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For 100 Years Women Have Enjoyed the Luxury of Jean Patou’s Joy Fragrance

by: Geoff Ficke

French furrier and tanner Jean Patou moved from Normandy to Paris in 1910 intent on building an eponymous fashion house. He opened Maison Parry and sold his entire collection in 1914 to a single American client. Just as his fame was obtaining traction with the fashionable haute couture clientele of Paris World War I intruded. 

After serving as an officer in the war he returned to Paris and re-opened the fashion house. The “Flapper” style was popular after the war. This greatly offended the sensibilities of Mr. Patou. He countered the short skirts popular at the time and parried with a longer, more elegant line in his creations. He employed a French fashion sense to counter what he considered the gauche styles that swept in from America after World War I. The French tennis sensation Suzanne Lenglen became as famous for her Jean Patou designed tennis dresses, as for her scintillating game. 

Jean Patou developed the classic cardigan and won new fans for creating comfortable and natural fashions. In the 1920’s his fame grew even more with the creation of the first designer tie for men. 1928 saw the House of Patou introduce the first sun tan oil, Huile de Chaldee. The product became a sensation with many clients buying the oil solely for the sublime scent it offered. 

When the stock market crashed in 1929 the market for couture clothing also crashed. The House of Patou survived by being among the first to market and distribute internationally perfumes and scented luxury bath products. The most famous was one of Jean Patou’s first, Joy. Created in 1935 by master perfumer Henri Almeras, the perfume was offered initially to Patou’s former clients who could no longer afford his clothing. 

Joy was an immediate sensation. The perfume was packaged in a collectible art-deco box and included a beautiful Jean Patou silk scarf that matched each season’s carton graphics. Joy is the world’s most expensive fragrance. 

Dozens of other fragrances followed after the death of Jean Patou in 1936. Homme de Patou became a popular men’s fragrance brand. Jean Patou’s sister Madeline took over the business upon the death of her brother.

Famous fashion designers continued to be associated with the House of Jean Patou, including Karl Lagerfeld and Jean Kerleo. The family maintained control of the business until 2001 when it was sold to the giant beauty products Company Proctor & Gamble. 

For most of the last 75 years Joy by Jean Patou was the most expensive and the second best selling fragrance brand in the world. Only Chanel No. 5 was more popular with perfume customers around the world. For years a 15 ml (1/2 ounce) flacon on Joy perfume sold for the equivalent of $250 United States dollars. 

The success of the Jean Patou brand for most of the past century is testament to the staying power of products that are exclusive, artisan crafted and perceived as a thing to aspire too. Fragrances that inspire the consumer create a unique loyalty. Hundreds of perfumes and scented lines of bath and body products come. Most go quickly. In order to stand the test of time the scent must evoke a uniqueness that involves luscious aural notes, classic flacon design, subtle packaging and exclusivity.