It is only appropriate that the inaugural FAME STINKS “Scent of the Week” is Lillian Russell, since it is arguably the first major celebrity fragrance. (Kate Claxton, from the Woodworth Company in 1874 seems to be the first. I will post that after doing a bit more research.)
Released in 1894 by Richard Hudnut, the perfume shown above was the namesake of Lillian Russell (Dec. 4, 1861 – June 6, 1922). Born as Helen Louise Leonard in Iowa, she was raised in Chicago. At 18 she moved to New York City and found success in vaudeville and later in the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan. For many years, Russell was the foremost singer of operettas in America. In fact, when Alexander Graham Bell introduced long distance telephone service on May 8, 1890, Russell’s voice was the first carried over the line.
A year later, in 1895, Seely Manufacturing Company also released a Lillian Russell perfume. Bottle and 1895 ad pictured above.
Mysteries: Lightner Perfumes also supposedly released a Lillian Russell fragrance in 1910. Other sources cite Russell as launching her own perfume in 1985 as well. I will assume that the picture below, which I found at Worth Point from an eBay sale several years ago, is a different version of the Hudnut bottle…
Yet another version of the Hudnut bottle is below, courtesy of the Craig & Helen Farnsworth Collection. (Many thanks to the Farnsworth’s and to Cleopatra’s Boudoir for their invaluable assistance to me in this process. There is so little information out there — and often conflicting info — about early fragrances that every little bit helps.)
If you have any additional information or corrections, I would love to hear from you.
Here is a photo of Lillian Russell.