American woman to buy her own perfume, as she would buy a lipstick. How? I wouldn’t call it perfume. I would call it Youth-Dew.” And sell it as a bath oil.” 11

47 1953
‘Personal appearances always brought throngs of women, all asking for advice’

The idea of a bath oil that doubled as a skin perfume was a revolutionary idea, says Leonard Lauder. “Until Youth-Dew, most fragrances were very light and in an alcoholic base. They diffused very rapidly, and the fragrance was gone within a short period of time. Mrs. Lauder had the idea of taking a sexy fragrance and putting it into an oil rather than an alcoholic base. That way, it wouldn’t diffuse rapidly, and had a long-lasting quality.”

It made sense. “A woman could buy herself a bottle of bath oil the way she’d buy a lipstick - without feeling guilty, without waiting for her birthday, anniversary, graduation, without giving tiresome hints to her husband,” said Estée.

Until the introduction of Youth-Dew, it was as unthinkable for American women to buy their own fragrance as it was to send themselves a dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day. “I knew what the trouble was,” says Estée. “Perfume was the perfect gift. That was killing it. Only a rare woman would walk into

a department store and buy perfume for herself. Traditionally, women in America were passive about smelling wonderful. It was proper to wait for your loved one to present you with a bottle of something he liked, or something that he thought you might like. And if you had no such loved one? It was unthinkable, self-indulgent, narcissistic, and even decadent to treat yourself to fragrance. Oh, you could buy an inexpensive bottle of cologne. Nothing more significant.” 12

The idea that a bath oil could double as a skin perfume was ground-breaking. “Think about it,” says Karyn Khoury, Lauder’s former senior vice president of fragrance development. “It’s the 1950s. Money is still a little tight. Relatively few women work outside the home. They shop, they buy, but there’s always a little bit of guilt associated with splurging on themselves. Perfume was a luxury, a gift. Mrs. Lauder took the guilt away. ‘It’s not just a luxury’, she said, ‘it’s really very practical’.”

The Fragrance

“Youth-Dew started out not as a bath perfume but as a very strong, unusual, different fragrance,” confirmed perfumer Josephine Catapano. “Mrs. Lauder didn’t mention other bath oils to me. She emphasized that she wanted it to be the first bath oil that doubled as a skin perfume, and that it had to be very diffusive. It also had to be a fragrance with unusual strength, a tenacity that didn’t exist before. ‘Everlasting’ was the word Mrs. Lauder used to describe the effect she wanted.”

It was a revolutionary idea for its time. “Back in the 1940s and 1950s, perfumes weren’t meant to be particularly ‘noticeable, to have any sort of ‘insistence’ or presence,” said Richard Salomon, former board chairman of Charles of the Ritz. “They were generally ‘mild’, floral, romantic.” 13

The concept of a strongly scented bath oil suited Estée’s philosophy of fragrance: “Magnificent scents should not be doled out stingily but, like love, be given abundantly. When I was

creating Youth-Dew, most women at the time tended to wear more subtle florals, but I felt they were ready for something more opulent and creative.”

“Clearly, the sweet resins and ambery woody notes were the key,” said Catapano. “But it also had to be very diffusive, and that implied a high percentage of essential oils that were particularly strong. So I used the notes that would give the perfume that diffusion: new ambery resins that our chemists had developed from their work on labdanum resinoid; tolu balsam absolute; tinctures of ambergris and civet; real sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver oils. They were beautiful notes that made a flowery fragrance last and last.

Perfumer Josephine Catapano

“I worked directly with Mrs. Lauder on Youth-Dew. She was an amazing character, a very strong woman who knew exactly what she wanted. One didn’t want to cross her. She had very definite opinions and she knew right away what she liked. She would smell a submission

48 1953

and say, ‘no, this isn’t it’, or ‘yes, you have something there’. She always tested new perfumes on the palms of her hand. She would put a few drops or sprays on the palms, lightly rub them together, and smell.

Perfumer Ernest Shiftan

“She liked the first trials I showed her,” Catapano recalled. “That was fortunate because the only fragrances she wanted to develop were the ones she liked right away. Many trials followed, of course, but that was usual. It was the percentage of perfume in the bath oil that was very intriguing to her. By the time we’d finished, it was very high. I made no adjustment to the formula because she wanted it exactly as it was. It was Mrs. Lauder’s idea to make it so concentrated. It had never been done before.”

Guy Robert expanded the story: “Mrs. Lauder wanted so much perfume that Jerry Amsterdam, who handled her formulations at IFF, could not use the regular bath oil formulations that mixed with water. It was impossible to dissolve so much perfume, he told me. Instead, he blended the perfume oils with isopropyl myristate, an oil that was not watersoluble. Instead of mixing with water, a fine film of Youth-Dew bath oil floated on the surface. It scented

the air and clung to the skin like an invisible body stocking as a woman stepped out of the bath. All that from one drop. It was amazing!”

“It was a breakthrough,” Estée proudly declared. “Women bought it for themselves instead of waiting to get it for birthdays, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. I was the first to tell women, ‘Buy perfume for yourself, just as you buy lipstick or face powder!’.”

Authors Robert Calkin and Stephan Jellinek agree. In their book Perfumery Practice and Principles, they rated Youth-Dew as “one of the most original and influential of perfumes. Although as much criticized as admired for its sheer impact and lack of aesthetic subtlety, its enormous success, particularly in the United States and Great Britain, can be seen in retrospect to have opened the way for a demand for the style of perfumery that has now come to dominate the market. Although the mellis accord [of coumarin, eugenol and salicylates] provides a framework for the structure of the perfume, it is the sweet balsamic materials, sandalwood, oakmoss, labdanum, vanillin, and animalic notes in combination with the spices, that give the perfume its overwhelming character.

‘Simply the sexiest fragrance ever’

Aldehydes, bergamot, chamomile, Bulgarian rose, jonquil, lavender, orange, peach, spices

Cassie, cinnamon, carnation/clove, geranium, jasmine, lily of the valley

Benzoin, labdanum, musk, oakmoss, patchouli, tolu balsam, sandalwood, vetiver

49 1953
Head notes Citrus spicy Spicy floral Warm sensual Heart notes Soul notes

Such was the high concentration, in a non-volatile solvent, that it took only a few drops rubbed into the skin to create a rich aura that surrounded the wearer all day long. “It was without doubt the most effective way of achieving such an aura,” Jellinek wrote. “The needs and expectations of the typical American fragrance-using woman were different from those of her European sisters. The tendency to value and judge personal attributes largely by the effect they have on others was more dominant in the USA than in Europe. Accordingly, what the American woman valued most in a fragrance was intensity sufficient to make the fragrance noticeable at some distance, tenacity sufficient to make it last through the working day, and a simplicity of overall impression that made it readily recognizable.” 14

Guy Robert’s reaction to Youth-Dew was typical of French perfumers. “ ‘She’s crazy’, we all said. We dismissed Youth-Dew as a cheap attempt to enter perfumery. We assumed it was just a trial because her company specialized in skincare. We all overlooked the fact that American women are both sentimental and shrewd. Youth-Dew gave them the feeling of romance and saved them money: a few drops of a $3.75 floating bath oil created an aura of fragrance that lasted and lasted.”

Robert considered the geranium/patchouli accord to be the key to Youth-Dew’s appeal: “To me, Youth-Dew is a refined Spanish semi-oriental fougère,” he said. “In Spain, very strong, heavy, ambery fougère notes have always been popular. They were built around an accord of geranium and patchouli, a material that most perfumers of the thirties and forties regarded as vulgar and cheap. Marry these strong materials, add citrus and oakmoss with a heavy hand, and the result is a potent, powerful, tenacious type of fougère that the Spanish adored. Maja (1921) is a typical example. Show any strong geranium/patchouli fougère to American girls, and they all say ‘Ah!’ That explains why Maja was one of the leading perfumes in the United States during the war. Youth-Dew transformed the Spanish fougère into an ambery scent and made it sexier.”

