Friday, May 14, 2010

The History of the House of Lanvin Parfums

Few fashion houses have such an illustrious career in fragrance production that at least a handful of their old creations are considered classics beyond parallel: one could cite Chanel or Dior. Lanvin is one of them and although its endurance and shimmer has waned through the decades, a result of the brand passing through many hands who were not always respectful of the heritage, their fragrances are renowned for their elegance that transcends the decades. From the definitive Arpège (1927) with its aldehydic incandescence to the delectable Mon Péché (My Sin) from 1925, they entangle their fans in an embrace of true luxury. Acclaimed perfumer Edmond Roudnistka had pronounced quinoline-rich yet smooth Scandal (1933) as his preferred leather scent among all others by saying it's "a beautiful flower snapped inside a new leather handbag". [in an interview by Susan Irvine]

The tantalising names read like a sexy adventure as well: Prétexte (pretext), Rumeur (rumour), Crescendo, L'Ame Perdue (Lost Soul)... Some of the lost gems are poetically baptized, consonants and vowels rolling off the tongue: Pétales Froissées, J'en rafolle, Niv Nal, Lajéa...

The story of the house of Lanvin starts with the founder of the fashion house, milliner Jeanne Lanvin, born on the 1st of January of 1867 in Paris, eldest of 11 children born to the poor family of Bernard-Constant Lanvin and Sophie-Blanche. Luckily for them, Jeanne's grandfather, Jacques-Firmin Lanvin, is friends with Victor Hugo who helps them along every way he can.
At the age of 13, Jeanne, nicknamed «la petite omnibus» because of her habit to chase the bus, enters the workforce as a seamstress and milliner. As the years pass, so augments the admiration her work produces, earning her an apprenticeship at Félix and later at Cordeau's, working in Barcelona. Upon returning to Paris, Jeanne Lanvin will become mistress of herself: She founds her own millinery fashion house at rue du Marché Saint-Honoré. Her next address upon expanding her headquarters will be 16 rue Boissy d’Anglas while the final destination, still standing to this day, will be at 22, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The genius designs of artist Albert Armand Rateau will help her materialize her Hôtel particulier and her villas, the «Lanvin Décoration» division and he will decorate her boutiques. Together they will participate in the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in 1925 as well.

Aside from the professional, Jeanne's personal life will blossom too: She meets her future husband, le Conte Emilio di Pietro, at the Longchamp horse races and will have her daughter Marguerite in 1897. The little girl has been immortalised through the design of the iconic black boule bottle of Arpège. Her nickname is Ririte, but she will be referred to as Marie-Blanche ever since 1920, and she will be the inspiration for the many fabulous designs her mother devises which will be envied all over Paris and will create the fervent desire to emulate for the daughters of many well-to-do ladies of the higher society. The step from daughters to mothers is a small one and Jeanne will become a legendary couturier in no time!
Marie-Blanche will also be the inspiration for her mother's most enduring perfume, Arpège, conceived for the 30th birthday of Jeanne's beloved daughter and inspired by Marie-Blanche's musical-referencing comment upon smelling the first mod of the composition: "it smells like an arpeggio would". The formula was composed by perfumers Paul Vacher and André Fraysse, while the design of the mother dressing the daughter by Paul Iribe has become a modern icon. It's an irony that the passionate love the mother had for her daughter Marguerite will end up in drawing them apart...

Parfums Lanvin will begin their long-standing career in 1925 at 4, Champs Elysées with simultaneous openings at Cannes and Touquet. The perfume laboratory will be in Nanterre. Even though the background of the first few perfumes is shrouded in mystery and the allegedly Russian-born (and nebulous) Madame Zed ~or more truthfully Marie Zède*~ the fact is that it was the then young perfumer André Fraysse who created the triumphs of the Lanvin fragrance line from 1925 onwards. Such was his input that the legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska had once said that he considered Fraysse to be the best perfumer of them all.

The final recognition for Jeanne Lanvin came in 1926, when she became a Chevalier de la légion d'Honneur, and when in 1938, she received the rosette of Officier de la Légion d'Honneur by the hand of Sacha Guitry. She died 8 years later at the age of 79. The direction of the couture house was renegated to Marguerite/Marie-Blanche till her own death in 1958. Successors to the designer seat will include Antonio del Castillo, Dominique Morlotti, Jules Francois Crahay, Marry II Lanvin , Claude Montana, Patrick Lavoix and Christina Ortiz.
After a long hibernation and the passing into too many hands, the L'Oreal Group and the Vuitton family bought out the Lanvin house, organising the first re-orchestration of the classic Arpège fragrance; to outcries from the loyal fans which demanded and effectuated a needed twist in the latter part of the 1990s, albeit never to the grander glory of yore. Since 2007, parfums Lanvin are owned by Inter Parfums, while the fashion division is led by designer Alber Elbaz.
The official site of Lanvin can be accessed here.

