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History

This site is an extension of an original post that I wrote up on Prince Matchabelli perfumes on my main site, Cleopatra's Boudoir. I created this extraneous site for the purpose of chronicling the history of Prince Matchabelli perfumes. Here you will find tips on dating your bottle as well as plenty of information on the perfumes notes and individual histories.

Also included will be videos of Prince Matchabelli perfume commercials, photos of vintage bottles and advertisements.



The Beginning:

The company was created by Prince Georges Vasili Matchabelli in 1926 at 160 East 56th Street New York.

Prince Matchabelli was not only a previous Georgian Prince and ambassador to Italy, but also was an amateur chemist who began creating perfumes for his friends and family as a hobby. After experimenting with various scents and aromas he blended a perfume which enjoyed a great success with the Russian aristocracy, but the name remains a mystery.

 George was a Russian exile who fled the Soviet Union and immigrated to the USA after the Russian Revolution.

Since coming to America, he had, in his own words, "turned American business man." "I manufacture perfumes in New York, and I captured for America Parisian prizes for perfumery never before won in this country. But all my life I dabbled in chemistry. I made perfumes for my own amusement and they were much in demand among the ladies in court. So I just started making perfumes for sale", said Prince Matchabelli in 1928.

Prince Matchabelli was born in Tiftis, Georgia, educated in the Tiflis College of Nobles and later in the Royal Academy at Berlin, where he was interested in mining engineering.  He was a member of the noble family of Machabeli and a nephew of the writer Ivane Machabeli. He was one of the founding members of the Committee of Independent Georgia organized in Berlin in 1914. The Committee intended to garner the German support for Georgia's struggle for independence from the Russian Empire.

Georges was the Georgian ambassador to Italy until the 1921 Bolshevik takeover of Georgia, and lived in Rome. Prince Georges Matchabelli met Eleanora (Norina) Erna Cecilia Gilli, the actress whose stage name was Maria Carmi, through the Crown Princess of Germany. After seeing Norina portraying the Madonna in the religious play The Miracle, he was smitten and the two married in 1917  in Florence, Italy. "In 1915, our great love began," gushed Princess Norina in 1928. With the establishment of Soviet rule in Georgia in 1921, the couple moved to the United States.

The Matchabellis opened a small antique shop called "Le Rouge et le Noir" at 545 Madison Avenue in New York City. The name derived from Stendhal's novel, red for aristocracy (Matchabelli's origins) and black for clergy (The Miracle, a religious play). Here the husband and wife team sold antiques of all sorts: Persian rugs, furniture, Italian and Spanish brocade textiles, antique jewels, etc

After working for a year as a perfume consultant for a Manhattan specialty shop, Matchabelli formed his own company.

The couple rented a tiny room and with borrowed capital ($4,000),and the prince bought ingredients and compounded his first American perfume blend. He named this new perfume after his wife, Princess Norina. Soon the perfumes outsold the antiques and Matchabelli grew.

The shop came to hold more perfume bottles than pieces of furniture and with his new interest in perfumes, Georges began to concentrate on making more perfumes for his clients and he and Norina later established the Les Parfums du Prince Matchabelli in 1926. He was the sole manufacturer, bottle designer, merchandiser and publicity agent and he was proficient in all.

With the theory that perfume should suit a woman's mood as well as her costume, he added new items to his line: bath oil, toilet water, cologne, lipsticks, and compacts.