“Youth-Dew was also one of the first fragrances to use floral notes as more of a finishing touch than a dominant element,” says Khoury. “If I had to pick one fragrance note that was Mrs. Lauder’s favorite my guess would be Bulgarian rose. It’s in almost every one of her fragrances. In YouthDew, it becomes the tempering element, the accent. It gives an effect quite different from the dark ambery notes of Tabu (1932). Mrs. Lauder was full of contradictions: she was at once smart, aggressive and driving, yet one of the most feminine women one can meet. She was an incredible combination of steel and silk.”

Youth-Dew bath oil was initially called Estoderme Youth-Dew bath oil and introduced as part of her Estoderme treatment range. “Mrs Lauder was aware that American women were getting older,” explains Annette Green, “and that most had very dry skin because of the heating in their homes. The implication of a treatment that would make the dry skin look younger, together with a fragrance that wouldn’t disappear, was irresistible.”

Estée wrote personal notes to beauty editors to explain the logic of her idea: “I’ve been working for many years on a series of beauty aids that will do for the entire body what we have heretofore concentrated on the face and throat.”

The new bath oil was perceived as much a beauty treatment as a fragrance accessory. “YouthDew’s success was directed from start to finish by Mrs. Lauder,” said Eugene Grisanti, IFF’s former chairman. “She chose the fragrance that she felt was right for the time. It was a touch déclassé, a little outrageous, and very powerful. It ushered in the age of stronger fragrances. It caused controversy because it was thought to be a little bit over the edge, almost too sexual in its appeal. Youth-Dew was the bedroom fragrance of the time. The word went through the ladies who lunch that Youth-Dew bath oil was a bargain. Imagine the talk, ‘You can buy a bottle of bath oil that’s far more powerful than real perfume and far less expensive!’ New Yorkers love a bargain, and Estée knew it. Youth-Dew was no accident, but its success must have surprised even Mrs. Lauder.”

50 1953
1960 Know the secret of the bath Youth-Dew’s first advertisement

Youth-Dew bath oil was introduced in range of four stock bottles supplied by Wheaton Glass, an American glass manufacturer that specialized in quality glass containers. Inevitably, some women would hesitate at using a bath oil as a perfume. So, Lauder decided to launch what she called a ‘skin perfume’ in 1954. Again, Wheaton supplied the bottle. Then came an eau de parfum spray in a rounded plastic bottle tinted pale Fragonard blue, her signature color. “It was as potent as the bath oil and we sold it by the gross,” said Van Venneri

The BoTTles

“Youth-Dew became a phenomenon,” said Evelyn Lauder. “You couldn’t get into an elevator or walk in the streets without smelling it. The fact is that a man makes a perfume popular, not a woman. If a man likes a perfume on a woman, she’ll kill before she’ll give it up. And men loved Youth-Dew. Not all men, but most.”

The story of Estée and the taxi driver became famous: “One day when Youth-Dew first appeared, a friend, who loved to play cards, called me and said, ‘Can you come over to the 21 Club quickly because we have a game and it’s twelve-thirty already?’ I drew a bath, poured in some Youth-Dew, bathed quickly, dressed, and dashed outside to hail a taxi.

‘Lady, you smell so good’, said the driver. ‘Is that Youth-Dew?’

‘How in the world do you know?’ I asked.

‘Well last week, a lady sat right where you’re sitting, and I saw her open a bottle and put it on. It was so nice I said I wouldn’t charge her for the fare if she gave me the bottle for my wife. She did - it’ s the best there is. You smell so good I hate to see you leave’, continued the driver, ‘but still, I’m afraid I have to charge you for the fare.’

‘Of course’, I said. I handed him the fare and a big tip and couldn’t resist a parting line. ‘By the way, I want you to know I’m Estée Lauder’, said I.

‘By the way, I want you to know I’m Cary Grant’, said he and drove away.” 15

When Youth-Dew bath oil was first introduced, the company was still in its infancy. “It wasn’t until 1958, when Leonard came into the business, that he and his parents focused on developing the department stores,” said Evelyn Lauder

“That was when the company really started to get on a faster track and really grow,” says Leonard Lauder. “As our business developed in department stores, so Youth-Dew grew. For the first time, we started to back it, but it was not until the early sixties that we even had a national ad for Youth-Dew.” Once Leonard became aware of Youth-Dew’s potential, he took all the company’s advertising budget and put it into scented blotters, the precursor of scent strips. Hand-dipped, they went into the store’s credit card statements and made them smell beautiful.

“It was tremendously effective,” said Estée “You’d open your monthly statement and get hit with a delightful fragrance along with the bill. YouthDew did have romantic undertones, but some were not quite so positive. Blotters worked splendidlyuntil the Angry Man. He’d collected his bills at his office and stuffed them into his suit pocket as he left for home. When he arrived, he was a walking garden of a husband, an aura of Youth-Dew wafting from his pocket. An enraged wife accused him of serious wrongdoing.

“The Angry Man wrote an angry letter to Mr. Walter Hoving, then the president of Bonwit Teller, and Mr. Hoving ruled there would be no more blotters unless they were enclosed in something to conceal the scent until the customer wanted to smell like a garden. That’s why perfume blotters come sealed in tiny glassine envelopes when they’re enclosed in your bill. The Angry Man doesn’t know it, but he changed merchandising in a very substantial way.” 14

The other perfume houses looked down on the bath oil. “Charles Revson ignored Youth-Dew,” said Van Venneri. “ ‘You don’t understand, she is selling a bath oil like a perfume!’ I told him. But he didn’t pay

51 1953
Youth-Dew Bath Oil

any attention. Dick Salmon, who owned Charles of the Ritz, also ignored her. At a time when we had very few samples to give away, Estée gave away thousands of little phials of the bath oil. Because they held so little, most women dabbed it on their skins instead of putting it in the bath water.”

When other perfumes copied Lauder’s sampling tactics, the house switched to larger sizes. “Sampling made the big difference,” confirmed Leonard Lauder. “Youth-Dew was the first fragrance that really went after the self-purchase in that way. Until then, fragrance sampling had been minimally done with little, tiny phials that would just give you a sniff of the fragrance. We sampled the fragrance extensively in rather large 1/8-ounce bottles.”

Youth-Dew Spray

Youth-Dew was built by a combination of the sampling blotters and new products like Body Satin and Cool Spray Bath Powder. “Each one took off,” says Leonard Lauder. “In late 1958, we set up a separate company called the Fragrance Products Corporation to handle the growth of our fragrance business. It went through several changes of name before it became today’s Estée Lauder Corporation. Everything began to click better in 1959 and 1960. Youth-Dew began to have real acceptance then. Pretty soon, its sales were driving the company. By the early 1960s, it had become our first big product.”

