Let Them Eat Perfume?

Let Them Eat Perfume?

In historical times, the original influencers were members of the aristocracy and royalty of European countries.  This group of people set trends of fashion, decoration and even food long before Instagram and Tik Tok came along.  While many of them were flawed and often exploited their status, their cultural imprint is undeniable.

One of the most significant of these "old school influencers" was Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI and the last queen of France before the Revolution.  The daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I, Antoinette was originally titled Archduchess of Austria.  She and her husband were blamed for the financial crisis France experienced prior to the Revolution due to their extreme spending habits and resistance to proposed reforms.  She was particularly unpopular among the citizenry as a result and became a preferred target for dissidents.

Marie Antoinette, Queen Of France

While Marie and her husband may have been politically toxic, she was well known amongst European aristocracy as a tastemaker, especially when it comes to the realm of perfume and scented goods.

Due to the extreme pressures of life at court, Antoinette increasingly sought refuge and privacy at a royal retreat known as Petit Trianon.  Every detail of life at Petit Trianon was "by the order of the Queen" and afforded her the opportunity to carve out her own private existence, away from fellow nobles and even her husband.  Understandably, Petit Trianon and its gardens became the center of her world and she sought to have frangrances inspired by this retreat to have with her at court in Versailles.

Tasked with creating signature scents for the Queen was Jean-Louis Fargeon, a celebrated Frence perfumer who sought to become the official perfumer of the French court.  In Antoinette, Fargeon found perhaps the best client he could have had.

The Queen was fond of not only scented goods for herself to use at court, but was often known to give gifts of scented sachets to friends and confidants, thus ensuring that Fargeon would have plenty of commissions.  

Principle among the fragrances he created for her was Parfum de Trianon, which was meant to evoke the fragrance of the gardens at her favorite retreat.  The Queen carried this scent with her everywhere when she was away from Petit Trianon.  In addition to this blend, she was known for her love of concentrated liquid perfumes, favoring notes such as rose, violet, jasmine and jonquil.  For bathing purposes, she preferred herbal scents, amber and bergamot.

To satisfy the range of fragrances that Antoinette was fond of, Fargeon created not just liquid perfumes, but bath sachets filled with blanced almonds and bran that would be scented to the Queen's tastes and potpourri sachets that were bagged in silk and given as gifts to members of her inner circle.  These were highly sought after gifts amongst the members of court as she would have them created to reflect the individual personality of the recipient.  Certainly a sign of royal favor that could be used to wield influence at Versailles.

Among the items created for the Queen were scented riding gloves, which she would wear only a single time per pair.

Such was her love of perfumes that the Queen even attempted to smuggle her collection with her during the failed attempt by the Royal Couple to flee France at the dawn of the Revolution.  In fact, she even made a point to stock up on scents by placing an extremely large order with Fargeon once the plans for fleeing for exile were drawn up.  Antoinette attempted to bring most of her collection of fine colored glass bottles stopped with silver, even at the expense of more practical items.  Of course, as history tells us, she and her husband were not successful and ended up imprisoned, tried and executed.  During these last days while she awaited her sentence, Fargeon made a gift of her of Parfum de Trianon that was certainly a comfort to her after the loss of her wealth and priviledge.  
Petit Trianon, the Queen's personal retreat and inspiration for many of her perfumes.

Following a direct line from Catherine De Medici, Antoinette continued a tradition of cultural taste making on the part of French Queens that retains a large imprint on the development of European cultural traditions.  While the French monarchy was not known for it's economic or social progressiveness, it's influence on historical styles is without question.


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