By Silvia Manzoni.
Chronicles of the time tell that the noblewomen of Louis XIV’s court would faint from the intoxicating smell of tuberoses in Versailles’ gardens. Today, you can relive that mysterious and fascinating experience at the Jardin du Parfumeur.
Ah, those sweet, carnal smells that filled the nostrils and stunned the senses!
The flowerbeds in the chateau’s park made goo-goo eyes to the scented plants.
Kings, queens and courtiers loved to stroll around the secret garden with alert noses, taking in the pleasant olfactory trails surrounding them and occasionally encountering more daring aromas.
So a great French perfumer, Francis Kurkdjian, thought to revive the exciting contacts with the scented botanical world of the Versailles court for modern visitors.
By creating, with the support of the chateau’s superintendency, the Jardin du Parfumeur (to plan your visit: www.chateauversailles.fr).
It’s where the trees, shrubs, and flowers that make up the scents of the past and present grow, creating a powerful spiritual connection between Kurkdjian, founder of the eponymous brand and now artistic director of Christian Dior perfumes, and Versailles.
Meet the perfume star: Francis Kurkdjian
Being a student at Isipca (the famous school that trains noses, based in this town some 20 kilometres from Paris), Francis Kurkdjian regularly walked the park’s grassy avenues, which had become, for him, apprenticed composer, a proper place of discovery and living culture.
With this nature magnified by humans, he has since established an affective relationship with it. “I was the only student to love these places so much,” he recalls.
In his career, Versailles has been a constant presence. Francis designed an olfactory device to enhance the scent of the Orangery’s water mirror, recreated the perfume worn by Marie-Antoinette and even brought Royal Delight – a fragrance made from orange blossom and a favourite of Louis XIV – around the world with the Virtually Versailles immersive exhibition.
The project to bring the Jardin du Parfumeur to life drew on the invaluable expertise of the palace’s head gardeners, Alain Baraton and the Italian Giovanni Delù.
Fragrant plants for perfumery
“We selected the species together and thought about how to achieve alternating blooms to ensure a constant presence of vegetation in the garden at any time of the year,” Kurkdjian says. Some of the plants are old “acquaintances” of the Parc de Versailles, still popular in today’s fragrances, just like they were in the past: verbenas, roses or jasmines; others stand out for their dandy appearance (like iris) and their…nauseous smell. The three hundred species at Jardin du Parfumeur have been grouped into 9 categories according to their use in perfumery.
There is also a space reserved for “dumb” flowers: violets and fragrant lilies of the valley, which, due to their fragility, cannot be extracted to become perfume ingredients and are therefore recreated artificially. There is an avenue of cherry trees and a parcel with fruit trees. And, behind a narrow wall, a “secret” garden. Walking through it, you can see orchids, giant Himalayan, lilies, and rose bushes converse together in the wind; there’s a bench where you can sit to listen to the rustling of the leaves and meditate.
So, next time you go to Versailles, after the Hall of Mirrors and the sumptuous decorations, you can experience the same scents as the king did back then. You can also indulge in the beauty of nature that changes with the seasons and pays an unceasing tribute to beauty.
Silvia Manzoni is a journalist and beauty expert.