In 1967, Youth-Dew was repackaged. “The shape of the eau de parfum bottle mirrors the wonderful

silhouette of a woman’s body,” said Estée. “The ribbing of the bottle adds a texture and a tactile richness, and the wonderful gold bow adds the perfect touch of elegance and femininity.” The perfume bottle also changed. “A collector’s joy”, the company called it, with a lotus blossom stopper designed by Lauder’s creative director, Ira Levy

Despite the cavalcade of new fragrances, Youth-Dew remained Lauder’s leading fragrance until the late 1980s. “In 1953, Youth-Dew did about $50,000 worth of business for us,” estimated Evelyn Lauder. “By 1984, that figure had jumped to over $150 million.” If imitation is the sincerest compliment, then Youth-Dew was showered with competitive compliments: Royal Secret (1958), Helena Rubinstein’ s Herbessence (1962), Denney’s Interlude (1967), Revlon’s Ultima (1967), Dioressence (1969), Opium (1977) and Lagerfeld’s KL (1982) all took part of their inspiration from Youth-Dew

Opium outraged Estée. “When I saw Opium, I almost passed out,” she told Women’s Wear Daily. “If Saint Laurent knew about fragrances and my YouthDew, he would have never done Opium Opium is my Youth-Dew with a tassel!”

The cult status that Youth-Dew gained surprised everyone but Estée: “What’s the secret of Youth-Dew? It’s sexy! It was sexy when it was introduced and it’s sexy now, and a whole new generation is discovering it. There’s only one language - sex - and that’s it. When that’s out of business, I’m out of business.”

‘Is a marriage entered into while under the influence of perfume valid?’ New Yorker
52 1953
53 1953

You’re only as good as the people you dress,” Roy Halston Frowich, known simply as Halston, would say. He dressed the best: among them Lauren Bacall, Bianca Jagger, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Brooke Astor, Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor. Halston was a celebrity in his own right who built an empire around his name. He was the first designer who had the luxury of picking and choosing his clients. His fame propelled him to the pinnacle of New York society and paved the way for celebrity American designers from Donna Karan and Calvin Klein to Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford

To Donna Karan, “Halston was one of the most influential designers of our time. I say that on a personal level, because when I was young, he was the designer I aspired to be like. He understood luxury, glamour, simplicity, fit, and the importance of uniform. To me, he represented all that was modern and pure.”

Narciso Rodriguez agrees: “Halston changed the face of fashion and the way women dressed with a clean and pure look.” 1

His influence remains. “You can take a direct line from me to Halston,” Tom Ford told Women’s Wear Daily in 2012. 2

The first American fashion designer to rocket to

international stardom, Halston’s style was described in a 1990 Time magazine cover story as strippeddown elegance: “It was a style as spare and as unrevealing as the mirrored sunglasses behind which the real Roy Frowick surveyed a curious world. Suave and gracious, he was a kind of Jay Gatsby of Manhattan nightlife, a mysterious, aspiring Midwesterner who altered his name and re-created himself in a tanned and tuxedoed image of breathless glamour. It was Halston whose parties helped transform a cavernous Manhattan space called Studio 54 into the disco of the decade. It was Halston whose friendships with Liza [Minnelli] and Liz [Taylor] gave a hot center to the celebrity culture. And it was Halston whose simple designs in cashmere and Ultrasuede defined a newly selfconfident American fashion sense.” 3

Raised in Indiana by an accountant father and seamstress mother, Roy Halston Frowick made his first hat, trimmed with flowers from a neighbor’s garden, at age seven. After attending Indiana University and the Chicago Art Institute, Halston designed and sold hats in Chicago’s Ambassador West Hotel. In 1958, after a brief spell with milliner Lilly Daché, he was put in charge of custom millinery for Bergdorf Goodman. Diana Vreeland, then editor of Vogue, raved about his talent. “He was probably

123 1975

the greatest hatmaker in the world, an absolute magician with his hands.”

Halston made fashion headlines in 1961 with the iconic pillbox hat that Jackie Kennedy wore at JFK’s inauguration. Twice a year, Halston would join the Bergdorf Goodman buyers at the Paris fashion shows. His sense of style was so impressive that Bergdorf gave him the opportunity to introduce his own line of clothes. In 1968, under the loyal patronage of Babe Paley, wife of the CBS founder, Halston opened his own salon. “It’s time to clean up,” he said, referring to the fussy, gypsy styles of the 1960s.


Collection by collection, he refined his fashion message. “Halston was a groundbreaking figure,” says Patricia Mears, curator of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “Best known as a modernist who fully advocated the minimalist aesthetic, Halston turned fashion on its ear in the over-accessorized sixties by blending simple, pareddown silhouettes with the most luxurious fabrics.”

His clothes were clean and comfortable, simple and subtle, tailored in cashmere, silk matt jerseys and the new synthetic Ultrasuede, the use of which he pioneered in a much-copied 1972 shirtwaist dress.

By 1972, Halston’s business was grossing nearly $30 million in retail sales. That year, he won his fourth Coty Award and was acclaimed by Women’s Wear Daily as “one of the greats”.

The elegance of the new American style was never more evident than at the couture show mounted in November 1973 to raise funds for the restoration of the Palace of Versailles. Five American designers – Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Anne Klein and Oscar de la Renta – joined five French couturiers in presenting their collections. The French used elaborate backdrops and props. The Americans used a bare stage and ten black American models. The sparse elegance of their presentation put the French to shame.

“Despite Halston’s success, it was costly to run the made-to-order business and the salon,” said Bill Dugan, Halston’s former executive design assistant. “He would say that the financing was always ‘one step ahead of the sheriff’.”

In late 1973, in a move that stunned the fashion industry, Halston sold his name, his company and his design services to David Mahoney of Norton Simon Inc. for $16 million.

Norton Simon Inc. was one of several conglomerates stitched together in the 1960s. It owned such diverse interests as Hunt Food, Somerset Liquor, Avis Car Rental, Hartmann Luggage and McCall Patterns. “We had also just bought the Max Factor cosmetic company,” said Dan Moriarty, then assistant to chairman of the board David Mahoney. “Max Factor was number two to Revlon, but its department store business was limited by what Women’s Wear Daily called a ‘tacky, Hollywood image’. A designer fragrance could be the tool to solve the image problem. Other designers were considered but Halston was the king. I was with David Mahoney the first time he met Halston to explore the possibility of Halston’s interest in doing a fragrance. The private meeting took place in Norton Simon’s suite at the Waldorf Towers. The deal was decided in a manner of months: Norton Simon would buy Halston’s entire business, Halston would retain creative control and the Max Factor company would develop the Halston fragrance.” 4

At the time, the sale to Norton Simon seemed a brilliant move. Halston already dressed actress Jennifer Jones, Norton Simon’s wife. “It’s like having a Renaissance patron,” declared Halston.

Halston had toyed with the idea of a fragrance for some years. In 1969, he sought a meeting with Irwin Alfin, then president of Chanel. “He showed me a bottle which Elsa Peretti had designed but, in those days, neither Chanel nor I had the vision to look beyond Chanel,” Alfin recalled. As the designer’s fame grew, Colgate Palmolive and Eli Lilly, among others, approached him. “For a while I was courted by everyone in the business,” Halston told reporter Steven Gaines. His demands were unyielding: total creative control and financial backing. Only Norton Simon was willing to meet both. 5

The timing was perfect. “The extraordinary success of Norell (1968) had whetted corporate appetites,” says industry analyst Allan Mottus. “Until Norell, the major companies had had no desire to license a designer name, because it was not important

124 1975
‘It’s time to clean up’

in the United States. The impact of high fashion names was limited to the carriage trade department stores. Few people, for example, considered Chanel as a fashion designer; No 5 (1921) was simply the name of a fragrance, and a drug store perfume at that. Fragrance sales in the upscale department stores were small because their customers considered fragrance to be rather lower class. It was not until Charles Revson started chasing after Estée Lauder in the 1960s with Norell (1968) that the department store category started to grow. It was, however, the designer revolution of the babyboomers looking for status names that really built the fragrance business. Their search coincided with the move of department stores into suburban malls. To cultivate middle-class, suburban customers, they needed the appeal of designer names or authority figures, a need that gave rise to Halston and Bill Blass, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. They faced little competition because the European designers did not realize the implications of the malls and focused exclusively on the uptown department stores. 1973-1974 was a critical period because that was when people realized that there was a market for fragrance, that the designer element was beginning to grow in the U.S. across all product categories and thirdly, that the profits were really there. It was those factors that attracted the interest of companies such as Norton Simon and Eli Lilly.”

tempered, Lichtenstein provided Halston with a corporate cocoon. “My brief was very simple. I was to get the fragrance out of Halston and into the marketplace,” he says. “As a division, Halston was really too small for Norton Simon to care whether or not it made money. It had been bought for the prestige. When I arrived, Halston had reached an impasse with the Max Factor people who had been developing his fragrance. They resented his iron determination to control every creative decision. Some there would have loved to see the perfume die. So, they put a young, inexperienced marketing manager named Joe Forkish to run the project.”

