The passing recently of Hungarian born Judith Muller, cosmetician and creator of Israel’s first national scents, Bat Sheva and King David, brought a wave of sadness not only to Israeli clients of her long ago avant-garde Haifa beauty salon, but to fans from around the world for whom her scents were favorite blue-and-white gift items. Inaugurated on El Al airlines, these duty-free purchases took their place on a tray alongside other luxury articles available for passengers, and became bestsellers.
Bottled in replicas of biblical phials, and hand-painted in different hues and in some cases packed in small suede sacks which were also useful for holding small jewels, they were produced in Muller’s Mount Carmel plant and exported to 17 countries for almost two decades.
“The world is full of fragrance”, the petite, vivacious Muller was wont to say. Still, she pointed to the fact that of 7,000 or more new blends produced each year, less than 100 survived.
Even the universally renowned Chanel No. 5, launched between World Wars I and II, had its heyday for a number of years and then disappeared despite its exclusivity. In the 1960s, because of its quality, imaginative packing and clever marketing, it was revived. Muller always hoped that due to its unique appeal as a national fragrance with biblical associations, Bat Sheba would have a similar fate. However this did not come about. When her husband and business partner Gati died suddenly and financial losses overwhelmed her, she was forced to stop production and close her Haifa plant,
She moved to Tel Aviv and there followed a new line of essence for made-to-order clients: H Stern Jewelers, the Sheraton Hotel Tel Aviv, the Israel Diamond Center and other clients in Israel and abroad. However, when she went to live in Budapest, she had no plant of her own for production of the popular scents, and they had to be made in factories in Budapest, Vienna and Paris. These articles were still popular and won prizes as display places in museums and art galleries, as well as being listed in the famous international auction houses of Europe as Bonhams London.
When the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv held an international exhibition of famous perfume bottles, the Bat Sheva and King David bottles held pride of place as original Israeli creations.
Judith Muller, although without a production plan, continued to create perfume objects d’art. She came out with her Jerusalem 3,000 perfume bottle conceived for the Israel Coins and Medal Corporation with its gold coin cap. Later, she created the Hungarian Rhapsody Perfume as a national fragrance of Hungary, as her second Hungarian perfume, the first having been produced for the annual Budapest Opera Ball.
Several years ago, the Jewish Museum of Budapest featured Judith Muller, then living in Budapest, in an exhibition honoring leaders of the cosmetic and perfume industry who were of European Jewish descent. She was also honored with several European Life Achievement awards for her contributions to the country’s perfume industry.
Muller spent the last few years of her life traveling to European capitals to work with individual clients. By then she had also trained young beauticians in her beauty institute with the latest in cosmetics and beauty culture science. She spoke frequently on European television, lecturing on new aspects of the cosmetic and perfume culture.
She returned to Israel several months ago when she learned she was suffering from terminal cancer, to which she succumbed at the age of 77. She is survived by a daughter, Julia, and two grandchildren, Kate, now completing her final year of military service and 15 year old Bar, all living in Tel Aviv. She was buried in the family plot in Haifa, where she had lived most of her life.