Adver­tis­ing pub­lished in L’Il­lus­tra­tion, Paris: 1st March 1902; Bib­lio­thèque For­ney (Paris), vol. L’Il­lus­tra­tion, 19021.

Most of the intrigue in my nov­el The Per­fume Thief, set in WWII Paris, hinges on a fic­ti­tious jour­nal of ingre­di­ents and for­mu­las of Jew­ish par­fumi­er, Mon­sieur Pas­cal. A mas­ter nose,” and a genius of chem­istry and busi­ness, Pas­cal dis­ap­pears in the first few days of the occu­pa­tion, leav­ing behind rid­dles, sym­bols, and a few clues to be dis­cov­ered in a bot­tle of eau de cologne. Though Pas­cal is entire­ly fic­tion­al, I looked to the true sto­ries of Jew­ish per­fumers and cou­turi­ers who con­tributed sig­nif­i­cant­ly to the his­to­ry of twen­ti­eth ‑cen­tu­ry scent and the inter­na­tion­al cul­ture of fragrance.

While the his­to­ry of per­fume tends to be as ethe­re­al and elu­sive as the fra­grances them­selves — and offi­cial com­pa­ny his­to­ries as fan­ci­ful as the descrip­tions of the scents they bot­tle — the sto­ries of these Jew­ish per­fumers demon­strate a resilience, instinct, risk, and uncan­ny insight into the tastes and influ­ence of women consumers.

Head­shot © Michael Lionstar

Pierre and Paul Wertheimer, Par­fums Chanel. Much has already been writ­ten about the savvy and exper­tise of the Wertheimer broth­ers, who bought Par­fums Chanel in 1924 and built it into the brand it would become. As WWII threat­ened all of Europe, they antic­i­pat­ed the Aryaniza­tion laws that would rob the Jews of Paris of their busi­ness­es and prop­er­ties, and they arranged for a trans­fer of Par­fums Chanel to a non-Jew­ish French­men, moved to New York, and start­ed a sub­sidiary of the com­pa­ny. Coco Chanel, who orig­i­nal­ly sold the scent for a prof­it share of 10 per­cent and had always felt she’d been swin­dled (despite the fact that the deal made her one of the rich­est women in the world), sought revenge; the New York sub­sidiary would only owe 10 per­cent to Par­fums Chanel, and Coco’s 10 per­cent would trick­le from that. As Rhon­da Gare­lick writes in Made­moi­selle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of His­to­ry: To Coco, from with­in her pro­tec­tive bub­ble of the Ritz, this looked like the one war atroc­i­ty she need­ed to address. … She was con­fi­dent that her Nazi con­nec­tions would win the day for her.” But she was foiled; the Wertheimers had care­ful­ly orches­trat­ed the trans­fer­ral of the busi­ness, and had also expert­ly arranged for covert access to the flower essences of Grasse, France, vital to the integri­ty of Chanel No. 5.

Ernest Dal­troff, House of Caron. At the heart of Daltroff’s leg­end is a love sto­ry or, quite pos­si­bly, an apoc­ryphal romance that makes for a live­li­er lega­cy than a chaste busi­ness part­ner­ship between two tal­ents. Either way, Dal­troff worked close­ly with Féli­cie Wan­pouille — true lovers or not — to cre­ate some of the most admired per­fumes of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. He bought a shop with the name Caron” already attached and hired Wan­pouille, a dress­mak­er, who designed the bot­tles, applied for trade­marks, and tend­ed to oth­er con­cerns of art and busi­ness. (They would even­tu­al­ly mar­ry, but not each oth­er.) Among their ear­ly cre­ations was N’aimez Que Moi in 1916; trans­lat­ed as Love only me,” the per­fume has alter­nate­ly been attrib­uted to Daltroff’s mes­sage in a bot­tle to Wan­pouille, and as a trib­ute to the women send­ing their lovers off to bat­tle in WWI. Oth­er cre­ations includ­ed Tabac Blond (1919), which the cur­rent Caron cat­a­log describes as evok­ing the cig­a­rettes smoked by the flap­pers of the Roar­ing Twen­ties,” by fus­ing the intense scent of leather with its car­na­tion and iris heart.” In one fell whiff, Tabac Blond spoke to the char­ac­ter and style of eman­ci­pat­ed women, while also tan­ta­liz­ing with a tobac­co per­fume that inge­nious­ly dis­guised the lin­ger­ing stench of cig­a­rette smoke.

