Giorgi Machabeli – The Prince of Perfume
01 March, 2015
Giorgi Machabeli – The Prince of Perfume
Once upon a time, there was a prince. In order to impress a princess he fancied, he created an amazing perfume. The princess liked it and they lived happily ever after.
These words sound like a fairy tale, yet it is anything but. This is the real account of Georgian Prince Machabeli’s life and the enormous perfumery society he founded in the U.S. in 1920s. Historian Rusudan Machabeli has shared the famous prince’s life story with us:

“The committee’s activities
were extremely diverse, from diplomatic missions to secret arms supply runs via German submarines, and the young prince shied away from none of them.”

– Prince Giorgi Machabeli was born in 1885, the eldest son of a rich and distinguished Georgian family of nobles. His father was Vasili Machabeli, brother of famous Ivane Machabeli who translated Shakespeare’s works into Georgian. After finishing studies at the nobles’ gymnasium, he went to Germany, to study engineering at The Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences. It was there that he picked up perfumery as a hobby, without any premonition that it would bring him untold riches. Upon graduation, he wandered the world, trying his hand in a variety of professions, such as that of a sailor, a driver and a courier.
In Sweden, Giorgi met Italian actress Norina Gilli, better known to the world under her stage name Maria Carmi. Giorgi and Norina met during one of her tours and as a token of his love, the prince learned Italian in extremely short time. Very soon they were married, but having an Italian wife didn’t stop Giorgi from retaining his staunch nationalist views. He was a fierce fighter for the Georgian cause, becoming a founding member of the Committee of Independent Georgia in 1914, which aimed to restore Georgia’s independence from the Russian Empire. The committee’s activities were extremely diverse, from diplomatic missions to secret arms supply runs via German submarines, and the young prince shied away from ngeotv.geone of them, even preferring the most unusual and risky ones, which allowed his talents to shine.
Moving from one country to another, he held talks with leaders, government members, revolutionaries and insurgents, leaving none unimpressed. Giorgi was a supporter of the marriage of Joachim, son of German Kaiser Wilhelm II, to a Georgian princess, which would allow the restoration of a Georgian monarchy. He even selected a candidate – Maria, daughter of Mikheil Machabeli, member of Constituent Assembly of Georgia. However, in 1918 Georgia was restored as a democratic republic, and its monarchy descended into irrelevance. Prince Joachim moved to the Netherlands, while Maria Machabeli married an Italian consul and settled in Rome.
In the brief period of Georgian independence, Prince Machabeli was Georgian Embassy’s first secretary. His words carried a lot of weight not only for the government, but for the opposition as well. After Soviet Union invaded and annexed Georgia, he fled to Italy, where his wife Norina resumed her acting career with the purpose of supporting the family in need.
“His most successful design was ‘Queen of Georgia.’ Its bottle, designed as a golden crown decorated with Machabeli family crest motifs, found immense popularity with the American society.”

Giorgi decided to distance himself from politics and move to the U.S. with his wife in 1922. In 1924 he opened an antiques shop “Rouge et Noir” in New York and quickly established himself as a businessman. Two years later, after receiving training at a perfumery store in Paris, he started his own company. He was a jack-of-all-trades, mixing, designing and advertising his perfume himself.
His most successful design was “Queen of Georgia.” Its bottle, designed as a golden crown decorated with Machabeli family crest motifs, found immense popularity with the American society. He dedicated this perfume to Maria Machabeli, the would-be queen who never ascended to the throne. This was followed by perfumes dedicated to his wife – “Princess Norina,” “Duchess of York,” “Golden Autumn,” as well as other wildly popular products such as the bath soap “Abano” and men’s perfume “Wind Song.” Their bottles were also decorated with “Prince Machabeli Crown,” which became his official logo.
Initially the perfume bottles were made from German porcelain, but then another Georgian emigrant George Coby (Grigol Kobakhidze), who owned a glass-blowing company, received a commission for a bottle that became, as encyclopedias claim, “the loveliest hand-crafted glass item in history.” Its production was only half automated, with all golden decorations made by hand. Very soon Prince Machabeli put his crown on all of America, figuratively speaking. His company successfully survived the 1930s economic depression and soon became a leader in the perfume industry.
The company’s first workers were Giorgi’s friends and fellow nobles who, just like him, were forced to flee the communist-occupied Georgia, as well as their wives and children. This was the reason why Machabeli Company’s staff was the most highborn, well mannered and polite in the entirety of the United States. They decorated, wrapped and delivered the perfume to clients all by themselves, which proved to be a better advertisement for the company’s product than anything else.
“In merely ten years, the Georgian prince turned a whimsical hobby into a million-dollar business, not to mention becoming an uncontested innovator in the field.”

Very soon a small shop, its every wall adorned with mirrors reflecting an immense and majestic array of inaurated bottles within, opened right opposite Chanel’s primary store in Paris, which initially led to Giorgi Machabeli getting labeled a madman. How could you ever hope to beat such competition, people would ask the prince, to which he slyly replied that it was the very fact that he was competing with Chanel that would funnel customers into his tiny, but sparkly shop. This small psychological stunt ended up working just as he intended and brought him great wealth. In merely ten years, the Georgian prince turned a whimsical hobby into a million-dollar business, not to mention becoming an uncontested innovator in the field.
In 1935 he set off to Shanghai with the purpose of establishing a company office there. He returned exhausted and sick with a bad cold. Even though pneumonia already was a somewhat easily curable disease back then, the doctors’ efforts proved futile and he died in a week after his return. Death of this lively, vibrant man was so unexpected that many suspected the Soviet special services of having a hand in it.
Prince Machabeli (spelled Matchabelli) Perfume Company exists to this day, with its products being prepared in full accordance with their creator’s recipes and retaining their original names. Most importantly, the company’s logo remains untouched as well, with the Machabeli Family crown decorating its goods. It is also a logo for Giorgi Machabeli Fund, which was founded in Tbilisi in 2009.
Year 2015 marks an 80-year anniversary of Giorgi Machabeli’s death, and the fund named after him plans to hold exhibitions and conferences dedicated to him and his work.

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