Not quite that inexperienced, retorts Forkish: “I had had two years’ experience as a sales administrator at Revlon on Norell (1968), Réplique (1947), the Balmain fragrances, and three years more as a marketing manager for Ultima fragrances. I was also the only one at Factor who understood anything about fragrance packaging and product. But it is true that few at Max Factor expected the fragrance to succeed. When David Mahoney left the office after telling me ‘We want you to run this project’, Chester Firestein, then Factor’s president, turned to me and said, ‘When this thing fails, I’ll find you another job’.”

Ego was part of the equation. The business rivalry between Estée Lauder and Charles Revson was also played out in the social pages of newspapers and magazines. Each year, she hosted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s anniversary dinner; he played host to Society on his yacht, Ultima II. David Mahoney used Halston to enter the competition. “It got to be a rivalry between Mahoney and Revson,” says Mottus

To provide Halston with the necessary executive structure, Norton Simon appointed Michael Lichtenstein, a lawyer, as managing director of the new division. In his early forties, low key and even-

To everyone’s surprise, including his own, Joe Forkish turned out to have a good nose. “Young and brash as he was, Joe was the man who put Halston together,” says Lichtenstein

Halston was already talking to friends and journalists about the new fragrance. “It had always been in my mind to create a fragrance, one a woman can put on anytime, day or evening, like my clothes,” Halston told author Steven Gaines. “The Halston scent had to be one I could put my name to and live with, always. It had to be original and not a derivative of X, which is a derivative of Y, which is a derivative of Z. No compromises.

Too often, perfume is a security blanket for women. I want to introduce a new mood of whimsy.” 6

125 1975

The Fragrance

Halston had already been introduced to IFF, a major fragrance supplier, by Lily Auchinclose, a client who as the daughter of IFF’s founder, Arnold van Ameringen, was also a major shareholder. “The perfumers ran us through a little school for a day and a half to explain their vocabulary to us,” recalls Lichtenstein. “Halston and I knew nothing about perfume creation. I sat at his elbow for no purpose other than to take notes. It was fascinating but difficult for Halston. He smoked so heavily, I was surprised he could smell anything!”

It was at this point that Forkish started shuttling between Los Angeles and New York. “I found Halston interesting because he understood quality but had no conception of marketing,” he says. “For him, quality was the only issue and the only thing that would satisfy him was something great.

“In addition to IFF, I also briefed Roure Bertrand Dupont, Firmenich, and Givaudan to work on two directions: the first a white floral, the second a woody note.”

From the start, IFF had the inside edge because of Lily Auchinclose’s connections. It helped that chief perfumer Bernard Chant also admired Halston’s work. “I studied his fashions, his style and his image before conceiving a suitable theme,” he said. “He would come in to smell the fragrance as it progressed.”

“Halston was a very sensitive personality, sensitive to the nuances and people around him,” says Lichtenstein. “Chant was a very straightforward man, quite unaffected, quiet, and a great expert. He had a vision of a haunting woody fragrance with green notes. And Halston liked it.”

“Instead of working through the account executives, I worked directly with Bernard Chant,” says Forkish. “We became very close. I would even go to his house on weekends to work

on the fragrance. It took us a good seven or eight months to develop the perfume.”

Bernard Chant asked perfumer Max Gavarry from IFF’s Paris office to contribute to the Halston brief. “Bernard was looking for a new kind of woody chypre, quite different, for instance, from the patchouli accord of Aromatics Elixir (1971). At that time, chypres were very successful – it was the era of Calandre (1969) and Empreinte (1971). But I felt that they were a touch too hard, a bit masculine. I wanted to make something more feminine – less woody, less of a classical chypre.”

Gavarry referred to a previous accord he had created. “I came to show Bernard a formula called Madame, which I’d worked on after studying Badedas bath oil. Madame contrasted aldehydes, geranium, and rose with green notes, a fruity peach accent, and a big quantity of Iso Cyclemone E, a new product from IFF research. I used the new material to replace the classic violet, woody effect of methyl ionone. When blended with rose, I found Iso Cyclemone E to be very feminine.”

Patented in 1973, Iso Cyclemone E, later souped-up to Iso E Super as it is known today, has a light but pervasive cedarwood note that intrigued Chant. “Bernard told me the story of how he first came to understand the impact of Iso Cyclemone E,” said John Dennis, IFF’s Halston account executive. “Intrigued by the new material, he added a few drops to the Halston trial. Even at that light dose, it pushed up all the flowers and gave the fragrance the distinction and signature that made the difference. In my opinion, Iso Cyclemone E made Halston what it was.”

IFF perfumer Carlos Benaïm agrees. “It was the imaginative use of Iso E Super that allowed Bernard to bring in a major new woody

126 1975
Perfumer Bernard Chant Perfumer Max Gavarry

note to the chypre accord. That note gave Halston its signature.”

It was Halston’s overdose of Iso E Super that so intrigued perfumer Steven Claisse. “The new molecule brought a velvety, musky, woody signature to Halston that was more complex than any cedarwood or sandalwood, patchouli or vetiver note. Iso E Super was an interesting new molecule but to perfumers, it was the extraordinary level of its overdose in Halston that was revolutionary at the time.”

Forkish fell for Iso E Super at first whiff. “Bernard showed me pure Iso Cyclemone E saying, ‘What do you think about this? I’ve been playing with this ingredient for a long time’. My reply was quick: ‘It’s fabulous’. ‘Well, no one will use it’, he said. When he added that no one had used it before, I became even more enamored because I was looking for a signature that would make people immediately say, ‘This is Halston!’. Gradually, I lost interest in the white floral accord, which was our first direction.”

With Madame as a starting point, Chant and Gavarry incorporated Iso E Super into a fresh, fruity chypre accord. “Bernard was very strongly influenced by mossy, woody notes,” says Benaïm. “Cabochard, which Bernard created in 1959, was a masterpiece. In a way, its accord influenced much of his work. In Halston, it’s part of the background

but the top note is much more novel, an accord of marigold and chamomile. The heart is very floral, full of the rich natural materials Bernard loved.”

Halston was enthusiastic about the woody chypre accords Forkish showed him. The prospect of using an entirely new raw material thrilled the designer. “It was a fantastic break for us. It makes the perfume smell like nobody else’s,” Halston later told author Steven Gaines. But in private, he pressed Forkish to finish the fragrance. “He became impatient with the time we were taking,” says Forkish. “Halston was a genius at packaging, but he really had little feel for fragrance. We couldn’t rush it. When a perfumer is using a new ingredient, he needs time to get its balance right.

