• Knowledge

An Odyssey To The Orient

8.2.23
black and white picture of baggage being loaded on to ocean liner

On 25 May 1934, James Henry Creed closed the door to his first-class cabin on the Empress of Canada and stepped onto the deck to take in the view as the ocean liner cruised gently into Vancouver’s Coal Harbour.

At the port, tugs guided the jewel of the Canadian Pacific Steamships fleet into the docks. The roar of engines and noise of onlookers cheering the ship’s return providing a cacophony of sound, sights and smells on arrival. Handkerchiefs were waved, bunting fluttered. Scents of engine oil, the sea and floor wax proliferated amid the scraping of steamer trunks along the decks and the confusion of faces and voices.

Porters bustled along the quay, moving cases and trunks onto trolleys. Once ready to disembark after customs checks, first-class passengers left first as the cabin boys and stewards lined the gangway. Creed had finally completed the last leg of an epic trip that had seen him criss-cross the Pacific and arrive back in Canada.

In the years before air travel, when ships were the only way to travel the world, first-class voyages across the Pacific and Atlantic were made by everybody who was anybody. Passenger lists were a roll call of high-society names and leaders from the worlds of politics, art, entertainment and business.

Famous among these were the likes of motorcar millionaire Henry Ford, the Windsors – Edward and Mrs Simpson – Albert Einstein, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, Lawrence Olivier, Noël Coward and many others. These journeys were an economic activity to some but a social imperative for many – a way of networking with the great and the good. Liners were about exploring expanding empires and creating a new network of communication.

A list of fellow travellers would be circulated to first-class passengers – an indispensable guide to society on board, and who to meet and often who to avoid.

James Henry Creed's Journey

Based at the port of Vancouver, the first Empress of Canada offered voyages to Japan, Hong Kong and China. She was, at the time, the largest vessel ever engaged in trans-Pacific service and regularly sailed between Canadian and Asian waters until 1939. The 653ft-long liner was an opulent way to travel.

Mahogany panelling lined the cabins and saloons, and a swimming pool and a veranda café, along with activities such as deck-tennis and golf, were among the attractions and distractions that kept passengers amused on voyages that often involved weeks at sea. Promenading was the way to see and be seen.

Vancouver was the final destination of a journey that had taken Creed first to Honolulu, then on to Hong Kong, Manilla, Shanghai to Yokohama, Kobe, and then back again. His arrival in Vancouver marked the start of a three-month tour of the Pacific coast states that would include a visit to Niagara Falls before he headed back across the Atlantic to London to stay at the Ritz.

On 26 July 1935, he boarded the P&O ship Comorin at Portsmouth and made his way to Nice via Marseille in France.

Family Travels

Travel has always been important for the Creed family. There are records of William Creed travelling to New York in 1860 and for James Henry Creed it was no different. Part pleasure, part rite of passage and part business, his was a journey of discovery of new ingredients and inspiration for the family business. He travelled regularly as a way to discover and learn about the world around him, spending months at a time away from his home in France.

Born in Paris in 1904, James Henry Creed was the second son of Henry and Anne Nathalie, the fifth generation of The House of Creed, and the father of Olivier and grandfather of Erwin who currently head up the perfume house. James Henry travelled extensively in the 1930s. Creed’s interest in scouring the world for inspiration would have provided him with incredible insights to take back to the family business. Later, James Henry became responsible for the Creed boutique in Nice.

Discover more about the Creed family history.

Nice, France

James Henry was a great networker and socialite; in Nice, he mixed with the artists, actors, intellectuals and creatives who flocked to the French Riviera – the trendsetters of the day. This was an exciting time of change for James Henry, ocean liners shrank the world for his generation.

From the mid-19th century onwards, French perfumers played a key role in the expansion of global production through partnerships with foreign countries, sourcing and then growing specific raw materials – agarwood from the Far East, ylang-ylang in the Philippines, and sandalwood and new florals from the many countries now open to foreign travel.

Tokyo

On the first part of his 1934 journey, James Henry stayed at the luxurious Imperial Hotel Tokyo. Built in 1890, in the decades after Japan had finally opened up to foreign visitors, it was situated just south of the Imperial Palace grounds. !e hotel had reopened in 1923 with a daring new building designed by celebrated American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright’s hotel (later demolished in the 1960s) was built to showcase Japan’s modernity and entice international visitors to the country. Frequented by celebrities, it was from this architectural wonder that Creed first ventured out to discover Japan, with its contrast between old and new.

