M.A. Sillage de La Reine is a project of historical reconstruction of one of the most fragile cultural artifacts that exists, perfume. The 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.
As French historian Mona Ozouf has pointed out, 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."
Indeed 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, Francis Kurkdjian, explained himself that the queen could not have been expected to wear just one scent nor wear exactly the same one over time as fragrances were unstable due to the naturalness of the ingredients....
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 very 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. 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 of mine 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 re-creating 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 used by the queen and also composed by Jean-Louis Fargeon, as we understand it.
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.
M.A. Sillage de La Reine despite its deep sensuality evokes for me a period of the day that is the morning as it also conjures up the sensation of a light flowing summer dress. M.A. proves to be a perfume of contrast being sensual, animalic, carnal while being at the same time fresh, aerial, almost virginal. It evokes a white mousseline 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 take 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 made him visit her retreat and take in olfactory impressions. Then she requested that he creates 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 the oniric tapestry. Fargeon said that he saw the queen shortly before her fateful escape through Varenne that would seal the demise of the 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 to recapture 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.
The opening of M.A. Sillage de la Reine is very fresh and flowery and dominated by a most beautiful orange blossom. 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 and 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 with time. 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.