How Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps Perfume Made Her Famous

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L’Air du Temps has been enchanting the masses with its delicate floral scent for over seven decades, yet Nina Ricci is an often overlooked luxury brand.

The self-taught designer was a powerhouse on the early 20th-century Parisian fashion scene.

Nina Ricci perfume for sale in a luxury shopping mall storeNina Ricci perfume for sale in a luxury shopping mall store (Credit: Radu Bercan / Shutterstock)

She was dressing more women in Paris than any other major brand at one point, and several of her fragrances have reached icon status.

So, who is the woman behind the bottle? Learn all about Nina Ricci, the unsung hero of Parisian couture and fragrances below!

The Making of Nina Ricci

Nina’s destiny was always shaped by her family. Born in Turin, Italy in 1883 as Maria Nielli, Nina moved to Paris with her family when she was 12.

She began an apprenticeship as a dressmaker only a year later.

She changed her name to Nina, a childhood nickname, after marrying her husband Luigi Ricci in her late teens.

Olivia Culpo wearing a white Nina Ricci cape dress with a Salvatore Ferragamo Gancio bag, Casadei heels, Maria Black jewelry for the Nina Ricci showOlivia Culpo wearing a white Nina Ricci cape dress with a Salvatore Ferragamo Gancio bag, Casadei heels, Maria Black jewelry for the Nina Ricci show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2018/2019 on March 2, 2018, in Paris, France (Credit: Medias / ABACA / INSTARimages)

The Riccis had a son named Robert when Nina was 23. He would go on to be his mother’s biggest fan and greatest business partner.

Nina and Robert always had a close relationship, as the young mother became a widow at 27 and had to raise Robert alone.

Nina’s career kicked off after joining the House of Raffin in 1908, where she worked for 24 years. Nina was given full reign of her department within the house.

Actress Imogen Poots in a light-blue Nina Ricci Spring 2014 chiffon-and-lace dress and with white Givenchy platform sandalsActress Imogen Poots in a light-blue Nina Ricci Spring 2014 chiffon-and-lace dress and with white Givenchy platform sandals at the Los Angeles premiere of ‘Need For Speed’ at TCL Chinese Theatre on March 6, 2014, in Hollywood, California (Credit: Tony DiMaio / Startraksphoto)

She created her own designs and grew her own clientele, which mostly consisted of upper-middle-class women.

Nina was affectionately known as ‘The White Lady’ within the industry, as she was often spotted in a white dress and pearls that matched her curly white hair.

Eventually, she started a side business of selling her own designs to clients, but it was her son that encouraged her to create her own fashion house following the death of Monsieur Raffin in the early 1930s.

Nina Ricci's debut fragrance Coeur Jolie made its debut in 1945 and her most famous perfume L'Air du Temps was released in 1948Nina Ricci’s debut fragrance Coeur Jolie made its debut in 1945 and her most famous perfume L’Air du Temps was released in 1948 (Credit: Kapustin Igor / Shutterstock)

Nina agreed on the condition that Robert would take care of the business side of the brand, while she would have complete creative control of the designs.

The house of Nina Ricci was born in 1932, marking the first mother-son collaboration in couture history.

Grace and Romance for Modern Woman

Nina Ricci’s designs have always been associated with romance, elegance, and femininity.

The dreamy couture and ready-to-wear collections are filled with soft silhouettes, sensual fabrics, muted color palettes, and pretty details like ruffles and pleats.

Kim Kardashian surprised everyone in a stunning Nina Ricci gown at the 2011 InStyle/Warner Brothers Golden Globes PartyKim Kardashian surprised everyone in a stunning Nina Ricci gown at the 2011 InStyle/Warner Brothers Golden Globes Party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 15, 2011, in Beverly Hills, California (Credit: Norman Scott / Startraksphoto)

The house often features gentle, nature-inspired motifs like doves, apples, and flowers.

Nina became famous for her hands-on approach and advanced technical skills.

She preferred to work directly on mannequins rather than beginning with sketches, and had an excellent talent for selecting the most beautiful fabrics for her garments.

Actress Allison Williams in a blue lace and viscose cady Nina Ricci dressActress Allison Williams in a blue lace and viscose cady Nina Ricci dress at the 8th Annual Blossom Ball benefiting the Endometriosis Foundation of America hosted by EFA Founders Padma Lakshmi And Tamer Seckin, MD at Pier 60 on April 19, 2016, in New York City (Credit: Fernando Lucena / Startraksphoto)

Nina’s design prowess was easily on par with other legends of the time like Vionnet and Lanvin, but her lower price points and bourgeois clientele often made fashion magazines overlook her designs.

A Different Approach to Couture

Nina and Robert made an excellent team, with Nina’s talent and Robert’s innovative business approach.

While other couture labels catered to aristocrats, Nina Ricci’s main clientele were members of the upper-middle class.

