M.A. Sillage de La Reine is the project of a historical reconstruction of one of the most fragile cultural artifacts that exists, perfume. This project takes place in the context of the recent restoration and opening of Marie-Antoinette's domain at Château de Versailles in July 2006, and the new interest - and shall we say adulation for her in France - that has come to replace the collective feelings of distrust by the French that led her to the guillotine in 1793. Marie-Antoinette has become a pop culture icon for many.
French historian Mona Ozouf has pointed out that it seems that what is taking place today is the opening of a beatification process for the former French queen and Austrian princess.
The recent publication of a critical edition of Marie Antoinette's correspondence by Evelyne Lever has led a critic from literary magazine Lire to conclude that despite the new evidence that is now presented,
"One will never know who Marie Antoinette really was and this is all to the advantage of her legend."
M.A. Sillage de la Reine follows that logic by seeming to shed light on Marie Antoinette's tastes and personality, only to reinforce the myth. The re-creator of the perfume, nose Francis Kurkdjian, explained himself that the queen could not have been expected to wear just one scent, nor wear exactly the same one overtime as fragrances were unstable due to the naturalness of the ingredients used in formulae...
We already reported about M.A. Sillage de la Reine several times on TSS. To give again some background information we will quote excerpts of some of the previous posts,
"It (M.A.) was first created in January 2005 and offered to a select group of people at a party at Versailles on the occasion of the publication of a book on the original 18th century author of the perfume, Jean-Louis Fargeon. It was also sold to some patrons in 2005 but at a high price, around $2500. [...] The perfume was originally named Trianon (in the 18th century)."
The press release from the Château de Versailles said that M.A. is,
"...a perfume with a sillage, elegant and light like the breeze blowing on a light dress. The queen's olfactory preferences have been assembled like a bouquet of confidences."
i already wrote that "The queen reportedly loved perfumes with a strong sillage. Other sources say she loved light perfumes, so perhaps this is a perfume of contrasts." This latter speculation proved to be accurate; M.A. is indeed a perfume of contrast for the modern perfume wearer and this contrast was probably not felt in the same way in the 18th century.
If I previously experienced a kind of abstract curiosity for this re-creation by Francis Kurkdjian who was inspired and counseled by historian and biographer of Jean-Louis Fargeon, Elisabeth de Feydeau, having tested it I now am intimately moved by its notes, its history, its charm and the perception of its unique beauty.
If my own dream of it was rather weak at first, it now is reinforced by the reality of the sensations the fragrance provokes, accompanied by more day-dreaming. I see that it would be plain erroneous to consider M.A. Sillage de la Reine to be just a perfume in a bottle. It is more like a dream come true, or rather a tapestry of dreams. It is an attempt to conquer time and death by recreating the past and making Marie-Antoinette's presence contained in her sillage be felt again. In this attempt lies something fragile, vulnerable, lovely and tragic due to the unescapable process of identification with the original wearer of the perfume.
M.A. Sillage de la Reine is the re-imagining of a historical perfume called Trianon based on the original recipe of another perfume found in the archives, which would have been used by the queen and also composed by Jean-Louis Fargeon, as we understand it.
The composition of M.A. Sillage de La Reine perhaps like no other fragrances seems to contain and exhibit the perfumery paradox of life contained in death, that of the flowers used to make a perfume. I have never felt so genuinely this impresssion of wearing on my skin the last breath of a flower, its very soul. There is also an inkling of putridity or carnal decomposition in the beautiful aromas that slowly leave their cage and slowly expire on your skin. M.A. Sillage de La Reine can be borderline foul at times evoking the bears' pit at a zoo, but from this sublime foulness are also born splendid flowers and complexity.
This painting of Marie Antoinette in a de gaulle dress by painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was judged to be scandalous at the time. It would be replaced by the first painting above.
The perfume despite its deep sensuality evokes for me a period of the day which is the morning as it also conjures up the sensation of a light flowing summer dress. Marie-Antoinette we know made dresses called de gaulle or chemise à la reine fashionable. They were light white cotton frocks whose simple, natural lines represented the opposite of court formality.
M.A. proves to be a perfume of contrasts, being sensual, animalic and carna,l while also being at the same time fresh, aerial, almost virginal. It evokes a white muslin dress sown with tiny flowers, a straw hat, spring, yet it also evokes the naturalness of a woman's body, a certain ripeness and maturity, full-blown womanhood including motherhood. There is something rural, natural about it in a quaint way, like mud mixed with animal feces splattering the high wooden wheels of an elegant and ancient carriage crossing the countryside. It evokes a different olfactory world, one in which sensations assaulted your nose in a stronger less idealized and dichotomic fashion. Pretty or beautiful did not carry the obligation of being clean. The nobility of the manure accord in the recent Miller Harris L'Air de Rien perhaps continues to reflect some of that Ancien Régime sensitivity. M.A. was made using only 100% natural scents and 18th century perfumery techniques - and in this sense is something of a perfume dinosaur.
