The Man Who Created the World’s First Fragrance


Born in Paris on the 20th of April, 1879, French couturier, Paul Poiret was arguably the most fashionable dress designer of the pre-World War I era. In the time before his death in April 1944, Poiret became particularly recognised for his Neoclassical and orientalist styles, for advocating the replacement of the corset with the brassiere, his startling inventions including “harem” pantaloons, and “lampshade” tunics, and for the introduction of the hobble skirt – a vertical, tight-bottomed style that confined women to mincing steps.

Personally, I’ve been enthralled by the exotic Belle Epoque designs of the French fashion genius. After selling his sketches to couturier houses and serving as a designer at the House of Worth, Poiret opened a small shop in Paris in 1903, which marked the beginning of his own fashion house. By 1909 Poiret had expanded into furniture, decor, and fragrance in addition to clothing. In 1911 he created the fragrance “Parfums de Rosine,” named after his first daughter. This fragrance made the house the first courtier to release a signature fragrance. Inspired by a widespread interest in Eastern art and Russian ballet, he created flamboyant, theatrical designs that became popular in France during the reign of Napoleon the first. His evening gowns, turbans, and harem pants appeared in brilliant shades of purple, red, orange, green, and blue.
Using the marketing strategy of throwing lavish parties to draw attention to his work. The “Parfums de Rosine” for one, was released in the most extravagant of manners at a grand soiree held at his palatial home, a costume ball attended by the cream of Parisian society and the artistic world. His wife, Madame Poiret herself lounged in a golden cage luxuriating in opulence.

Poiret became extremely influential in the pre-World War I period but his popularity waned in the 1920s. After Poiret’s death his story became legend in the fashion industry, with the designer’s contributions to twentieth-century fashion having been likened to Picasso’s contributions to twentieth-century art. Paul’s influence has been profound, with his designs having been eclipsed by younger, more modern designers such as Coco Chanel. Let this article be a tribute to a great designer, who may even have an influence on the clothing you wear today. You just may not know it yet.

Hlumelo Ntsokolo

Edited by J. Theophile