Russian Perfumery and Red Moscow

Lenins_masoleum

Krasnaya Moskva (Red Moscow) is a heavy carnation based fragrance, with a lemony coriander  slicing through the powdery backdrop. The base features an interplay between cool and warm notes. I cannot even review Krasnaya Moskva on its merits alone, because the associations are too strong. The moment I smell it, I am 10 years old again, being lectured on the young pioneer’s creed by some female Communist Party functionary. Since Bolsheviks deemed perfumes as bourgeois extravagance, Krasnaya Moskva is the only Soviet Russian perfume I remember, along with something called Chypre. As a child, I recall buying a bottle for my grandfather, however my grandmother vetoed the present, referring to Chypre as something that alcoholics buy when vodka was out of stock. No wonder, it took me a long time to appreciate chypre fragrances.

Yet, prior to the Russian revolution, perfume production was flourishing, starting with A. Rallet&Co. factory, which was opened in Moscow in the summer of 1843. The perfume factory was eventually headed by Edouard Beaux, a father of Ernest Beaux, a legendary creator of Chanel No.5. No, I am not going to say that Chanel No. 5 is actually a perfume Lenin commissioned while in Finnish exile for his lover Inessa Armand. Ernest Beaux, however, was born in Moscow in 1881, subsequently inheriting his father’s business. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Beaux escaped and settled in Paris, where most of his famous work has been done.   As for A. Rallet&Co. factory, Bolsheviks renamed it Soap and Perfumes Works No.7 in 1918 upon nationalization. The name was changed to Svoboda (Freedom) later.

However, A. Rallet&Co. was not the only important perfume factory in Russia. Henri Brocard was one of the famous European perfumers at the time, with one of his factories based in Moscow. Brocard came to Russia from France in 1861, and it is his factory that purportedly created Krasnaya Moskva fragrance, even though at the time was known as The Empress’s Favorite Bouquet, referring to Tzarina Aleksandra, unfortunate Nicolas II’s wife. In 1918, Brocard’s factory was nationalized and given a typically Soviet no-frills name, Soap and Perfumery Factory No.5. Molotov’s wife, Polina Zhemchuzhina was the factory director until Stalin’s suspicions led to her arrest for treason in 1948. Its current name, Novaya Zarya (New Dawn) was given to the factory in 1922.

Is Krasnaya Moskva really a legendary Brocard’s creation? I have found little information to verify this claim, other than to discover that even if it were made by Brocard’s factory, it must have been after his death. Digging in the past to discover one’s aristocratic origins has become a fashionable thing after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Indeed, if one is to believe everyone who claims to be associated with Romanovs, the royal family would have been the largest one in the history of monarchies, putting European royalty to shame. Therefore, I hold a skeptical view on Krasnaya Moskva’s aristocratic roots.

One thing is certain, however. I will never be able to lose the association between its heady carnation scent and the memories from my childhood. I can envision perfectly its two-toned red box, marked with the Soviet seal of quality. Krasnaya Moskva is still produced by Novaya Zarya, along with a few other fragrances. Recently, I had a chance to sample extrait de parfum, and it was sweeter and heavier on carnation paired with rose than I remember it to be. Listed notes: bergamot, coriander, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, iris, vanilla (carnation is definitely there in one form or another). Krasnaya Moskva is still available here, for a very socialist price of $10, for those who would either like to make a trip to the past or to discover Soviet exotics.

Reference: Veniamin Kozharinov, Empress’s Bouquet, or Red Moscow. The Moscow News.

Picture: Red Square, Moscow.

