Thursday, 8 May 2014

GEORG JENSEN PERFUMES - A Tale of American Impropriety

In the world of flatware, holloware and jewellery, few can compete with Georg Jensen - an internationally renowned Danish silversmithy that has stood at the apex of modernity for the past 110 years. Georg Arthur Jensen opened his workshop in Copenhagen in 1904 and since, has pioneered the popularity of Scandinavian style on a global scale.

Embracing forms from the natural world, he rapidly developed a style that became instantly recognisable as his own. In the decades since his passing in 1934, some of the world's most revered designers and sculptors have contributed to his universe including Henning Koppel, Vivianna Torun, Sigvard Bernadotte - each of them leaving their own modernist fingerprint on exquisite jewels, tableware and homewares which are still produced to this day at the original foundry in the Danish capital. Georg Jensen the brand, is a celebration of elegance across the ages.

In the first 25 years of business as Georg Jensen found his success in the Nordic countries, the flagship Danish foundry was employing a whopping 250 full-time workers. However, thanks in part to their patronage at a string of expositions and world fairs, demand for Jensen's work was being requested from abroad. Stores were opened in Berlin and London, and a campaign was set into motion in the 1920's to win over the American market. It was this move that eventually resulted in the production of a handful of exceedingly rare Georg Jensen perfumes. Seldom seen today, this cachet of scarce scents marks an interesting turning point in the Georg Jensen timeline in the following account of resourcefulness and spectacular impropriety.

Georg Jensen's New York operations were led by Danish art dealer, Frederik Lunning. He was hired by Jensen's marketing department to arrange silverware exhibitions in the US in an attempt to cast light on the Georg Jensen brand in America. As a result of his efforts, a flood of new orders rolled in to Copenhagen and shortly thereafter, Lunning opened and managed the Georg Jensen boutique on New York's esteemed Fifth Avenue. There, he imported pieces directly from the Danish silversmithy to an adoring and well-heeled New York throng. However, by 1940 the German invasion of Denmark resulted in the end of exports, and as a result, the world's markets were suddenly bereft of Georg Jensen jewellery and holloware. Lunning was left managing a boutique without stock, much to the disquietude of the Americans. A resourceful businessman, Lunning applied for - and was awarded - sole agency rights in America for 100 years via Royal Copenhagen, the then-parent company of Georg Jensen. This marked a shift in his strategy... he expanded his fifth avenue boutique to cover 3 floors and created something of a department store - one bearing the Georg Jensen name. He filled its rooms with countless decorative items - lamps, clocks, linens, figurines, furniture, clothes and handbags - the vast majority sourced locally. Lunning then employed two local American designers to design and produce silver jewellery in the Georg Jensen style which was stamped with "Georg Jensen Inc. USA"... but these pieces were sold as original Scandinavian-designed Georg Jensen pieces.

Meanwhile, with war raging in Europe, Copenhagen was none the wiser.

It was here, in ca. 1946, Lunning introduced numerous Georg Jensen branded toiletries to the store. There is no known account describing where they were produced, nor whom is credited with their composition, but it is clear they were intended to appeal to the Americans. An advertisement for "Acacia" reads:

"A nostalgic essence reminiscent of the great Acacia courts of Southern gardens".

Lunning's scents were presented in decorative stoppered crystal flacons, hand-painted bottles, or in more conservative travel presentations such as the square-shouldered 'Sachet Sprays'... toilet waters sold with screw caps (with atomiser attachments offered for sale separately). They were all emblazoned with the iconic Georg Jensen crest.

Perfumes include:

Acacia / Freesia (alternatively labeled Freezia) / Fleur Danoise / Fire Orchid / So Gaie / Arbutus Rose / Sweet Pea / Bal Blanc / Shave Lotion / Men's Cologne

A series of bakelite/sterling silver purse atomisers and a string of luxurious bath presentations were produced to complement the perfume lines... shave lotions, bath oils, soaps and sachet talcs... all of which were heavily advertised in local newspapers such as The New Yorker, and further afield across the United States. It appears the Georg Jensen branded perfumes gained popularity, because by September 1947, Lunning had negotiated distributorship with a number of gift shops. Below, an advertisement in the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen, Texas.

