Andy Warhol Was Fragrance-Obsessed—Here Are the Perfumes He Loved Most

Taking it back to the beginning of Warhol’s life, the “Revelation” scent tour considers that Warhol’s love of fragrance, and by extension his appreciation of perfume bottles as objets d’art, stems from his Catholic faith. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Warhol attended weekly Mass with his family at a Byzantine Catholic church, which follows the rites of Eastern Catholicism and thus involves all the senses, says Murphy. “The mass was enhanced with candlelight, vocal chants, and rich incenses made from plant resins and spices, so this would have been a truly special aroma that Warhol experienced regularly in his youth,” she explains. As a Catholic herself, Murphy goes on to underline that Catholicism has a lot of paraphernalia associated with religious devotion, such as rosary beads, prayer cards, and statues of saints. “Catholics grow up with all these items that hold meaning and symbolism,” she says. “I can completely understand how Warhol’s love of objects, including his collection of perfume bottles, may have been tied to that upbringing.”

Cornelia Guest, Brooke Shields and Warhol at the launch party for Pierre Cardin’s perfume, Maxim’s, at Macy’s in New York City, 1985Photo: Getty Images

As far as fine fragrance is concerned, Murphy posits that Warhol’s first real exposure to perfume was during his art-school days at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, where he took a summer job doing window displays at a local department store named Joseph Horne’s, which had an extensive perfume department. His journey into fragrance continued when he moved to New York after graduation in 1949, where he created perfume-themed windows at upscale department store Bonwit Teller, then began illustrating for major beauty giants. “In his early career as a commercial illustrator in the 1950s, Warhol created dozens of drawings of beauty products for publications like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar—including perfume bottles by many different brands,” explains Murphy. “Beyond his commercial work, he also made numerous drawings and prints featuring perfume bottles and other cosmetics throughout the ’50s and ’60s, just as he began depicting other familiar consumer items in his Pop Art.”

It was in the early ’60s that Warhol began regularly wearing fragrance and adding to his now-legendary personal perfume collection (the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, which holds hundreds of Warhol’s possessions, is home to a wide variety of his perfumes). “Andy said that he’d wear one perfume for a few months and then switch to another, so each short period of his life would have its own unique scent-association,” explains Murphy. He also once wrote that he loved looking at perfume ads in old magazines from the ’30s and ’40s and would wonder how the perfumes smelled based on their colorful names. “Many of those names were inspired by faraway places, by royalty, by glamorous nightlife—Opening Night, Princess of Wales, Gardénia de Tahiti, and so on,” she says. “He said, ‘I go crazy because I want to smell them all so much!’ ”

While his preferences were ever-evolving, Warhol did have some favorite scents that he wore more continuously. One of his personal favorites? Chanel No. 5. “He definitely thought men as well as women could wear it,” says Murphy. Taking a genderless approach to fragrance before it was ever a movement, he also collected scents crafted by his designers in his circle. “Andy often wore Halston’s original fragrance for women, and that had a personal association since he and Halston were friends,” she explains, adding that he also owned perfumes by Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent, like YSL pour Homme and Studio 54–favorite Opium. Warhol was also fond of French perfumeries like Caron and Guerlain, and according to Warhol’s close friend photographer Christopher Makos, whenever the artist was in Paris, he enjoyed shopping for perfumes with elegant bottles and packaging.

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