a journey of the senses by FLACONNEUR
In 1999, designer Clive Christian became the custodian of one of Britain’s most illustrious perfume houses, the Crown Perfumery Company. Although recognized as a British company, this perfume house had definite American roots with an interesting beginning. I throughly enjoy stories like these, where trials, tribulations and sometimes success, shape the outcome of a company. I stumbled upon Clive Christian perfumes by complete accident during a shopping trip years ago. The single element that captured my attention was the intriguing bottle design, as if I remember seeing it, perhaps in another life. It exudes a 19th century aesthetic, speaking to royalty and opulence. Fortunately for Clive Christian, the contents of this beautiful little bottle were nearly as intriguing.
The company’s history begins, oddly enough, in the corset making business by an American industrialist from New Haven, Connecticut named William Sparks Thomson. Thomson’s start in life was in the dry goods business as a clerk, later going on to found the Crown Iron Works at Glasgow and then the Crown Perfumery Company in London. He was the first in the United States to manufacture the stiffening for petticoats called crinoline, for which a patent was issued to Thomson in 1859. He was also the first to make women’s corsets by machine. “Thomson’s Glove-Fitting Corsets” were successful enough that in 1840, the doors were opened at 40 The Strand, London showing high busted corsets to “assist the lady whom nature had not endowed with ample fullness.” As the story goes, during the fitting of the corsets, the ladies would faint because of the restrictions enforced in the lacing up these contraptions. This unfortunate circumstance ultimately led to the creation of the Crown Perfumery Company. How, you asked.
Thomson had a son, William Thomson Jr., a young chemist, who developed a lavender-based smelling-salt appropriately titled Crown Lavender Salts, designed to save the ladies from their misfortune. Thomson’s son found himself joining his father in his British pursuits. In 1872 the Crown Perfumery Company opened its doors in New Bond Street, London showcasing their first fragrance called Crab Apple Blossom originally launched in 1865. Ironically, Queen Victoria was a long time client of Thomson’s and granted the Crown Perfumery Company her own crown’s image as a sign of quality and excellence.
In 1885, Thomson established the American branch of the Crown Perfumery Company, spending $100,000 on advertising with very successful results. In the early 1950’s, the owner of Chanel perfumes remarked that Thomson’s $100,000 in 1885 was a huge investment. In retrospect, yes this would have been a substantial amount of money to invest without guaranteed results.
After creating a library of perfumes for many clients, the Crown Perfumery Company’s repertoire consisted of over 4000 scents and was considered the largest in the world. Over time, the company’s reputation for creating high quality fragrances made their products very desirable. By the end of the 19th century, Crown Perfumery Company had over 50 different perfumes being sold worldwide.
Between the death of the company’s creator, William Sparks Thomson in 1907 and the start of World War I, Crown Perfumery’s success started to slip. The company was sold to Lever Brothers (now Unilever) for over $400,000. The Lever company used Crown’s resources for the production of hair care products instead and the company was closed in 1939.
Some more recognizable Crown Perfumery clients worth mentioning are: Queen Victoria for her favorite perfume Crown Essé Bouquet, Mrs. Wallis Simpson (The Duchess of Windsor) was the inspiration for the creation of Crown Bouquet, King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra who loved Crown Rose, the empress Elisabeth of Austria, American aviator Amelia Earhart used Crown Lavender Salts, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, Laurence of Arabia and so many more.
Clive Christian had a chance encounter with Crown Perfumery in 1978, while at his manor house in Cheshire. Christian and his daughter were rummaging around the estate and uncovered an original bottle from Crown Perfumery under the floor boards in a dressing room. Christian, a designer and the proprietor of the British luxury brand The Clive Christian Company, was said to be inspired by his find and did not want to see the demise of a company bearing the crown of Queen Victoria. Crown Perfumery was the only house to have been granted the image of Queen Victoria’s crown, proudly displayed as the bottle’s cap design.
In 1999, Christian acquired the Crown Perfumery name. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Crown Perfumery Haute Parfum Salon was launched in 2001, some sixty years after the company’s demise. There were faithful reproductions of the company’s perfumes and once again, the Crown Perfumery Company was back in business. Christian launched a line of his own perfumes under the Clive Christian name, then discontinued the Crown Perfumery brand altogether. The boutiques closed in 2004 and the Crown line was laid to rest entirely. Christian used similar bottle designs and the company’s history as a basis for his own luxury collection of perfumes, seemingly paying homage to the company’s long British history.
Was Christian’s purchase of the newly resurrected Crown Perfumery Company in imagery and history alone? From the Crown Perfumery Company’s introduction in 1872 to the company’s buyout by Clive Christian in 1999, only a silhouette of the company’s history remained. This silhouette is reflected in the shape of the bottle Christian uses for his own perfumes. Clive Christian was looking to revive the company’s original values by offering perfumes that are upscale and of quality materials. His brand has these values and are certainly luxurious looking and some of the perfumes are memorable. Christian even paid homage to Crown Perfumery with the launch of two of his fragrances, 1872 for Men and 1872 for Women, celebrating the perfumery’s year of inception and the classic Crown green bottle. But was this enough? Some think not. Many have discussed whether Christian is doing justice to the old brand, or whether he is just riding the coattails of the formerly famous company. I find this answer a simple one: when I see the shape of the bottle, the raised lettering and Queen Victoria’s crown perched proudly atop the Clive Christian perfumes, I think of the Crown Perfumery Company not Clive Christian perfumes. Perhaps Christian is a little benevolent and imagines the same.