Perfumed Court

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!)

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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21 Responses to Perfumed Court

  1. catie says:

    I love Grace by Philosophy and Sandalwood from Demeter. Spine-shiveringly yummy fragrances!

  2. “Sandalwood from Demeter”

    I haven’t tried many scents from Demeter yet, but I love their Apple Blossom for summer! And someone gave me a sample of their “Play-Doh” perfume, so funny–it takes me right back to kindergarten ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Deb Marlowe says:

    Oh, what a great collection! I’d love to try a few of these.

    My current fave scent is one my CP brought me from Scotland. It’s called Waterbabe and it’s so fresh and light.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I love perfumery and it’s interesting history. Whenever I think of eras past, the first scents that come to mind are usually florals: rose, violet, lavendar. I’m going to have to get the book.

    (For some reason it isn’t accepting my password,so I’ll publish the comment as anonymous. – Betty Sanders)

  5. Julia Justiss says:

    Ammanda, thanks for the book recce (I’m currently reading Mistress of the Revolution.) I’d love to have your full list from your “Versailles” pile! I’m also off to check out the website and try out some samples myself, tho it would take alot to wean me from my favorite “Shalimar.”

  6. Ladyhawk says:

    I always imagined Abigail Adams wearing a lavender scent.

    Funnily enough, I have a chemical sensitivity and am unable to tolerate the typical perfumes but enjoy the essential oils. And the study of their properties is fascinating.

    This weekend, I was visiting friends in L.A. for Tolkien Reading Day, an annual event. Also an annual event now is our visit to Descanso Gardens. The wisteria was in bloom as was the plot of lilacs. It was so interesting to note the wide variations of lilacs. Some I liked very much, some not so much, and one variety seemed to have no scent at all.
    ~Judy

  7. “I always imagined Abigail Adams wearing a lavender scent.”

    Ladyhawk, I think you’re right about that! And I imagine Elizabeth I would have worn Fracas, if it had been around then. Empress Josephine–I dunno. Guerlain Jicky, maybe? (I got my first whiff of this legendary scent when I had the fun of stopping in the Guerlain boutique in Paris to get my bottle of Apres L’ondee. Whoo, was Jicky push-you-over strong!). The Duchess of Devonshire–Chanel No. 5, or maybe 31 Rue Cambon. Caro Lamb–Pink Sugar or Jessica Simpson Fancy or something equally sweet to counteract the crazy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Julia, I’d be happy to send you my Versailles/French Revolution list! (After I update it–got some great stuff for Christmas)

    And I also keep coming back to Guerlain! I love my Apres. I also have my old standbys Miss Dior Cherie and Coco Mademoiselle (the only Chanel I can successefully wear!). But DSH has some great stuff, inlucing essential oils.

  9. Fascinating post, Amanda. I’ve always thought the process of creating a perfume to be a very fine art.

    Right now my lavender and white wisteria is blooming like crazy. My entire front yard has been taken over by it and it smells wonderful. And my hyacinths are up in the back – one of my favorite scents, next to lavender.

    I currently alternate between L’air du temps (my brother buys it for me for Christmas every year.) and Elizabeth Arden’s Green Tea.

    I wore Halston and White Shoulders when I was in college and they were my late DH’s favorite scents for me to wear. I stopped wearing them after he died.

    You always have the best research sources, Amanda! With me its “So many research books, so little time!”

    I’m blogging on Romance Magicians today so check it out if you get the chance. The topic? “Who do you owe?” It’s about the people who have helped me out on my pursuit of the elusive publishing contract. The Riskies get a shout out!

  10. You know, perfume always sounds great, but it doesn’t stay long on me. But I love DKNY’s blood orange-scented perfume, released a few years ago.

    I want to smell at least one of these when you come to NY, Amanda!

  11. Ladyhawk says:

    Curiosity question since Amanda has put the bug in my ear, what would Queen Victoria have worn? I simply can’t imagine it being flowery at all.
    ~Judy

  12. I don’t know, Ladyhawk, maybe something quiet and unassuming like violets. Or perhaps given her love of all things Scottish, heather?

  13. Or maybe lily of the valley? I may have to do a Google search to see what she might have really worn!

    I was also trying to think of something for Jane Austen. Lilac would be nice (mine are blooming and smell yummy!). Charlotte Bronte=Rosewater, or maybe something like SJP’s Lovely. Emma Hamilton–hmmm, something big and bombshell-y (Magnifique? Or is that not big enough?)

    Megan, I will be sure and bring my smaples with me to NYC next month!

  14. Oh, I want a scratch and sniff feature for that website… and what a brilliant piece of marketing, bringing out special perfumes in conjunction with an art exhibit! I so want to buy that Perfumed Court sample, but I never wear perfume–there are just too many people allergic to it, it seems. My husband likes it when I wear vanilla but I think I just remind him of something large and edible.

  15. Okay, my curiosity and desire to waste time at work drove me to an Internet search! Queen Victoria wore Creed’s Royal Scottish Lavender.

    In other news I found online:
    Beau Brummel=stuff from Floris
    Empress Alexandra of Russia=Guerlain’s Rose Blanche (and her 4 daughters wore Coty’s Rose Jacqueminot)
    Colette=Jicky
    The Duchess of Windsor=Joy and L’heure bleue
    Coco Chanel=# 19

    And for Diane and Megan: Clive wears Chanel Pour Monsieur, and Gerard wears Jo Malone Nutmeg and Ginger

    And I found just the right scent for Emma Hamilton–Rochas Femme

  16. Diane Gaston says:

    What amazes me is the detail you come up with to describe the scents. I’d probably say, “Smells like flowers”

    It’s a rare cologne that my husband is not allergic to, so I haven’t worn cologne in years, but I do put lavender essential oil in my unscented body lotion.

    Thanks for telling me what scent Gerry wears. I may have to buy some for my husband’s birthday!

  17. “My husband likes it when I wear vanilla but I think I just remind him of something large and edible”

    Janet, you should try Bois Un Vanille. ๐Ÿ™‚ And when I do wear perfume, it’s only a tiny, tiny bit because I don’t want to make people sneeze (and never, ever at the theater or on airplanes!)

    “I’d probably say, “Smells like flowers””

    LOL–it’s like when my wine snob friends talk about all the “notes,” I guess (“A young, brash wine, with the scent of peaches and summer hay”). I just say “Tastes like wine”

    And doesn’t Gerry sound yummy with his Nutmeg and Ginger??

  18. Jane George says:

    Ooh, the Eau de Trianon sounds faboo!
    I’m with Janet on the wish for a scratch & sniff feature.

    I wear Harajuku Lovers Love. Love it, lol.

  19. Jane, those are the cutest perfume bottles in the world (the Harajuku Lovers)! I kinda liked the Baby one, but it smelled weird on me…

    Marc Jacobs’ Daisy also has an adorable bottle. Those little rubber flowers are genius.

  20. Diane Gaston says:

    And doesn’t Gerry sound yummy with his Nutmeg and Ginger??

    Good enough to eat!

  21. Ladyhawk says:

    Amanda, you certainly pegged Queen Victoria right! Thanks for looking it up. What a fun post.
    ~Judy

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