Creed: A Royal Fantasy
The Creed entry in Family Business Magazine reads:
“In 1760 King George III appointed James Creed to make fragrances. In 1854 the company moved its operations from
to London . Both Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, commissioned the company to make scents for them. Today, owner Oliver Creed produces 238 fragrances.“ Paris
The problem is that such testimonials tend to be unsubstantiated and, more importantly, that there is no available evidence for the historical relevance, or even the existence, of Creed perfumes prior to the late 20th century. The oldest flacon I have ever seen an image of seems to hark from the late 1960s or early 1970s and bears the name of Olivier Creed. Major visibility seems to have arrived in the 1980s with Green Irish Tweed.
No documents, novels, advertisements, letters of the 19th or 20th century mention Creed perfumes, while the family frequently appears in the context of tailoring. Fashion dictionaries and museums feature works by Creeds, but every perfume history I have read is silent. One of the rare statements from within the family is a ghost-written autobiography by one of its “black sheep” Charles Creed (1909-1966), the uncle of Olivier Creed. Primarily an account of his own exploits at tailoring and womanizing it does make references to the family history and its meteoric rise to fame after 1850, when Henry Creed opened a
office and collected Royal Warrants from the Paris French Court and Queen Victoria for clothes and riding habits. While it may be that Creed furnished fragrances as well, as did Guerlain, Farina and other renowned names of the day in perfumery, there is simply no available evidence. The internet spews out frequently conflicting dates and wearers of older Creed perfumes, which in their present form cannot possibly have existed prior to the advent of modern natural-cum-synthetic based perfumery in the 1880s. The beautiful Vintage Tabarôme was thus supposedly made in 1876 for George IV (b. *1762, c.1820, d.1830), Green Irish Tweed for Cary Grant (1904-1986) – it is now undisputed that Pierre Bourdon collaborated on GIT, perhaps in the mid-1980s, and would rework some of its key ideas in Davidoff’s Cool Water. GIT just may have been Archie’s deathbed wish, but the facts do not actually compute.
Olivier Creed, then, has chosen to rewrite the complicated history of a fashion house’s 19th century rise and post-WWII fall into a brand story for his own fragrance enterprise and it has been an unconditionally successful strategy that enables his company to charge a premium for its products in retail contexts. The pomp and circumstance surrounding Creed, from the imitation Prince of Wales ostrich plumes suggesting a Royal Warrant that does not exist, to the monotonous incantation of stock phrases and name dropping by Creed representatives and in PR pieces is also cause for derision, e.g. by Luca Turin, but admittedly, it is a spiel that most everyone in the business plays in one way or another.
Farina Gegenüber: History as a Weapon
Like Creed, Farina Gegenüber is a firm with a rich heritage, a fact that nearly broke its neck when it failed to adapt to changing consumer patterns after WWII. After a long, slow decline, the family bought back all stock in the company from outside investors and began reconstituting the brand as an exclusive niche firm, recreating its historical flacon designs, stressing its unique selling point as the original Eau de Cologne, and restricting sales to selected outlets who may not sell the brand’s discount nemesis, 4711. As with Creed, this has proven a successful strategy that invests the product with a high prestige value. But contrary to Creed, the history of the Farina fragrance is unusually well documented, as it had become the subject of conflicting claims by competing Eau de Cologne firms inventing their own foundational narratives and frequently stealing the Farina brand name ever since the late 18th century. The Farina archive is one of the most complete company archives in the world, it has been used for a number of academic studies in economic history and it documents the history of Farina cologne extensively – Royal warrants, orders by the celebrities of the day (we are talking Goethe, not some American Idol runner-up), historical advertising. While this does not preclude different interpretations of Eau de Cologne history, a basic factual record from which to proceed is extant and available and has formed the basis for evidence in many of the court cases fought by Farina (and they did win them all). Does this mean that Farina Eau de Cologne is a more authentic or better perfume than, say, Creed’s Bois de Cedrat (a light citrus cologne supposedly formulated in 1875)? No. The Farina you buy today is also a reformulated product containing synthetics. It is meant to preserve and convey the spirit of the original while catering to the wishes of contemporary consumers, e.g. in terms of longevity. However, while Creed long emphasized its reliance on ancient infusion methods and avoided the mention of synthetics (there have been modest concessions in more recent PR blurbs, as would seem necessary considering the obvious high content of synthetics in most Creed releases since the mid-80s) Johann Maria Farina, who is a trained pharmacist and perfumer, openly embraces the ethos of modern (i.e. post 1880s) perfumery and its use of naturals with semi- and fully synthetic materials.
Creed and Farina have chosen very different paths to create “usable pasts” for their brand, which are themselves in many ways determined by the nature of those histories. They offer fascinating insights for the historian of smells into the depths and shoals of the past of perfumes as well as lessons on the fictions involved in fragrance branding for the student of perfume culture today. But for the simple lover of perfume truth lies only within the flacon and history - is bunk.