Abstract: A Glimpse into France as She Is on a Foreign Soil: Eugene Rimmel and London's Manufacturing Perfumers, 1851-1891

Jessica P. Clark


From his relatively humble locations in Soho, London, Eugene Rimmel (1820-1887) experienced breakout success when his elaborate perfume fountain became a hit of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Over twenty years, he developed a national brand, establishing himself as England's foremost manufacturer of perfumery and beautifying goods. Yet, the preeminent representative of English perfumery was not, in fact, English but French. Rimmel was simultaneously Continental and English, an outsider and a citizen. What his natal character reportedly lacked in business acumen, he made up by mimicking the inherent characteristics of his English contemporaries. Rimmel's story foregrounds the fascinating role of cultural duality in Victorian manufacturing perfumery, a quality that shaped both the management of his enterprise and the public personae that he cultivated. As a Frenchman living in London, Rimmel presents a story that offers perspective on personal and public representations of British nationalities, reflecting the complex experiences of white Europeans active in London's luxury commercial scene. This paper focuses on space—on the local and national level—to highlight the ways that Rimmel exploited the conditions of possibility fostered by multiple national loyalties to align with an explicitly English narrative of business acumen.