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Paris fashion, perfume & soap

Paris has been the fashion capital of the Western world from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first century. The clothes we wear today owe a great deal to Paris, even if they were designed (and almost certainly manufactured) elsewhere in the world.

Prior to the rise of the modern nation-state fashions were geographically dispersed, with loci in Florence and other powerful Italian city-states as well as at the courts of Burgundy and Spain. But France emerged from the end of the Thirty Years' War, in 1648, as by far the largest, richest, and most powerful state in Europe, and the rulers of France-most notably Louis XIV (reigned 1643-1715)-understood that fashion was a potent weapon in establishing France's cultural preeminence.

Louis XIV exercised control over his aristocrats by requiring that all who were in attendance at his new court at Versailles be dressed in appropriate fashions. At the same time the king's chief minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, recognized the growing economic importance of textiles and clothing and harnessed the power of the state to France's fashion leadership.

By the eighteenth century, wealthy foreigners were traveling to Paris to have their clothes made, or they employed seamstresses and tailors to copy the latest Paris fashions (which were described in the newspapers of the day), exclaiming all the while at how quickly the fashions changed, how expensive everything was, and how outré the fashions had become. These intertwined themes- eagerness to follow the latest Paris fashions, and outrage over their extravagance, expense, and immorality-were to characterize foreigners' attitudes toward Paris fashion for centuries.


After the French Revolution, the women of Paris were the first to abandon the ornate, constricting and overbearing fashions of the 1700s. Now they wore long flowing muslin dresses based upon the classical designs of the Greeks and Romans. This new elegant style draped the figure with a flattering high Empire style waistline. The fashions of the early 1800s were not only elegant and pleasing to the eye, but were very comfortable.

Journal des Dames et des Modes was a French fashion magazine first published in the late 18th century. Included in their issues were hand-colored fashion engravings. In June 1797, Selleque, in partnership with Mme. Clement, nee Hemery, founded the Journal des Dames et des Modes. They were joined, in the matter of engraving only, by an ecclesiastic named Pierre Lamesangere. On the death of Selleque, Lamesangere carried on the journal, and made it his chief business from the year 1799.

The Journal des Dames et des Modes was published at intervals of five days, with a pretty colored plate of a lady in fashionable dress. On the 15th of each month there were two plates. Lamesangere himself kept the accounts, edited the magazine with as light a touch as possible, and superintended the engraving of the plates. He attended the theatres and all places of public resort in order to observe the ladies' dresses.

So successful was the undertaking that Lamesangere acquired a considerable fortune. His own attire was above criticism. At his death his wardrobe contained a thousand pairs of silk stockings, two thousand pairs of shoes, six dozen blue coats, one hundred round hats, forty umbrellas, and ninety snuffboxes.

The Journal des Dames et des Modes reigned without a rival for more than twenty years, from 1797 to 1829 and forms an amusing collection of thirty-three volumes. Some of his contemporaries used to compare Lamesangere to Alexander. His empire over the world of fashion was as wide as that of Alexander. At his death his kingdom was divided, even as the possessions of the King of Macedonia were. Le Petit Courrier des Dames, Le Follet, La Psyche, and a hundred other fashion-books appeared. Among them was La Mode, a journal published under the patronage of the Duchess de Berri, sumptuously printed, and which became a sort of arbiter of fashion in "high life."

Paris City Art offers a selection of antique prints from "Journal des Dames et des Modes" among other 18th and 19th century fashion publications.
[From: The History of Fashion in France]


Parfum, soaps, etc

Perfume is thousands of years old, with evidence of the first perfumes dating back to Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Cyprus.  With the arrival of eau de cologne, 18th-century France began using perfume for a broad range of purposes. They used it in their bath water, in poultices and enemas, and consumed it in wine or drizzled on a sugar lump.

In 1789, the perfume trade was dealt a heavy blow by the outbreak of the French Revolution, but it recovered during the nineteenth century and the number of Parisian perfume houses greatly increased, bolstered by  new  laws  that  gave  free  rein  to  the  manufacture  and  trade  of  perfumed  products. In 1810, the perfume trade in France represented slightly less than 2 million francs. By 1912, the value of its assorted products had risen to 100  million  francs.

Historical  studies  of  the  perfume  business  have  ignored  the  existence  of  hundreds  of  retailers,  traders,  and  manufacturers  operating  in  nineteenth-century  Paris.10  Historians  have  identifi ed  about  twenty  emerging figures  for  whom  sufficiently  documented  sources  are  avail-able: Louis Toussaint Piver, Alphonse Honoré Piver, Lucien Toussaint Piver,  Pierre  François  Pascal  Guerlain,  Aimé  Guerlain,  Jacques  Guer-lain, Edouard Pinaud, Jean Baptiste Gellé, Félix Prot, Paul Prot, Fran-çois Rigaud, Antonin Raynaud, André Monpelas, Félix Millot, Armand Roger, Charles Gallet, Alexandre Bourjois, and Victor Klotz, to name a few operations.


The selling of perfume, however, is no longer just the purview of perfume makers. In the 20th century, clothing designers began marketing their own lines of scents, and almost any celebrity with a lifestyle brand can be found hawking a perfume with their name (if not smell) on it.


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