“Bernard seemed to backtrack. He became very frustrated with the development. I sensed he was being held back by his management. Perhaps they were reluctant to let me use Iso Cyclemone E, because the company wasn’t sure that Halston would prove a big enough fragrance to introduce it.”

It was a shrewd assessment. A new raw material such as Iso E Super costs millions of dollars to develop. If introduced correctly, it will pique the interest of the big household product giants, whose products require thousands of tons of fragrance. If the launch product fizzles, their interest too may fade.

‘Classic. Graceful. Confident’

Bergamot, green notes, marigold, melon, peach, spearmint

Carnation, Cedarwood/Iso E Super, iris, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang

Amber, incense, musk, oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver

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Head notes Green citrus Woody floral Sensual woody Heart notes Soul notes

Faced with the impasse, Forkish asked to see IFF chairman Henry Walter: “Hank was a gruff, New York lawyer, an extremely tough and very smart businessperson. I came straight out: ‘This isn’t working’. I explained the marketing strategy, saying, ‘I want a piece of Halston fashion couture that I can sell for the price of a spray cologne. If it is couture, it is a signature piece, which means it must be a signature fragrance, which means you have got to stop giving me all these submissions that smell like everybody else’s fragrances. If your company can’t do it, then I want to part ways, because I can’t take it anymore. I know about Halston’s connection with the family who owns this company and if you want to tell them you can’t do it, be my guest’. I was really a very spoilt kid! Hank, to his credit, made an immediate decision: ‘We’ll do it!’ he told me. ‘Bernard, give him whatever he wants’. And from that point on – and it took about four months to get to that point – we really worked the fragrance.”

Chant had a particular talent for finishing fragrances. “So often, Bernard would add the extra 10 percent finishing touch that turned a good fragrance into a work of art,” said Eugene Grisanti, who succeeded Walter as IFF’s chairman.

“Bernard brought up some of the green notes and played with some of the chypre notes to make it smoother,” Forkish recalls. “Close to the end, an idea struck me. ‘Could we use a touch of vanilla to smooth it?’ I asked. ‘Not the usual scent of vanilla, but the icycold smoother scent you smell when you open the lid

of a gallon of vanilla ice cream’. We bought a gallon of ice cream and smelled it together. ‘That’s vanillin you’re smelling’, Bernard said. He added a touch of vanillin and then a touch more … up to 2.2 percent. The whole fragrance became very mellow. And that is why some people say Halston has an oriental note, because vanillin has an oriental signature.

“Down to the finishing line, we were still considering a fragrance from Roure,” Forkish admits. “But we panel tested it against the IFF fragrance, which came out slightly better. That was fortunate, because Halston would have wanted to go with IFF in any case. He felt strongly about the personal relationship.”

In an interview with Gaines, Halston recalled that he had “smelled hundreds and hundreds of perfumes. They were either too green or too hot or too dull or too boring. Nothing seemed right. It was endless.” Occasionally, Forkish would send him the same sample again, “to see if it got the same reaction”. While Halston was willing to comment on the submissions, he refused to judge them. “It’s women who must decide, because they are going to wear it,” he said.

Going back and forth on two final submissions, Chant and Forkish came up with a plan. “I asked Bernard to present both options to Halston. I set up the meeting. Bernard was going to ‘strongly’ suggest to Halston that he go with the option I had approved. The plan worked. We got the approval. So … Halston picked the fragrance!”

128 1975
‘ The new American style ’

Halston viewed perfume as an art form. The sculptural purity of his bottle went beyond anything seen until then.

The BoTTle

The idea for the Halston bottle came long before the fragrance. The work of jewelry designer Elsa Peretti, the bottle was adapted from one of her first pieces, a little bud vase necklet she made in 1969. “I designed it for Giorgio Sant’Angelo’s models to wear on the catwalk. Flowers were the perfect accessory for his clothes, but they drooped in the heat of the spotlights. To keep them alive, I made a tiny bud vase – just big enough to carry a single flower –and suspended it on a slender chain. Of all the bottles I have fashioned, this was my first and most magical.”

Peretti was Halston’s model, muse and close friend. “He was extremely handsome and very, very talented. From the moment we met, we never separated. He had such taste and style and a great sense of humor,” she said. “It was around then that I made my first piece of jewelry, a belt, for myself. Halston encouraged me to design. We thought alike: style is to be simple. The second piece I made was the little budvase for Giorgio Sant’Angelo. Halston liked it so much that he wanted to have the same bottle for his perfume. ‘That’s the bottle I want to use’, he said. I carved a larger bottle out of quartz and gave it to him as a present.”

Halston never wavered from his determination to use Peretti’s bottle. Forkish explains that “Our strategy was to sell the cologne as a piece of Halston couture. It relied on realizing Elsa’s bottle. She had the idea. We had to make it happen, but it proved exceptionally difficult. The little budvase didn’t look right when scaled up in size, so Elsa tilted its neck. ‘I like that’, said Halston. I did too but the Max Factor packaging designers said that the tilted, off-center neck made it impossible to produce the bottle, let alone fill it on the automatic line. Around and around the mulberry bush we went until Elsa said, ‘Darling, why don’t I just go to California and work on this project?’.”

Peretti’s presence did not help. “The packaging

program had reached an impasse,” said Lichtenstein, who joined shortly after Perretti’s visit. “The Max Factor packaging designers were drug store people and did not understand the Peretti bottle. They put it down, calling it the ‘Blob’ or the ‘Shmoo’, after the character in the Li’l Abner comic strip. They wanted instead a traditional ‘jewel’ bottle à la No 5 with its faceted edges. Instead of the proportions being wide and low, they proposed to make them narrow and high. Halston refused to consider it. ‘I want a bottle that will be a collector’s item’, he said. What followed were three months of intense negotiations and corporate in-fighting. In the end, David Mahoney backed Halston. He had bought him for his design sense and wanted to take advantage of it. After all, Halston was not only lending his name to the project; he was lending his talent and that was an entirely different thing. He was going to be the dominant force and the decider every step of the way. So, the Factor people were forced to go along, and it began to work. Elsa refused to accept any money for the bottle design, but Halston gave her a sable coat in payment for the use of her name.”

Unfortunately, that sable would be shortlived, smiled Lesley Frowick, Halston’s niece and confidante. “When a miniature version of the bottle Elsa designed was subsequently used as a gift-withpurchase, she felt that their agreement had been broken. She and Halston were sitting in his living room, arguing about it, when she got up and threw the sable into the fireplace before storming out into the cold night. Equally incensed, Halston then kicked the coat farther into the flames, later commenting to his assistant Bill Dugan, ‘Sable fur really stinks when it burns’.” 7

Everything became an issue. “At one point, Halston decided that the fragrance was to be called Simply Halston,” says Forkish “We had our biggest disagreement about it. I finally said to him: ‘Halston, you can be called a lot of things … but not simple. ‘Simply’ is not you. Therefore, Halston it was.”

129 1975

Then, Halston refused to put a label on the bottle. Without a label, he argued, “it will look like a jewel on the counter. Women will know what is in it,” he said. “I hope women won’t throw it away after the perfume is gone but keep it as an ornament or a vase for a single flower,” he said. Peretti agreed. “Halston insisted that the bottle bear no name on it because its line is so pure. There is no design or label or name on the bottle itself. One sees only its shape and transparency.” A compromise was negotiated. “Put my name on a small band around the neck, that must be torn off when you open the bottle,” Halston allowed.

Elsa Peretti’s pendant bottle-vase inspired Halston’s bottle

Halston agonized over every detail: the stock used for the box, its color, the size and style of typeface, the weight of the cellophane wrapping. “He was a perfectionist who questioned everything,” Forkish says “but he was also an exceptional editor who would see things others would miss: the angle of the collar, the curve of the cap, or the shape of the box. He was always right, and it was his insight, his genius, that made the various elements of Halston work together.”

