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212: How Two Genies Captured Manhattan's Essence In a Perfume Bottle

17 de octubre de 2018

Hugo Marquez

Carolina Herrera, the fashion house, created a fragrance that would become an everlasting icon of elegance and modernity, capturing the essence of a whole city in a tiny bottle.

If I asked you to describe the essence of New York City, what would you say? For me, what comes to mind is Manhattan in the late nineties: the businessmen and women who were the real go-getters, people who were not afraid of dreaming big and working hard to get what they wanted. The "capital of the world" has always been known for its daring and fierce atmosphere complemented by the freshness of its people full of ambition and vitality, the essence of the brave, the elegance, and carefree attitude. That's how I would describe 212, a perfume as famous as Chanel No. 5, created by two geniuses who captured the vitality of Manhattan in one tiny perfume bottle, redefining the way women accessorize with perfume for generations to come.




Manhattan In A Bottle


“Freshness, energy and elegance” are the words that could describe the spirit and essence of 212, a perfume created by Carolina Herrera and Carolina Herrera de Baez, two Venezuelan women who succeeded in capturing the essence of New York. Long gone were the fragrances that offered "delicacy" and "femininity" by sweetening smells when 212 came into the scene. The creation of the perfume was nothing but a reflection of how the fashion industry was adapting to the needs and desires of the upcoming 21st century woman. 212, the most famous fragrance by the house of Herrera, is characterizes by its practicality in its portrayal of urban modernity without losing its glamour: it's a fragrance that makes women feel fresh, beautiful, and captivating, never compromising her sense of identity and comfort. It's a fragrance for any woman, any woman who wants to be elegant at the office, school, for meetings with friends or clients, clubs or fancy dates. A go-to for anyone who aspires to stand out in a discreet way.


Carolina Herrera once stated that perfume is the ultimate accessory. It's also like a musical composition, with base, middle, and top notes. Orange blossom, bergamot, mandarin, camellia, gardenia, lily, sandalwood, and bright musk are the notes for the symphony that mirrors Manhattan in a fragrance. Still, jasmine, a scent that feels so close to the heart of the Herrera women, would be the note with the loudest "tempo" in the composition of 212. The design of the flask is one-of-a-kind. The bottle emulates the buildings and skyscrapers in Manhattan with its metallic texture and color. Plus, the blurred glass on its sides and the quality of its design, which can stand upright or lie flat, resembles the iconic architecture of NYC.


Its name is probably what gave it its everlasting iconicity. Paying their respects to the tradition of numerology in fragrances, the name of the perfume comes from the area code of the first phone numbers in Manhattan. By the mid-nineties, a phone number that began with 212 was a status symbol for any business that had this area code. Also, the name of the perfume has to do with duality; two in one as if they tried to captured two facets of women: one who lives with her feet on the ground, on the streets, on the urban scene; and another one who is not afraid of glamour, to take elegance to the max.




The Genies Behind The Magic


The most iconic perfume by the end of 20th century is the result of the imagination and hard work of two Latin American women. Venezuelan designer Carolina Herrera –born in Caracas, 1939– was member of the New York City jet set. With the approval and encouragement of Diana Vreeland –one the most legendary fashion editors in Vogue–, Herrera launched the homonymous fashion house in 1981. Her daughter, Carolina Herrera de Baez, born in 1969, surrounded by the love of her mother for fashion, design, and fragrances, would eventually find her career in perfumery. After studying biochemistry (a degree that helped her master the alchemical craft of perfume design), Herrera junior joined her mother in the family business and was given creative freedom for the iconic fragrance of the fashion house.


The result of the efforts and imagination of the Herrera women resulted in a perfume so enigmatic that it became a reference for elegance for 20th-century women. After 20 years on the market, 212 has had different versions for men and women. Different editions with different notes and flask designs have taken the global stores with seasonal aromas that adjust to their new clients. 212 has become a brand all on its own.



Both women were able to tell an everlasting story through the senses. In fashion, we’ve seen how designers have found inspiration in nature, books, paintings, but how could someone capture the essence of a whole city? Carolina Herrera and Carolina Herrera de Baez, mother and daughter, geniuses of contemporary design, made their magic like true genies and trapped the spirit of whole city in one tiny bottle. This way, 212 has become a reference of elegance and modernity for women around the world. A fragrance that reminds us of Manhattan in its presentation and composition that allows women to keep vitality, ambition, elegance, and femininity within reach.


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Cover photo: @michaelpadunan

TAGS: history of fashion Fashion Lessons fashion icons
SOURCES: The Perfume Society Business Of Fashion The New York Times Fragrantica Harper's Bazar

Hugo Marquez


Staff Editor

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