A. K. sent us some pictures taken from the new fashion exhibition in Paris entitled Sous L'Empire des Crinolines (Under The Influence of Crinolines). They were taken during a private viewing on inauguration night, with a cell-phone, which gives you an instantaneous reportage quality and casts on the gowns a crystalline light and opaline-like finish, adding to the sense of distance in time while turning them into never-before-seen modern snapshots of antique fashion, taken on the quick.
In that era, the famous perfumers of the day were Guerlain, Coudray, L.T. Piver, Lubin, Houbigant, Gellé Frères...
But beyond a short-list of names, we have a passage from La Curée (The Kill) by Emile Zola (translation by Brian Nelson) which beautifully conveys some of the atmosphere and habitual practices in the arenas of fashion and perfume under the Second Empire in Paris as character Maxime visits the great couturier of the second empire, Worms (the fictionalized character of Charles Frederick Worth).
In fact fashion and perfume here seem to become one under Zola's pen, whose writing as usual offers uncanny evocative power based on and prepared beforehand by meticulous ethnographic research (he would routinely note down in his notebooks the smells he encountered in his, literally, fieldwork trips).
One should also note that the fashions of the time were said to have become so ostentatious that an observer reported that it had become nearly impossible to distinguish an honest bourgeoise woman from a peripatetician based on their outfits alone.
Scented Quote of the Day from Emile Zola:
"This quaint little creature (Maxime), who during his English lessons read the prospectuses which his perfumer sent him every Friday, could have delivered a brilliant lecture on the fashions of Parisian high society, customers and purveyors included, at an age when country urchins are too shy to look their housemaids in the face. Often, on his way home from school, he would bring back in his tilbury a bonnet, a box of soap, or a piece of jewelry which his stepmother had ordered the day before. He always had a strip of musk-scented lace in his pockets...
Small hats that would become even smaller (to counterbalance the expansive skirts) and satin shoes
"But his greatest treat was to accompany Renée to the illustrious Worms, the couturier of genius whom the great ladies of the Second Empire bowed down to. The great man's showrooom was huge and square - and furnished with enormous divans. Maxime entered it with religious emotion. Dresses undoubtedly have a perfume of their own; silk, satin, velvet, and lace had mingled their faint aromas with those of hair or amber-scented shoulders; and the atmosphere in the room had the sweet-smelling warmth, the fragrance of flesh and luxury, that transformed the apartment into a chapel consecrated to some secret divinity. It was often necessary for Renée and Maxime to wait for hours; a queue of at least twenty women sat there, waiting for their turn, dipping biscuits into glasses of Madeira, helping themselves from the great table in the middle, which was covered with bottled and plates of cakes. The ladies had made themselves at home, talking freely, and when they ensconced themselves around the room, it was as if a flight of doves had alighted on the sofas of a Parisian drawing room. Maxime, whom they accepted and loved for his girlish air, was the only man admitted in the circle. There he tasted delights divine: he glided along the sofas like an adder; he would be discovered under a skirt, behind a bodice, between two dresses, where he made himself quite small and kept very quiet, inhaling the warm fragrance of his neighbours like a choir boy taking the sacrament."