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31 Comments

  • Ina: Amazing post, Victoria! So much I didn’t know. Krasnaya Moskva indeed takes me back to my childhood. Did you ever use any perfumes made by Dzintars, the Latvian perfume house? June 23, 2005 at 9:18am Reply

  • KS: Victoria, thank you for that interesting post! I think I’ll order a bottle just for the BOTTLE! Also, the Siberian Barber No. 1. (rose, strawberry, cider, vanilla and chocolate) sounds too interesting to pass up…esp. at the price! Ever since I’ve read your blog I’ve been struggling to remember a Russian perfume that I wore ages ago. I bought it at Bullocks Wilshire in Los Angeles and it was “limited edition.” The bottles were small and square with lovely labels — 18th c. pastoral scenes. The scent I wore smelled of smoke and leather, with a shot of jasmine and had a label with a peasant walking in a field strewn with flowers and a small cottage in the background. If I remember correctly the perfume house was in Paris…having moved from Russian in the late ‘teens. Bullocks stocked so many interesting things then — of course I was a perfume ignoramus then and didn’t save the bottle, the box or the label. Regrets. Kevin June 23, 2005 at 11:04am Reply

  • Woodcock: I remember Krasnaya Moskva was part of Aeroflot’s offerings when I took a flight from Moscow to Kiev in 1989. That and a set of 20 pastel-hued Pupa eyeshadows. Thanks for all the history and the info about Edouard and Ernest Beaux! June 23, 2005 at 11:07am Reply

  • mreenymo: Wonderful history lesson, Victoria! Thank you.

    Hugs! June 23, 2005 at 11:30am Reply

  • Octavian: I read in an interview with the former first russian perfumer, Alla Belfer, that Krasnaya Moskva was created around year 1924 by Auguste Michel, the perfumer of that factory (NZ). In fact if you look on the information given on the french osmotheque site, they also give the same year. Some of the perfumes of Novaya Zarya (the old ones) are also to be found in the osmotheque collection. June 23, 2005 at 11:49am Reply

  • Robin: What a fascinating story, V, and how nice that it is still being made, even if it isn’t exactly as you remember it. I am tempted to buy it just for the bottle, too. Love the detail “smaller bottle actually more concentrated”. June 23, 2005 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Marcello: What a great post! Keep up the great work! June 23, 2005 at 2:53pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dear all, you are welcome, it is my pleasure!

    Inochka, I do not remember any specific fragrances from Dzintars, but I recall the bottles well. They were also very rare. Did you ever use any?

    Kevin, Oh, that sound fascinating! I am not sure what perfume you are talking about, I am afraid. I will check when I am in Kiev, and perhaps I might find something. Or email Octavian from http://www.1000fragrances.blogspot.com . I bet he knows about it, having as extensive experience as he does.

    C, Wow! Pupa was not even available in Kiev in 1989. I am not sure what Aeroflot offers now as an incentive to fly with them. I had a chance to fly on Aeroflot on a part of my trip from Warsaw to India, but I thought better of it.

    Octavian, now, this is what I am more inclined to believe anyway. Thank you for the clarification.

    Robin, yes, that same detail made ma laugh. The price is reasonable, isn’t it?

    Marcello and Robin from LA, I am glad that you found it interesting. I learned a lot myself in the process of compiling the information! June 23, 2005 at 5:36pm Reply

  • Ina: Vika, here’s their site with a list of perfumes:

    http://www.dzintars.lv/ru/products/series/?cat=113

    Intriga and Kristine were very popular, as well as Taina Rizhanki. :)

    I love your blog! June 23, 2005 at 6:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you! :) Oh, I remember Taina Rizhanki (Riga woman’s mystery). The name seemed so sophisticated. June 23, 2005 at 6:50pm Reply

  • Marina: Dear Victoria,
    what a lovely blog, I especially enjoyed the last post since I had a Soviet childhood myself. I sill have to get over seeing carnation as an ‘official’ flower (parades/23 February/cemeteries even).
    There is another Russian perfume, well actually two, Maroussia and Authentic Maroussia by Slava Zaitsev, they are sort of known in Europe (made it to Jan Moran’s book) and pop up on eBay once in a while, they are not bad either, especially Maroussia, sort of a warm ambery oriental.
    Again, thank you for this great blog,
    Marina (colombina MUA) June 23, 2005 at 8:00pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dear Marina,
    I am happy you like the blog. Thank you for bringing up Zaitsev’s perfumes. I heard of Maroussia, but I never managed to try them. Now, after you mention them, I know that I must! June 23, 2005 at 8:45pm Reply

