Theory of the Last Modern Perfume

We don’t know what the latest modern perfume will be. Because the world continues to be in transformation all the time. Still, it is free to make assumptions. For something to be ‘last,’ of course, it has to be singular in history somehow. In today’s rapidly changing trend world, the modern human writes not the end of history but the firsts. So let’s go to the first modern perfume ‘Jicky’ and collect traces of the last one.

By Yagmur Guvenc
July 12, 2020

What is the first modern perfume? We cannot read the first modern perfume apart from the history of France. Sectors develop, and products emerge in the system. However, some products really manage to find a place in human life. It is complicated to describe an odor. It is similar to describing colors to color blind. But it is a more subjective experience. Personal experiences can define what is sour and what smells sweet. This definition may not be the same for another person. In this state of affairs, it is challenging to create a bottle that has become a common liking by the majority. Actually, the scent is put into bottles. It is never just about scent anymore. A product sends its customer to experience. The accompaniment of the first modern perfume to everyday life begins with such an experience thanks to de Guerlain. Let’s go back to the centennial of the French Revolution and smell it.

Photo: Charles Marville, Paris

The year 1889 is the centennial of the French Revolution and the year of introducing the Eiffel Tower. The streets of Paris are not like they are today. Nobody thinks of smelling good. The only challenge is to camouflage the bad smell. Undoubtedly, the subject of malodor scent is also subjective. Sociological and economic implications are looked at to reach a standard description of bad smell. After all, Parisian manages to create the most beautiful perfumes of the world by dealing with bad odors. Jicky was designed by Aimé Guerlain, the son of perfumer Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain, who founded the family perfume house in 1828 when he opened a tiny shop in Paris. At the time, natural floral perfumes were all the passion, and the elder Guerlain was a master of the craft whose clients added Queens and Tsars. When Aimé took over as master perfumer in his father’s death in 1864, he proceeded to develop new floral fragrances, but he also made his own unique modifications, attaching exotic spices from the far East to the usual Guerlain bouquet. In 1889, with the Eiffel looming above Paris, everything transformed with the creation of Jicky, a new scent Aimé named after a lost love. It is perfume notes combine spice, lemon, lavender, wood, and vanilla. Its stopper is formed like a champagne cork.

The first bottle

Jicky came out as ‘toile,’ fabric water, seeing the ultimate aim of neither curing the patient nor suppressing bad smell… It created a completely different surplus-value. It doesn’t have to be of vital importance to existing. Enjoyable, filling the gap, free. Soft corners of a hard world.
Guerlain also introduces himself with such an omen. It draws the harmony created by softening the hard-smelling contents by rolling them like magnets. As Chanel No.5 perfumer Ernest Beaux points out, each same content carries the mystery of causing a different orchestra; “When I use vanilla, it smells like Creme Brulee dessert. When Jacques Guerlain uses vanilla, it smells like Shalimar.” Shalimar, the perfume that Guerlain introduced the ‘Guerlinade’ tradition, is the post-Jicky era’s product1. The fingerprint of the organization between the lower notes and the top notes that make up the perfume.
While it is the first time that Jicky can create harmony with many natural scent molecules, it is the first time we see that artificial fragrances are used. Therefore, when we smell the perfume, it is not a reference to nature2, but an invitation to that experience that I have mentioned.

When Jicky first came out, the answer to whether it was a women’s perfume or a men’s perfume was unclear for a long time. Because we cannot say those gender roles are authentic anyway. A fragrance becomes a so-called women’s perfume only when it is called a ‘woman’ perfume and marketed as such. It would be wrong to ignore the effect of products used in everyday life in the construction of gender roles. 

Today, the promotion of “unisex” as a result of an acquired right is dominant in singular products that are marketed at a universal level. But sometimes it comes naturally like Jicky’s first editions. Traditional products, on the other hand, continue the tradition only as a nostalgic taste. They replace our fear of being groundless when speed lifts our feet from the earth.

Marcel Duchamp, Air de Paris, 1919/1939

Another point is that no “artificial” is an admirable development today. A synthetic material conceals so well that it almost takes its new natural form, like scents that say ‘book scent’ and evoke the smell of books. Realization of this can lead to a return to the simplest and most basic. For example, ‘Ceci n’est rust une perfume’, this is just a rose scent. That’s it. Sure… We better not forget that the smell we call rose scent consists of hundreds of different molecules and that a rose is not a single rose. Of course the last perfume will not be like a revolution and not a single bottle. It is more like the ending of the social function of a commodity, slowly and fragmented. Even Jicky itself changes every year. The formulation is renewed every year. Changes are happening in the world of materials. I think of the legend of Theseus’ ship as an example. It is thought that the famous ship sailed by the warrior Theseus in a significant battle was kept in a harbor as a museum piece, and as the years went by some of the resinous parts began to rot and were replaced by new ones; then, after a century or so, every part had been replaced. The question then is if the reconstructed ship is still the same object as the original. If it is, then suppose the removed pieces were stored in a warehouse, and after the century, technology was revealed that cured their rot and enabled them to be reassembled into a ship? Is this reconstructed ship the original ship? If it is, what about the renovated ship in the harbor still being the original ship?  Whatever happens, “Although it may evolve over time, it seems safe to say that as long as the Eiffel Tower stands, there will always be Jicky.” says Jimmy Stamp from Smithsonian Mag. It is the icon.

 1 Vedat Ozan, The History of Perfumes, page 100.
2 Koku Uzmanı Vedat Ozan. . Retrieved July 27, 2020, from