The New Yorker, 1930:
“Prince Matchabelli, the perfumer, started his business four years ago in a cellar in Madison Avenue. As a hobby, he had learned to make perfumes while studying chemistry in the University of Berlin. Al the aristocratic families who, nominally Russian, preserved the language and traditions of the old Georgian race, used a perfume made especially for them - the odors of a caste now hopelessly scattered. As a student, he experimented in manufacturing the perfume that his family had used. He failed in this, but he proved his abilities in other ways.  
Once at a ball in Berlin embassy a girl asked him if he could make a perfume to duplicate the one she had used that night. He took her lace handkerchief home and reproduced the scent perfectly. After the war and the revolution he found himself in this country. He was not satisfied to make his living in the way other Russian exiles were doing it and, remembering his experiments in Berlin, he started a perfume company, borrowing for the purpose four thousand dollars from an old friend.  
Before long the Prince and his wife moved out of the cellar in Madison Ave to a bigger one in Lexington and had a girl to help them. Friends who called found the three working at a long table, filling the little bottles and tying gold string around them. Matchabelli had thought up a special bottle made in the shape of the striped, gold crusted, cross topped crown that is his family crest, and this attracted attention tp his product.  
As his success grew he began to prescribe special perfumes for individuals - Gloria Swanson, Dolores Costello, Mrs. WR Hearst, Mrs RT Wilson, and Mrs. Gene Tunney. He originated a special perfume for furs - Hermine.  
Prince Matchabelli affects to be very particular where his perfume is marketed and has refused to let several places handle it because he felt their social tone was just not right.
Meeting a woman for the first time, he often politely informs her that her perfume is unbecoming and sends her one of his own. If she is still using the old kind the next time he sees her, he says, “You have not been faithful to me.” 
 
His business nets a quarter of a million a year, they say, and has grown out of its cellar to a laboratory in Fifty-sixth Street, where sachets, powders, lipsticks, eyeshadows, and soap are also made. He employs no salesmen. Every spring and fall he goes on the road himself. With  his gardenia, his bows and courtly airs, and his visiting card with its embossed seal, he created an extraordinary impression on buyers  who have never before trafficked with a genuine, hundred percent prince.”



Matchabelli’s first employees were all fellow exiled aristocrats—one Georgian writer of the time remembered them as the most courteous staff in the United States. They took it upon themselves to decorate, pack and deliver the product. Some had the task of supervising large bottles of alcohol which went through a softening phase before being added to the perfume oils. Blessed with a compassionate heart, Matchabelli was always trying to help his own people.

In fact, one of his lifelong friends, Cyril Gurge, became chief perfume chemist for the company, while another friend, Prince Alexander Tarsaidze became acting head and treasurer of the company around 1935. Paul Petrovitch Wrangell, Baron von Ludenhoff was a representative of the company.

The prince himself was a perfect spokesman for his product. He had a reputation for exquisite manners and refined appearance, ideal for selling perfume to the women of America. Matchabelli became wealthy and in turn, his employees also benefitted.
The Prince used nothing but the very best ingredients in the creation of his perfumes: Tibetan musk, Abyssinian ambergris and civet, jasmine oil, patchouli, oakmoss, Calabrian bergamot oil, resins, East Indian vetiver and dozens of other essences. The pay off was excellent as in in 1928, Matchabelli's perfumes were awarded the Grand Prix with a gold medal at the expositions in Paris and Liege for their quality and originality.





c1929 ad



Early Matchabelli perfume label circa 1930.


Notable Patrons & Inspirations:

During those gracious years, he often took special delight in blending perfumes to fit the personalities of his friends.  The prince further endeared himself to the ladies by blending for them individual, personal perfumes to match their personalities. The Prince begins to blend individual perfumes for a few favored friends, among them: Lucrezia Bori, Angelica Archipenko, Elsie Ferguson, Alfred Lunt, Ilka Chase, Marie Doro, Mrs. S. Stanwood Menken.

Perfumes were also created for royalty. Some of these perfumes were Princess Norina, Princess Marie, Princess Nina, Queen of Georgia, Prince Georges and Princess of Wales. Other clients included the Duchess of York, for whom he created a special perfume in her honor, Queen Marie of Romania, and Matchabelli even created a personal perfume for Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt called "Inauguration". King Edward VIII was an avid user of Matchabelli's men's fragrances.

c1930 advertisement


The "Queen of Georgia" perfume was created in memory of Queen Tamara from the eleventh century. Her beauty wisdom and character were so remarkable that she has become a legendary figure in Russian folklore. The perfume was first introduced in 1928 in America, but had lain dormant for years. The smart Parisian women were clamoring for the scent and based up the European success of the scent, Matchabelli re-released it to America in 1936.

Georges created "Ave Maria" as a tribute to his wife for her inspiring performance of the role of Madonna in Max Reinhardt's production of "The Miracle".