  • Katie: Oh V, that was so beautifully written. What an interesting story you’ve told, I’d never read anything before this on the history of Russian perfumery. Thank you. June 24, 2005 at 12:20am Reply

  • Victoria: Katie, you are welcome! I thought that it might be interesting. June 24, 2005 at 10:11am Reply

  • LaureAnne: Utterly fascinating, Vee! This is an amazing work of art and love, this blog. June 24, 2005 at 11:46am Reply

  • JOYCE HALEY: I HAVE A VERY OLD, DELICATE BOTTLE: “LE NO. 1″ RALLET.
    DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY INFORMATION THEY COULD SHARE WITH ME ABOUT IT? AGE, VALUE, ETC.
    THANK YOU.
    J. HALEY August 17, 2005 at 11:51am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Hi Joyce,
    I am not familiar with it, but I would surmise that it must be pre-1918, when the company was nationalized by Bolsheviks and renamed. August 17, 2005 at 12:03pm Reply

  • Kit: I have a small miniture of the bottle Le # 1 De Rallet. It is stamped New York
    Paris. The bottom of this miniture is pressed Rallet 2. I have no idea where it is from or worth? Do you? October 4, 2005 at 1:18pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kit, I am not sure what its value could be, but Rallet No.1 was produced by Alphonse Rallet in 1930. It is possible that you have just that, however without seeing at least a picture of the bottle, I cannot say more. October 4, 2005 at 5:23pm Reply

  • Hélène: Thank you Victoria for this wonderful post on a rare topic. Krasnaya Moskva brings back memories of the perestroika period for me. On my first trip to Russia I bought a fistful of tiny KM bottles, they were so retro, diminutive, exotic, and unexpensive. They didn’t come with boxes and were sold between pairs of gloves and other accessories, if I recall correctly. The perfume reminds me of an old-fashioned winter fur scent. I also always thought “krasnaya” might mean also “beautiful”.

    They are now sitting in my basement in Paris, together with another vintage Soviet scent in art deco indigo glass bottles with transparent stoppers. I don’t remember the name.

    Do people remember how Soviet perfumes used to be sold in sets comprising one big bottle and one small one? I wonder why (difference of concentration? Not sure). My mother was similarly offered a set with two beautiful frosted bottles replicating the Kremlin roofs (this time the perfumes were slightly different).

    Maroussia has become a popular scent in Paris, it’s sold in drugstores like Monoprix.

    Thanks for the links; I might cave in for Krasnaya Moskva, just for nostalgia sake, now that I’m in the US. October 19, 2005 at 1:52pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Hélène, thank you for sharing this memory. You made me envision those little kiosks where one could find all sorts of perfumes right away! Yes, they were sold amid gloves and such.

    I remember that Soviet perfumes would come in two sizes. My grandmother’s White Lilac (Belaya Siren’) was packaged in such a way. I recall that it was just for transportation ease, because the concentration did not vary. However, perhaps, my memory is failing me now.

    I have never tried Maroussia, however I will definitely have to. I saw it mentioned in Fabulous Fragrances, which sparked my interest.

    In fact, when I went to Ukraine this summer, I found an old bottle of Red Moscow on my grandmother’s vanity. It is slightly different from the version sold now, with a much more aldehydic floral twist. Interesting as a curio for me, but ultimately not something I would imagine wearing given its many associations. October 19, 2005 at 2:07pm Reply

  • Jenny Kozak: I would like to buy perfum by Novaya Zora Mystery. Please,tell me khow I can do this? thank you very much.Jenny. May 21, 2006 at 3:58am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Jenny, unfortunately, I do not have any ideas. I have not encountered the line much where I live. May 23, 2006 at 2:26pm Reply

  • OKSANA: HI!I buy vintage Krasnay Moskva in 1 big red box 3-soap,1-face powder “Rashel”,1-perfume 4inch tall.Smelled beautiful!For me like old Toujours Moi by Corday-Franche perfume. June 7, 2006 at 6:01pm Reply

  • Beco: Nowadays, when I visited my grandparents,we started to speek
    about their childhood and life.
    In nutshells my Grandmother gave
    me an original krasnaja moskva parfume since she have 3 bottle.
    (We are Hungarians so we lived in the other side of the iron curtain; and my Granny gave these to her namedays but she not really used…)
    So I am a happy owner of a small part of the past.

