1. Main
  2. Read

Where the world's perfumes come to rest

Photo courtesy of perfumeprojects.com Photo courtesy of perfumeprojects.com

"Here it is, the little wonder, our 'Chypre' from 1917," whispers the cellar-master as he plunges a paper strip into a vial, one of the many treasures at a one-of-its-kind library of world perfume.

The century-old fragrance by Francois Coty is in illustrious company, with to one side the 14th-century "Water of the Queen of Hungary" and to the other the Cologne water that Napoleon Bonaparte used in exile on Saint Helena, dated 1815.

Since 1990, the retired perfumer Yves Tanguy has held the keys to the "Osmotheque" scent library, set up near the Chateau de Versailles west of Paris as a repository of fragrances past and present.

Housed in the premises of the ISIPCA fragrance and cosmetics institute, the Osmotheque -- from the Greek "osme" for scent and "theke" for chest -- was founded by Jean Kerleo, a former "nose" at Patou, and is chaired by Patricia de Nicolai, heiress to the Guerlain fortune.

Photo courtesy of fragrantica.com

Photo courtesy of fragrantica.com

Precious few people have access to the library's inner sanctum, where the rarest of its 2,500 fragrances are guarded under lock and key.

Sorted by number and type of fragrance, the vials are kept behind reinforced doors, in a cellar of a few square metres, preserved under artificial light and at a steady temperature of 13 degrees C (55.4 F).

"These are our jewels, 400 fragrances that we guard especially jealously, perfumes from long ago, or ones that are no longer available on the market," explained Tanguy.

"We recreated 175 of them using the original formulae."

Scents brought back to life include the West's first alcohol-based perfume, the rosemary-scented "Water of the Queen of Hungary" initially created in 1370 using distillation methods learned from the Arab world.

French Hermes's exclusive in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena. ©AFP

French Hermes's exclusive in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena. ©AFP

At the time perfume was meant to be drunk, and legend has it that its curative powers caused the ageing queen to grow younger, earning her a marriage proposal from a young Polish king at the age of 75.

-- Flying samples around the world --

Another fervent believer in the hygienic virtues of Cologne water, Napoleon Bonaparte was said to get through some 120 litres (quarts) every month, rubbing himself down with it and swigging it from a vial stashed in his boots.

Sent into exile on the Atlantic island of Saint Helena at the end of his life, he requested a prescription for Cologne to be made using the herbs at his disposal on the island -- also recreated and stored at the Osmotheque.

The library does not sell its perfumes, but it does maintain 200 suitcases filled with samples, that Kerleo and Tanguy fly around the world upon request from luxury houses and perfumers.

And at regular intervals it opens its doors to the public for conferences around a particular period or theme.

In June, it put the spotlight on scents from 1945 to 1965, created for the likes of Worth, Patou, Lanvin, Rochas, Balenciaga, Nina Ricci or Christian Dior, by the great "noses" of the day, including a woman, Germaine Cellier.

To set up the library, Kerleo compiled a sort of olfactory database, together with a group of perfumer friends who tracked down ancient formulae and the rare ingredients, some now banned, used to compose them

Chanel N°5 perfume. ©AFP

Chanel N°5 perfume. ©AFP

One example is the musk-like fluid produced by the perineal glands of the African civet, a cat-like mammal, whose earliest uses in perfumery date back more than 2,000 years.

Or Tibetan musk grain, the name given to the granular paste traditionally removed from the glands of musk deer -- whose trade is now restricted under the CITES endangered species convention.

Without the grain, Kerleo explained, none of the great Chanel perfumes could have been created.

Both rare essences are stored safely in the cellars of the Osmotheque, while above ground dozens more vials line a vast perfumer's organ, so called because its tiered rows of ingredients resemble a cathedral organ.

"This is the perfumer's keyboard," Kerleo said as he showed off the bottles, stored alongside little pigeon holes filled with oak moss, ginger, styrax incense or patchouli herb.

His proudest achievement? At the request of a historian, and with the help of a herbalist, he recreated a scent described in the first century AD by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder.

Known simply as the "Royal Perfume", it blends cinnamon, cumin and acacia honey into an oily liquid, whose fragrance is like a journey back in time.

 

by Sandra Lacut from AFP




Nobel prizewinner proposes a new city in KZ
New abnormal snowfalls expected in Kazakhstan
Huge glacier retreat triggered in 1940s
Hyperloop construction begins in Las Vegas
"Moonlight" to top Spirit Awards nominations
Oil prices fall due to investors uncertainty
New dwarf galaxy discovered around Milky Way
Kanat Islam becomes a top ten WBO boxer
World oil prices continue to rise
Kazakhstan expects warming - Kazhydromet
Merkel to seek fourth term as chancellor
Sale of Tintin drawings set to break records
US, EU stocks fall as markets focus on dollar
Pacific leaders urged to defend free trade
EU warns eight nations on budget deficit
Universiade-2017: Athletic Village is ready
Bob Dylan can't make Nobel ceremony
Messi will never leave Barca - club president
Google, Facebook take aim at 'fake' news
Aerosmith announces Europe 'farewell' tour
Putin, Trump to normalise US-Russia ties
At least 10 hurt in southern Turkey blast
6.2 quake hits western Japan
OPEC agrees shock oil output cut
Israeli ex-president and Nobel laureate Peres dies
Germany blocks WhatsApp data transfers to Facebook
32,000 arrested in Turkey coup probe
Youth to the fore as Milan fashion week opens
Xenophobia threatening peace in eastern Germany
Four-in-10 Japanese are virgins: poll
Sweden re-militarises Baltic island of Gotland
China to launch second space laboratory: Xinhua
More than a billion stars mapped in Milky Way: ESA
Boxing: Golovkin eyes Saunders after stopping Brook
Kazakhstan shifts PM to security chief
Oil prices gain despite rising OPEC supply forecast
US to give Philippines military planes
Singapore wages war on Zika-bearing mosquitoes
Italy quake death toll nears 250
Viral photos add fuel to French burkini debate
18 dead as Italy struck by powerful quake
Japan's first lady visits Pearl Harbor
Pokemon's a no-go on Bangkok's roads
July was Earth's hottest month in modern times
Pakistan rock climbers scale new heights