The perfumes of Lanvin in chronological order are:

1923 Irisé (discontinued in 1926)
1923 Kara Dujenoun (inspired by a trip to Egypt and discontinued in 1926)
1923 Lajéa
1923 Le Chypre
1923 La Dogaresse
1924 Comme-Ci, Comme-Ca
1924 Niv Nal (discontinued in 1926)
1925 J'En Raffole
1925 Géranium D'Espagne (discontinued in 1962)
1925 Cross Country
1925 Mon Péché (My Sin) (discontinued in 1988)
1925 Le Sillon (discontinued in 1926)
1925 Friction Jeanne Lanvin
1925 Après Sport (discontinued in 1926)
1925 Où Fleurit L'Oranger (discontinued in 1940)
1927 Arpège
1928 L'Ame Perdue (Lost Soul)
1928 Pétales Froissées
1933 Scandal
1933 Eau de Lanvin
1934 Rumeur
1934 Eau de Cologne Lanvin
1937 Prétexte
1949 Prodige
1951 Spanish Geranium
1964 Monsieur Lanvin
1964 Figaro Lanvin
1964 Lavande Lanvin
1965 Crescendo
1966 Vétyver de Lanvin
1971 Via Lanvin
1979 Lanvin for Men
1979 Cardamome (Moyen Orient)
1979 Rumeur (relaunch)
1983 Clair de Jour
1987 Eau de Parfum d'Arpège
2000 Oxygene
2001 Oxygene pour Homme
2003 Lanvin Vetyver
2003 Éclat d'Arpège
2005 Arpege pour Homme
2006 Rumeur (new edition)
2007 Éclat d'Arpège Summer
2008 Rumeur 2 Rose
2008 Jeanne Lanvin
2009 Lanvin L'Homme Sport

We will review (and link) several of these fragrances soon!

*according to an official hand-written document in which Marie Zède from 13, rue Castiglione, Paris, orders raw materials from a supplier. [source & possession of document 1000fragrances]
Vintage Lanvin ads via cache1.asset-cachet.net, publicites-anciennes.com and ebay


  1. You have such incredible timing. Just a few days ago I became curious about Lanvin (and Arpege in particular). I've been scouring the internet looking for information about Lanvin, but it's been hard to come by. Thanks for this!

  2. M,

    so very glad it is so! It's a pity that the older Lanvins except a couple of exceptions are so unsung and largely unknown. I hope to come back with a full review of Arpege that will include some less-known facts and with more info and opinions on some of the other long-lost Lanvins ~hence the Lanvin Series tag ;-).

  3. Hooray! Another series...I do so enjoy learning here. :)

    For the moment, I am enchanted by the title of the 1928 introduction...L'Ame Perdue...I know I shouldn't judge on packaging or title, but I do like that one.

  4. Fabulous review!
    Just a small correction - the Madame Zede document is not in the archives of Lanvin but in my possesion (I have the original like in other cases when the picture turns to yellow-sepia because of my old Fuji).

  5. Fiordiligi19:55

    Absolutely fabulous piece! Thanks so much, dearest E. I think that Lanvin is largely unsung yet there is a magical history and a very respectable catalogue of perfumes. Have you seen Jeanne Lanvin's bathroom at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris? Swoon.

    Off to Italy tomorrow. A bientot!

  6. Geranium d'Espagne is discontinued for so long?!
    I have a huge bottle of Via Lanvin. Very 70's salty thing.

  7. L'Ame Perdue--how bittersweet to imagine what that one might have been like! The name makes me imagine a beautifully ethereal version of My Sin. Thanks for the history of one of my favorite houses :-)

  8. Chris G00:01

    As usual, a fascinating read! I'm sorry to say I've never sniffed any of the Lavins - I need to remedy that soon!!

  9. They were prolific!

  10. This was a lovely read, and quite educational! My mother only wore My Sin (and only for special occasions) so the house holds a unique place in my heart. I have her bottle, my father found it and gave it to me a couple years ago. I wish it smelled on me like it smelled on her -- perhaps because she smoked, or perhaps my memory's faulty. Wouldn't you love to go back in time and smell some of those long-lost scents on that list?

  11. S,

    glad you are so happy about it :-)
    Yeah, lost soul has all sorts of poetic damnation frills about it, doesn't it? (like it too)

  12. Octavian,

    thanks for the compliment and thanks for the correction. Goes to show you just how I misunderstood; sorry about that. Maybe I was imagining you as a stealth agent dressed in black (a cool image, no?), immersed in the archives of the brand and photographing with a micro-camera in secret and my imagination got the best of me. :-)

    I immediately corrected the attribution as the document belonging to you, without of course changing the link to your post and your photograph of it.