Nicole Kidman in a sequined Nina Ricci dress and Brian Atwood sandals at the Women In Film 2015 Crystal + Lucy AwardsNicole Kidman in a sequined Nina Ricci dress and Brian Atwood sandals at the Women In Film 2015 Crystal + Lucy Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on June 16, 2015, in Los Angeles, California (Credit: Tony DiMaio / Startraksphoto)

And as her clientele was more populous than the aristocracy, Nina Ricci actually had a larger client base than a lot of her counterparts.

The fashion house was one of the first luxury labels to introduce a more affordable intermediary line targeted at a younger clientele, a practice that most contemporary designer labels still use to expand their client base.

Nina Ricci remained a family-run business until 1998 when Robert’s son-in-law sold the company to Massimo Giussani.

Actress Reese Witherspoon in a Nina Ricci dress at the 79th Annual Academy AwardsActress Reese Witherspoon in a Nina Ricci dress at the 79th Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 25, 2007, in Hollywood, California (Credit: Jen Lowery / Startraksphoto)

The brand has been a part of the Spanish fashion and beauty group Puig ever since, alongside fellow prestigious labels Jean Paul Gaultier, Paco Rabanne, and Christian Louboutin.

Nina Ricci has appointed several talented creative designers, including Olivier Theyskens and Peter Copping, since joining Puig.

Creating Fantasy in the World of Fragrance

Nina Ricci’s first perfume, Coeur de Joie, was released in 1946 after Robert decided that fragrances were the key to international expansion.

Emily Ratajkowski in a plaid suit at the Nina Ricci show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2018Emily Ratajkowski in a plaid suit at the Nina Ricci show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2018 on September 29, 2017, in Paris, France (Credit: Aurore Marechal / ABACA / INSTARimages)

The scent was met with a moderate level of success, but it was two years later when Robert’s dreams of global fragrance fame would come true.

The best-selling fragrance L’Air du Temps catapulted Nina Ricci to fame in 1948. Meaning “the spirit of the times,” the fragrance was created to capture the optimistic mood of the post-war era.

It was the first spicy-floral fragrance to be created in the history of High Perfumery, with notes of gardenia, carnations, centifolia rose, grasse jasmine, mysore sandalwood, and iris.

An Yi Xuan flaunts her legs at the Nina Ricci show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2015Taiwanese actress An Yi Xuan flaunts her legs at the Nina Ricci show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2015 on September 25, 2014, in Paris, France (Credit: Alban Wyters / Abaca / Startraksphoto)

The innovative fragrance felt like the essence of spring encapsulated. Nina Ricci fans also fell in love with the whimsical curved bottle, handcrafted with Lalique crystal and topped off with a beautiful dove stopper.

The label is also famous for 2006’s Nina, known for its adorable apple-shaped bottle.

The sweet and sensual fragrance combines citrus and floral scents, featuring notes of lemon, lime, gardenia, toffee apple, cedarwood, and white musk.

Actress Jessica Chastain in a Nina Ricci Pre-Fall 2014 cypress green silk crepe gown at the 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie AwardsActress Jessica Chastain in a Nina Ricci Pre-Fall 2014 cypress green silk crepe gown at the 19th Annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 16, 2014, in Santa Monica, California (Credit: Sara De Boer / Startraksphoto)

All Nina Ricci fragrances are still made in France as a tribute to the label’s headquarters and dedication to quality.

A New Era of Accessibility

The classic fashion house is currently undergoing big changes following the departure of creative directors Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh in January 2022.

Nina Ricci has been downsizing collections, with their fall 2021 collection featuring 30% fewer looks than usual.

These new, smaller collections also come with a significant price drop of over 50% in an effort to become even more accessible.

Anne Hathaway in a sequined Nina Ricci Spring 2013 dress and Stella McCartney shoesAnne Hathaway in a sequined Nina Ricci Spring 2013 dress and Stella McCartney shoes at the Museum Of Moving Image Salutes Hugh Jackman at Cipriani Wall Street on December 11, 2012, in New York City (Credit: Adam Nemser / Startraksphoto)

Perhaps the biggest change is Nina Ricci’s shift to a digital-first strategy.

It’s not a surprising change in today’s marketplace, but fashion lovers were still shocked to hear about the brand’s upcoming closure of Nina Ricci’s flagship boutique on Avenue Montaigne in Paris.

The brand has yet to appoint a new creative director, but the fashion world is eager to see who will take the reins during this transitional period.

Where to Buy Nina Ricci

Do you want to indulge in traditional French elegance without breaking the bank? You can shop Nina Ricci clothing and fragrances below!

1. Nina Ricci Official Website
2. Farfetch
3. Amazon
4. Walmart
5. Yoox

Scroll down to see celebrities wearing dresses and footwear by Nina Ricci, a fashion house founded by Maria “Nina” Ricci and her son Robert in Paris in 1932.

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