With the word originating from the Latin word “luxus”, meaning the ‘indulgence of senses, regardless of the cost’, and later further developing on from the French word “luxurie” meaning ‘lust’ and ‘debauchery’: is there really any need for a better definition?
The word itself rolls off the tip of the tongue, and undeniably, we all love the ring of it, not only grammatically speaking…Frequently associated with the desirable, it plays a vast role in our lives; yet just like everything, it didn't appear from thin air. So what is the history of luxury? Where did it start? Is perfume a luxury?
THE APPEARANCE OF LUXURY
Dating as far as the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, even Britain in the Middle Ages; they all regarded the indulgence of luxury a negative and corrupted influence on society. Battles against the phenomenon continued until the 17th century, when the term finally and gradually began to lose its detrimental reputation. Developing into something more lavish, more into an art form, like a performance; to which we have King Louis XIV of France to thank! From renovating the most grand Chateau de Versailles, that even without an Instagram filter shines and gleams, and simply defines opulence; to establishing a court culture with a strict and lavish dress code, including one for himself, which yes, did mean he changed his outfits 3 times a day…It is therefore, no surprise that his reign was regarded the greatest age of French culture and art!
With the new established luxury, the domino effect began, now specifically through fashion. Starting in 1852, when department store Bon Marche, located in the heart of Paris, opened its doors to the public; moving to 1858, when the world was finally introduced to the first haute couture house, created by Charles Frederick Worth. Even despite the curator’s English roots, the ‘House of Worth’, inevitably began its bloom in the growing, and soon-to-be fashion capital, Paris. Following on, the world saw the appearance of great French names: Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, the list is truly endless! All residing in Paris, this solidified France’s firm position in the world of luxury.
DOES ‘MADE IN FRANCE’ MEAN IT’S A ‘LUXURY’?
Paris saw the births of new luxury designers, on a daily, monthly, yearly basis; all sharing their exquisite workmanship and refined tastes, and dressing the most renowned celebrities from all corners of the globe. Yet it was after the industrial revolution in the 19th century, when goods were more easily shipped worldwide. With an ongoing momentum, large corporations were founded, including LVMH, Kering, Hermes, Chanel and L’Oreal, only to name a few; amplifying the force behind French luxury.
Despite their competitors, their growth was unstoppable. Now, out of the 270 luxury brands in the world, 130 are French, with an overall turnover of a jaw dropping €217 billion! Conclusively, it really is a particularly dynamic sector in France, and it forces to ask, what is their secret to success?
In simple terms, it's merely the weight of the label “Made in France”; guaranteeing the desired, finest French quality! French luxury companies have an excellent image abroad, which consequently results in 80% of their turnover to be generated from exports. The brands, singularly, and those under the umbrella of the large corporations such as LVMH, after establishing themselves internationally, have attached the “Made in France” label to themselves, creating a differentiating factor. Now an essential element in the products’ design, the label becomes the guarantor of all notions and values, including being of a certified quality origin, as well as having an ability to innovate and last over the decades, or as we know it, being “in fashion” and producing “lifetime pieces”.
Moreover, it is no secret that the process of the production is equally important. Behind the curtains of the French luxury industry stands ancestral expertise, the use of precious materials and privileged production conditions, directed by talented and knowledgeable staff; all factors that further reassure and comfort when buying. Of course, this also justifies the price tag; nevertheless, even that doesn't stop consumers from buying “French”! With a firm reputation, and renowned for their know-how, it is irresistible and recognised worldwide.
FRANCE, PERFUME CAPITAL?
Along with their fashion, French beauty care is similarly, the world's number one. With exceptional potential for innovation, and continuous growth, the sector has a turnover of €25 billion, making it the third largest exporting sector in France, and constituting 25% share of the world’s market, with a trade surplus of €7.6 billion! Yet, why France? What is the significance, and how did it become the fragrance capital?
You may be thinking: with endless streets of fashion houses, it is logical why the country is also the homage to luxury perfume… Yet the truth behind this is, in fact, even simpler.
You cannot discuss the heritage of perfume without mentioning the Provence or the French Riviera, more specifically the town of Grasse, whose history dates back to the 12th century. During this time, the city had no link to fragrances, and instead was known for its tanning industry. History often shows that cities initially carrying the most pungent smells were soon transformed into the powerhouses of perfume production, with Grasse being no exception. With leather-work producing sickening odours and creating air pollution, in the 16th century, the city finally used aromatising fragrances in the attempt to combat the lingering stench. Ironically, the local soil and climate were very propitious in growing raw perfume materials of extraordinary quality, and thus, eventually, it even surpassed the local tanners business. The region grew at a staggering pace, with local ‘shops’ producing intricate scents for the famous fashion designers based in the capital, only a few hundred miles away.
However, just like magic without the magician, it wouldn’t work! The ingredients would have very little worth, if it was not for the “noses”, the perfumers, who stand behind the art form. Once again, due to the history of the location, some of the oldest perfume manufacturers still exist in Grasse to this very day. From Galimard Parfumeur (1747) to Molinard Parfumeur (1849) and Fragonard Parumeur (1926), the city’s perfume success is patent. Nevertheless, it was soon recognised that it wasn't just the city, treasuring renowned “noses”, and instead was and is France in general, with perfume houses appearing across the country, including Guerlain (1828) in Paris, and the house of Bedoues, in Toulouse (1902). Even now, the most renowned and talented perfumers are ironically French; for instance, Dominique Ropion, the master perfumer behind ‘Portrait of a Lady’ by Frederic Malle, and Francis Kurkdjian, another expert nose, behind the creation of world renowned fragrances such as Le Male for Jean Paul Gaultier, really naming only a few this time, as the list does go on…
With the long and rich standing tradition, the extensive farms of precious ingredients, and the world’s best ‘noses’ in the industry, it is no surprise why these factors impact consumers in even buying their perfume, with the defined label of “Made in France”.