September 15, 2006
Gloves and Perfume
As many of you know, Grasse was the city that began its prosperity in tanning leather, morphing to perfuming leather
gloves, morphing to perfume and its ingredients.
In Europe, perfumed leather was a long lived fashion begun in Renaissance Italy, possibly by a Marquis named Frangipani (with a very fragrant flower named after him, and also an almond pastry filling) who discovered a way to scent gloves with a concoction containing powdered almonds and other
The custom spread via Catherine de Medici when she came to France, and then on to Elizabeth I, who was so enamoured of some scented gloves she was given that she ordered a perfumed leather cape and boots, tool.
Well before that, Arabians had been perfuming their shoes and the Egyptians, who perfumed
practically everything they could, perfumed their sandals and clothing and wigs.
The Victorians perfumed their handkerchiefs and handbags. I'm thinking it would be nice, in cooler
weather, to see if we can kick start the idea of scenting our leather gloves distinctively.
Gloves initially were scented because the leather itself did not have a very good smell, having been cured in caustic and unpleasant substances. Leather as we buy it today already made up in gloves and shoes and bags has been treated with fragrances that produce the characteristic "leather" smell, which is pleasant in itself.
Often perfume stays in the clothing we have worn, such as coat collars or scarves, and certain fragrances which are strong such as Mitsouko can linger in clothing for weeks. In the simplest method, if a few drops of perfume or essential oil are placed on a cotton ball in a pair of gloves or boots while in storage, the essentially closed nature of the object and the leather itself would absorb the scent.
Certain essential oils traditionally used for scenting clothing and leather are lavender, sandalwood, jasmine and patchouli for Indian paisley shawls.
I have found some rather daunting very old recipes called "How to Perfume Skins" written in a charming olde English translation of Italian. They remind me of Manolo the Shoe Blogger going Baroque (see here -- certainly the Manolo would approve of perfumed shoes...)
Here is an article which mentions the discovery of old perfume recipes in Florence after a great flood, and Catherine de Medici's role as both civilized and barbaric ambassador to France of Italian culture.
The Museum at Grasse, has a site which explains the connection between tannery, glove-making and perfume.
The illustration by Rene Grau is from an extraordinary site devoted to an obsessive interest in long (opera) gloves. There's much to see there, particularly a section on the etiquette of gloves and another about getting them on and off, quite an operation in and of itself. Much too indecently sexy to do in public, they were always put on and taken off in private, apparently...