“The responsibility was all on my shoulders,” Halston said. “It’s my fragrance and I made it. It was the most difficult design I’ve ever done.” 8

The Max Factor team depended on Halston for every decision. “It even extended to the launch party,” Lichtenstein recalled. “Halston insisted on a spring rather than a fall launch and decided to hold the launch party at his New York townhouse, 101 East 63rd Street. No detail was too small for his attention. He wanted the press kits delivered to guests’ homes the day of the party because he thought it tacky to give a goody bag to guests as they left. He even picked the grosgrain ribbon to tie it. At some point, one of the staff leant over and asked, ‘How do you think we should deliver the gifts?’ Back came the quick retort, ‘With midgets’.”

Halston’s launch at Bloomingdale’s proved a sensation. No fragrance before had achieved such immediate sales. “Within two weeks, we knew we had a hit on our hands,” said Lichtenstein. “The scent sold itself.”

A new American classic.

130 1975
Elsa Peretti’s bottle drawings
131 1975

In 1994, a brave newcomer took the fragrance world by storm.

Challenging every conventional tenet of fragrance marketing, cK one was sold in music stores on a mobile industrial rack.

Designed to appeal to both girls and boys, it spoke to a younger generation that rarely wore perfume. cK one was presented in a plain frosted-glass bottle reminiscent of a rum flask. Its aluminum screw cap opened with a snap. Its carton had no liner. Everything was recyclable.

Change was in the air. “There would be no greater expression of the cultural, economic and social revolutions to come than fashion,” says fashion analyst Maureen Callahan. “What rock ‘n’ roll was to the ‘50s, drugs to the ‘60s, films to the ‘70s, and modern art to the ‘80s, fashion was to the ‘90s: the fuse, then the filter. Calvin Klein, who’d built the ultimate 1980s status brand, was on the verge of bankruptcy, his name diluted through careless and diffuse licensing deals. To save his house, Klein had to become relevant again, and this meant going younger, less crisp and arch – almost dirtier.” 1

Klein’s 1993 ck collection was his response. The inspiration, he says, came while having dinner with his twenty-five-year-old daughter, Marci, then a producer at NBC. “ ‘You know, Dad’, she said, ‘I can’t wear the clothes that you make. It’s simply not appropriate for me to be spending that kind of money or dressing that way, coming to work at NBC. There are so many people like me. Why don’t you make clothes for us?’.”

Simplicity was the key to ck’s success, pared-down vintage Calvin Klein – basic pieces that worked together or when combined with jeans. “It wasn’t revolutionary. It didn’t set the world on its ear. It was just real –unfussy – which became an allure of its own,” says Lisa Marsh in her book, The House of Klein. “The lack of pretense appealed perfectly to the generation of young adults coming of age in the early 1990s. Generation X, as it was called, was incredibly different from its predecessors in the 1970s ‘Me’ generation or its greedy counterparts in the 1980s. Gen Xers wanted to be considered individuals. They were looking for a deeper meaning in life beyond

233 1994
Calvin Klein

designer labels, lofty titles, and hefty pay cheques. They wanted something real, whether that was a socially conscious job, an environment-friendly car, or affordable clothes without ostentatious labels and logos. Klein seized the moment and interpreted it in a new fragrance.” 2

Kim Delsing, then president of Calvin Klein Cosmetics, had been wanting to produce a unisex fragrance, even before the release of Calvin Klein’s Escape (1991). “A year later, I talked about it with Susan Cassano [vice president of fragrance marketing], and she showed me a Calvin Klein ad in Mademoiselle featuring a woman in a man’s jacket. It was Calvin’s androgynous look. Then she pulled out a copy of Businessweek, where the cover story was all about Generation X. The media had just started talking about these kids.”

includes Guerlain’s own Mouchoir de Monsieur (1904). Apothecary fragrances such as Kiehl’s Original Musk Oil (1963) were among the first to be explicitly marketed as unisex. Yves Saint Laurent followed with Eau Libre (1975) and the slogan ‘All that is yours is mine’. Still, the concept floundered in the mass market.

Marketing executive

The Businessweek cover story was titled ‘Move Over, Boomers’, and suggested that Generation Xers or ‘baby busters’, as they were called, were being foolishly ignored by marketers. Cassano proposed to Klein and Delsing that the company create a fragrance to address this neglected audience under the ck banner. Both wholeheartedly agreed.

“It was a Calvin Klein ad for his and her clothing, featuring a man and a woman, that prompted my thought of a unisex fragrance,” says Cassano. “It added, ‘Their fragrances: Obsession and Obsession for Men (1986)’. I remember thinking, ‘Why can’t they wear the same fragrance?’.”

Graphic designer Fabien Baron, who created the cK one bottle and provided artistic direction for Klein, takes some credit for the idea. “I told Calvin that the cK line had a lot of potential to become a separate identity, as big as the main Calvin Klein collection. With cK, he could do all the licenses he did with the main line, including, of course, fragrances. The idea really clicked in his head, and he said, ‘You’re right!’.”

Prior to the 20th century, fragrance was essentially unisex. “At that time, there was nothing especially different about the fragrances women and men used,” explained perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain “They were often interchangeable. Everybody used everything.” This changed when houses began marketing certain fragrances exclusively to women or men. An early example of masculine perfumery

Pablo de Echevarria remembers when Klein first shared his concept for cK one. Klein entered his partner Barry Schwartz’s office, where several colleagues had gathered for an end-of-day drink. “If there’s a fragrance, it should be simple,” Klein proposed. “It should not be expensive, and it should be the same for him and her. It shouldn’t even have a name or a theme or a message. I call it a shared fragrance because, you know, my wife Kelly borrows my shirt. She would want to wear my jacket. She would want a sweater. If I were wearing a cologne, she would wear it because she wanted something of mine.”

Echevarria recalls a hush falling over the room as the concept settled in. “That was it. It was so insane.” 3

“The project was codenamed Project X, for Generation X,” says Cassano. “Right from the beginning, we knew this was going to be under the cK banner. The name One, like ‘all for one’, was tossed around in the beginning while research was being done.”

“The problem was that you can’t trademark One – it’s in the public domain,” Delsing explains. “cK one, however, could be trademarked. Before we settled on anything, we decided to do some focus groups, to talk to this age group and see if the ‘unisex’ idea was something they would embrace. The results were unbelievable! Our idea was accepted and embraced very, very quickly. They loved it! What came out of the focus groups was the word ‘shared’, instead of ‘unisex’. Unisex wasn’t sexy, and Calvin needed to be sexy.” 4

“The ‘shared’ idea seemed so appropriate with where Calvin and his fashion were going at that time,” says Baron. He recalls that Klein and he drew inspiration from L’Eau d’Issey (1992), whose bottle Baron had co-designed according to a pure, minimalist aesthetic that could appear gender-free. It was a look that suited Klein perfectly.

234 1994
The cK one universe

The Fragrance

Ann Gottlieb, the renowned ‘nose’ who had finished Obsession (1985) and directed the Eternity (1988) and Escape (1991) fragrance developments, was responsible for selecting an essential oil house that could interpret Klein’s vision – a unisex scent for Generation X – into a commercial fragrance. “It became clear to me, early on, that this was a fragrance that needed to be more transparent and much fresher than anything available, and it definitely could not be strong,” Gottlieb explains. “Also, in looking at a fragrance to be shared, I was much more careful of it being more acceptable for a man.” 5

“It had to be weighted more strongly on the men’s side,” Delsing agreed. “That would make the crossover easier, because women are much more prone to wear men’s fragrances than vice versa. It had to be relatively safe, because the ‘shared’ concept was quite a stretch, which would be hard for some people to accept. It was difficult to find the right juice.”

