Thursday, December 22, 2011
In 1784, 10-year-old Pierre François Lubin became the apprentice of Tombarelli, a master perfumer of Grasse, in the south of France. Some years later, he came to Paris to complete his apprenticeship in the prestigious workshop of Fargeon, perfumer to the Royal Court.
His ambition was subsequently to join the corporation of perfumers founded in the 15th century.
The latter enjoyed growing prestige at the time, for since the reign of Louis XIV, hygiene had been making great progress at Versailles. The use of soaps, perfumes and cosmetics gradually became entrenched.
The queen’s perfumer Fargeon was therefore a familiar face at the Royal Palace of Versailles, where he regularly brought his preparations to Queen Marie Antoinette.
The 18th century saw the awakening of a philosophical and political consciousness that gave the period its name of the “Age of Enlightenment”. Monarchy and the absolute power exercised by the sovereign were increasingly subject to criticism.
These ideas spread to the people, and in 1789 royal power gave way to popular uprisings and was replaced by a revolutionary assembly elected by all, where the most radical elements eventually dominated.
Under increasing attack, the royal family was finally imprisoned in the Tuileries castle in Paris, while war threatened at the borders.
Amidst this revolutionary Paris, Master Perfumer Fargeon remained loyal to Queen Marie Antoinette and continued to supply her with his preparations. One of these was his “eau de toilette”, an alcohol based infusion that the queen applied to her skin during her morning ablutions to maintain the fresh complexion that caused so much envy at court.
The young apprentice Lubin carefully copied his master’s formulae: he would remember them when he set up his own shop in rue Sainte Anne a few years later in 1798, and launched the famous “eau de toilette” that established his reputation.
Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Marie Thérèse of France, who had become the duchess of Angoulême, quickly adopted it after her return from exile in 1815, and in turn appointed Lubin as “supplier to the Duke of Angoulême”.
But the young Lubin was also interested in a mysterious perfume that the queen had ordered from Jean Louis Fargeon during the creation of the Trianon gardens, her private domain. The roses in the recipe of course evoked the flower garden, and are combined with jasmine from Grasse, but the use of spices and noble wood imported from distant lands, those that inspired the motifs of the wall decorations at Versailles, gave it more exotic tones.
Precious patchouli and sandalwood, vanilla and cinnamon, coriander and cardamom, frankincense and galbanum were brought from India and French islands beyond the seas.
With these ingredients, the initially cool floral fragrance became mellow and warm on the queen’s skin.
It leaves a discreet trace with notes of amber, elegant and sensual. The queen took it everywhere in a small flask of black jade that protected it from daylight.
In the house of Lubin, the once lost but now resuscitated fragrance for a long time bore the name of “Jardin Secret”, until the 1930s, without any explicit reference ever being made to its origin.
Lubin restored its name of the time, “Black Jade”