Straight from Versailles, Marie Antoinette's Scent

Chateau de Versailles' recreation of Marie Antoinette's scent.

Chateau de Versailles' recreation of Marie Antoinette's scent. Chateau de Versailles hide caption

itoggle caption Chateau de Versailles

Based on notes from an 18th-century royal perfumer, the Chateau of Versailles now sells the perfume once worn by Marie Antoinette. It's not cheap. Francis Kurkdjian, who developed the scent, speaks with Melissa Block.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Marie Antoinette is, of course, long gone, beheaded in the French Revolution in 1793, but her scent lives on, or at least some modern approximation of it. The Chateau of Versailles this week begins selling a limited edition Marie Antoinette perfume based on historical notes written by the French court's long-time royal perfumer.

The 2006 edition was created by an eminent French nose, or perfume creator, Francis Kurkdjian, who joins us from Paris and Mr. Kurkdijian, first the name of the perfume is what?

Mr. FRANCIS KURKDJIAN (Perfume Creator, France): The name of the perfume is called (speaking foreign language), meaning French trail or aura.

BLOCK: Trail or aura.

Mr. KURKDJIAN: Yeah.

BLOCK: The smell that she would be leaving behind her, say, as she walked.

Mr. KURKDJIAN: Yes. That's correct.

BLOCK: And would you describe this scent?

Mr. KURKDJIAN: It's very difficult to talk about a scent but it's very feminine, kind of a bit powdery, very floral, a bit waxy also because when you have only natural product, the rose gives something kind of waxy and clean at the same time. But the white flowers, what we call white flowers in (unintelligible), orange flower, (unintelligible), gives a depth, something very sensual, at the same time.

BLOCK: Is it musky?

Mr. KURKDJIAN: No, it's not really musky because musks were very dirty and Marie Antoinette was very different at her time. She was already a trendsetter because she was very clean because she had a bathroom. She had two bathrooms in Versailles, and she was taking a bath every day. So she'd get rid of the dirtiness that was used during the reign of her (unintelligible) assistants.

BLOCK: And this was something of an innovation, if I remember correctly. The French court was notoriously gamey.

Mr. KURKDJIAN: Gamey?

BLOCK: Gamey. Rank. Not clean.

Mr. KURKDJIAN: Ah, yes, yes, yes. Hygiene was not something very French, I would say.

BLOCK: When you as the nose here tried to recreate what Marie Antoinette might have smelled like, what did you have to work with?

Mr. KURKDJIAN: I was approached by a French historian, (unintelligible), and she found at the French library some original documents returned by (unintelligible). (Unintelligible) is one of the perfumers that Antoinette used to order fragrances from. And Elizabeth found some original formulas and the formulas were the starting point to recreate what we call now the fragrance of Marie Antoinette.

BLOCK: When you were looking at these recipes did you run across anything that you couldn't replicate, that you just sort of had to guess at?

Mr. KURKDJIAN: One of the most difficult parts was before the French Revolution, there was no metric system. That came with the French Revolution. So we had to go back to old books to find the correspondency between how they were making perfume at the time and how we did now. That was the first trick. The second trick was about the process to (unintelligible) flowers; it's a bit different now. At the time, they were boiling all the flowers all together and you would get a perfume at the end. Now, we distillate the flowers separately and then we can balance and we can find the right equilibrium between all the notes. So it's a big difference now.

BLOCK: Francis Kurkdjian, thanks for talking to us about your creation of the Marie Antoinette perfume.

Mr. KURKDJIAN: Thank you for your call. Goodbye.

BLOCK: That's Francis Kurkdjian, a French perfume creator or nose, and in case you're wondering, the new scent of Marie Antoinette is not cheap. A small bottle, less than an ounce, of (speaking foreign language) costs about $460 and a big one, more than 8 ounces in Baccarat crystal, is more than $10,000. Marie Antoinette wouldn't have it any other way.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.