Monday, 10 February 2014

The Osmothèque Reviews: Parfum Royal (circa 1st century AD) and Eau De La Raine De Hongrie (14th century)

*** For background information on my Osmothèque reviews,

It goes without saying that the stars of the Osmothèque's collection of perfume reconstitutions are the post-1880 classics: the likes of Jicky, Emeraude and Iris Gris. However, it's a shame that most writers don't mention the older artefacts, of which there are a few. Of course, I use the word 'older' advisedly. In the absence of detailed formulae, it's fiendishly difficult to create a perfume that smells exactly as it would have centuries ago. But the folks at the Osmothèque are nothing if not dogged.

When he was told about a formula-like passage of text in the writings of Pliny The Elder, Jean Kerléo decided to try to bring this olfactory ghost back to life. The result of his efforts - now dubbed Parfum Royal - is a lovely study in simplicity. It seems the Romans (or the Parthians, depending on who you choose to believe) wanted their perfumes to remind them of their feasts - which means, by my reckoning, that they adopted the gourmand trend at least two thousands years before it went big - so it's no surprise that Parfum Royal glows with the firelight warmth of cinnamon, clove and honey. Rose would appear to be present too - smoothing away the rough edges as only it can - and there's a distinct powdery facet in the drydown. As it happens, the closest I've come to smelling anything like it in a modern product is Odette Toilette's Blend #1 pot pourri, which shouldn't come as a shock, considering that it too relies on bygone techniques to create its effects.

Eau De La Raine De Hongrie - composed for Queen Elizabeth of Poland - is less interesting in terms of its smell but perhaps more important in terms of significance. It is basically a tincture of rosemary: as astringent, herbal and camphoraceous as one might expect. However, it was diluted in a substance which we might have recognised as modern alcohol and - according to Yves Tanguy - it almost certainly came to the attention of Jean Marie Farina, who went on to use its bracing, revivifying qualities when he created what we would now call a classic Eau De Cologne. So yes, it isn't especially absorbing when you give it a sniff, but it's weighty nonetheless. Centuries of scented history run through its delicate green stalk, making it as worthy of attention as the calorific concoction committed to posterity by Pliny The Elder.



  1. Iris Gris is my absolute favorite from their collection!!! :) Also, when in Paris the next time, please give me a call to catch up!

    1. Viktoria, Iris Gris is beyond beautiful. I hope to post my review of it soon.


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