Recreating Marie Antoinette’s Perfume

Re-imagining the sensuous scent of a Queen.

France, 1790 – Imagine…you are Queen Marie Antoinette, awaiting the arrival of your private perfumer in the gardens of Trianon, a short distance from Versailles.  You intend to ask your royal perfumer, Jean-Louis, to create a scent that embodies the spirit of Trianon, your place of happiness and refuge, so that you may carry its memories of pleasures and love with you everywhere.  You breath in deeply and close your eyes, surrounding yourself in musky rose scents and warm, spicy orange blossoms.  You await Jean-Louis in the gardens of Trianon so that he may experience first-hand the olfactory delights that he will capture in a vile only for you.

 

 

Two hundred years later…

What if…today, you find this secret recipe of Marie Antoinette’s most favorite perfume—an elixir made especially for the Queen by Jean-Louis Fargeon.  Would this elusive scent transport you to back to the l’Orangie, where spicy orange blossoms and crisp scented apples mingle in tantalizingly aromas, to a time where you meander among the gardens of Versailles in your haute couture silk court dress (Ahhh, sigh). How heavenly divine.

Antoinette, M FlowersAntoinette, MA Garden Flowers

Can the Queen’s scent be recreated? 

Two centuries after Marie Antoinette’s time at court and her death, perfume historian Elisabeth de Feydeau discovered the perfume recipe of “Le Bouquet Aux Mille Fleurs”, or The Thousand Blossom Bouquet, in historical archives.  When Elisabeth discovered this treasure, she began to imagine what the scent smelled like in the 18th century when the purest of ingredients were combined to create perfumes in this time.  In comparison to perfumes of today that contain preservatives and even toxic ingredients deemed to be illegal in some countries such as the U.S., perfumes during the reign of the Bourbon family would have smelled differently.  Since historical perfumes discovered  later in time would not have been preserved well, the true scent of the queen’s favorite perfume would have smelled completely different, even if composed today using the same ingredients.  Why?  The source of perfume Ingredients today, such as damask roses and other flowers, grow in a different environment where the soil contains a modern composition of chemicals and where the air molecules would contain different traces of toxins.  So recreating a historical perfume in today’s environment is even more challenging than one might believe!

In summary, the same perfume made with ingredients today would smell different than the same perfume made back in the days of French court, even if the exact same recipe was followed.

The Challenge:  How could the perfume in its original form be replicated?

A Masterful Creation

The reconstruction of a historical perfume, one of the most fragile cultural artifacts, makes the creation of M.A. Sillage de La Reine extremely challenging and a task only to be undertaken by the foremost French perfumers of the world.  Using only natural scents according to 18th century perfumery techniques, perfume experts worked tirelessly to recreate the scent of the infamous Queen Marie Antoinette.

Although the task was daunting, M.A. Sillage de la Reine (translated as the Queen’s Wake) is a re-imagining of the Marie Antoinette’s historical perfume known as Trianon.  This exclusive perfume recreation is based on the original recipe discovered by Elisabeth de Feydeau in the French archives that would have been worn by the queen and composed by Jean-Louis Fargeon, the Queen’s private perfumer.  Jean-Louis Fargeon named the original scent, Trianon, after the Queen’s preferred residence where she escaped the strict rules and confining protocols of court.

In the re-imagining of Trianon, the famous perfumer, Francis Kurkdjian, recreated the queen’s perfume using the historical recipe without removing any scent notes and adding only bergamot in the opening or head notes, which lightened the scent.  After 30 trials, Kurkdjian masterfully achieved a satisfactory composition, M.A. Sillage, which recaptured the scents of the gardens of Trianon similar to Jean Louis Fargeon’s original creation for the Queen, Parfum du Trianon.  The re-imagined scent features notes of orris, rose, jasmine, tuberose, lavender, violet, bergamot, orange blossom, cedarwood, sandalwood, Tonkin musk, ambergris, and oily galbanum.

