I recently read about The Pope’s Cologne, a fragrance for men who wish to smell just like a man in a dress in times of plague. And who wouldn’t?
As many people will know, I’m a collector of vintage magazines and I’m particularly fond of adverts in particular as they demonstrate a fascinating snapshot into the banality of life in decades past, so it is probably no surprise to learn that men’s and women’s fragrances based on religious themes is hardly new at all.
Holy Spirit (1973)
When Rochas tapped into the religious market looking to smell religiousy with Holy Spirit it took the bold step of edging away from traditional floral bases in the scent and instead picked upon some specific elements from the Bible in order to more strongly appeal to fundamentalist Christian women, a key demographic at the time. The piquancy of the warm bread undertone mixed with the musky palm notes was generally agreed upon to be both innovative and very pleasant but the decision to blend in two distinct fish aromas was the most likely cause of the perfume’s catastrophic market failure. Even after Holy Spirit was removed from shelves and ceased production Rochas refused to confirm the exact fish species used although it is widely accepted that the religious fragrance lacked sole.
Seventy-2 was directed at the young, white, suburban, fanatical, Islamic, would-be suicide bombers prevalent in middle America towards the end of the 1960s. The moral claims of the producers of Seventy-2 – that it "might help prevent unnecessary bloodshed and tragedy, and simultaneously help to make America smell wonderful again" – were overshadowed by some of the sales tactics used to sell the range of men’s toiletries (free dynamite, Death To America workshops, etc.) and the company was forced to close down and disappear quietly with the help of the FBI in, ironically, February of ’72.
Ludwig Scherk was not only a manufacturer of cosmetic products during the 1920s but also a self-proclaimed prophet, and his release of a range of women’s fragrances entitled Rapture was – he claimed – because he could see the end coming very soon and wanted the good Christian housewives of America to be the first to travel the clouds while the Earth was destroyed. History shows us that Scherk was partly correct; his business did come to an abrupt and fiery (literally) end during the Great Depression that began a few years later. However, the return of Jesus was fortunately cancelled and those women who purchased and doused themselves in Rapture never got to impress anyone other than Ludwig’s bank manager until his suicide in New York in 1931.