So, last week I turned in a book to Grand Central Publishing, came up with a new contract at Harlequin Historicals, am now thinking about Christmas for a new novella, and have eaten far too many Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs while sniffling as I watched the last scene of North and South over and over. I need to get motivated again, and what better way than with yummy-smelling perfumes.
One of my favorite books in the “life at Versailles” pile in my writing space (as opposed to the “life in the Elizabethan theater” pile, or “life in the Regency” pile) is Elisabeth de Feydeau’s A Scented Palace. It’s a biography of Marie-Antoinette’s favorite perfumier, Jean-Louis Fargeon, but it’s also a description of how perfumes were made in the period, how essential oils were extracted, what scents were “fashionable” at what time. It’s a fascinating story, and when I visited Versailles last autumn I loved trying to imagine how these perfumes smelled.
And now I don’t have to imagine any more! DSH perfumes (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz–see her fabulous website here) has a new collection called The Perfumed Court. These scents are based on Fargeon’s own recipes, and made with all-natural ingredients that were available in the 18th century (except for the animalic notes like ambergris and musk, which are illegal now). When I read about these scents, I had to run out and order some samples immediately.
I didn’t order all of them, just the ones that appealed to me the most. Here are the results of much rapturous sniffing and sampling! (Warning: these results are entirely amateur and individual!)
Eau de la Favourite: Based on a scent created for Madame du Barry it opens with orange and lemon flowers, very fresh, and quickly becomes a powedery iris with a hint of violet leaf (which adds smoothness), and even a hint of cognac (or at least that what it smells like to me!). This is a light, fun smell, like a summertime party.
Eau de Coquette: This was also Madame du Barry’s, but unlike Favourite it’s made for a winter’s evening of seduction! It’s very rich, opening with notes of angelica and nutmeg, then going into rose, jasmine, orange flowers, and ambergris (the faux kind).
Cyprian: This one is kind of unusual, as it’s derived from a recipe for wig pomade! That sounds weird, I know, but it’s suprisingly fresh and powdery, not too sweet or cloying. It opens with Bergamot and green herbs, moving into that violet (which I love), and ending with a sort of citrus-powder.
Reinette: Madame de Pompadour’s perfume! The heart is a hyacinth (said to be her favorit flower), with notes of carnation and tuberose. Very floral and romantic.
Mille-fleurs bouquet: is also Pompadour’s! The title says it all–lots of flowers, a huge bouquet. The opening lavender/lemon cleanness, moves into roses, vanilla, geranium leaf, violet, vetiver, and probably lots of things I can’t quite make out…
Eau de Trianon: My favorite of all! I loved exploring the Trianon and its beautiful gardens, and this perfume seems to encapsulate it so well. It’s a soft green/floral herbal, with notes of rose, jasmine, orris root (iris), and violet. Very summery and elegant. I think I’ll buy a full bottle of this one!
I had tremendous fun imagining what the ladies who originally wore these scents would have been wearing, and where they would have been going, as they sat at their dressing tables and dabbed on their perfume from gorgeous bottles.
Who are some of your favorite historical women? What perfumes do you imagine for them? Or what’s your own favorite scent? (I always like to give the heroines I’m writing their own perfumes, too!)