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 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)
1928 L'Ame Perdue (Lost Soul)
1928 Pétales Froissées
1933 Eau de Lanvin
1934 Eau de Cologne Lanvin
1951 Spanish Geranium
1964 Monsieur Lanvin
1964 Figaro Lanvin
1964 Lavande Lanvin
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
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