IPBA The Scent of Empires by Karl Schlögel

In this remarkable book, Karl Schlögel unravels the interconnected histories of two of the world’s most celebrated perfumes:  Chanel No. 5 and Red Moscow. In tsarist Russia, two French perfumers – Ernest Beaux and Auguste Michel – developed related fragrances honoring Catherine the Great for the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. During the Russian Revolution and Civil War, Beaux fled Russia and took the formula for his perfume with him to France, where he sought to adapt it to his new French circumstances. He presented Coco Chanel with a series of ten fragrance samples in his laboratory and, after smelling each, she chose number five – the scent that would later go by the name Chanel No. 5.

Meanwhile, as the perfume industry was being revived in Soviet Russia, Auguste Michel used his original fragrance to create Red Moscow for the tenth anniversary of the Revolution. Piecing together the intertwined histories of these two famous perfumes, which shared a common origin, Schlögel tells a surprising story of power, intrigue and betrayal that offers an altogether unique perspective on the turbulent events and high politics of the twentieth century.

In parallel with the main theme, the author devoted an entire chapter to one legendary Russian bottle for cologne “Severny”, the design of which was developed by the World-famous Russian Avant-garde Artist Kazimir Malevich at the turn of the 1910s for the perfume company of Partnership Brocard and Co. in Moscow. A bottle in the form of an iceberg with a polar bear standing on its top for almost the entire 20th century was an integral reality of people, both in Tsarist Russia and after the socialist revolution of 1917 in the Soviet Union.

This brilliant account of perfume and politics in twentieth-century Europe will be of interest to a wide audience with 208 pages. Published by Polity Press, 2021. To purchase the book, click: The Scent of Empires: Chanel No. 5 and Red Moscow | Wiley

About the Author
Karl Schlögel is a noted German historian of Eastern Europe who specializes in modern Russia, the history of Stalinism, the Russian diaspora and dissident movements, Eastern European cultural history and theoretical problems of historical narration. He is the author of numerous highly acclaimed monographs and the winner of the Leipzig Book Fair Prize for non-fiction in 2018 for his most recent work. His earlier work appeared in English in 2012 as Moscow 1937. For this work he received the Preis des Historischen Kollegs in 2016.

A special thanks to IPBA member Felix Segal for sharing this information.


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