A Scented Palace by Elisabeth de Feydeau ~ book review

A Scented Palace by Elisabeth de Feydeau, cover

During the reign of Marie Antoinette, more than 5,000 people lived and worked at Versailles. Given the resulting chamber pot situation, you can understand why she spent a few thousand livres a year on perfumed toiletries.

Like other royal purveyors, Marie Antoinette’s perfumer Jean-Louis Fargeon had an intimate view of the queen’s troubled tenure and the Revolution’s bloody reforms. But unlike the majority of the queen’s circle, which was prone to spending recklessly and engaging solely in frivolous pastimes, Fargeon was a competent businessman and an intellectual who would actively support the Revolution’s aims (if not its executions). Drawing on Fargeon’s papers, historian Elizabeth de Feydeau’s A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer is an illuminating biography of the reviled queen and a rich introduction to the era’s perfumed luxuries.

As a member of the merchant class, Fargeon’s education included the philosophy of the Enlightenment era, as well as the art and science of his skilled trade…

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Diptyque by Elisabeth de Feydeau ~ perfume books

Diptyque by Elisabeth de Feydeau

Diptyque (2007), written by perfume author Elisabeth de Feydeau, is perhaps best described as a tribute to three friends who got together by chance, and went on to create a business with a very distinct signature. Although they came from different backgrounds, they shared a passion for art and design, and had the same views on aesthetics and presentation. This beautifully illustrated book traces back the history of Diptyque and its founders, giving an elaborate reconstruction of one of the most remarkable cult brands in perfumery.

Desmond Knox-Leet, Yves Coueslant and Christiane Gautrot opened their first shop in 1961, on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, where they initially sold plain and printed furnishing fabrics. The former lingerie store at number 34 was located near Place Maubert, and just a few steps away from the Piscine Pontoise, a well-known public swimming pool. That corner of the fifth arrondissement (Left Bank) was still a working-class area in those days, which meant that it was affordable for young entrepeneurs…

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Diptyque by Elisabeth de Feydeau ~ perfume books

Diptyque by FeydeauDiptyque, a new book by Elisabeth de Feydeau, tells the story of the cult brand established by three friends, painter Desmond Knox-Leet, set designer Yves Coueslant and decorator Christiane Gautrot, in 1961.

199 pages, 226 illustrations. In French; published by Perrin. (found via madame.lefigaro.fr)

Other books by Elisabeth de Feydeau: A Scented Palace (in English), L'un des sens : Le parfum au XXe siècle (in French, with Marie-Christine Grasse & Freddy Ghozland).

Perfume books ~ L'Un Des Sens: Le Parfum au XXe Siecle

L'Un Des Sens perfume bookL’un des sens — a French wordplay on the term indecency — was originally the title of a magazine on olfaction and perfumery, edited by Sylvie de Chirée and Brigitt Hörlin, and published somewhere in the late ’80s. I don’t know whatever became of that magazine, but the clever title was re-used in 2001 by Marie-Christine Grasse, Elisabeth de Feydeau, and Freddy Ghozland for their book on 20th century perfumes. L’un des sens (2001) is perhaps best described as a ‘hardcopy’ slideshow: it’s a lavishly illustrated, chronological compilation of perfumes launched between 1900 and 2000, from Houbigant’s Parfum Idéal to Flowers by Kenzo.

A tribute to the beauty of modern perfumery, then. So is this just another coffee-table book? No, it’s more than that. L’un des sens is different from the titles we’ve discussed so far, in that it also celebrates the great women of the past century. After all, the authors argue, perfume has been associated with femininity for the largest part of the 20th century; and indeed, the growing use of perfume is in many ways related to the liberation of women from old social restraints (think of the Victorian era, for example)…

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Perfume in the news: Marie Antoinette, unconventional fragrances & more

Elisabeth de Feydeau's biography of Marie Antoinette's perfumer, A Scented Palace, inspired Hannah Betts of the UK Times Online to pay a visit to Versailles:

…And, most evocatively, a powder-blue cabinet room, festooned with peacocks (an emblem of motherhood), with chair handles carved in the image of her favourite dog. This was the queen’s refuge, her powder room, in effect, and one still holds one’s breath in anticipation of its rouged, fragrant occupant. It was here that Marie Antoinette sought solace from stifling palace etiquette. As with today’s celebrities, chief among her confidants were her fellow image-makers: her couturière, Rose Bertin, her hairdresser, Léonard, and her perfumer, Jean-Louis Fargeon.

Read the rest of the article here, and many thanks to Ruth for the link.

The UK's Daily Record has an interesting article on some of the more unusual fragrance releases this year…

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