The Perfumed Court

The Perfumed Court

Have you ever wondered about the origins of classical perfume blends?  Much of the roots of modern perfumery comes from the "Perfumed Court" of Versailles.

With the palace packed elbow to elbow with heavily dressed aristocrats at a time where infrequent bathing was the norm, the need to cover body odor was obvious.

Not only were the people highly fragranced, but the palace itself was known for being scented.  Bowls of flowers were strategically placed in rooms and corridors to give their essence to the environment.  Even the water in the fountains was known to have been perfumed.

Many members of the court had signature perfumes blends developed for them - Louis the 14th was known to have demanded that his chambers be scented with a different fragrance every day.  In addition to the king, many courtiers were known for their signature fragrance blend.

Some other perfume notables in the court were:

Madame du Barry - Mistress of Louis the XV, she was well known a blend originally known as Aqua Admirabilis, a blend of neroli oil, bergamot, lavender, grape spirit and rosemary.  This was renamed "Eau De Cologne" to better fit with court culture and eventually gave it's name to the entire branch of fragrances.

Marie Antoinette - Wife of Louis XVI, was known for 2 signature blends, "Sillage de la Reine" (In the Wake of the Queen) which was a mixture of tuberose, orange blossom, jasmine, sandalwood, iris and cedar and "Jardin Secret" (Secret Garden) which was made from bergamot, cardamom, jasmine, rose, incense, sandalwood, vanilla, patchouli, amber and tonka bean 

Louis XIV himself was well known himself as a fragrance fan.  He was fond of heavier scents early in his reign as they reminded him of the chocolate based scents worn by his mother.  As he grew older, he developed sensitivities to fragrance, often experiencing migraines from strong floral blends.  At the end of his life, his reactions became so strong that he was only able to tolerate the scent of Orange Blossom.

With the demand for perfume among the rich so strong in France, it followed that much perfume terminology would be French.  From Eau de Toilette, Parfum or Cologne to classical blends such as Fougere fragrances, the cultural impact of the French court had an outsize effect on perfume culture in general. 

There was a sinister side to fragrances at court as well!  The reign of Louis XIV was well known for poisonings and assassinations and perfume was used to mask the odor of toxic chemicals used as poisons.  These was a case of a Duchess being killed by the perfume applied to her gloves (a common practice at the time).

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