In 1934, the Prince created a perfume in honor of stage star Grace Moore, who was known for her wonderful talent as much as her wildcat temper.



The perfume was described as "feminine with a touch of a vixen" in a newspaper article.


In another article from that same year he explains why he did it and why his rumored lover Katharine Hepburn was so jealous.


"My newest perfume was created for Grace Moore, always before I created perfumes only for those of royal birth. But Miss Moore - ah- she is the queen of the stage., so I make a perfume to suit her, a perfume, gay, vivid, like she is. Then one day I am driving in the motor of the greatest star of all. She asked me if, I myself had created Miss Moore's perfume. I had to admit I did it. Suddenly she stopped the car. "Get out!" she ordered me. Jealous you see?" 

He then went on to say that he didn't obey her, but made a promise after to sufficiently analyze her personality, that he would create a perfume for her, but added that it was going "to be difficult, very difficult.". From this promise, sprang the 1935 perfume Katherine the Great, both named for the famous ladies of history. This perfume also went by the name Princesse du Nord.



The Princess continued her successful career as a dramatic actress and introduced some of her perfumes to the other actresses. In 1935, after her performance in Victoria Regina, Helen Hayes was told that Princess Matchabelli and Princess Matchabelli were going to attend. Princess Matchabelli instantly joined the game and, assuming the role of courtier, presented Hayes, as Queen Victoria (Empress of India, among other things) with a bottle of Matchabelli's "Empress of India" perfume.



In another account, it is said that Princess Matchabelli, with a grand gesture, presented to Helen Hayes, a bottle of "Katherine the Great" scent. However, it seems that, like the English, she prefers the one called "Duchess of York." Hayes' Victoria Regina, but with that inimitable touch of youth which characterizes the early scenes of her portrayal of England's much-loved queen.

c1930 ad

c1932 ad

c1935 ad



Other Perfumes:

While many of the perfumes were inspired and named after people, other perfumes were named for single-flower scents, like Gardenia, Honeysuckle, Lilac, May Flower, Muguet. Some perfumes were inspired by the holidays: Easter Lily, Christmas Rose, and Holly Berry, or evoke times of the year with Summer Shower, Summer Frost, Spring Fancy, and Golden Autumn.



Then there are those perfumes that were directly inspired by romantic images, such as the perfume Gypsy Patteran, also known as the gypsy trail, which is the handful of grass which the gypsies strew in the roads as they travel. These were a sort of code, because the gypsies of old were in the habit of making the marks with the leaves and branches of trees, placed in a certain manner. This was done to give information to any of their companions who may be behind, as to the route they have taken.

As told in the 1960 publication "Marketing in Latin America",
"The Prince Matchabelli line of perfumes and toiletries purchased from Vick Chemical Company in 1958 glorifies Chesebrough-Ponds products with the "Continental air" which appealed to upper income Latin Americans. 
One blend, Simonetta Incanto, was created for Prince Matchabelli by Simonetta of Rome, an Italian duchess who has become famous as a couturiere. This, added to the crown symbol of the Matchabelli coat or arms, gives the line the snob appeal which is so influential in marketing."

The Fate of the Perfume Company:

In 1931, Princess Matchabelli became a dedicated follower of Meher Baba, which caused strife between the prince and the princess, and as a result, the Matchabellis divorced in 1933.

Prince Matchabelli wanted American citizenship, but wasn't willing to relinquish the glamour of his title. So he petitioned for the right to use the title as his first name. So from 1934 onward, he's Mr. Prince Matchabelli. From 1932 until his death, Matchabelli also served as President of the Georgian Association in the United States.


Prince Georges Matchabelli, president of the New York cosmetic and perfume company bearing his name, whose family once owned vast estates in Russian Georgia, died of pneumonia, March 31,1935, at his home in New York and was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Queens, New York. His ex-wife Norina flew in from California when she learned he was sick. Also present at his bedside was Grand Duchess Marie, first cousin to the last Czar of Russia, and an old friend of the Prince were at his bedside while he was ill.

