A Scented Palace

Hi, Amanda here, sitting in for the vacationing Elena! Elena will be back with you Saturday, and then next week we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Riskies.

I had kind of a hard time coming up with a topic today (again!), so you’re going to get something of a book report. I just finished reading a short (about 131 pages) but totally fascinating book, A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer by Elisabeth de Feydeau (whose bio says she earned a Ph.D in the history of perfume at the Sorbonne–I wish I had majored in the history of perfume!). It’s a biography of the perfumer Jean-Louis Fargeon, and is full of tidbits about life at Versailles, fashions, gossip, the ingredients and composition of perfumes, and all kinds of fun things. Like these:

On the process of dressing the queen: “The dressing of the Queen was a masterpiece of etiquette, with rules for everything. The lady in waiting and the dame d’atours, if they were together, were assisted by the First Lady of the Bedchamber and two ordinary women, responsible for the main service, but there were distinctions between them. The dame d’atours put on the petticoat and presented the dress. The lady in waiting poured the water for the Queen to wash her hands and put on her chemise. But when a princess of the royal family attended the dressing, she replaced the lady in waiting to accomplish the latter task. However, the lady in waiting did not cede her place directly to the royal princess; she gave the chemise to the First Lady, who then presented it to the princess. All of the Queen’s ladies scrupulously observed these customs and jealously guarded their rights of duty.”

And on choosing the garb for the day: “The wardrobe boy delivered to the Queen’s apartments green taffeta-covered baskets containing the things she would wear that day; he then brought the First Lady a book containing swatches from the dresses, ceremonial garb, and negliges. The First Lady presented this book to the Queen when she awoke, with a pin cushion. The Queen would place pins in the swatches of all the things she wanted to wear that day; one for the ceremonial garb, another for the afternoon neglige, another for the evening gown she had chosen for cards or games or supper in the private apartments. The book was returned to the wardrobe, and soon the Queen’s choices arrived, wrapped in taffeta…The wardrobe consisted of three large rooms lined with cupboards, some with rungs, others with rails. In each room there were large tables that served to spread out the dresses and costumes and to refold them.”

The details about perfumes are very yummy. Marie Antoinette enjoyed scents of rose, violet, jonquil, and tuberose, and she bought a hand cream called “Pate Royale,” hair pomades of rose, vanilla, carnation, and jasmine, various soaps, powders, bath sachets, and potpourri for her rooms. She commissioned a scent called “parfum de Trianon,” meant to remind her of her beloved hideaway. It contained rose, orange blossom, lavender, citron and bergamot, iris, nd a touch of jonquil.

Between this book, and the giant “fall fashion” issue of Vogue I got yesterday that features Kirsten Dunst on Marie Antoinette costume on the cover, I can’t WAIT for the movie Marie Antoinette! What are some of your own favorite scents? And are you looking forward to this film as much as I am? 🙂

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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