Earlier this year a group of fragrance fans and bloggers went on a trip to The Osmothèque in Versailles with Odette Toilette and for some reason by the time I found out about it (always check your spam folder regularly folks!) it was already sold out. So when I found out that Odette in partnership with The Perfume Society was bringing the Osmothèque experts to London with some of their rare fragrances I immediately bought a ticket.
For those of you who don’t already know, The Osmothèque is the world’s largest scent archive, storing over 3,000 perfumes from the past and present, all preserved at a constant temperature under argon gas. Perfumes accepted into the collection are either those reconstituted using archived formulae by The Osmothèque’s internal perfumers (known as osmocurators) or those supplied by external perfume houses. As a research institution the Osmothèque is internationally responsible for the authentication, registration, preservation, documentation, and reproduction of thousands of perfumes gathered from the past two millennia. So as you can see I was pretty excited to see what they brought along.
The event was in the Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel on Piccadilly which is worth a visit in itself for the fabulous art deco building. I managed to bag a table with some perfume friends who I had no idea were going to be there: Nick Gilbert (no relation), Pia Long and Louise Woollham. They all have great blogs worth checking out.
First up were the Guerlain Fragrances La Jardin de Mon Cure (1895) a floral bouquet with notes of lavender, rose and citrus, Parfum des Champs Elysees (1904), Muguet (1908) , Chypre de Paris (1909) and Cuir de Russe (1935)
One interesting thing I learned was that Jacques Guerlain and Ernest Beaux were both competitors yet friends and challenged each other to recreate one of their masterpieces. Jacques took up the challenge and created his take on Beaux’s now-legendary Chanel Number 5 which you can buy today as Lui from the Exclusives Collection. When Jacques asked Beaux if he had managed to recreate Shalimar he allegedly replied “if I was going to make anything with that much vanillin it would be a creme brulee”. We got to smell the original 1925 formula of Shalimar and the Vanillin overdose is much more noticeable than in today’s formulation and was way too sweet for me. On smelling the blotter 2 days later (we had them enclosed in envelopes to preserve the fragrance as long as possible) the leather accord is still very strong which is also no longer as apparent in today’s version.
Smelling the Muguet by Guerlain (a rosy, lemon, Muguet) and Coty’s Le Muguet des Bois (much more straight-ahead lily-of-the-valley) made it apparent that the decrease in the level of hydroxycitronellal we can use now has changed this type of fragrance slightly but they are still pretty similar.
Another surprising thing was learning that Chypre de Paris predated Le Chypre by Coty by 8 years and yet Coty is always quoted as being responsible for the birth of this fragrances family. It just goes to show the power of a marketing genius even in those days. Chypre de Paris is very much like Imperial Leather soap and the Coty Le Chypre is much more how I imagined it would be – classic chypre structure of bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli, and cistus – a bit like Mitsouko without the hefty peach top.
Leather notes were quite prolific in the collection we smelled on the day with Cuir de Russe being the smokiest and tar-like. My favourite was the 1936 Bourjois Leathery floral Kobako which drew a few gasps from the crowd when the tacky 1980’s packaging was shown alongside the original from 1936 with comments that someone should write a blog post entitled “packaging gone bad”
Here is the full list of the fragrances we smelled on the day and for more info on the Osmotheque: http://www.osmotheque.fr/en/
La Jardin de Mon Cure
Parfum des Champs Elysees
Chypre de Paris
Cuir de Russe
Soir de Paris
Jasmin de Corse
Le Muguet des Bois
Nuit de CHine
Le Fruit Defendu
Ambre 83 (a classic amber base reminicent of Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens)
Prunol (Kenzo Jungle Elephant & Femme)