Japanese Perfume: A Selected History
Full disclosure: I am a Japanese perfume nut. When I look at my collection, I see that more than half are from Japanese houses, with Kenzo, Shiseido, and Hanae Mori at the top of my daily wear list. I also love Japanese incense, so I thought I’d learn a little more about it all.
During the Japanese Middle Ages, wealthy people wore small lacquer cases containing perfume or powdered incense, which hung from their kimono. The bottle for the original Opium is modeled on such a case. Clothes were hung over burning incense, and ladies’ floor-length hair was scented with incense smoke also. Incense games were highly developed and incense making became a family art. The famous houses of Shoyeido and Baieido were founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, and remain closely held family businesses to this day. Ingredients came from China, India, and the Middle East via the Incense/SpiceRoad, while other ingredients came from SE Asia or local markets.
Shiseido: founded in 1872 by Arinobu Fukuhara, former head pharmacist to the Japanese navy. He sold western-style medicines as opposed to traditional Asian remedies. The company grew larger and started producing perfumes, nutritional supplements, and cosmetics. The Camellia Club, for loyal customers, and a fashion magazine called Hanatsubaki followed in the 1930s. The Camellia Club currently has about 9 million members, and Shiseido has about 25,000 outlets, so this company is just huge.
Shiseido began marketing its products to the west in the 1960s, and perfume history was made when they appointed Serge Lutens their international image creator in 1980. Serge soon expanded his job description into perfumery and we all know the rest! Unfortunately, though, most of Shiseido’s perfumes are unavailable in the West, and even the famous Sheldrake creation, Feminite du Bois, is found primarily in Europe. (Shiseidos in my collection: Zen Classic, Zen Pearl, FdB, Blue Rose, Basala for my DH, Chergui, Rousse, and Gris Clair.)
House of Kenzo: Kenzo Takada was born in 1939. He didn’t speak French, but moved to France after he graduated university, and made his name there in the 1970s. His wild, colorful clothes with Asian motifs fit the wild European 70s perfectly and his fame grew. I believe his first perfume was the infamous banana scent King Kong, which has, perhaps mercifully, disappeared. He officially started his fragrance house in 1988 with Kenzo, followed by Kenzo pour Homme, L’Eau par Kenzo, Kashaya (the one with the creepy, glistening pod bottle), the knock-your-socks-off Jungles, and finally the powerhouse Flower and all its variations. Kenzo’s newest is Power, which has apparently been doing quite well among both men and women. Kenzo’s bottles are particularly stunning, and I really love the new Ryoko stones (nomad sprays), now appearing in airport shops. They’re just fun to hold! (Kenzos in my collection: L’Eau par Kenzo, Jungle Tigre, Jungle Elephant, Le Monde Est Beau, Kashaya, Flower, Flower le Parfum, Flower Oriental, and Amour Indian Holi.)
Hanae Mori: born in 1926, she incorporated traditional Japanese motifs and textiles in her haute couture line, which commenced in 1955. Today she has a $500 million fashion empire. Not too shabby! She’s the only Japanese member of France’s haute couture syndicate, and she designed the wedding gown of Japan’s Princess Masako. She wanted perfumes that would match and complement her stunning clothing collections, and has so far created 4 and a flanker, of which 3, Butterfly, Haute Couture, and Magical Moon, are still available. There are several for men, as well. (HM’s in my collection: Butterfly and my Holy Grail, Magical Moon)
Issey Miyake: born in 1938, he graduated in graphic design in 1964. He worked in the West for 6 years, then returned to Japan in 1970 to found the Miyake Design Studio. He launched what is perhaps the most famous of the aquatics (along with CK One, I suppose), L’Eau d’Issey, in 1992, with the very popular men’s version following in 1994. Interestingly, his perfumes are produced under the auspices of Shiseido. (IM’s in my DH’s wardrobe, oh guess which one, L’Eau d’Issey pour Homme, and what I wouldn’t do for a sample of the discontinued Feu d’Issey!)
With the ever-expanding Asian market, I’m sure that not only will we be testing some wonderful new perfumes from the old houses, but seeing some new houses come along as well. Anyone tried Tokyo Milk??