  13. D,

    happy you found it interesting, love! I also think they're unsung (with one or two exceptions) and it's such a shame. There are plenty of classics which are fabulous and a couple of newer ones that are good.
    And who can resist to such private glimses through the keyhole? There's a voyeur in all of us, I guess, if those exhibitions are any testament.

    Hope you have a GREAT trip!! Italy is perfect this time.

  14. L,

    yup, although the apparition of Spanish Geranium some years later seems to point that there is a re-issue for an Anglophone market (probably the US).

    Via Lanvin is one of those I have tried and agree with you. It's quite good.

  15. M,

    bittersweet is the perfect terminology. It would be nice to think of it as a more romantic (rather than glamorous) My Sin.

    And glad I occupied myself with your favourite house. There will be some posts which you will probably enjoy, then! ;-)

  16. Chris,

    they're highly recommended. Start by locating some My Sin parfum, Arpege vintage parfum and possibly some Crescendo and Pretexte. They're a great glimpse into the Lanvin spirit.

  17. K,

    they certainly were that!

    Things like that point out that the adage "there are so many releases nowadays" are technically not 100% accurate.

  18. March,

    thanks honey for being so kind in saying so.
    What a precious and glamorous memory of your mother in My Sin and what fabulous taste displayed: I can't think of a vintage perfume more steeped in true and intelligent elegance.

    As to how it smelled on her vs. you, I always think it's a combination of things: The fervent desire to glamourise the past in most of us (the pang of nostalgia for the things we haven't really lived through) and the halo of a loved one lending a bit of their shining to the object they used. I get this with objects my mother used as well... and not just perfume *sigh*

    It would be really grand if a time-machine would magically transport us to decades past with all our senses intact, so we could gather the nectar of everything offered like bees. Till that happens, I have secured some vintages from Lanvin which will see me through some -hopefully interesting- reviews. Hope to be entertaining and educational in the near future too! At least I'll do my best...

  19. What happened between mother and daughter?

  20. Wonderful post and so very interesting to read the Lanvin history. I wore My Sin for years when I was younger - probably too young, but in those days, who knew? Which ones, if any, of the scents left do you consider good? Reviews of those might also make an interesting piece.

    Thank you as always.

  21. Anna,

    thanks for asking! One can imagine just how the young finally rebelled against so much chaperoning.
    It's often best to let one make their own mistakes in life. Not that it's easy, mind you.

  22. Donna,

    thank you for your lovely compliment and how exquisite you must have been in a cloud of My Sin! I think it must have been a wonderful addition to your aura, no matter that you were young. After all, aren't the young cut out of the cloth that can act upon the desires that the older have but cannot act upon any more? (or words to that effect)

    I am noting down your very helpful and interesting suggestion on singling out current worthwhile Lanvin fragrances. Hope to do it soon!

  23. Is it possible to still find Arpege in the original fragrance?
    Losing it has been terrible. I've found nothing that replaces it.

  24. Peg,

    thanks for asking, I suppose lots of people are wondering as well.

    Your best bet at this point is searching estate sales, auctions and the private collectors' circuit. They should be able to feret the occasional vintage bottle (Arpege being quite popular, this shouldn't be too rare), of course with caveat emptor applying as with all vintage fragrances (juice might have spoiled some, be more concentrated and thick, have lost its top notes entirely etc. but not all is lost most of the time).

    Good luck in your hunt!
    Arpege used to be so very beautiful it's a crime it was changed.

  25. My mom wore Arpege when I was little which fostered my love of fine French fragrances . I have a gorgeous bottle myself which reminds me of her .

  26. Erike,

    thanks for sharing this precious memory with us. It is always extraordinarily poignant to think of how our beloved ones have etched themselves to our memory with their scent, isn't it?

  27. I meant Erika, sorry about the typo.

  28. Robert Morgan17:48

    I was a real devotee of Lanvin for Men, which was discontinued sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s, from what I can gather. I was certainly able to buy it in the mid-1990s when I was living in Hong Kong.

    This is probably asking the impossible, but does anybody know of someone who might still be able to supply this fragrance?

  29. Robert,
    thanks for commenting.
    I hope someone sees this and answers your question. There should be bottles floating around on Ebay though and since this isn't a big seller, you won't be getting fakes either. ;-)

  30. Robert,
    thanks for commenting.
    I hope someone sees this and answers your question. There should be bottles floating around on Ebay though and since this isn't a big seller, you won't be getting fakes either. ;-)

  31. Robert,
    thanks for commenting.
    I hope someone sees this and answers your question. There should be bottles floating around on Ebay though and since this isn't a big seller, you won't be getting fakes either. ;-)


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