It has been rumored that he was engaged to the dark- haired exotic Princess Ketevan "Ketto" Mikeladze at the time of his death. Ketto, once a model for Bergdorf-Goodman, designed gowns for her own shop, named "Ketto", before being a neglige buyer for Elizabeth Arden.

Princess Matchabelli insisted "we were never separated. We were great friends. I was divorced from him, if you must use the modern, technical nomenclature. But where there has been no real separation, there was no need of a reconciliation."

When Prince Matchabelli died, Princess Matchabelli, his sister-in-law, continued as head of the Paris branch. Norina was elected president of the Prince Matchabelli Perfumery, Inc., New York in 1935.

Subsequently, the Prince Matchabelli perfume business was sold to Saul Ganz in 1936 for $250,000. Ganz appointed his son, Paul H. Ganz, to be president of the company. In 1941, Prince Matchabelli was sold to Vicks Chemical Company.



WWII halted production and importation of the perfumes.

In 1946, since Stradivari perfume was launched when communications between the USA and France were cut off, Princess Matchabelli didn't know that such a perfume existed, until GI’s came crowding into the Paris store to look for the Stradivari perfume.

In 1950, Stephen G. Capkovitz was appointed the chief chemist and perfumer for Prince Matchabelli.

In 1958, Vicks sold Prince Matchabelli to Cheesebrough-Ponds. Cheesebrough-Ponds was acquired by Unilever in 1987. In 1993, the Cheesebrough-Ponds division of Unilever sold the Prince Matchabelli brands to Parfums de Coeur, Ltd.

The company is now owned by DeCœur Fragrances, associated with Parfums International.

Info from various sources: wikipedia, The Messenger Online 

7 comments:

  1. I just wanted to thank you for your research. Thank you for all your time you put into this. Matchabelli's life story touches me because I grew up in Georgia during Soviet times. Since Matchabelli was emigre his name was never mentioned anywhere. We did not know what happened to the Georgian people who never returned to Georgia because they opposed Soviet regime in Georgia and would have been killed for surely if they returned.
    Somehow in 80's we heard that their is a perfume called Prince Matchabelli. We had no idea of origins. Since Matchabelli was a very recognizable Georgian noble last name some people thought it may be somehow connected to our country, but we did not know how... so most people assumed it was some Italian company since some Georgian last name endings sound sort of like Italian. I think Prince Matchabelli deserves to be know in his homeland. Luckily now we can access this information online.
    I read somewhere that the reason he wanted to make money by opening up the antique shop and later selling perfume was that he wanted to fund Georgian Independence movement. It would be so interesting to know for sure. I know that a lot of info about emigre is classified. I hope we find out for sure someday.

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    1. Maya, what a wonderful story. I am an avid collector of Prince Matchabelli bottles and a friend of this blogger. She has done a marvelous job of researching and sharing her knowledge. But your story just makes my bottles even more precious to me. My Best to You.
      Judy

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    2. Thank you for sharing your story with us Maya,

      Yes, Matchabelli does sound like it would be Italian. But in fact I believe it is a bastardization of the name Machiavelli. The prince may have thought it may have been easier for Americans to pronounce.

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    3. No ma'am. I can assure you 100% that Matchabelli is indeed a noble Georgia last name. They owned lands in the region of Samatchablo ("of Matchabelli").

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    4. Lots of last names in Georgia end on "elli" or "iani" which sound like Italian... to outsiders. Eventhough Matchabelli is very recognizable last name is Georgia the reason I did not immediately make the connection in 1980's is the fact that there are several ways you could write this name in English because English doesn't have all the sounds that Georgian alphabet does.

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  2. I am also an avid collector of the Prince Matchabelli perfume bottles. My Great- Grandmother unknowingly started me on my collection back in 1976 when she gave me my very first crown-shaped bottle. I carried that thing everywhere I went and I still have it today. I would like to know where I could find out more information on the color-coding that was used and the different types of glass. Many, many years ago, I contacted the company to see about getting information and the lady I spoke to didn't have a clue as to what I was talking about. Having read your story makes these bottles that much more special, to me at least. I will continue my search for more of these gems.

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  3. According to family portrait Georgia, it was "Machabeli" originally.

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