Bourgeoisie; The Art of Scent

By Jo Phillips

One of the most important pieces of art in the world is no doubt the Mona Lisa. Likely because this is the piece people know, whether they are engaged with the arts or not. World-famous, enigmatic and as loved as it is misunderstood; it is the biggest draw of the Louvre museum in Paris.

This wonderful building was originally a 12th-century fortress, which went on to be a palace and then home to French heads of state until 1870. During the French Revolution, it was decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces. 

The Louvre exhibits sculptures, objets d’art, paintings, drawings, and archaeological finds and is the world’s most visited museum. With an estimated 15,000 visitors per day. That is a huge amount of people to engage with. Yet the museum has one small problem. A large percentage of these visitors go to see that infamous lady the Mona Lisa, yet the building has so much more to offer. For example, the painting collection alone is made up of more than 7,500 works from the 13th century to 1848.

Louvre’s Director of External Relations Adel Ziane and his team want to change this. In order to spread knowledge of the whole building’s art history by engaging all the senses. Enter in left side, Ramdane Touhami and his wife Victorie de Taillac Touhami, the names behind the revamping of the world’s oldest wax manufacture Cire Trudon and the Parisian 19th-century beauty brand, l’Officine Universelle Buly. These two teams had the challenge of finding new ways to connect the public to all of the galleries. They choose to do it via our sense of smell.

And so eight new fragrances were born. Eight heavenly scents were created by eight world-famous perfumers for L’Officine Universelle Buly 1803 in collaboration with The Louvre. Each perfumer was allowed to choose one artwork as a starting point for their particular creation.

Let’s begin with another of the most famous artwork in the museum, The Venus de Milo, which is still one of the most celebrated pieces of Greek sculpture. Perfumer Jean-Christophe Hérault interpreted this piece. For him, the scent of this ‘cold alabaster looking’ work starts with jasmine sambac absolute, tuberose absolute and gardenia, balanced with mandarin.

This fragrance, La Venus de Milo, is described by L’Officine Universelle Buly 1803 as having the ‘gentle white of jasmine, of neroli, of the matte and polished petals of magnolia, amber and sacred wood’. It is ‘eternal, without past or present, the beauty of the marble goddess, elusive and notional, lifts up the soul with timeless bliss’.

Perfumer Sidonie Lancasseur chose Saint Joseph the Carpenter by the artist Georges De La TourG. Her interpretation of this painting is translated into deep notes of cedar-wood, infused with verbena, pink berries and vetiver, representing the warm, wood coloured hue of the oil painting.

L’Officine Universelle Buly 1803 note that ‘the golden orange blossom and incense ignite in the amber night, humming with vetiver and cedar-wood. In a censer, spices and dry herbs smoulder to keep the spirits at bay. A gesture is arrested, suspended in the face of epiphany. The divine aura illuminates the heart of the initiate, and banishes the darkness’.

Next comes Fragonard’s The Lock, a giant painting (and his most famous) with the perfume interpretation by Delphine Lebeau. The lush painting is a scene depicting two lovers entwined in a bedroom, the man half entwined as his other arm reaches out to lock the door. No doubt there is a sexual undertone in the perfume representation, with Lily flower and musk combined.

L’Officine Universelle Buly 1803 says of this scent:- ‘Scent of the apple on the table, fruit carried to the lips like a kiss, to the neck, the breast. Ardent desire entangled in linen sheets, tousled hair, traces of the teeth on tender skin, its white musk scorched scarlet by love’s burning touch; the heady thrill of an illicit rendez-vous’.

Critically acclaimed Grande Odalisque by Ingres was interpreted by the fragrance creator Domitille Michalon-Bertier. This painting is considered the first painting that moved toward exotic Romanticism. The cool blue curtains offset the warm tones of the nude skin as one of the lovers leans around and looks directly and unashamedly towards the viewer. This image is reflected in the warm incense and pink pepper featured alongside cool and sexy musky notes.

L’Officine Universelle Buly 1803 says:- ‘The musky, chilly satin of a shoulder, the sinuous curve of a hip or breast, gleaming in an alcove chased with brass, an Orientalist’s shrine, a dream of Eastern Promise. The pink pepper of the cheeks pricks the heart and, beneath the silken scarf, a perfume of incense suffuses the hair’.

All of the eight fragrances come with ancillary products which include: a candle option, a scented postcard version, a paper soap (inspired by the tradition of the Japanese “Kami soap”) and an Alabaster. The paper soap consists of a thin sheet of saponified cellulose that dissolves upon contact with water, leaving the hands cleansed and delightfully fragrant. An Alabaster is made up of a painted porcelain box and a carved piece of exceptionally porous sedimentary stone on to which the perfume is poured.

The other four editions are:-

The Valpincon Bather by Ingres again (the only painter with two works reimagined into scent) inspired perfumer, Daniela Andrier. This fragrance starts with a stimulating burst of lemongrass and orange blossom, embellished with patchouli and incense.

Conversation in the Park by Gainsborough excited the nose of Dorothee Piot. Her fragrance exudes sour touches of peppermint and bergamot in an imposing bouquet of Ottoman roses. 

Then there is the magnificent Winged Victory of Samothraceby (also known the Nike of Samothrace, a marble Hellenistic sculpture of Nike, that was created in about the 2nd century BC). The perfumer that reimagined this ancient artwork is Alienor Massenet. His creation is a rich harmony of tuberose, magnolia and jasmine enhanced by the warmth of myrrh.

And last, but by no means least, Nymph with the Scorpion by Italian sculptor  Bartolini and the perfume created by Annick Menardo. This fragrance consists of an enticing bouquet of heliotrope and jasmine, finished with amber and musk.

Art after all is about life long after death. Art, as the Lourve is living proof of, has the power of bringing to life pieces that date back hundreds of years. This project, dedicating eight works to eight scents is just another way of bringing life to art, engaging all the senses and enabling people to experience these paintings in alternative ways. The Buly 1803 shop will sell all eight fragrances at the Louvre for one year only, along with candles, scented soap sheets and fragranced postcards for the most chic ‘wish you were here’ messages. So if you’ve always meant to go there or hanker after another look at the Louvre’s incredible collection, then now would be the perfect time for fragrance and art fans to pay them a visit!

Buly’s Eau Triple (alcohol-free perfume) candles in terrazzo containers, scented soap sheets, and the porcelain container are all available in the museum shop alongside scented postcards and posters. There is also the option to buy all of these online from the Officine Universelle Buly online store where you can add in, free of charge, a handwritten calligraphy of the name of a loved one.