Eventually, Gottlieb settled on Firmenich, which had recently done L’Eau d’Issey. Patrick Firmenich, the new vice president of fine fragrances U.S., played an important role in winning the cK one brief. “We

were walking on a very narrow line,” he says, “and the challenge was to focus and remain on that line, to appeal to men and women and develop a shared fragrance. We needed freshness and masculine qualities to appear at the top of the fragrance, since those notes appeal to men – something as distinct as citrus. But that note had to be combined with others, making it warm and comfortable to appeal to women as well.” 6

“The Firmenich codename for cK one was Vision,” recalls master perfumer Alberto Morillas, who cocreated the fragrance. cK one’s composition is widely believed to have been inspired by Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (1993), a novel green tea fragrance created by Jean-Claude Ellena. Morillas asserts, though, that his fragrance’s genesis predates the release of Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert. The accord that became cK one began, he says, in the mid-1980s when Maurice Roger, then president of Parfums Christian Dior, briefed Firmenich on a new masculine fragrance. “M. Roger asked me, ‘Can you make a tea perfume for Dior?’ I worked on a black tea accord. At the time, no supplier was making a good tea extract, so I used maté, a bitter tea-like note from South America.

‘Clean. Pure. Refreshing’

Head notes

Green tea accord, Hedione high cis, nutmeg, violet, rose


235 1994
Aromatic Sensuous Heart notes
Soul notes Bergamot, cardamom, fresh pineapple, mandarin, neroli, papaya, green tea accord
Amber, green tea accord, musk complex

I mixed maté and bergamot, which gives a tea effect, in the direction of green tea. M. Roger also briefed Givaudan, and JeanClaude Ellena worked on a green tea, also with maté and bergamot. Eventually, Dior decided to abandon the tea direction. Ellena sold his green tea to Bvlgari, and the result was his Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert. Meanwhile, I continued to be intrigued by the tea note.”

Gottlieb’s initial inspiration for cK one was not Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, but Dior’s Dune (1991). “She wanted us to work on a Dune type – a chypre with mandarin,” Morillas recalls. “I never pursued that. Dune was a flop for Dior. Instead, I worked on a tea accord, a fresh green tea for the States.”

Morillas’ green tea accord had a “wonderful way of winking at you every time you wear it,” Gottlieb found. It was light, citrusy, and fresh like an eau de cologne, the classic ‘unisex’ accord in perfumery. She pushed Morillas to make it increasingly light and diaphanous. “That was how it began to come together – sheered-out,” Gottlieb says. “We fooled around with this sheer base, added some floralcy, and it worked. But when men smell it, they don’t think it’s floral.” 7

Morillas, a native of Seville, says that Spanish perfumery – classics like Heno de Pravia (1917) and Agua Lavanda (1940) – greatly influenced his work during the 1990s. “cK one was inspired by my Spanish background – the light, fresh colonias from my country. Most of my perfumes have water and sun. It’s my culture. When you smell Acqua di Giò pour Homme (1996), it’s not heavy – it’s brilliant, it has a lot of sun. The same with FlowerbyKenzo (2000), you have the same story – the freshness, the aquatic feeling – it’s the same signature. Twenty years later, these perfumes are still very modern, still current. You recognize them in the street.”

Like Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, cK one was a short formula, stripped to the bare minimum, Morillas reveals. “It is a very simple formula. The tea effect comes from maté and bergamot. The only other citrus I used was neroli, because in the States people don’t like petitgrain – they find it too bitter. I put in a lot of mint – it’s very fresh – and there’s a little watery note from Calone. I used some sandalwood to make it a bit stronger, but it’s basically light and fresh. It’s not floral, but it has a petally effect. I used a lot of a special kind of Hedione, called Hedione High Cis/

HC (Firmenich). Normal Hedione is very light, whereas Hedione HC is much stronger.”

First synthesized in 1958, “Hedione or methyl dihydrojasmonate, as chemists know it, has become one of the most important compounds in perfume-making thanks to its warmth, radiance and its ability to connect the scents, or notes, in the complex synthesis that is a perfume,” writes Louise Crane in Chemist World. “Its name comes from the Greek, hedone, which roughly translates as hedonism or pleasure, and it is the only perfume compound that has been shown to stimulate a sexual response in humans.” 8

Morillas explains the role of Hedione: “When you smell Hedione by itself, it’s not very strong, but you can use it to add a touch of brightness that makes everything more vivid and improves the structure. It’s like when you add a spot of bright color to a dark painting – the contrast lends brilliance to the darker colors. When you combine Hedione with a citrus note, you get a fresh accord that is pure light. It’s radiant, it gives brightness.”

Morillas extended the fragrance’s fresh note with a judicious mixture of four synthetic musks. “That’s my secret!” the perfumer proudly declares. “I balanced the freshness with the musks. I mixed two new musksthe first was Muscenone Delta (Firmenich), which I used at 4 percent. It was a product of the latest technology at Firmenich and is a very expensive material. Second, I put in a little Helvetolide (Firmenich), which was new as well. Of course, I added Galaxolide – a lot! – to give cK one a floral element, because this fragrance needed to appeal to women as well. It needed to be unisex, and Galaxolide was very important for this angle. There’s also Exaltolide (Firmenich), a musk that’s fresh and feminine.”

Despite Morillas’ enthusiasm, Calvin Klein Cosmetics rejected his first trials. “I did hundreds and hundreds of modifications!” Morillas laments. “I thought it would never end! Finally, Ann asked me, ‘Can you come talk with Kim Delsing at Calvin Klein?’ Mme Delsing smelt my perfume and, happily, understood it. ‘Ah, yes, I like this freshness’, she said.

“The problem was that it still wasn’t very long lasting. In New York, I worked on cK one for almost three weeks. The perfume’s ‘story’ was in place. When I wore it in the street, everyone asked me,

236 1994
Perfumer Alberto Morillas

‘What are you wearing? It smells so different!’ But at that moment, I had to return to Geneva. Patrick Firmenich asked Harry Frémont if he would work on it.”

“The creation of cK one epitomizes Firmenich’s working methods,” says Patrick Firmenich. “The original idea came from Alberto Morillas, in Geneva. Then the final touches were done by Harry Frémont in New York.” 9

Like Morillas, Frémont describes himself as a “self-taught perfumer. I studied biology at the University of Nice but wanted to get out of it. Through a friend, I had learned of ISIPCA, the perfumer’s post-graduate school in Versailles. One thing led to another and after graduating, I joined Haarmaan & Reimer [now Symrise] as a lab assistant in Paris. I was fascinated by gas chromatography analysis, and taught myself perfumery by studying, analyzing and trying to duplicate the classics. I became an assistant perfumer in 1982, a junior perfumer in 1983.”

“Ann still felt that the fragrance did not have enough lift and was missing some modernity. My answer was to dose in some damascones, the aroma notes synthesized by Firmenich in 1972 from the heart of Bulgarian rose oil. It didn’t work; the damascone made the fragrance too fruity. It took many, many trials to find the right amount to give the fragrance the lift Ann wanted.”

Still, Firmenich found it impossible to satisfy Gottlieb and Delsing, who continued to request modifications. “We had ripped it apart, rebuilt it and we ruined it every time,” Delsing admits. “We just couldn’t make it work! Sometimes, if you start with A and you do fifteen variations, you just kill what you loved about A. We were really struggling, and we felt that we might have to put off the launch.”

