Marie-Therese de Laire
Was Marie-Therese de Laire really a perfumer? It is believed she was central to the creation of de Laire's famous base, Mousse de Saxe, and that Mousse de Saxe inspired the creation of some of the most legendary perfumes of the first half of the 20th century, Nuit de Noël for example (1922, by Ernest Daltroff for Caron). Variations of the original Mousse de Saxe continue to be used in perfumery today.
Marie-Therese was the wife of Edgar de Laire. Edgar de Laire (1860-1941) was the nephew of George de Laire (1836-1908), founder of the de Laire enterprise, a manufacturer of synthetic chemicals for industry. Both de Laires were chemists and Edgar was the successor to the business when his uncle stepped aside.
George de Laire, working with fellow chemist Charles Girard, had developed analine blue dye in 1861. When, in 1876, de Laire founded his own business to produce synthetic molecules, dyes continued to be the focus but opportunities for these synthetic molecules were now seen in perfumery.
Among de Laire's synthetics was isobutyl quinoline, a molecule believed to have potential interest to perfumers. The problem was isobutyl quinoline had a strong and unusual odor. Perfumers didn't know how to use it. Marie-Therese opened the door.
Mixing isobutyl quinoline with essential oils and perhaps other synthetics, Marie-Therese de Laire composed a "mini perfume," a perfume base on which perfumers could build their own perfumes. In addition to isobutyl quinoline her formula is said to have included ionones, vanilla, geranium oil, anise oil, neroli oil, sandalwood oil and musk. The formula was a closely guarded secret. The product received the name Mousse de Saxe.
Mousse de Saxe had a pleasant smell. Perfumers fell in love with it. De Laire could now make money from isobutyl quinoline by using it in Mousse de Saxe.
The concept of combining their synthetics with naturals led de Laire into a whole new business. Perfumers were engaged to develop new bases, Edmond Roudnitska among them. Today Symrise, heir to the de Laire bases, continues this business.
The genius of perfume bases is that they are proprietary. The company which creates them owns them and can regulate their use. By itself isobutyl quinoline is generic. Any chemical company can produce and sell it. But by packaging it into a base, the creator has sole control of its production and use. If you wanted Mousse de Saxe or any of the other bases they soon produced, you had to go to de Laire to get it... and pay de Laire's price.
What exactly was Marie-Therese's role in the creation of Mousse de Saxe and the de Laire bases which followed? Did she personally invent the recipe for Mousse de Saxe? Did she personally go into the laboratory and mix the formula? Was she familiar with the raw materials of perfumery? We don't know and I doubt the people at Symrise know either. Yet her name and no other is now associated with this legendary base. Until we know otherwise, let's give her full credit for both the concept and its execution. This makes her one of the great names in 20th century perfumery.
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