Lancôme‘s history is rooted in the smart Faubourg Saint-Honoré, in Paris’s chicest arrondissement. In 1935, Armand Petitjean opened a boutique, selling a tiny selection of fragrances and beauty products, manufactured just outside Paris. Looking at a Lancôme counter today, spritzing your way through its fragrances, it’s hard to imagine that at the start, there were just three perfumes, two eaux de Colgones, a face powder – and lipsticks.
‘Conquête’ – ‘conquest’ – was the name of the very first fragrance, and it began to capture Parisiennes’ hearts. ‘Cuir’, ‘Bocage’, Tendre Nuits’ and ‘Tropiques’ soon followed. Clearly, from descriptions he gave of the scents, Armand Petitjean was a man entranced by perfume. ‘Tropiques is like honey,’ is said to have been his description it at the time.
As perfume-lovers beat a path to Lancôme‘s shop, they also began to find a wider selection of cosmetics. Nutrix, Lancôme‘s now-legendary night cream (the first serum-based skincare cream), was introduced in 1936, and remains an international bestseller today. The level of expertise among Lancôme beauticians, meanwhile, was exceptional: in 1942, Armand Petitjean opened a special training school, offering a nine-month course.
Four years before the launch of Lancôme Magie, in 1950 – an aldehydic floral, with oak-mossy Chypre touches – the brand made its debut in the UK. By then, Lancôme had grown to 520 employees – and Armand Petitjean bought the piece of land on which Lancôme’s HQ is still sited today, at Chevilly Larue, just south of Paris.
During his lifetime, in 1964, Lancôme took shelter under the umbrella of L’Oréal. Armand Petitjean died in 1970 at the age of 84 – having ‘lived in enough for three lifetimes’, as one observer put it.
Lancôme‘s portfolio of fragrances continued to grow.