June 14, 2009

DSH Perfumes des Beaux Arts Part 2

It's been a vacation from modernity to try the DSH collection of 10 perfumes in the style of 17th and 18th century Versailles. In keeping with the requirement to wear a different perfume every day, having 10 I can follow the custom of "le Cour Parfumee/the Perfumed Court" of Louis XV. It was a great age for fragrance. Everything that could be scented, was, and on occasion even the impossibly extravagant fountains of Versailles were perfumed. It was possible to use so much perfume at this time, because this was the era when France was first able, through the expansion of colonies in tropical areas, to secure and cultivate a large supply of fragrant materials for the perfume trade, and also began the mass cultivation of local European materials in Grasse. This was the beginning of the French mystique of perfume and the fashions of the court encouraged its consumption everywhere. The French economy has profited ever since.

I imagine the fountain's mist on the breeze must have been a full body experience. (Louis XIV overdid it and ended up unable to have anything perfumed near him at the end of his life. Even the scent of blooming flowers caused him migraines. Let it be a lesson to those who over-apply!)

This collection uses natural botanical materials, in keeping with the period, except for the animal notes, which are synthetic.

Royalty and courtiers engaging in the daily ritual of the "toilette" developed it into a creative definition of personal style and distinctive expression. It took a bare minimum of two hours to dress and put together all the accessories and apply the cosmetics and perfume, to make an appearance at court, for both men and women.

Except for the brisk Aqua Admirabilis, which is the classic Eau de Cologne developed by Gian Paolo Feminis, the rest are very floral fragrances. They are divided into roughly three types, those that are combined with high keyed citrus notes (d'Oranger du Roi Louis XV), those that are strongly floral with just enough of an earthy base to hold them onto the body (Mille Fleurs), and those that have middle notes of carnation/wood types combined with a stronger tone of animal/musk or vanilla absolute (Reinette).

Jean-Louis Fargeon, the great court perfumer, left a number of detailed and descriptive formulas DSH was able use for reference. The paintings of Boucher were also an inspiration for the perfume personality of Marquise de Pompadour, the great luxury stylist of the period. I was amazed to find out that her active love affair with Louis XV lasted only five years. During that short time she did everything she could to keep him from being bored, to personify the feminine, to be a solace and refuge from the harshness of politics and power. Gathering writers, philosophers and artists for intimate and social conversation, commissioning beautiful furniture and domestic interiors of remarkable craftsmanship, developing an ultra refined taste in fashion and personal adornment, she was a founder of many of the the elements of French culture as we know it today.

This extremely cultured woman's use of her ephemeral position to become an important patron of the arts, especially the personal ones, left a lasting impression. She created a standard of elegance and grace in support of an intimate relationship that became the ideal in French romance ever since. Reinette is a Rococo-style composition of a hyacinth accord mixed with bergamot and jonquil, cassis, carnation, rose and tuberose, violet leaf and ambergris, civet and vanilla, so it has both the high pitched and the graceful mid-notes cascading into a sensual animalic tone over time.

Pot-Pourri de Pompadour
is an interpretation of an 18th century ambient fragrance, meant to be refreshing and calming for the courtiers. M de P loved Chinese porcelain jars filled with herbal and spicey formulas. This composition has coriander, crushed mint, lavender, rosemary, rose geranium, lemon balm, marjoram palma rosa, rose absolute, jonquil and orris root.

Her successor, Madame du Barry, is represented by day and night perfumes, based on Fargeon's notes. Eau de la Favourite for day has a soft, feminine, clear orange-flower-water top, with an orris-violet heart over the spiciness of cognac and mace and a tiny bit of musk. It contains an unusual Daucas accord (Queen Anne's Lace) that required the use of some synthetics to recreate unavailable ingredients. It gives an impression of clarity, transparency and refinement, holding very close to the body.

Eau de Coquette for night, is based on Fargeon's Eau de Cypre Composee. Rich and seductive, with floral absolutes of jasmine, rose, orris concrete, angelica, nutmeg and a deep animal finish of ambergris. This one is the most similar to modern perfumes, reminding me a bit of Andy Tauer's themes.

Louis XIV, the Sun King, known for his extravagant elegance and aggressive persona, was enamored of perfume and customarily had himself massaged with it when commencing a new romance. It has a bright citrus accord leading into a strong leather finish that still somehow maintains an elegant transparency.

His son Louis XV, was strongly identified with orange flower water and Eau de Fleurs d'Oranger dur Roi contains both orange flower water and the absolute, bitter orange and lemon, with a grounding in pettigrain and ambergris. Orange-flower water became a popular flavoring and scenting agent in confections such as madelaines, laid in wait to trigger a whole other world of sensual stream of peculiarly French consciousness and memory.

Marie Antoinette's Eau de Trianon is based on detailed Fargeon notes for his commission to evoke the gardens of Petit Trianon. Subtle, fresh and very delicate, it uses the usual floral ingredients of the period such as rose and jasmine and orris but the addition of the Atlas cedarwood and benzoin cuts the floral aspect to turn it into an evocation of fresh air in a sunny meadow. So sad to think her distinctive perfume gave her away on their attempt to escape the heavy hand of the French Revolution.

Cyprian was popular scent used for hair and the wigs generally worn in Versailles for about a hundred years. It was so pervasive and characteristic that it nostalgically evoked the court of Versailles to many after that life was long swept away by the Revolution. This mossy violet fragrance with orris root and French oakmoss, rosewood and clary sage was believed to keep the hair fresh. I recall that the wealthy in Europe and the Americas all wore wigs of varying degrees of elaborate-ness for that long period and this must have been a very familiar aromatic signal of formality and sophistication.

This collection of fragrances are wonderful for those who appreciate botanical fragrances and also love to live with fine antiques, or the avid readers of historical fiction, biographies and memoirs, or those who travel to France and visit Versailles and would like to have a more intimate, personal experience of a particular time and place's refined yet powerful beauty.

Above: "The Toilette of Venus" by Boucher, 1751, thought to be a portrait of the Marquise du Pompadour, surrounded by silken luxuries. It was installed in her private bathroom, with other such panels. The silks of Lyon were an enormously profitable export for France at the time, as was and is its image of luxury and sophistication. The original is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity tor a weekend perfume workshop in an idyllic French Chateau, you might want to contact Nicholas de Barry.


Anonymous said...

What a great post! Thank goodness for Fargeon to have recorded the formulas, for Dawn to have the passion to recreate the perfumes and for you to tell us about them. There's something really magical when imagining and then being able to experience the perfumes of the French court.---Jen

Lucy said...

Thanks Jen. I am a fan of time travel...

Lauren said...

This post is so wonderful I would like to link to it! In fact you have me extremely tempted to make a perfume purchase... oh dear!

Lucy said...

Lauren, I would be most honored! and if you do give way to temptation I hope you let me know how it goes.

There is that sample selection you of all people would especially enjoy and and probably be enough variety and perfume to get you through the summer. It would be most appropriate for you, of all people, to have a Fargeon inspired collection...I have so enjoyed your site.