A Scented Palace

Hi, Amanda here, sitting in for the vacationing Elena! Elena will be back with you Saturday, and then next week we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Riskies.

I had kind of a hard time coming up with a topic today (again!), so you’re going to get something of a book report. I just finished reading a short (about 131 pages) but totally fascinating book, A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer by Elisabeth de Feydeau (whose bio says she earned a Ph.D in the history of perfume at the Sorbonne–I wish I had majored in the history of perfume!). It’s a biography of the perfumer Jean-Louis Fargeon, and is full of tidbits about life at Versailles, fashions, gossip, the ingredients and composition of perfumes, and all kinds of fun things. Like these:

On the process of dressing the queen: “The dressing of the Queen was a masterpiece of etiquette, with rules for everything. The lady in waiting and the dame d’atours, if they were together, were assisted by the First Lady of the Bedchamber and two ordinary women, responsible for the main service, but there were distinctions between them. The dame d’atours put on the petticoat and presented the dress. The lady in waiting poured the water for the Queen to wash her hands and put on her chemise. But when a princess of the royal family attended the dressing, she replaced the lady in waiting to accomplish the latter task. However, the lady in waiting did not cede her place directly to the royal princess; she gave the chemise to the First Lady, who then presented it to the princess. All of the Queen’s ladies scrupulously observed these customs and jealously guarded their rights of duty.”

And on choosing the garb for the day: “The wardrobe boy delivered to the Queen’s apartments green taffeta-covered baskets containing the things she would wear that day; he then brought the First Lady a book containing swatches from the dresses, ceremonial garb, and negliges. The First Lady presented this book to the Queen when she awoke, with a pin cushion. The Queen would place pins in the swatches of all the things she wanted to wear that day; one for the ceremonial garb, another for the afternoon neglige, another for the evening gown she had chosen for cards or games or supper in the private apartments. The book was returned to the wardrobe, and soon the Queen’s choices arrived, wrapped in taffeta…The wardrobe consisted of three large rooms lined with cupboards, some with rungs, others with rails. In each room there were large tables that served to spread out the dresses and costumes and to refold them.”

The details about perfumes are very yummy. Marie Antoinette enjoyed scents of rose, violet, jonquil, and tuberose, and she bought a hand cream called “Pate Royale,” hair pomades of rose, vanilla, carnation, and jasmine, various soaps, powders, bath sachets, and potpourri for her rooms. She commissioned a scent called “parfum de Trianon,” meant to remind her of her beloved hideaway. It contained rose, orange blossom, lavender, citron and bergamot, iris, nd a touch of jonquil.

Between this book, and the giant “fall fashion” issue of Vogue I got yesterday that features Kirsten Dunst on Marie Antoinette costume on the cover, I can’t WAIT for the movie Marie Antoinette! What are some of your own favorite scents? And are you looking forward to this film as much as I am? 🙂

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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10 Responses to A Scented Palace

  1. Kalen Hughes says:

    I’m a Channel No. 5 girl (I know . . . but it’s a classic!). I’ve seen that book, and now I’m going to have to buy it. Curse you!

    I was totally excited about the Marie Antoinette film, until I learned that A) it was directed by Sofia Coppola and B) I heard her say one of the ways she decided to modernize the film to make it more accessible was to put the queen in high-tops! I mean, you know, girls just wana have fun is, like, the whole point of Marie Antoinette, isn’t it? *insert sound of me barfing here*

    It only review I’ve seen so far was scathing. It’s titled “Gidget Goes to Versailles”:

    “[T]he strength of this film is its connection to high school culture, seen through the eyes of a sweet, utterly conventional and finally boring teenage girl, projected from the California suburbs onto 18th century France. This is obviously also the film’s weakness.”
    “I was struck by the film’s lack of historical, political, and cultural sophistication, in which Dunst is in every single frame and it’s all one gigantic royal slumber party until the peasants show up in an illiterate wordless mass baying for bread and blood and shaking their satanic harvesting tools. Ouch: The film makes the most sense as a weird allegory of Hollywood inbreeding.”

  2. Ramya says:

    The October, 1998 issue of Nat Geo had (recreated) scented strips of Cleopatra’s (rose scented) perfume and Napoleon’s (lemon scented) cologne. I absolutely loved that issue. History textbooks ought to include such stuff! 😉

    I like…ummm…soft, dreamy, jasmine-scented perfumes 🙂

  3. Well, poop. I WAS looking forward to the movie, until I read about those hightops. What, the real story just wasn’t interesting enough for them??? They didn’t show the feet in the “Vogue” photos, and from what I can see (not much, granted) the costumes look fairly accurate. What a disappointment!

    Wish I could have smelled that National Geographic issue! I love perfume, even though it often doesn’t smell very nice on me. Chanel No. 5, for instance–my college roommate wore it, and it smelled delicious and sophisticated on her. Smelled like a garbage can on me. I like Evelyn from Crabtree and Evelyn, a light, not-musty rose scent, and I have a new scent called Russian Caravan Tea from CB I Hate Perfume that is very nice. 🙂

  4. And Jasmine! I love the scent of jasmine, too.

  5. Kalen Hughes says:

    The costumes look “off” to me. Like COSTUMES rather than clothes. A little “matchy/matchy” as the wonderful Michael Kors would say on PROJECT RUNWAY.

    I’m sure I’ll still see it (love Kirsten Dunst), but it’ll be a rental.

  6. Tess says:

    MAC’s V3 is my fave these days, though I also love Chanel No 19, though it’s now hard to find.

  7. In the film, Marie also wears Manolos. I just read an interview with Blahnik, in a UK mag, which also featured his sketches for the shoes.

    I’m not sure I’ll ever see this flick, unless on DVD. I would have loved a more faithful rendering, perhaps somebody will be inspired to do a different version.

    My favourite aromas come from lemon verbena and lemon balm, jasmine, gardenia, lily of the valley, rose, and lavender. I grow all of those plants, potted up or in my garden, or both.

    My favourite perfumes are Penhaligon’s Bluebell, Lily of the Valley by Floris (Princess Diana was also fond of it!), and Tea Rose by Perfumers Workshop.

  8. Ramya says:

    I love this topic! Thanks, Amanda 🙂

    More about France and perfumes –

  9. Great topic!

    Makes me want to go and re-read Beast by Judith Ivory, which is all about perfume and the sense of smell.


  10. Elena Greene says:

    I’m a sucker for all sorts of flower scents. My fragrance preferences run to florals: Anais Anais and Pavlova. I sometimes pick specific floral notes to associate with my heroines–lily-of-the-valley and rose.

    I have read that some men wore fragrances that included lavender mingled with other more “masculine” notes. I rather like that but wonder whether readers would think it too effeminate!

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