Towards the end of the nineteenth century, economist Thorsten Veblen came up with a striking idea of consumption. And coincidentally today, French perfumers are mastering the art of selling cheap products as a symbol of luxury which has given rise to the 19th-century perfume boom.
Historian Eugenie Briot notes that the marketing of fragrances through the system of branding, rather than real differences in what is being sold, originated in nineteenth-century France. So, we can see why there was a 19th-century perfume boom.
Industrialization and perfume making
Industrialization led to certain changes in the perfume industry in the 19th century. The steam engine enabled mass production on a drastic new scale. Between 1880 and 1905, the factory went from a 6-horsepower car to an alternative 500-horsepower engine just within a few decades.
The machine was used to refine the perfume-making process. It was done by grinding the iris root, extracts and purifies the aroma. This allowed factories to dry soap scents in less than half the time as was used previously.
In the 1870s, French perfume bottles began to be secretly replaced flower scents with other artificial scents for the composition of the materials. The aroma of piperonal, a synthetic chemical made of heliotropic flowers, quickly became popular for the elite class.
But when the price of pharmaceuticals fell, the smell of “heliotrop” came down a few levels. In the late 1890s, the fragrance was associated with the lower class and so, its popularity began to decrease. During the same years, the price of other fragrances, such as vanilla and articulated musk had also declined.
The new way of selling
Some perfumers were happy about the discovery of freshly created fragrances. It was pointed out that one of the changes this perfume revolution brought was how the general public was now open to the same privileges as the elite class. The people also said that “Nowadays, a simple professional who uses fragrant soap can get it at a very cheap price.”
In the second half of the century, the perfumers achieved a new social status in society. Some even became part of the state affairs.
This boost allowed many perfumers to turn their companies into proper high-end brands.
According to Briot, as the competition in the perfume market increased, the main aim of all the manufacturers was to make a name for themselves because that was the only way to establish dominance during capitalism.
While some perfume manufacturers preferred low-budget companies, others continued to sell at higher prices. Various essential oils were easily replaced. Briot wrote that since this was the case, the perfumers found new ways to sell to street vendors.
There were other ways to trick people into buying specific products such as having attractive packaging and placing products at fancy shops. The perfume companies also came up with advertisements to attract readers to their products. Briot says that perfumes are more than just products, they hold great symbolic value.
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