Given the profusion of toiletry products and the vastness of the brand, it is somewhat suprising that so few examples have survived to this day.

Lunning may have introduced Georg Jensen fragrances to the Americans, but his vision of a department store-style shopping destination also saw him line his vitrines with other well-known fragrance brands; Chanel, Worth, Weil, Ciro, D'Orsay, Schiaparelli, Caron, and Prince Matchabelli to name a few. But at some point along the timeline Lunning's bubble had to burst. Eventually Copenhagen were going to discover his wrongdoing, and by 1948 after tensions had finally settled in Europe, they had.

And they were furious.

After the war, Georg Jensen were shocked to hear of Lunning's American production. The Georg Jensen brand had been irreversibly compromised, and the reputation Georg Arthur Jensen had built had been weakened. Lunning had broken the strong tradition of Danish style and order, and in 1950 was sued by the company in Copenhagen for damages. However, because Lunning had had the foresight to secure trading rights in the USA for 100 years, he and his heirs continued to sell locally sourced goods under the Georg Jensen name until the Fifth Avenue store finally closed for always, in 1980.

Whilst an important chapter in their history, to this day Georg Jensen refuse to recognise the artefacts Lunning had produced on American soil as genuine Georg Jensen articles. To this end, jewellery and silverware stamped with Georg Jensen Inc. USA are collectable, but not faithful to the brand. It would appear the numerous perfume presentations Lunning launched are also on the outs, but to perfume collectors, historians and Georg Jensen aficionados, they represent Lunning's resourcefulness in bringing a little luxury to the Americas.

How do they smell?

The author has procured three sachet sprays and one sachet talc. Unfortunately the latter "So Gaie" - a very fine pink powder - has lost its perfume, but the former trio are unique and individual in their own right. Here are some perceived notes, according to my nose.

Fire Orchid: A citrus/floral flight (bergamot, carnation, narcissus)? which is diminished quickly by a rising vein of musks and peppery woods. There is a combustable warmth at its core. A husky, woodsy trail with echoes of ambergris and incense.

Acacia: Verdant greens in the opening blanketed by dewy, velvety violets (think: Apres l'Ondee) which gives rise to the nectarlike sweetness of acacia blossoms. There is a slight tangy/spiciness beneath which is supported by a woody base.

Freesia: An aldehydic opening with a profusion of white flowers (freesia, jasmine, gardenia?). A light huff of carnality (tuberose?) which dances over a woody / musky base.


Sherrie said...

What an intriguiging story! A fascinating piece of history. I love the description of the fragrances.

Blog Author said...

Thank you Sherrie - it is a bit of a page-turner, isn't it? I found it a fascinating story myself when i dug a little deeper for this article.
Thanks for your lovely comment. :)

Redlily10 said...

Finally I am here, at your blog, it's taken awhile but I am glad I have done it! Wow, Georg Jensen scents? Who knew... Well you did obviously... It's a welcome discovery, I will probably never test the fragrances but it's still amazing to have knowledge of their existence, thanks for sharing your GJ perfumes, and interesting to learn the history too:)

Thinkingmagpie said...

I'm a huge fan of Georg Jensen silver jewellery but I never knew that there were GJ perfumes!!
Thank you for the fascinating story. Oh, I wish I could smell those scents!

Jacqueline Rosen said...

I remember some controversies about Georg Jensen back in the 1970's. This clarifies the whole episode. Thank you for this great research. It would be interesting to know who made these fragrances.

Anonymous said...

I found a sterling Georg Jensen USA item that is very unusual in that it looks like a lipstick but taller with a tulip decorated cap that pulls off. This shows what looks like a bullet with a spring loaded tip or pressure applicator.This bullet is knurled and screws off to fill with purfume? it came with a dunhill funnel. what is this? thank you,Steven

Blog Author said...

Hello Steven - I think you cracked the case yourself - its an early perfume purse spray. They turn up from time to time, but 'Ive not had the opportunity to examine one in person.