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Author of book on Queen's perfumer has Nose for Marie Antoinette

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  • Axel
    More than 200 years after meeting her death at the guillotine, Marie Antoinette remains one of the most enigmatic figures in history. So begins a recent
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 16, 2006
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      "More than 200 years after meeting her death at the guillotine, Marie
      Antoinette remains one of the most enigmatic figures in history.

      So begins a recent article about a new book about the Queen's perfumer that I saw in my MA websurfing and thought interesting and post now.

      It's an article about the Queen's perfumer and the fragrance of Marie Antoinette which did daily battle with smelly Versailles under discussion of late *lol* The article which includes an interview with the author and is titled "Elisabeth de Feydeau: A Nose for Marie Antoinette". It's a good title because as the interview shows the author writes about the Queen's prefumer but has much to say about the Queen and her times...

      Do you agree with what she says?

      The article continues:

      (Book background)

      "Elisabeth de Feydeau uncovers a unique perspective on the French
      monarch by tracing the story of Jean-Louis Fargeon in A Scented
      Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer.
      Elisabeth is professor at the Versailles School of Perfumers and a
      cultural adviser to some of France's greatest perfume houses. The
      biography examines Jean-Louis' rise from a humble family of perfumers
      to personal perfumer to the young queen for 14 years and then traces
      the bloody events of French Revolution from his position as a court

      "A Scented Palace has already won the Prix Guerlain in France and
      viewers in the UK can see her present a BBC TV documentary called
      Versailles Stories about Jean-Louis Fargeon and his unique position
      at the royal court.

      "Later in the year, fans of royal drama will also be able to see Sofia Coppola's movie, Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Durst and due to be released in October.

      (Author interview)

      "Why is there an on-going worldwide fascination with Marie Antoinette?

      "The 18th century holds a distinct fascination for us as the artistic
      golden age. There are also strong comparisons between then and today,
      in particular the urgency to live life to the full. Marie Antoinette
      was a woman of her time, but it is also her modernity that makes her
      so interesting.

      "She exhibited a dual personality: as well as being queen she wasalso a wife and mother, Queen of France and a Shepherdess Queen from a
      pastoral poem! She struggled to reconcile these two opposing elements
      and to admit them was ultimately fatal. It is the fatefulness of her
      destiny, which shattered like a missile halted in full flight, which
      contributes towards the myth of Marie Antoinette: married at barely
      15 years of age, queen at 18, mother at 23 and victim of the
      guillotine at 38. This beautiful woman lived both extremes - the
      fairytale and martyrdom. How can one today not be sensitive to her
      terrible misfortune?

      "How would you describe Marie Antoinette - do words like `excess'
      and `arrogance' truly reflect her character?

      "She is often described with these words. The world she entered when
      she arrived at the court of Louis XV at a very young age was decadent
      but also regimented by strident social mores. Everything was
      analysed, commented on, gossiped about, everyone anticipated the
      first faux pas that would instigate their demise.

      "Often badly advised, Marie Antoinette was extravagant and even
      mocking in her youth. In short she lived in that pleasure-oriented
      society like a child, only wanting to surround herself with people
      that she had chosen herself. Ultimately the Queen became the
      scapegoat of the nation, upon whom all its hatred was concentrated
      after having been adored.

      "Was she really aware of how France was going to change in 1789?

      "Not at all, she was absolutely removed from reality, having only
      acknowledged the pleasant and joyous face of the French whom she
      encountered at the time of her marriage to the Dauphin of France. She
      was very shocked and couldn't understand why the people gave her such
      an icy reception when she visited Paris.

      "She never really went tomeet the people even though she showed a lot
      of compassion towards those less fortunate, such as housing 12 poor
      families to enable them to live in a dignified manner. She also
      adopted poor children before becoming a mother herself and again at
      the birth of each of her own children in order that they should learn
      the value of sharing. The arrogance of Madame Royal, her oldest
      daughter, was something that worried her. But regarding the misery of
      the people of France, she deceived herself by seeing them as charming
      rustics surrounded by well-kept sheep and cows. On the other hand, in
      the worst moments of her life, she exhibited a dignity that would
      mellow even the worst revolutionaries.

      "How did you first learn about Jean-Louis Fargeon?

      "It was when I was at the Sorbonne and doing the research for my
      thesis on the development of perfumery in 1830s France. My
      introductory section explored the legacy of the Ancien-Regime, and,
      in particular, the French taste in scent and the development of
      perfume. He emerged as a very interesting character, traditional but
      also a passionate progressive and visionary.
      What would Jean-Louis Fargeon's daily life have been like working for
      Marie Antoinette?

      "Jean-Louis was one ofMarie Antoinette's suppliers, not the only one,
      but certainly the main provider of all her perfumes and other items
      relating to her toilette. He worked together with Rose Bertin, the
      Queen's favourite milliner, and Leonard, the famous hairdresser,
      preparing a wide range of products – as much for hygiene as for
      beauty purposes: perfumes, eaux de toilettes, lotions,
      vinegars, `bains de modestie' (preparation for exfoliating baths),
      hair powder, make-up, perfumed flannels etc. He took care of a great
      deal of the Queen's needs, and was enamoured of the natural look for
      the sake of one's skin. Thus he appreciated the queen who liked to
      look after her face and show her beauty through the most minimal of

      "Why did Fargeon remain loyal to the queen?

      "He was arepublican and a strong believer in the need for a new order
      to emerge in France - the bourgeosie with its values of freedom and
      equality. Yet he had also discovered the liberated character of the
      queen, her natural compassion, and her solitude. He sympathised with
      her taste for nature, healthy living, her love for flowers and
      gardens, and her maternal instinct. He was close to the woman and not
      to the Queen who represented an order which he no longer believed in.
      Later he declared: `I am a republican but not a revolutionary',
      believing the Republic had no need for the blood that it shed.

      "During your research, you discovered the recipe for a lost perfume
      that has now been revived. How did this happen?

      "Over the course of my research in the National Archives, I stumbled
      upon the formula within more than 500 pages of perfume, cosmetic and
      scented glove recipes. Some of the recipes had been inherited from
      Jean-Louis' ancestors, others had been created exclusively by him. I
      also found some of the Queen's orders which indicated her specific
      tastes in perfume.

      "The `Parfum de Trianon' - which we have named `Sillage de la Reine'
      (`In the Queen's Wake') - has a wonderful floral bouquet in keeping
      with the `bouquet of a thousand flowers' of the 18 th century and is
      made solely from natural materials. The perfum was well received when
      it was presented at the book launch and I hope lots of people will
      want to buy it because in doing so they will be also be contributing
      towards the restoration of the Queen's apartments at Versailles. It
      is this perfume which continues to envelop the spirit of Marie

      "How were perfumes made in the 1780s?

      "The perfumes were 100 per cent natural and constructed like today
      with a head, heart and a base. Thanks to the progress made in the art
      of distillation, the perfumers obtained the best quality essential
      oils which were kept for two years to allow for a truly artistic
      composition. Some flowers could also liberate their fragrant oils.
      Will this book also appeal to men?

      "I hope so. The men I know who have read the book found it a pleasure
      to read to the extent that they were unable to put it down. They
      appreciated the unusual destiny of Jean-Louis, a passionate man who
      had faith in his convictions; that it is a different read from the
      typical history of France during the reign of Louis XVI and the
      French revolution; and that it is a `detective novel' which sheds a
      new light on perfumery, a craft which is as much artistic as it is
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