In the British TV comedy “Keeping up appearances” the lead character is a social-climbing snob called Hyacinth. She insists her surname is pronounced ‘Bouquet’ even though it is spelt ‘Bucket’. However one Hyacinth, or rather Hyacinthe, would could more rightly have claimed ‘Bouquet’ as his surname or maybe nickname was Hyacinthe Mars Rimmel.
Hyacinthe was trained by the Pierre-Francois Lubin, the personal “nose” to the Empress Josephine. As a rising star he was invited to move to London to manage a prestigious perfumery in Bond Street. It, and he were a great success and in 1834 he opened a perfumery of his own in Albermarle Street. His new boutique quickly became the “in” destination for the ladies of London society when looking for luxury in skin care preparations and fragrance.
Hyacinthe was the original founder of The House of Rimmel but it was his son, Eugene who was to prove the real driving force behind the brand we still know today.
Eugene was not only an expert perfumer but was to prove himself both a product and promotional innovator and entrepreneur. At 22, having already been running his own business for a few years, he took over the whole family business.
He set about building the brand
He developed innovative products, including mouth rinses, fragranced pomades and an ingenious scented steam vaporiser. He extended the use of his fragrances by creating scented fans for ladies to use at the opera, theatre and ballet and perfumed Valentine’s cards
He was the first to introduce mail order catalogues to the world of perfume and cosmetics. He wrote a Book of Perfumes, one of the first “modern” beauty bibles. It explored the allure of fragrance and the etiquette of beauty, not surprisingly it promoted fine, elegant perfumes…
“Above all, avoid strong, course perfumes and remember that if a woman’s temper can be told from her handwriting, her good taste and breeding may easily be ascertained by the perfume she wears.”
He went on to write two other books “The Perfumed Almanac, Recollections of the Paris Exhibition of 1867”, and what became a Victorian best-seller, “Scented Valentines”.
Perhaps his most famous publicity stunt was the creation of a fragrance fountain for the Great Exhibition in 1851. The fountain shot perfumed jets of eau-de-cologne into the air. Any passer-by could use it to scent their handkerchief. One such passer-by was Queen Victoria and so impressed was she that she became Rimmel’s patron and appointed him her official Royal perfumer. It was the first of what were ultimately 10 Royal Warrants he was awarded by various heads of state throughout Europe.
If all of this wasn’t enough it was another of his innovations which would actually become the defining product that really drove the brand to international success. In 1860 he created ‘Superfin’, what was the first commercial non-toxic mascara. Prior to his invention, women had been using various potions and pomades to darken their eyelashes, but Rimmel’s new and unique blend of coal dust and petroleum jelly was a real step change. Although it was still quite messy, it was huge improvement on what had gone before. Its popularity spread like wildfire not just in the UK but throughout Europe.
In what may have been the first example of ‘genericization’ – when a brand name becomes the generic term for a whole range of products, think Hoover or Sellotape – “rimmel” or “rimel” became synonymous with mascara. In fact ‘rimmel’ still means mascara in several different languages.
Eugene wasn’t finished and continued to expand his empire. He extended internationally opening stores in both Paris and New York. He set up a flower garden and essential oil distillery in Nice.
He was one of the first pioneers of aromatherapy and created vaporisers which could be used in hospitals to disperse the beneficial oil vapours into the air. They were forerunners of today’s aromatherapy diffusers.
He died at the age of 67 on the 15th March 1887. His obituary in the New York Times described him as “The Prince of Perfumers”.
The company continued to be owned and run by the Rimmel family until 1949 when it was bought by a London company and later sold to Coty in 1996.
Nowadays it is now a brand that is linked to London and “cool Britannia”, associated with British stars like Kate Moss, Lily Cole, Georgia May Jagger and Sophie Ellis-Bextor … but maybe not Patricia Routledge who plays Hyacinth Bucket.
And if you enjoyed this little tale, I posted the story about how Mascara was invented (almost simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic which you’ll probbaly enjoy too – just seach Maybelline in the box above