Japan had been influencing the arts from as early as the 1850s when it opened up to the world and had become a hub for artists, architects and writers. Creed would have experienced the ancient rituals of the tea ceremony, ikebana and calligraphy, as well the art of kōdō – the ‘way of fragrance’.

Kōdō is one of the many Japanese art forms intrinsically linked with art, aesthetics and ritual. Scents were originally used in Japan for religious purposes, with aromatic wood and herb mixtures known as kōboku burned in temple rituals. Wealthy people also wore small lacquer cases containing perfume or powdered incense, which hung from their kimonos.

Clothes were also hung over burning incense, while ladies’ hair was scented with incense smoke. In traditional kōdō, the incense is heated rather than burned, releasing aromatic oils and resin in subtle vapours of scent.

Some fragrant ingredients came from China, India and the Middle East via the Silk Road, while others came from southeast Asia or local markets. these included highly aromatic woods and resins such as agarwood (oud), pine, juniper, cedar, cypress, cinnamon, star anise and frankincense; sharp citrus mixed with the softness and sweetness of fruits; and florals including wisteria, camellia, lotus and magnolia.

Shanghai

Creed’s next stop was Shanghai which, in the 1930s, was a must on a tour of the Far East. In its heyday, the city was a playground for the rich and famous; throughout the 1920s and 1930s, it became renowned as 'The Paris of the East, the New York of the West’. Disembarking from the liner, James Henry would have strolled along the majestic Bund waterfront into one of the most open cities in the world.

During Shanghai’s first golden era in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city was a symbol of modern decadence, a heady blend of smoky jazz clubs, fashionable parties, opulent Art Deco hotels and movie theatres, neon lights and opium.

Home to the headquarters of the world’s most prestigious banks and shipping firms, luxury hotels and clubhouses, the city’s sweeping waterfront, !e Bund, was known as the ‘Wall Street of Asia’.

In 1936, Shanghai was a bustling, cosmopolitan city – one of the largest cities in the world – with three million inhabitants, including some 700,000 foreign residents, known as ‘Shanghailanders’. The Bund’s docks would have once been filled with ocean liners arriving from San Francisco, London and Marseille.

Disembarking travellers like James Henry would have headed to the Shanghai Club for their first drink on terra firma. The club was famous for its 150ft Long Bar, once reputed to be the world’s longest continuous bar. Noël Coward said that, as he lay his cheek on the Long Bar, he believed he could see the curvature of the Earth.

From the Shanghai Club, James Henry would have visited the Cathay Hotel, a hotspot for the elite, which still exists today, occupying an entire city block and with impressive river views. The hotel was built by Sir Victor Sassoon, Shanghai’s most famous property developer.

Sassoon hosted extravagant dinner parties, where colourful guests included Emily ‘Mickey’ Hahn, a writer, socialite and early feminist, who attended with Mr Mills, her pet gibbon, on her shoulder.

These ‘Grand Tours’ would last months, so liners became a luxurious home-from-home, providing adventure and indulgence in one place, the equivalent of moving a small city across 3,000 miles of ocean.

Style Importance

Your luggage was an important part of your style. As an article in Vogue in 1926 stated: ‘Travel by sea often proves to be the acid test of true chic.’ James Henry was lucky – nothing could have been more stylish than his bespoke Creed luggage.

A nod to the luxurious travels and stylish luggage that adorned the decks, Olivier Creed created his first leather collection in 2021 – and the first in The House of Creed history since the 1930s. Featuring leather wrapped, hand-poured candles and exclusive travel fragrance sleeves, the Leather Explorer Collection captures the essence of The House of Creed’s rich voyaging past.

Life Onboard For James Henry Creed

There were spacious sleeping quarters, elegant entertainment and dining areas and incredible interiors. No expense was spared in the competition for passengers, and the liners became opulent style showcases of interior décor and design. By the 1930s, great designers and artists of the time were employed to create these visions. ‘Le style paquebot’ – the ocean liner style – began to emerge, with curving aerodynamic forms and nautical elements influencing interiors and architecture on land.

Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect, designer and painter, saw the ocean liner as a modernist metaphor, and he suggested that if architects designed houses like engineers designed the functional parts of a ship, they would create a new and modern architecture – a model for ‘high-density housing’.

Designers too were incorporating design details from Art Deco liners into everything from jewellery to beauty products and fashion – all heavily influenced by life on board. This was a chance to strut your stuff with elegant luggage, clothing and jewellery. Beautifully crafted steamer trunks for luxury travel were designed by companies such as Creed, Moynat, Hermès and Louis Vuitton to name a few, which could be converted into wardrobes and standing drawers, shoe cases and vanity boxes.

Life aboard a luxury liner also demanded a constant change of clothes and a strict style etiquette: James Henry would have adhered to this code, wearing a bespoke Creed tailored sports jacket in the morning and a double-breasted suit in the afternoon. Women’s daywear had its code too, evolving from smart tailored suits to include sportswear and casualwear as more women took part in sports on land and at sea.

Coco Chanel and Jean Patou were the first designers to introduce the idea of cruise clothing. Sunset was the signal for glittering evenings when formal attire for men and beautiful gowns for the ladies were de rigueur. With his striking blue eyes, round glasses, slicked-back brown hair, and tall, slim frame dressed in a bespoke House of Creed dinner jacket, James Henry would have looked extremely dapper.

For many travellers, shopping at Parisian couture houses like Creed was part of the Grand Tour.

Ocean-liners Influence On Fragrance

To market their newest ships, exotic destinations and unique travel opportunities, companies created eye-catching advertising posters, a major outlet for graphic designers to showcase their talents. The vessels’ streamlined shapes were exaggerated into dynamic forms, with images of awe-inspiring, ocean-bound vessels looming overhead.

Their voyages were emblematic of wider progress in society, while the posters’ elegant designs and heightened colours symbolised their glamour. Everything was exciting – including shopping. As Vogue advised its cruising readers in the 1930s, ‘... wait till Java for batiks... wait till Singapore for kimonos... brasses and silver bracelets in Madras... star sapphires and rubies, moonstones and zircons in Ceylon... Zanzibar for amber and ivory.’

Ocean liners provided a prism through which to view the 19th and 20th centuries, and the 1930s was an era of luxury, exoticism and travel. Fragrance began to be gifted to first-class passengers – in 1935, Jean Patou’s Normandie scent was presented to every lady in first class on the maiden voyage of the luxurious transatlantic liner of the same name.

Patou is said to have commissioned a famous metalworker to create a miniature version of the ship in silver-plated pewter as the perfume’s container, with the scent held in the main smoke-stack.

The 1930s were also an exciting time for fragrance. Aldehydes radically changed the industry, and full-bodied florals were all the rage. This was a time of intense luxury; in 1930, Jean Patou launched Joy, which was created using 10,600 jasmine flowers and 28 dozen roses in each bottle. Chanel No.5, imbued with jasmine, rose, sandalwood and vanilla, was an instant success in the 1920s and a firm favourite.

Travel by ocean liner opened up access to a new global clientele. With his enthusiastic interest in fragrance, business-savvy James Henry Creed carried a beautifully hand-stitched bag designed by his brother (who had expanded The House of Creed line to include luggage and small leather goods in Paris) to carry his vials of bespoke Creed fragrance.

The arrival and docking of one of these great liners was always an occasion for drama. In Ceylon, a wreath of palm fronds would be thrown into the sea. In Hong Kong, junks and flotillas of boats would jostle around the ship, while in New York the bright lights and the Statue of Liberty would have been your first glimpse of the American continent. Each and every port would have provided a unique welcome.

The Arrival in Vancouver

On the day of James Henry’s arrival in Vancouver, the Art Deco Marine Building is bound to have caught his eye as the Empress of Canada docked. At 22 floors high, it was the city’s tallest skyscraper until 1939. Inspired by New York’s Chrysler Building, the ornamental wonder featured intricate depictions of marine flora and fauna on the exterior and a lavish interior of tiles, stained glass windows and stylised Art Deco details.

This towering sight and the sweet smell of spring from the new leaves of the black cottonwoods lining the city’s streets were likely to have been his first impressions of a city that was the bridge from Creed’s East to West.