Lightyears Collection
Mary Garden
(c.1904)
McLean Perfumes


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'Mary Garden' perfume by McLean

Mary Garden perfume by McLean Perfumes, Detroit

Mary Garden was well known but who was behind McLean Perfumes? We have no more than an empty bottle to enlighten us. From the bottle shown here, we learn that McLean of Detroit prided itself on marketing the "Highest Quality American Perfume." (The residue in the bottle testifies to the truth of this claim and Mary Garden perfume by McLean appears to have been a distinctly credible fragrance for its era — c. 1904.

We can date McLean's Mary Garden by the wrapper around the bottle's neck which informs us that this fragrance won a Grand Prize at the 1904 Saint Louis Fair. As a point of interest, in 1904, Mary Garden herself was still performing in France, although her mother and father were living in the United States.

As to the perfume, we do not know how McLean Perfumes managed to get the rights to use the "Mary Garden" name. Today, in perfumes, she is linked to Rigaud, which brought out a host of Mary Garden cosmetics and toiletries ... until she sued to rein them in. "Mary Garden" perfume by Rigaud found its way from Paris to Shanghai and from Canada to South America. In its time, it was a very popular fragrance, finding its way into the literature of the day.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that an opera singer who could shock Al Capone with her Salome would be honored by two perfume companies. Mary Garden was a mega-star, a talented self-promoter who came out of nowhere to win the (musical) heart of Claude Debussy, to take Paris by storm (and paid $1500 a week in 1906!), to be brought to New York by Oscar Hammerstein, to serve as director of the Chicago Opera, to make movies for Samuel Goldwyn, to have a radio station practially dedicated to her performances — in 1921, when radio was new! — to launch the official song of the State of California, to be photographed by Gordon Parks ... to make a fortune and die in poverty brought on by mental disease. A wonderful story of a great singer who was also very talented in managing her own career.

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St Louis 1904 Fair Perfume Award

Neck of Mary Garden perfume bottle advising of prize awarded at 1904 St. Louis Fair

It appears that whatever Mary Garden's arrangement was with McLean, it preceded her arrangement with Rigaud. Given that Mary was still young and in France in 1904, it is possible that a friend or family member might have been involved with this product which capitalized on Mary Garden's growing fame.

In fact, it was her fame in Europe that caused Oscar Hammerstein to bring her to New York in 1907 to play Thaïs at his Manhattan Opera House. And, while today it would seem odd to us to make a silent movie of an opera, that is exactly what Samuel Goldwyn did in hiring Mary Garden to act in his silent version of Thaïs in the same year. Like Hammerstein, Goldwyn knew that her name alone would draw an audience.

Whatever the story behind McLean's Mary Garden, it is certain that the fragrance was launched to cash in on Mary Garden's fame and it does appear that the perfume, like Mary herself, was a high quality presentation.

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Price sticker for McLean's 'Mary Garden' perfume

Mary Garden perfume sold for 50 cents
an ounce, no doubt a premium price in 1904.
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to enlarge

'Mary Garden' perfume by McLean from the back

Mary Garden perfume by McLean Perfumes,
Detroit, as seen from the back of the bottle.
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  • Christina Scott, 01/28/2008.
    McLean Laboratory, the producer of Mclean Perfumes, was owned by
    my great,great uncle Darius McLean. The McLeans immigrated to Detroit,MI
    from Ontario, Canada in the 1870's. Uncle Di was trained in the
    pharmaceutical trade, and learned the perfume business working for EN
    Lightner Co in Detroit. He then set out on his own around 1900. His
    business was bought out by the Allan-Pfeiffer Co in St. Louis. He left
    Allan-Pfeiffer in 1906, moved back to Detroit, and opened up the McLean
    Laboratory. As my father said, he made a fortune manufacturing dimestore
    perfumes. He was a prominent businessman in Detroit in the early years of
    the 20th century. Along with making perfumes, he was on the board of a
    Detroit bank, and an elderman of Trinity Episcopalian church. I have seen
    other examples of his perfurms on line, but not this one. Thank you.
  • -, 01/27/2008.
    Darius McLean is listed as follows:

    McLEAN, Darius, manufacturer of prefumes; born, Oxley, Ont., Oct. 13,1861; son of Jacob and Anna Angeline (Beeman) McLean; educated in Detroit public schools; married, Oct. 3, 1894, Cora Gates Davies, of Detroit; children: William Wilbur, Gertrude S. (Mrs. E. L. Slater, of St. Louis). Began active career in employ of E. N. Lightner & Co., manufacturers of perfumes, Detroit, 1873, continuing until 1900; then engaged alone as manufacturer of perfumes; business was absorbed by the Allan-Pfeiffer Co., St. Louis, 1902, and he became general manager same; was awarded grand prize, perfumes, at World's Fair, St. Louis, 1904; withdrew from business associations in St. Louis, 1906, and returned to Detroit, building up present McLean Laboratory, of which is sole owner. Awarded gold medal for perfume at Paris Exposition, 1911. Progressive in politics. Episcopalian; trustee Trinity Church. Club: Detroit Yacht. Recreations: yachting, fishing. Office: 156 Myrtle street.
  • -, 01/27/2008.
    Both Darius McLean and Mary Garden (thruogh her family) had strong connections with the Episcopal Church. Could this help explain why McLean was able to put out a "Mary Garden" perfume?