On a chilly and grey November morning, I headed off to Versailles from St Pancras with a group of over 20 other perfume lovers.

After a highly eventful morning (I lost my phone in the cab that I took to the station, and managed to get in touch with the driver to arrange with him to drop it off at our Covent Garden boutique) and a lunch that can only be described as ‘challenging’ (anyone that attended will attest to caramel chicken being the most bizarre thing they’ve ever eaten), we got onto our minibus to take us to the ISIPCA campus in Versailles, the home of the Osmothèque.

On arrival, we were greeted by the team from the Osmothèque, and ushered to a small room full of perfume bottles throughout history (some amazing antique bottles, as well as many bottles from more recent times!) before heading into the lecture room where Thomas Fontaine, Osmocurator and in house perfumer at Jean Patou, was waiting to introduce us to the Osmotheque and take us on a journey through fragrance history.

The Osmothèque was founded in 1990 by Jean Kerléo, founder of the French Society of Perfumers and former in house perfumer at Patou, alongside perfumers such as Guy Robert and Jean-Claude Ellena, as a scent archive for students of perfumery and perfume lovers to discover perfumes in the state they were originally created (due to regulation and restriction of certain materials, many fragrances have changed slightly over the years) as well as historical reconstructions of fragrances worn by figures such as Napoleon and Empress Eugenie. Since 2008, Patricia de Nicolaï (niece of Jean-Paul Guerlain) has been the president of the Osmothèque.

We started our journey in 1798, with the spicy and citrusy Eau de Lubin, heading to 1882 to smell the father of all fougères, Fougère Royale, one of the first fragrances to include ‘synthetic’ materials which marked the beginning of modern perfumery. Roger & Gallet’s Vera Violetta led us via Caron’s classic Narcisse Noir, to Francois Coty’s incredible Ambre Antique from 1905, which was the first amber perfume, and Chypre from 1917, the mother of all chypre fragrances: based on the accord of bergamot, rose, labdanum, patchouli and oakmoss.

We sniffed 30 perfumes, but my favourite scent of the day was another by Coty: La Rose Jacqueminot, a surprisingly modern fragrance considering it launched in 1906! An utterly beautiful rose fragrance, with clarity and translucency.


We also got a sneak peek at the vault, a room full of fragrances stored in dark amber bottles in rows of refridgerated units. We were lucky enough to have been given the chance to take home a pre-dipped blotter with the scent of our choice from the Osmothèque’s massive archives on top of the 30 we were already smelling. (I chose Snuff di Schiaparelli, because I’ve been fascinated by this weird bottle forever.)

The trip to the Osmothèque was arranged by Odette Toilette, founder of Scratch + Sniff, events which put the sense of smell centre stage. It’s looking hopeful that the Osmocurators will be able to make a trip to London in the new year, so keep an eye on Odette’s website for details.

Unfortunately due to losing my phone, I never managed to take my own images during the day!

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1 Comment

  1. Oh my Nick… That sounds like a magnificent trip. It’s the olfactory opposite of going to the York Dungeons! I hope to make the pilgrimage next year (Osmotheque obviously).
    I think my ‘must sniffs’ would be Chypre and My Sin, although I’d also be delighted to take a sniff at the oldest recreations in the collection.
    How did Chypre smell?

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