The great shortage of almost everything required for normal well being was one of the most distinguished features of the Soviet economy. Surely, there was food, clothes and some cosmetic goods in the Soviet shops in 1950s-1970s but the variety was incredibly poor.
However, the philosophy was that the Soviet people were used to comparing their life standards with the ones of the Second World War – so any small-time luxury was very warmly welcomed. Being a nation of plain tastes, the Soviet people were happy to be buying things made in the USSR – they understood that even not so long before, it was impossible.
Many people still associate the fragrance “Red Moscow” with their childhood. All women, especially those who wanted to be elegant, were in love with this perfume. “Red Moscow”, created exclusively for the Russian Empress Maria Feodorovna, in 1913, had quickly become a tremendous success both in Russia and abroad. Henri Brocard, the owner of the largest Russian factory of pomades, perfumes and soaps before the Revolution; had created the perfume “The Empress’s Favourite Bouquet”. When in 1917 his factory was nationalised and renamed into the “Zamoskvoretskiy Soap Factory No 5”, the perfume was also renamed as “Red Moscow”.
“Red Moscow” was just what you could expect from a Russian perfume: complex, full-bodied, rich smelling; yet much warmer that one would want in a cold climate. Technologically, it was a completely synthetic perfume: the gist was that there was no need for costly French perfumes with their natural essential oils when synthetics smelled equally Along with this one, the range had such fragrances as “White Acacia”, “Red Poppy”, “Lilac” and others. In 1970s, a new scent was introduced – Silver Lily of the Valley – which, unsurprisingly, had become a huge success just as rapidly.
As for the famous “Chanel No 5”, the Soviet women did not get to know it for a long time – apart from brief pieces in Polish fashion magazines, there was very little knowledge of the foreign perfumes. In 1980s, however, the situation began to change to the better. “Climat” and “Magie Noir” by Lancome and “Opium” by Yves Saint Laurent had become extremely sought after in early 1980s.
The male market segment had divided the men into two large groups: those who preferred the perfume “Shipr” (slightly more up-market) and those who liked “Three In One” (a cheaper brand). Funnily enough, the latter one had become a popular one for consumption with the alcohol addicts. “Shipr”, however, was meant to be an exotic, warm smell of flowers and sandalwood (hence the name, which is French for the island of Cyprus. Just like the “Three In One” perfume, “Shipr” contained no less than 70% of ethyl alcohol.
To a modern man, spoilt with choice for perfumes and fragrances, these two would have a fairly strong smell of fir tree and excessive musk and might even remind of a insect repellent. But back in the days, however, a rare man would not get this year after year for his birthday!
The legend goes that the “Three In One” perfume was created in France in the early 18th century specifically by the order of Napoleon Bonaparte as a disinfectant – it was meant to have a refreshing, hygienic and therapeutic effect – and in 1913 it won the Gran Prix at the World Cosmetics Exhibition in Paris. A few decades later, it arrived in Russia under the brand name of “Three In One”. Originally, though, the bottle was sold with the annotation enclosed: “Young people should consume 20 – 30 drops, elder people – 50 – 60 drops daily diluted with water or wine. It helps to protect against rapid heart and head aches”. So the habit to use the cheap toilet water as a substitute for vodka has a historic background!
It does not seem like much but these brands listed above would compose the whole range of perfumes available in the Soviet Russia until, maybe, very late 1980s. The only other alternative was to be lucky enough to have a perfume imported, as a gift. The reasons behind such limits were purely ideological as spending time and money on beauty products was labelled as absolutely unnecessary.
To be continued…