Marie Antoinette’s Olfactory Legacy

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It may be somewhat telling that on 1st November 1755, one day prior to her birth, an earthquake, which today is estimated as having been somewhere in the range of magnitude 8.5 – 9, known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake struck Portugal causing massive devastation and sending shock-waves throughout Europe which were felt as far as Finland and North Africa.

Way to make an entrance, girl.

Marie Antoinette by Christine Comyn

Marie Antoinette by Christine Comyn

Marie Antoinette is a character whose influence is widely felt throughout our popular culture.  Her story is one that continuously intrigues us, inspiring books and films which study all aspects of her life and her reign as the last queen of France; however, I think it is fair to say that one of her most powerful legacies is that of Queen of Fashion.

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My own interest with Marie Antoinette started after reading Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, which gives a fascinating account of how Marie Antoinette spoke via her sartorial choices, and how, along with her glam squad which consisted of her marchande de modes, Rose Bertin and her coiffeur, the legendary Léonard Autié, she would go on to become the first international style icon.

Rose Bertin.  Photo courtesy of missedinhistory.com

Rose Bertin. Photo courtesy of missedinhistory.com

Léonard Autié.  Photo courtesy of thehairpin.com

Léonard Autié. Photo courtesy of thehairpin.com

Since then I built up quite a collection of books, biographies, and essays about Marie Antoinette, including Dumas’ five Marie Antoinette Romances.  I have also read very much about the French Revolution itself and various aspects of this time in history including the Diamond Necklace Affair, arguably the precursor of the revolution itself, and the royal family’s clandestine escape attempt at Varennes.  I’ve read memoirs as well – Madame Campan’s Private Life of Marie Antoinette, and I also managed to find an 1897 edition of Léonard Autié’s The Souvenirs of Léonard.  I know many people argue that most memoirs of the time are apocryphal or are only written in hindsight decades later, but nonetheless I find them incredibly entertaining.  This excerpt from Léonard’s Souvenirs where he writes about dressing Marie Antoinette’s hair after she has given birth to Madame Royale is too hilarious not to share:

“This daily task was not easy to fulfill: nothing is more difficult than to dress a person’s hair in bed, and I was obliged to lie down almost at full length by the Queen’s side.  In this singular contact I felt the gentle warmth of Her Majesty’s body through her sheets; and I never experienced to the same degree how embarrassing it sometimes is to be, by force of circumstances, a man of no consequence.”

My collection of books on Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution.  There are more stashed away in the loft as well!

My collection of books on Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. There are more stashed away in the loft as well!

Marie Antoinette’s love of perfume is well documented.  Elisabeth de Feydeau’s A Scented Palace documents Marie Antoinette’s relationship with her perfumer, Jean-Louis Fargeon, and it is said that she was fleeing Varennes, Marie Antoinette was only recognised as royalty because of her Houbigant perfume which only royalty could afford.

So to celebrate the 259th anniversary of her birth on 2nd November I have compiled a list of all of the perfumes I could find which Marie Antoinette has inspired, and by next year which marks the 260th, I am hoping to have sampled and reviewed as many of the fragrances listed below I can get my hands on:

Links:

L’Artisan Parfumeur

Barneys

JoAnne Bassett

Historiae

Guerlain

Etude House

Lubin

Régime des Fleurs

Shiseido

Arty Fragrance

ID Parfums

Réminiscence

Henry Jacques

Maison Francis Kurkdjian 

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Sweet Tea Apothecary

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