Anaïs Nin favored one of Dal­troff and Wanpouille’s most famous scents; she wrote in her diaries: I should not be using ink but per­fume. I should be writ­ing with Nar­cisse Noir…”

Dal­troff, like the Wertheimers, fled Paris as the Nazis neared; the House of Caron, as with Par­fums Chanel, was at risk of Aryaniza­tion. In a 2011 inter­view with the per­fume web­site ÇaFleure­Bon, Caron’s then-pres­i­dent Romain Alès said Wan­pouille strug­gled to keep the busi­ness for Dal­troff, and ben­e­fit­ted from the sym­pa­thies of the Fran­cophile Ger­man offi­cer put in charge of the company’s case file. In 1941, Dal­troff died, which seems to have led to Wan­pouille tak­ing own­er­ship, though some Amer­i­can patent office bul­letins still list Dal­troff as the own­er of Caron Cor­po­ra­tion in 1943. In any event, the com­pa­ny lore notes that Dal­troff had intend­ed on cre­at­ing a per­fume inspired by the sight of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty as he reached his new home, but died before he could do so; in 2000, Caron released Lady Caron in recog­ni­tion of that intention.

Paris again is Paris,” read a full-page ad that ran in a Decem­ber 1944 issue of Vogue. There was no illus­tra­tion, only text, which demon­strat­ed some indif­fer­ence to where the sen­tences began and end­ed — a few miss­ing peri­ods, and low­er-case let­ters where upper-case should be: We are look­ing for­ward to bring­ing back the entire line of Caron per­fumes to this coun­try where they have enjoyed such wide­spread accep­tance. … soon we hope.”

Com­pa­ny lore notes that Dal­troff had intend­ed on cre­at­ing a per­fume inspired by the sight of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty as he reached his new home, but died before he could do so.

Jacques Heim, House of Heim. While only in his twen­ties, Heim trans­formed his family’s fur busi­ness into an inter­na­tion­al­ly renowned fash­ion house. Ini­tial­ly his per­fumes were only sold to the cus­tomers of his cou­ture, but he did even­tu­al­ly estab­lish Par­fums Jacques Heim for world­wide dis­tri­b­u­tion of fra­grances that includ­ed J’aime, Alam­bic, and Mon­sieur Heim. He applied a logo to his per­fume labels and box­es: a sharp-eared, Art Deco fox with an intim­i­dat­ing squint. In the 1960s, late in his career (and late in his life; he only lived to be six­ty-sev­en), the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald quot­ed Heim as say­ing that per­fume is an invis­i­ble diaphanous scarf which com­pletes an ensem­ble.” Heim left Paris dur­ing the war, mov­ing to the Riv­iera, and though his busi­ness was over­tak­en by the Ger­mans, they main­tained Heim’s loy­al staff. House of Heim was list­ed as one of the old hous­es which are still going strong” in a 1944 edi­tion of Vogue, fol­lowed by a par­en­thet­i­cal editor’s note: No one knows whether actu­al heads of these hous­es are work­ing in Paris — Mme. Schi­a­par­el­li has been in Amer­i­ca since 1940.”