It is a fragrance in which the dreams of several persons intersect over the course of more than 200 years. Did you ever felt that perfumes had souls? Sillage de la Reine has enough beauty and charisma to become a presence, a reminder like an echo of the light steps that Marie Antoinette would have taken in her beloved garden of Trianon, of the brushing of her white gauzy dress à la Gaule against the flowers of her pastoral retreat. It is bound to attract other dreams and nourish the souls of those who wear it.
In A Scented Palace, Elisabeth de Feydeau recounts that Marie Antoinette one day asked her perfumer Jean-Louis Fargeon to come visit her in Trianon early in the morning. She asked him to visit her bucolic retreat and take in olfactory impressions. Then, she requested that he create a perfume that would capture Trianon for her. More than the garden and the flowers themselves it is also probably Trianon as a place where she had experienced erotic amorous emotions, I would like to think - albeit platonic ones it seems - that she wanted to capture. In fact, she also requested at the same time that a perfume be made for a man whom she said was the very embodiment of virile qualities. We can only guess that it was meant to be a gift for Count of Fersen. This is the first dream.
Then, Jean-Louis Fargeon dreamt parts of her dream and tried to recreate and guess her desires with sensitivity and intelligence and reportedly succeeded in doing so. The queen said that the scent was indeed Trianon and declared herself satisfied. There is thus a second dream fulfilling the first one.
We can guess that once Marie Antoinette started wearing the new fragrance, it added to the texture of dreams for Count of Fersen, although his were only indirectly woven into this oniric tapestry. A fictionalized Fargeon said that he saw the queen shortly before her fateful escape through Varenne that would seal the demise of the French royal family. On that day he remembered how suddenly the tuberose note in the perfume had become strangely prominent, sickly and heavy as if carrying an ill omen. He also detected in the room upon entering it the lingering scent he had created for the mysterious unamed man.
Two centuries later, historian Elisabeth de Feydeau finds in historical archives the recipe of a perfume created by Jean-Louis Fargeon called "Le Bouquet Aux Mille Fleurs" (The Thousand Blossom Bouquet). To imagine what queen Marie-Antoinette smelled like in the 18th century, to dream her sillage. This is the third dream, that of a perfume historian.
Famous contemporary nose Francis Kurkdjian worked on recreating the queen's perfume basing himself on the aforementioned recipe, making the dream become concrete, once more. Reportedly, he did not take out any notes and only added bergamot in the opening or head notes to lighten the scent. It took 30 trials to achieve a satisfactory composition. M.A., just like the initial Parfum du Trianon, is an attempt also at recapturing the scents of the gardens of Trianon. The perfume features notes of orris, rose, jasmine, tuberose, lavender, violet, bergamot, orange blossom, cedarwood, sandalwood, Tonkin musk, ambergris, and oily galbanum.
How Does it Smell Like?
The opening of M.A. Sillage de la Reine is very fresh and flowery, dominated by a most beautiful orange blossom note. If I was disappointed by L'Artisan's special vintage edition of an orange blossom perfume, Fleur d'Oranger 2005, I am not this time. It then evolves into a more contrasted impression of being both very soft and deep but also musky. It is also softly woody. There is a splendid indolic jasmine. The tuberose is very marked too and seemingly smells green, perhaps due to the violet. The sweetness and succulence of the perfume is shot through by a fresh aerial impression suggesting a breeze. It smells of lavender. On my skin, as opposed to the impression on the blotter, the perfume is warmer and more powdery, with the orris making its presence felt more. It is apparently a perfume playing with transient flowery notes, yet it gains in intensity overtime.
The fragrance seems to roar like a fire as it develops. It reveals its deeply animalic nature sweetened by flowers. The base notes are dominated by a superb musk and luxurious sandalwood. Overall, it smells unusual and complex. It seems to present a different molecular weight and feels heavier and oilier than a modern perfume. If you are used to thinking that natural perfumes are short-lived you will have to reconsider because M.A. Sillage de la Reine is extremely persistent on a blotter. Five days later it still smells very strong.
Another attempt at putting Trianon in a bottle was conducted previously by L'Artisan Parfumeur with La Haie Fleurie du Hameau and I must say that it smells a little similar to M.A. Sillage de la Reine although it is much less complex and rich. But you do find that same, almost raw and, dare I say, non-pretty masculine treatment of jasmine. M.A. at times also made me think of Après L'Ondée by Guerlain and of Nombril Immense by Etat Libre d'Orange.
The 25 ml version, of which 1000 copies were issued, is priced at 350 Euros and I would say is entirely worth it. The Portieux flacon in reality, it can be noted, is much bulkier than I imagined. The Baccarat flacon of 25 cl is priced at 8000 Euros and there are only ten copies of it. The prices are steep; you might however enjoy the idea of contributing to the conservation project of the Château de Versailles and owning a piece of history.