I’ve posted a video on how I perfumed a pair of leather gloves based on Margaret Baker’s recipe which can be found in her still room book (f98). In here book Margaret gives us insight on secrets for beauty that range from face powder to hair growth treatments. Learn more about her book at the University of Essex Baker Project online. My video can be found at https://youtu.be/0psnsyXzBHA
Traditional and still familiar perfumed oils infused with jasmine, cloves, cinnamon, sandalwood, and ambergris have all been used for centuries. Each ingredient has its own history of production, trade and use. For example, frangipani, often linked with perfumed leather gloves, stems from the 16th century Italian marquis Muzio Frangipane. The scent comes from the red jasmine flower, often supplemented with rose, cinnamon, sandalwood, and musk. Gloves scented with frangipani were very exclusive and extremely expensive.
Leather products did not smell particularly good in their raw state. This was due to the tanning process. In the Italian city-states they used musk, civet, and orris butter, in Spain camphor and ambergris, in France orange blossom, violet, iris and musk were preferred. Early modern perfumed gloves were made by odorizing the leather with rosewater, a paste made with the desired scent ingredients and then “fixing” the scent with the use of oil, civet, and musk.
Caterina dei Medici, who became Queen of France introduced the famed perfumed gloves to the French court in the late 16th-century. Scented gloves were already popular in her native Florence, and through her marriage to Henry, Catherine brought these cultural novelties to France. Renato Bianco (or Rene de Florentin as he was known in France) was Catherine’s personal perfumer and she continued to employ him to make perfumed gloves for her in her new home.
As an easily removable item, glove wearers at court could even change their ‘scent’ throughout the day by switching pairs. The gloves themselves could be perfumed with an array of fragrances. As time went on, perfumed glove merchants would speed up the process by combining flowers and herbs with fat and then boiling the mixture. Then the gloves were dipped into the liquid and left outside to dry.
Perfumed gloves continued to be in fashion though throughout the 16th through 18th centuries as items of prestige and costly gifts. In England, Elizabeth I is credited with “inspiring the craze”. In France the tradition triggered by Catherine even continues to this day, with modern brands such as the House of Guerlain still producing perfumed gloves.
Connor, Steven. The Book of Skin. New York: Cornell University Press, 2004.
Folger Manuscript Collection https://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/detail/FOLGER~3~3~4229~262616:Receipt-book-of-Margaret-Baker–man
Holly Dugan, The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), 132.
Redwood, Mike. Gloves and Glove-making. Oxford, Shire Publications Ltd, 2016.