If you are now wondering what the scent smells like, you are not alone.  So let’s immerse ourselves in the scent by smelling M.A. Sillage de Reine through the nose of an online perfume and visuals expert, Chant Wagner…

A Scent Like No Other 

 

 

An Ode to A Perfume 

“The opening of M.A. Sillage de la Reine is very fresh and flowery, dominated by a most beautiful orange blossom note…It then evolves into a more contrasted impression of being both very soft and deep but also musky. It is also softly woody. There is a splendid indolic jasmine. The tuberose is very marked too and seemingly smells green, perhaps due to the violet. The sweetness and succulence of the perfume is shot through by a fresh aerial impression suggesting a breeze. It smells of lavender. On my skin, as opposed to the impression on the blotter, the perfume is warmer and more powdery, with the orris making its presence felt more. It is apparently a perfume playing with transient flowery notes, yet it gains in intensity overtime.

The fragrance seems to roar like a fire as it develops. It reveals its deeply animalic nature sweetened by flowers. The base notes are dominated by a superb musk and luxurious sandalwood. Overall, it smells unusual and complex. It seems to present a different molecular weight and feels heavier and oilier than a modern perfume. If you are used to thinking that natural perfumes are short-lived you will have to reconsider because M.A. Sillage de la Reine is extremely persistent on a blotter. Five days later it still smells very strong” (Wagner, 2007).

In his majestic words of tribute, Wagner describes the re-creation by Francis Kurkdjian as “I now am intimately moved by its notes, its history, its charm and the perception of its unique beauty. If my own dream of it was rather weak at first, it now is reinforced by the reality of the sensations the fragrance provokes, accompanied by more day-dreaming. I see that it would be plain erroneous to consider M.A. Sillage de la Reine to be just a perfume in a bottle. It is more like a dream come true, or rather a tapestry of dreams. It is an attempt to conquer time and death by recreating the past and making Marie-Antoinette’s presence contained in her sillage be felt again.  In this attempt lies something fragile, vulnerable, lovely and tragic due to the unescapable process of identification with the original wearer of the perfume.  The composition of M.A. Sillage de La Reine perhaps like no other fragrances seems to contain and exhibit the perfumery paradox of life contained in death, that of the flowers used to make a perfume.  I have never felt so genuinely this impression of wearing on my skin the last breath of a flower, its very soul” (Wagner, 2007).

In the photo below, we see Marie Antoinette in her  chemise de gaulle, a shocking deviation from propriety (see my prior blog “The Secret Life of Marie Antoinette”) that she wore at the Trianon to be free both physically and mentally from the strict rules of court and court dress.  Similarly described by Wagner, M.A. Sillage de la Reine…

“…conjures up the sensation of a light flowing summer dress. Marie-Antoinette we know made dresses called de gaulle or chemise à la reine fashionable. They were light white cotton frocks whose simple, natural lines represented the opposite of court formality.”

6 Marie Antoinette en Chemise
Marie Antoinette en chemise, 1783 portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Photo: Wikipedia/Public Domain

Evocative Musings

Are scents the keys to our past?  Do scents conjure up visions and memories, making them alive?  How often have your memories been invoked by the scent of your mother’s perfume, or a lost loved one?  Do the masterful blends of scents in the recreation of Marie Antoinette’s perfume help us conjure up the lifelike vision, soul, and dreams of happiness of the dead Queen?  Yes!  Scent brings her personality alive and gives greater depth to the reasons that caused the Queen to long for stolen moments in her Petite Trianon garden.  Fragrance has both infused the passionate dreams of historians, perfumers, and even authors causing some to ask if, “what if perfumes had souls”?

“Sillage de la Reine has enough beauty and charisma to become a presence, a reminder like an echo of the light steps that Marie Antoinette would have taken in her beloved garden of Trianon, of the brushing of her white gauzy dress à la Gaule against the flowers of her pastoral retreat” (Wagner 2007).

A Scent Worth Golden Proportions

The search for the evocative recreation of the Queen’s favorite perfume using the newly discovered historical recipe was first attempted in 2005.  This rare recreation, named M.A. Sillage de La Reine, was offered to an exclusive group during the unveiling of Elisabeth Feydeau’s publication, The Scented Palace, The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer, who we know as Jean-Louis Fargeon, the original 18th century inventor of the Queen’s perfume.  At this exclusive historic venue held at Versailles, M.A. Sillage was sold for approximately $2500.

Sillagedelareine_Affiche perfume photo

Later in a fundraising event for palace renovations, the Château de Versailles offered a 25 ml version of the perfume, of which 1000 copies were issued, for 350 Euros each.  Also made available in an exquisite Baccarat flacon of 25 cl were ten copies for 8000 Euros each.

