Several weeks ago a reader was asking me about the perfumes produced in Germany during the Nazi regime and what was the olfactory landscape of that era. Preparing the answer I realized that this is a huge subject that is almost impossible to describe in one post. I would rather call it an introduction to a world where fragrance creation and politics were in a strange mix.
The German fragrance industry knew a radical change after WWI and was redefining itself for a new future. New marketing methods, learnt from US, where several companies were already present since the late XIXth century, were applied. With surprise I discovered that an American investment group had important shares in a major German company in 1943. Several important companies were owned by Jews and with 1938 everything changed: aryanization followed by the emigration of several important names to London or USA, that will play a major role after 1945 in their new countries (soap, detergents, cosmetics, perfumes, etc.). Also some foreign businesses had to suffer in Germany (like Helena Rubinstein) and other did not.
One important name is Elizabeth Arden - her scents, cosmetics and salons were highly appreciated in Berlin and some notable wives or mistresses were in love with this brand. In the under world of business during WWII , Elizabeth Arden, known for her anti semite feelings, was investigated by FBI for allegations that her salons in Europe were being opened as cover for Nazi operations. Some dark aspects of this industry were described in the book War Paint.
The relation of Hitler to perfumes was special and this was described in the diaries / notes of Eva Braun where she says: "I had not a drop of perfume at home and that was my good fortune for he hates perfume, at least he dislikes it. He always curses women who smell". There is also a short text (almost explicit) in Mein Kampf around the same idea. Another source indicates that Eva Brown had a perfume fetish (blending scents to match personalities).The dressing table of Eva Brown from her abandoned Munich apartment (in photos taken by Lee Miller) shows an Elizabeth Arden lipstick, skin tonics and a french perfume. She also used Palmolive and Pond's products (Nazi Chic) and one source says that she used L'Heure Bleue (but is misspelled).
The fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli was also loved by some women and also her perfume Shocking (there were some games around her names always with an S).
A subject approached by some scholars is the scent of death and life in concentration camps and the use of perfumes by the doctors. Doctor Mengele is remembered wearing a lot of cologne (biography) and Irma Griese, the blonde angel from Auschwitz was also remembered for her scents, the immodest use and her habit of blending (Five chimneys).
After the war, the cosmetics was again a subject for the British services, and some interesting files were declassified several years ago. I will live the hidden parts of this story for another time. In terms of fragrance industry there are several points to underline, other will appear in the future as soon as I can study the documents I accumulated in the past 5 years (hard to understand).
- the chemical research (new molecules and bases produced at Agfa - IG Farben industrie and Heine&co, Haarmann & Reimer, Leopold Laserson, Schimmel). This is maybe less interesting that what happens in the same time in Switzerland because the focus is industrial application, cosmetics and less the refinement of complicated new synthesis.
- research on the native flora (extraction of rose, jasmine, mock orange)
- interpretation of the light florals, woody mossy, aromatic notes and very few ambery perfumes
- several well known types like:
Mystikum Scherk (rose, fougère, labdanum sweet) and Intermezzo
Khasana- Dr. Albersheim (very sweet coumarine oriental, methyl ionone heliotropine)
Echt Kolnisch Wasser 4711 - fresh eau de cologne, the German version
Tosca (4711) - sweet and powdery floral
Several soft leather notes
Blue Grass (Elizabeth Arden)
I made a list of the most important houses, they are less inspired for the names and the bottles I have lack the French fantasy. Also the target was different, they were more mass market in today's words.
Muehlens (4711) It was founded by William Mülhens in 1792 and produced the famous Eau de Cologne 4711, one of the first worldwide successes, introduced in the US at the end of XIXth century. It was one of the first to use modern marketing techniques and operated in many countries. Famous perfumes were: Juchten (1921) rich leather, Tosca (1921) sweet neroli powdery, Shahi (1935) and Carat (1938).
Georg Dralle, Hamburg After operating already a small factory for perfumes and soaps, the official registration is made in 1876. Some very famous perfumes were launched, the first modern lily of the valley and a violet perfume using the first synthetic molecule - the ionone synthesized by German chemists, but also a cosmetic product (Birkenwasser - Birch water used almost 100 years and widely copied). Since 1908 several floral perfumes were introduced under the name Illusion and they were known worldwide.
F. Wolff & Sohn, Karlsruhe Friedrich Wolff founded the soap company in 1857 and became very soon one of the largest in Germany in this industry. In 1922 the company had almost 2000 employees and in the Third Reich it was regarded as exemplary. They were the first to market creams with lanolin. Indian flower soap was introduced in 1900 and received a Gold Medal at the Paris Exhibition. One of the most successful brands was Kaloderma (the beautiful skin). Several perfumes: Klytia, Divinia, Niamah, Vogue and many floral perfumes.
Khasana Dr.Albersheim, Frankfurt Was founded in 1892 by Dr.Moritz Albersheim, a chemist. The perfume Khasana, a heavy type, created before WWI was a great success and made the house famous. After its death in 1919 the work was continued by his nephew Walter Carsch. They launched the first shaving cream in 1925 and it was another big hit. The company was aryanized in 1938 under the name DR.Korthaus KG. The central shop was completely destroyed during the Kristallnacht and in 1939 the perfumer and his wife went in exile. During WWII the company supplied the army with personal care products and in 1944 was bombarded.
Parfumerie Elida, Leipzig This company evolved from other business and was founded in the modern form in 1925. The Elida soap was famous during the Weimar Republic and was a anagram of the world Ideal, but was also known for sun cosmetics. It was another victim of the aryanization process.
I.G.Mousson & co, Frankfurt Founded in 1798, this was one of the largest companies with more than 600 items at 1898, from soaps to perfumes. The soaps with exotic perfumes (from classic violet and lilac to Japanese styles like Mikado and Kananga) were extremely famous. In the 30's two major hits were created, Morocco and Gamic. A popular product was also their lavender water and the perfume Tai Tai. In 1944 70% of the factory was destroyed by airstrikes.
Parfumerie Scherk, Berlin; Ludwig Scherk founded his company in 1906 in Berlin. The most famous perfume of the house was Mystikum introduced in the 1910's. It was a heavy and fougère and like Coty, Ludwig started with the powder. The design of the label was rather unusual because it featured the star of David. Early in 1924 the New York factory of Parfumerie Scherk was opened. Another famous product was the TARR after shave introduced cca 1931. It survived in Romania (name and design the same case with Nivea) until the 90's. Ludwig Scherck was a special person and a patron of avangarde architecture and art (the expressionists he commissioned them for his home, shop and business and it was very avanguarde in the 20's). But because he was a Jew, his business had a tragic end in 1938 under the Nazi new rules. Ludwig Scherk fled to London the same year and died in 1946. Some other perfumes: Briza, Arabian Nights, Renaissance, Mimikri
Nivea, Hamburg - the best known German cosmetic originated in 1911, invented by the pharmacist Dr. Oskar Troplowitz, owner of the laboratories Beiersdorf in Hamburg. It was perfumed with light rosy - violet scent that became a reference for cosmetic products.
Other well known German companies for cosmetics / perfumes in Berlin were JF Schwarzlose Söhne, L. Leichner (founded in 1873, theatrical makeup and cosmetics), and Gustav Lohse (founded in 1831).
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Fragrance is the 8th Art - Octavian Coifan - Le Parfum est le 8ème Art