    Thanks for the info, I searched for some details, but in the hungarian pages no useable, only shout downs June 15, 2006 at 3:34am Reply

  • Bertrand: Hello,

    Great post. That’s a pleasure for me to read something about Henri Brocard, as he was one of my ancestor.

    With a part of the family we have just created a blog to present him, the family and the history of the perfume industry :
    http://parfum-brocard.blogspot.com/

    That’s in french with some pictures.
    Best regards,
    Bertrand January 27, 2007 at 12:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Bertrand, thank you very much for letting me know about the site. I read it with great pleasure, as I always try to learn as much as possible about Henri Brocard, a fascinating persona and creator that he was. January 29, 2007 at 12:18pm Reply

  • Bertrand: Hello,

    Thanks for your comment. We are just starting the blog related to Henri Brocard with links to the family. It will be a huge work to convert the informations we had.

    That’s really incredible for me to hear you saying he was a “fascinating persona”. Could you give me more explanation about this ? Maybe you will learn me some specific informations I did not have the chance o hear in the family. :-)

    The Brocard family was also linked to the other famous perfume industry ROURE in Grasse. That’s great to know that today two international museums deling about perfume industry are in the old plant of those two great creators : Henri Brocard and Louis Maximin Roure.

    Best regards,
    Bertrand
    http://parfum-brocard.blogspot.com/ January 29, 2007 at 7:08pm Reply

  • Alison: Dear Victoria
    I have just found your blog and enjoyed it immensely. I don’t know if you or your readers know of a Russian perfume called Katerina? Someone bought some for me several years ago and I haven’t been able to track it down since.
    Thanks again for your beautifully written and very evocative piece.
    Alison March 29, 2007 at 6:43am Reply

  • david: Great history lesson Victoria, I really enjoyed it, I’m just sorry it’s taken me so long to find you! I have been travelling to Russia since about 1991 and found the history of pre-Soviet perfumery fascinating. It always amazed me that in Soviet times (and even today?) it was impossible to find anyone who could manufacture high quality perfume bottles given the incredibly beautiful products made in the previous century. Arguably equal to, or better than, Lalique, Baccarat, etc.
    I understand that Alphonse Rallet of Moscow was a real pioneer establishing the first serious high quality Russian perfumery factory in 1843.
    Antoine Chiris of Grasse is said to have acquired the Rallet factory in 1898 and so naturally Ernest Beaux set up his lab there when he fled the Russian revolution and it was there that he later met Gabrielle Chanel, the rest as they say being history.

    By the way I have a copy of Veniamin Kozharinov’s beautifully illustrated book “Russian Perfumery” which includes a picture of Bertrand’s ancestors Henri and Charlotte Brocard from 1864 as well as many pictures of early perfume bottles from all other major makers such as Ostroumov, Siou, Baudelot, etc. Not sure if it’s still available I was lucky enough to meet Kozharinov and get a personally signed copy a few years ago in the flea market at Izmaeleva Park.
    Thanks again for the info. David February 20, 2008 at 6:52am Reply

  • Courant: It is the anniversary of the Romanovs’ execution. I have been googling furiously, finding a great many references to Romanov perfume and scents they surrounded themselves with. Alix and Nicholas wrote to each other,and in their diaries using descriptions of scent and smells as imagery and backdrop to their captivity. The four girls all had Coty bottles and Alexandra had ‘White Rose’
    I love that the factory was owned by Edouard Beaux. Goosebumps. July 15, 2013 at 11:28pm Reply

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