The central room here is “the cellar”. Do not imagine the smell of a dusty basement. But rather a clean room, light walls flanked by high black fridges. On the shelves, dozens of meticulously labeled brown glass bottles: the treasure of the Osmotheque. A unique place in the world, entirely dedicated to the preservation of perfumes. “It is the living repository of a national, European and even humanity heritage, enthuses Isabelle Chazot, president of the scientific committee of this association located within the school of perfumery Isipca, in Versailles. These perfumes are works that constitute the history of an olfactory art. »
→ ANALYSIS. An encyclopedia to revive the smells of yesterday
A story that dates back to Antiquity, as evidenced by the Royal Perfume, created for the King of Parthia in the 1st century. The perfumers of the Osmotheque have reconstituted this fragrance from a list of 27 ingredients found in a writing by Pliny the Elder. “It’s an extremely powerful and quite surprising scent for a 21st century nose, with lots of spices, cinnamon, balms, styrax, opopanax. And then at that time, we preserved the perfume thanks to three excipients: oil, honey and wine. » But this historic scent remains an exception in the collection: the recipes being multiple, it is an interpretation. However, the Osmothèque strives to faithfully reproduce exact formulas.
850 missing perfumes
Thus 5,000 fragrances are kept at 12°C, in opaque bottles, lined with a layer of argon to limit oxidation. Among them, 850 perfumes that have disappeared, such as Eau de la Reine de Hungary, based on rosemary, which appeared around 1370 and whose recipe was not formalized until the beginning of the 17th century. “One of the first alcohol-based perfumes,to which all sorts of medicinal virtues were attributed, says Isabelle Chazot.
Another olfactory nugget: Napoleon’s eau de Cologne. “Shortly after the perfumer Jean Kerléo founded the Osmothèque in 1990, André Damien, then mayor of Versailles, came to entrust him with a handwritten document: a formula for eau de Cologne, written… by the hand of the last valet from Napoleon to Saint Helena! », says the administrator. A fragrance with scents of citrus fruits and aromatic plants, which testifies to the new taste for lighter and floral scents from the end of the 18th century.
The arrival of synthetic molecules
“But the great revolution was the arrival of synthetic molecules at the end of the 19th century, which allowed the birth of modern perfumery, continues Isabelle Chazot. Coumarin, for example, is a molecule isolated from the tonka bean, with notes of almond and freshly cut hay. It participates in the famous “fern” accord and will be at the origin of a new family of perfumes. »
→ MAINTENANCE. “Smell is the language of love and hate”
Today, the institution wishes to develop its research mission, “essential for developing the culture of perfume”. And continue to transmit to the general public (1), because “The Osmotheque is above all a repository of emotions”.