Ernest Beaux called Paul Parquet the “greatest perfumer of his time.” Coming from the legendary creator of Chanel No. 5, it’s very high praise, but Parquet (1856-1916) deserves it for his innovative work. Although most of his fragrances, like Le Parfum Idéal or Coeur de Jeannette, created for Houbigant, have not survived, his influence is profound. He is responsible for giving perfumery the fougère fragrance family, inspired by his marvelous Fougère Royale. His experiments with novel synthetics inspired many groundbreaking fragrances of the 19th and early 20th centuries such as Piver’s Le Trèfle Incarnat, Roger & Gallet Vera Violetta. Even Beaux himself was under the spell of Parquet’s creations.
The start of Parquet’s career was in hosiery, rather than perfume. It was not until 1878 when his father bought a perfumery called Houbigant-Chardin (founded in 1775 by Jean-François Houbigant) that Parquet became interested in the business. In 1881, Parquet bought Houbigant-Chardin from his father, and over the course of the next three decades composed a fascinating and original collection*. His style was bold, dramatic, and daring, but also romantic.
His early death from cancer in 1916 put an end to a brilliant career. Ironically, Fougère Royale (1882), a fragrance that makes us remember Parquet today was not a commercial success early on, and it was only after Parquet’s death that it became a prominent part of Houbigant’s lineup. During his lifetime he was most admired for Le Parfum Idéal, “a masterpiece of fragrant equilibrium, harmonious and of good taste as shall never be surpassed,” according to his friend and associate Robert Bienaimé.
Parquet’s name also lives on in the Fondation Paul Parquet, a pediatric center to which he bequeathed his fortune. It’s located in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, which is also also home to several fragrance companies such as Clarins and International Flavors & Fragrances.
In partnership with the Osmothèque, I offer you an excerpt from A Great Figure of French Perfumery: Paul Parquet, a 1955 magazine article by Robert Bienaimé, himself a renowned perfumer and onetime technical director at Houbigant:
“A keen worker of alert spirit, Paul Parquet focused principally upon the creation of perfumes, still to discover himself a born perfumer, unable to imagine the reputation he would acquire in the business.
Here lies a demonstrative example of that which is mysterious, inexplicable in the vocation and work of the perfumer. This work that is done independent of all scientific consideration, intuition, imagination, equilibrium and taste.
The perfumer is not necessarily a scientist, but is indisputably an artist who composes a bouquet of odorous notes, as the musician a symphony of musical notes.
Paul Parquet was a great artist.
I cannot forgot the sense of admiration felt for him, as much for the man as for the perfumer, by another great master of the art of Perfumery, François Coty, and which he expressed to me, after my mentor’s death, when I had occasion in 1916, during the war, to enter into contact with him.
Patiently, methodically, Paul Parquet worked. Starting from old, outmoded formulae, studying odorous reactions, assembling a palette of smells, already he created several works that displayed his personality.
He first reviewed the “Extraits Triples” and the “Essences Concentrées” that were the basis for the house’s formulae, then he modified them, completed them, making new, innovative compositions. Yet still these were but exercises on the path to mastery, as the pianist must practice his scales before attempting a concerto.
Having been among the first to understand the future role that would play in the art of perfume certain synthetic products that began to appear, he tried their use, then developed it, seeking to find personal notes, more characteristic perfumes, in employing new methods that technical progress and chemistry placed at his disposition. This is the period when appeared, notably, Royal Houbigant, Fougère Royale, Chypre Idéal.
Each new note marked a step forward in the evolution of his talent.
After more than fifteen years of work and perseverance, Paul Parquet finally created that harmonious masterpiece of balance, finesse and taste that was and remains the “Parfum Idéal”. This proved both a landmark in the history of French perfumery and a success, owing to two associates; for while Paul Parquet created the note of Le Parfum Idéal, Alfred Javal was the first to review the presentation of perfume, a notion that had been previously neglected, and so he decided to dress this “Parfum Idéal” luxuriously, but with taste.
So it was that Le Parfum Idéal was presented in a bottle of Baccarat crystal, adorned with a superbly gilded label in relief, enclosed in a case inlaid with satin and upholstered in silk.
Perfume, bottle, box, each a revolution, a prodigious success across the entire world, placing the Parfumerie Houbigant alongside the leading French houses.
This occurred in 1900. Paul Parquet had mastered his trade. Truly he had become a Master Perfumer, and after Le Parfum Idéal came a succession of happy creations: Cœur de Jeannette, Mes Délices, La Rose France, L’Œillet du Roi, Royal Cyclamen, Royal Bouvardia, etc., presented with the same pursuit of originality, thanks to whose Renown the name of Houbigant would be brought to the four corners of the Earth.”
Bienaimé, Robert. “Une grande figure de la parfumerie française: Paul Parquet.” Industrie de la Parfumerie October 1955: 409-411. Print.
Translated from French by Will Inrig. Osmothèque, Versailles. 28 Jan. 2014.
*According to the Osmothèque, Parquet composed the following fragrances for Houbigant (** means that the conservatory holds a sample).
- Le Royal Houbigant (date unknown)
- Fougère Royale (1882)**
- Le Chypre Idéal (date unknown)
- Peau d’Espagne (1894)**
- Parfum d’Argeville (1895)**
- Jockey Club (1900)**
- Le Parfum Idéal (1900)**
- Royal Cyclamen (1900)**
- Mes Délices (1904)
- Royal Bouvardia (1904)
- L’Œillet du Roy (1906)**
- Violette Pourpre (1907)
- Rose de France (1911)**
- Cœur de Jeannette (1912)**
Image: Paul Parquet, via the Osmothèque.
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