That year, Frémont won the Prix International du Parfumeur-Créateur, the prestigious award instituted by the French Society of Perfumers to recognize young creative talent. In 1984, he won it again, the first and the last perfumer to do so because the Society then changed the rules.

“I had attended Calvin Klein’s briefing on Project X, one of the best I’d ever been to because Calvin Klein knew exactly what they wanted,” says Frémont “Ann Gottlieb and Kim Delsing were worried now about the level of citrus in the fragrance. In their view, it was too associated with a functional product like a dishwashing liquid.

“Alberto loved citrus, and always pushed citric notes in his formulae. I’m more pragmatic. I prefer to walk on the safer side. So, to help me better understand his formula, I analyzed the proportions of the citrus notes. Immediately, I saw that apart from bergamot, mandarin and neroli, the formula had lemon in it. I recognized that that was the note that made it smell functional. I solved the problem by taking the lemon out and rebalancing the bergamot, mandarin, and neroli accord.

“There was another material in the formula that also worried me: phenyl ethyl alcohol, a rosy top note not often used in men’s fragrances. It seemed out of place but when I took it out, the tea accord changed dramatically. I reduced the proportion and put it back.

“The fragrance still felt cold to Ann and Kim,” says Frémont. “They felt it lacked a touch of sensuality. My solution was to dose in a very, very small amount of vanilla and tonka bean. I rebalanced the sandalwood and played a little bit with the musk. It increased the sensuality in the back and pulled all the pieces of the puzzle together. The fragrance became extremely diffusive. It really lifted off the skin.”

cK one was bottled as an eau de toilette, at a concentration of 10 percent. Its lightness was its strength. “cK one demonstrated brilliantly that a quiet citrus fragrance, like a pacifist movement, could make itself heard without resorting to violence,” writes olfactive expert Luca Turin. The accord, he says, is “based on short-lived top note materials, telescopically extended into the heart and drydown by synthetic look-alikes.

“cK one takes a soapy, fresh top note and fleshes it out with a skin-toned ensemble of middle and drydown materials,” he continues. “Every one is picked for its radiance, so the chord can be heard just as clearly thirty paces away as up close.” 10

Gottlieb calls cK one “an intimate fragrance, one that you need to be near to smell. You can splash on loads of it, and the person sitting next to you at the theatre won’t have to move. It was a new philosophy, a ‘sheer’ fragrance – uncomplicated, easy and democratic.”

Some in the business view cK one as an antiperfume, a democratic alternative to European luxury fragrances. Louis Vuitton perfumer Jacques Cavallier describes it as “the jeans of perfume”.

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Perfumer Harry Frémont

The cK one bottle was born of competition, with proposals submitted by various designers. In the end, Klein chose the work of Fabien Baron, the designer behind the L’Eau d’Issey bottle, who had originally proposed the launch of a ck fragrance.

At the time, Baron was the creative director at Harper’s Bazaar, where he reinvented the magazine’s aesthetic according to his minimalist style and love of blank spaces interspersed with large lettering. “I just have a point of view,” Baron explains, “and I have hammered that point of view to the bone on everything.

The BoTTle

“The approach was very different back then,” he recalls, referencing ornate bottles like White Diamonds (1991). “Everything was very traditional and decorative. I came from fashion. For me, then and now, I was always attracted to the youth culture and what young people do.”

In an interview with Kate Spicer of The Sunday Times, Baron shared his thoughts: “Calvin hired me to do the bottle and packaging. I developed it to have a certain shareable quality – it’s not specifically for women or men, it’s more for an attitude. I don’t like to call it ‘unisex’. I think cK one is for a certain generation with a certain mind-set that says, ‘You can be a man, a woman, or whatever you want…it doesn’t matter’. It’s not about gender, it’s about a way of being.

“Right away, I thought of the shape. I chose one that is totally universal – I call it ‘un-design design’, which is very Calvin Klein. The bottle could be a flask – inside, you could have rum or cough syrup. It’s standard, common, and pharmaceutical, like a stock bottle. It’s a shape that everybody has worked on at some point, but we refined it in our own way. The cap, too, had to be very common, so I designed an aluminum twist-off cap, like on a bottle of Perrier water or Coke. The gesture of turning the cap to open it would be something very ‘everyday’ and familiar. It’s plain and simple.

“The packaging is just cardboard, there’s no glue, just panels that fold together in a certain way. I asked that the pump be included separately in the

box, instead of being integrated, so that people could re-use the bottle if they wanted to. We made sure that everything was recyclable, to appeal to the younger generation, who were sick of the industry’s over-packaging, the garbage. Our package was simple, solid and recyclable.” 11

As with the fragrance, Klein was slow to accept the bottle, Delsing recounts. “Calvin saw Fabien’s bottle for the first time, and he called me afterwards. He said, ‘I’m panicked! The bottle is so weird, it’s so unlike us. I don’t know what to think’. Fabien presented it to Calvin and me the following day. Fabien had this recycled cardboard box that he unfolded, and there was this eight-ounce Jamaican rum bottle wrapped in rice paper. I just loved it! I knew it was right. There was a real sense of familiarity – something old made modern. Calvin was relieved because he wasn’t sure about it. He asked, ‘Where’s the perfume bottle?’ and we said, “We don’t have a perfume version, remember? Only the eau de toilette’.

“We haggled over the production cost of the bottle because we wanted to ensure that the fragrance would be sold at a very accessible price. I had a wonderful relationship with Pochet du Courval, but they didn’t think they could make the bottle for that price. Still, they came over from Paris, and we went for dinner with Sam Ghusson, who was my vice president of operations. During the meal, they handed Sam this little note and it said, ‘Eighteen cents’. In other words, these guys were going to do the bottle, no matter what it took. Eighteen cents!”

Many were surprised by the bottle’s design, including Alberto Morillas. “All the other bottles looked so elegant – Obsession, Eternity (1988), Escape (1991). When you see cK one, you say, ‘It looks so cheap and simple!”

That’s the point, Klein argues. “The cK one bottle is not only about simplicity, but also about honesty,” the designer explains. “It’s about being basic. The big bottle of cologne, that you can splash on, is the simplicity that we’re after. People are concerned about the environment, and they’re really concerned

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about not paying for useless extra stuff. We’ve got to be honest, basic and simple. The advertising of every fragrance that we did really tells the story of what the scent is all about. cK one’s advertising did the same thing. There are men and women of all ages – it’s obvious what this fragrance is all about: no boundaries.”

“The 1980s were about excess, the 1990s are about cK one,” Klein stated. “cK one has to do with simplicity. It has to do with value. It has to do with everything that’s modern and everything that young people are thinking about. It has to do with sharing.” 12

Morillas endorsed Klein’s revolutionary approach. “I love cK one; the whole concept; the Calvin Klein brand,” he says. “When cK one was launched, the response was

incredible! In the States, people liked it. In Spain, people liked it. In Italy, France, everywhere, the same reaction. Everyone wanted to buy it, and I don’t know how many millions of bottles got sold! Today, almost everyone in the world has smelt cK one at one moment or another. It’s magic.”

cK one was so, so different, emphasises Gottlieb. “The fragrances from the 1980s were like fashion’s big shoulder look; very bold, ballsy and in-your-face! cK one was the counter to that. It was so much more subtle. The fragrance still had sillage and assertiveness, but a completely different type of character. It led to Pleasures (1995), and a whole new way of looking at fragrance.”

In every sense, cK one was a oncein-a-generation game changer.

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Fabien Baron’s conception for the cK one bottle. ‘The cK one bottle is not only about simplicity, it’s also about honesty. It’s about being basic.’
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