Atlas Obscura weaves an enchanting tale about the forgotten mastermind of signature scent: Ann Haviland. Before cosmetic pioneers Estée Lauder and Elizabeth Arden released fragrances, even before Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel put her name on the now-iconic No. 5 in 1921, there was Ann Haviland, a celebrated and creative American perfumer.
Born in 1878 in Millington, Maryland, Haviland spent her childhood on her family’s estate where she explored its vast flower gardens and learned to identify different varieties of rose by smell. Within these gardens is where her inherent gift of scent revealed itself.
Honing in on her natural talents, Haviland trained with prominent French perfumer Eugene Charabot in Paris and “[b]efore long, her sensitive sense of smell had earned her the nickname of ‘the woman with the most wonderful nose in the world,’” writes Atlas Obscura. She set up shop in NYC before WWI and quickly rose to prominence in the American luxury perfume market, offering upscale, customized fragrances and garnering A-list clientele. At the time, the fragrance market was dominated by French brands such as Coty, Guerlain and Houbigant, yet Atlas shares that Haviland made her mark by presenting one-of-a-kind perfumes, consulting with individual clients to identify notes that best enhanced their personalities. It was actress Theda Bara who dubbed Haviland the poetess of perfume.
Haviland also captured the public’s attention as an “artistic perfumer” through her experiments with ambient fragrance. In 1914 railroad tycoon James Brady hired Haviland to create a unique home fragrance for his Manhattan mansion. Upon viewing the space, she crafted scents for eight rooms, matching her compositions to the spaces’ color schemes and décor. She achieved subtle but long-lasting effects by tactfully placing sachets under rugs and in chandeliers — a mastermind indeed.
However, the 1940s were when Ann began to fade into the background, as the fragrance field grew increasingly competitive and saturated with French perfume houses and a number of American companies. Cue Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein, and Estée Lauder.
Gone, once-forgotten, and now revived, Haviland was a brilliant entrepreneur and maven of the complex art of scent.
To read the full story on Ann Haviland, go to Atlas Obscura.
Photo: Carlos Quintero via Unsplash