Can you Imagine the Scent of the Court of Versailles? 

The film Jeanne Du Barry, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, uses candles to create a powerful atmosphere and immerse the viewer into the life of Louis XV’s favourite courtesan. Here’s what’s behind this intriguing scented set.


By Silvia Manzoni. Cover Photo: Production photographs from Maïvenn, Jeanne du Barry, 2023. Photo credits: Stephanie Branchu – Why Not Production.

Versailles hangs to a candlelight. A dim light sways from the balcony of the king’s chamber. Played by Johnny Depp, Louis XV is dying, and the court stares at the flame. When a page comes to extinguish it, it will mean that the sovereign has passed away. Maïwenn, director and leading actress of the film Jeanne du Barry, released these days in France after opening the Cannes Film Festival, insists a great deal on this candle that holds everyone in suspense for a few minutes. It is a Trudon candle, like all the hundreds of candles in the film, made by this centuries-old company (380 years old, to be precise), an official supplier to the French royal family and now famous for its refined bougies parfumées (which did not exist at the time).
To capture the film’s lacquered twilight nuances, these little flames exhaling an ambery scent of honey and warm resins was essential. Maïwenn did not want to deprive herself of such an asset, to enhance the magical atmosphere of the film and allow the audience to imagine the smells that surrounded the castle.

Production photographs from Maïvenn, Jeanne du Barry, 2023. Copyright CHANEL.

The imagery of smell

Although these candles may not physically produce scents, the imagined aromas can still evoke sensations and enhance the viewer’s connection to the story. Evoking the olfactory sensations of a film set through targeted shots (flowers or food, for example) is an exercise that directors know well. And the Italian director Luchino Visconti was a master of it. For Maïwenn, it was almost indispensable to recreate the so-called ‘cours parfumée’ atmosphere.
“Under the reign of Louis XIV, odours were strong and musky to hide bodily odours, whereas Louis XV’s court had a more hygienic side and favoured more refined and flowery essences of which it often made excessive consumption.

Solis Rex, a perfume that reproduces Versailles’ parquet smell.

The courtiers had a ‘cave à parfum’ (a ‘perfume cellar’) to create their own fragrances, and Jeanne du Barry was no exception. You could say that modern perfumery was somehow born in Versailles,” explains history expert Igor Robinet, founder of Les Carnets d’Igor, a website and podcast dedicated to the heritage and history of France.
To better step into the shoes of the king’s favourite (whose taste for floral Colognes is well known), Maïwenn massaged her body with Chanel’s Huile Jasmin to stay close to the practices of the time, using natural ingredients, in this case, a precious jasmine extract from Grasse.

Production photographs from Maïvenn, Jeanne du Barry, 2023. Photo credits: Stephanie Branchu – Why Not Production.

The parquet fragrance in the Hall of Mirrors

Trudon created two candles that take us back to the lavish eras when the monarchies used them and evoke the history of France, as they are inspired by two extraordinary places: le Jardin des Tuileries, dear to Marie-Antoinette, with the pink Tuileries candle, which smells of roses and raspberries, and the palace of Versailles, with the evocative Solis Rex, whose warm scents appeal the wooden parquet floor of the Hall of Mirrors, with honeyed notes of pine and incense.
To feel, through smell, like a member of the Royal Family.

Silvia Manzoni is a Journalist and Beauty expert.

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