In actu­al­i­ty, Heim con­tin­ued to pop in and out of Paris with fal­si­fied papers. And, accord­ing to his obit­u­ary in The New York Times, he coop­er­at­ed in gath­er­ing food and arms and secret­ing these for the large antic­i­pat­ed para­chute drop” to assist in the lib­er­a­tion of France. Heim’s wartime expe­ri­ence was book-end­ed by two telling reports in The New York Times. Even in peace­time every woman loves a sol­dier,” Heim told the paper in Decem­ber 1939, in dis­cussing a new, mil­i­tary-inspired col­lec­tion: officer’s jack­ets and epaulettes done-up in col­ors of kha­ki and air-force blue. In a March 1945 arti­cle, the paper report­ed Heim’s reopen­ing of the cou­ture house after four years of enforced absence,” with a col­lec­tion in bland col­ors, due to dye restric­tions. Their open­ing dis­play is dis­creet but in good taste,” the Times reported.

Roger Gold­et, Ed. Pin­aud. In the 1930s, Gold­et took the reins of a com­pa­ny that had been owned by Jew­ish per­fumers for decades. Emile Mey­er was a Jew­ish busi­ness­man who part­nered with per­fumery founder Édouard Pin­aud in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, tak­ing over the com­pa­ny upon Pinaud’s death in 1868 and keep­ing the name. Ed. Pin­aud adver­tised its per­fumes — Iris-Blanc, Vio­lette de Parme, and Auro­ra-Tulip — in the very first issue of Vogue in 1892. Along with Vic­tor Klotz, his son-in-law, Mey­er built the com­pa­ny into an inter­na­tion­al suc­cess, a lega­cy passed along to Klotz’s sons. Goldet’s exact involve­ment is unclear, though most sources (includ­ing the cur­rent Pin­aud Paris web­site) cred­it him with tak­ing the com­pa­ny in a new direc­tion. A few soci­ety news columns made men­tion of his vis­its to the Unit­ed States; one, in 1935, gave his title as vice pres­i­dent of the House of Pin­aud, and one the fol­low­ing year called him a tall hand­some young French­man, exec­u­tive of a French per­fume house.” If Gold­et did own Pin­aud, the war seems not to have slowed him down; Pin­aud intro­duced sev­er­al new fra­grances in 1943 and 1944, some seem­ing­ly inspired by war: Cap­tive, Her Secret Weapon, Boomerang. The per­fume Ammu­ni­tia was sold in bot­tles shaped like bul­let cas­ings. One ad in 1943 labeled Ammu­ni­tia par­fum mil­i­taire” and not­ed that it was ded­i­cat­ed to the brave women of Amer­i­ca”; a news­pa­per ad in 1944 said it reflects the trend of the day.” Gold­et also intro­duced a per­fume called Obses­sion in 1944, a trade­mark even­tu­al­ly acquired by Calvin Klein.

A full-page ad in Vogue that ran in the sum­mer of 1944 just pri­or to the lib­er­a­tion of France seemed to indi­cate that Pinaud’s Amer­i­can branch­es were active in keep­ing the com­pa­ny in pro­duc­tion. The ad fea­tured a por­trait of Place Ven­dome criss­crossed with barbed wire above the copy: Impris­oned City: France is cap­tive, but tyran­ny nev­er can destroy its inef­fa­ble charm! The fra­grances that have giv­en plea­sure to the world have escaped and now are dis­tilled for you here, in the cen­tu­ry-old tra­di­tion that has made the name of Pin­aud syn­ony­mous with exquis­ite refinement.”

Tim­o­thy Schaf­fert is the author of five pre­vi­ous nov­els: The Swan Gon­do­laThe Coffins of Lit­tle Hope, Dev­ils in the Sug­ar ShopThe Singing and Danc­ing Daugh­ters of God, and The Phan­tom Limbs of the Rol­low Sis­ters. He is a pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and Direc­tor of Cre­ative Writ­ing at Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka-Lin­coln, and he writes the col­umn The Eccen­tric­i­ties of Gen­tle­men” for the pop­u­lar lifestyle mag­a­zine Enchant­ed Living.