M.A. Sillage_Christian-Milet
Source: BBC News
Published: 2006/12/13 10:47:50 GMT© BBC 2019
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6173587.stm

More recently, the Chateau de Versailles and Guerlain together announced the offering of a limited-edition fragrance created by perfume maker, Thierry Wasser.  Unveiled in Paris at the Guerlain Champs-Elysées flagship boutique, the perfume was offered by subscription at a price of 550 Euro and made available only for one month ending in May 2016 (ChateaudeVersailles, 2016).  The signature quatrefoil bottle design (pictured below) displayed an image of the sun, gilded with fine 23-carat gold and sculpted by artisan goldsmiths.

Forbes Boquet de la Reign
Press Release from the Chateau de Versailles.                        http://presse.chateauversailles.fr/estate-news/the-queens-bouquet/

The iconic sun emblem depicted in the picture above on the quatrefoil bottle and in the photo below on the gates of Versailles is the same symbolic emblem chosen by Louis XIV for its reference to the sun god Apollo.

King Louis XIV SunGod
Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0
The sun god emblem prominently displayed on the golden gates of the Chateau de Versailles below is a dazzling sight and one that will remain forever etched in your memory if you are lucky enough to visit this standing testament to French history, power, and wealth.

Palace of Versailles Entrance Gate
Sheila Sund from Salem, United States [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D
If you are interested in learning more about French perfumes, you may wish to visit the site of the French Perfume Society at https://perfumesociety.org/.   Unfortunately, the France location-based organization is not permitted to mail samples or purchases (yes, I’ve tried!) to the United States due to import restrictions on ingredients.

Further Reading

For my readers who would like to explore the world of scents or simply escape into a novel with a scented plot, here are a few recommendations for you.

A Scented Palace - the Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer by Elisabeth de Feydeau
A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer by Elisabeth De Feydeau.

Available here at Amazon

Elisabeth de Feydeau’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.defeydeau

Twitter:  Elisabeth de Feydeau@DeFeydeau

If you are mesmerized by the thought capturing the souls of our dead in perfume scents, you will be delighted and absolutely enthralled by the following…

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose
The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose

Available here at Amazon

M.J. Rose Web Site:  https://www.mjrose.com/content/

M.J. Rose Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMJRose

Twitter: MJRose@MJRose

M.J. Rose the Lost Book of Fragrances
The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

Available here at Amazon

The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown
The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown

Available here at Amazon

Kate Lord Brown Blogspot:  http://katelordbrown.blogspot.com/

Kate Lord Brown Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/katelordbrown

Twitter:  Kate Lord Brown@katelordbrown

Perfume, The Story of Murder by Patrick Suskind
Perfume, The Story of Murder by Patrick Suskind

 

For the next installment of Life in the time of Marie Antoinette, sign up for Lorrie Anne’s next newsletter at lorrieanne.com.

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Author

11 - lori's author photo

Lorrie Anne is a historical author who loves palaces, balls with beautiful French gowns, eating tea and crumpets, and basically anything a royal princess would do.  She is fascinated with Marie Antoinette, Queen Victoria, and the Empress Sissi of Austria.  She loves traveling around Europe and writing about the places she visits to share the fascinating stories of history with you.

Visit Lorrie Anne on her website at LorrieAnne.com, Facebook, and Twitter.  Lori is always glad to hear from readers and history enthusiasts.

References:

Chateau de Versailles (2016).  THE QUEEN’S BOUQUET. A numbered, limited edition perfume by Guerlain, sold to the profit of the restoration of the palace of Versailles from 17th February to 17th May 2016.  Retrieved on March 2, 2019.  Obtained at:  http://presse.chateauversailles.fr/estate-news/the-queens-bouquet/.

de Feydeau, Elisabeth. (2006). A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer.  Publisher: I.B.Tauris (October 17, 2006).

Wagner, Chant. (2007). M.A. Sillage de la Reine by Château de Versailles {Perfume Review & Musings}, 10 January 2007 . Retrieved on March 2, 2019 at http://www.mimifroufrou.com/scentedsalamander/2007/01/ma_sillage_de_la_reine_perfume.html#hcmjGYBCM8opg8zj.99.

 

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