Intrigue. Poison. Perfume and The French Royal Family of 1558.
"Perfume": derived from the Latin word "parfumare" meaning "through smoke"
Scent has been used for religious, therapeutic and aesthetic purposes for at least 4,000 years. The term "Perfume" has only been used for the last couple hundred years with the development of the modern / French Perfume Industry.
My background in the healing arts inspired me to look at the anthropological effect of spice, oils and scent on civilization, thus influencing modern society and modern perfumery. I chose to begin my study with Ancient Egypt, working my way through the ages of India, Ancient Arabia and Greece. I began in-depth study of European civilization which lead to the very influential Renaissance era between the 14th to 17th centuries. The Renaissance means "re-birth", a cultural movement that saw the beginnings of our modern society. Countless developments in areas of education, the printing press, art, theatre, science and diplomacy still influence our daily lives. It's widely understood that the Renaissance began in Florence, Italy in the 14th century. This movement was heavily funded by the Medici family.
In 1533, Catherine de Medici left Italy to wed Prince Henry of France, soon after, becoming Queen of France. She brought her personal perfumer, Rene le Florentin, from Florence to become her confidant and personal perfumer (some also say alchemist and poison maker.) As a member of the Medici family, she didn't fail in spreading the inspiring, creative aspects of the Renaissance to the rest of Europe through the proliferation of modern culture (along with tyranny and murder). One of her favorite things was scented leather gloves, and it was Catherine de Medici who is credited with developing the modern perfume industry in Grasse, France.
In early 2013 a friend of mine mentioned that he was directing a TV pilot for the CW network called "Reign", which chronicles the life of 15 year old Mary, Queen of Scots and her time in the Royal Court of Catherine de Medici. We began to talk about Catherine's influence on history and of course the creation of the modern French perfume industry. Last November, another friend of mine, Amy Brenneman, was cast as "Mary de Guise", mother of Mary, Queen of Scots. In honor of her roll, I made a perfume for Amy based on the scents that would have been available to the royal court of the time. I only used the plant extracts and scents that would have been in use around 1559. That little bottle then inspired me to create nine more scents for the actresses Adelaide Kane and Megan Follows, which were hand delivered to the set by Amy.
The specific episode S1, Ep13 "The Consummation" is the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to Dauphin of France, Francis.
There was one mention of perfume in the episode:
Bash: (the bastard son of the King) asks Mary "Is all well with your mother?"
Mary: "Yes, she's just as I remember her, in ways I often imagined, I used to love the smell of her perfume, the tenor of her voice..." and of course, the drama and murderous plots ensue.
I'm beside myself to know they have scents I created for their characters. During the wedding scene, all the incense you see burning is actual frankincense. The wedding inspired my "Pontification" scent, also known as "The Church"; since Catherine was related to four Popes of the Holy Roman Church.
In the year 1558, what we know as "Perfume" didn't really exist as the complex combination of extracts and molecules. There were some famous combinations of exotic substances, many used both internally as medicine, but also as aesthetic adornment. The Medici family had direct access to anything they wanted, from anywhere. By this time in history the Renaissance was well underway and Catherine had a fondness of exquisite plant essences, even having her own distilleries. I created my perfumes for each of the actresses with the intention of helping them deeply understand their characters, by having them smell the natural essences that would have been available to the French Royal Court of the time.
Here are the ten perfumes and notes on my process:
Over the last three years I have been researching the anthropological impact of scent & spice during different epochs. For over three thousand years, the use and cultivation of Frankincense has influenced the rise and fall of numerous civilizations. Most recently, the last two thousand years of Catholicism has spread the usage of this amazing oil and resin for ritual and functional purposes.
The Medici family had influence that deeply affected the Church, by installing four popes between 1513-1605; some effects are still being felt today.
I created this scent by choosing a number of well known herbs, oils and essences mentioned in the Bible. It's a delicate blend of woods and resins which dry down to a mild floral.
The notes used: frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, labdanum, spikenard and rose.
"Amber de Guise"
The perfume which started this whole project. Amy likes amber scents, so I created a classic Amber Accord of tinctured labdanum, benzoin, oakmoss, orris, cade and others. I then created a rose accord consisting of 11 essences including Rose otto, Rose absolute Morocco Rose de Mai and Sandalwood.
"Mary at 15"
This one was fun. I challenged myself with considering what a 15 year old Queen of Scotland would want to smell like, knowing she was going to be Queen of France and eventually Queen of England; one of the most powerful women in Europe. She might have had the idea that life was going to be quite pleasant and this move to France would be that wonderful start. Her scent would have to be young and nothing like anyone else. With this in mind, I created a scent that would have a fresh, fruity and young feel. The top notes of Bergamot, grapefruit and violet leaf appear only to be wrapped inside tuberose, osmanthus and white champaca. It's anchored by fossilized amber, fir balsam and sandalwood.
There is a legend that Catherine was given a bottle of perfume for her wedding in 1533. It's believed that this perfume was based on the legendary "Hungry Water" formulation. I took this idea and made an interpretation of this formula. I created the Citrus Soliflore and added patchouli and a lot of rosemary. Rosemary was considered a very important medicinal plant / scent during the 14th-17th centuries.
All the "Soliflore's" I created can also be seen as modern "accords". One of the difficulties of modern "Natural Perfumery" is sourcing material that has a consistent aromatic profile. A technique to have consistent perfumes is to make accords in place of single essences. I took this into consideration for this project as well as knowing the Medici family could afford anything they wanted. Catherine would have wanted the best of the best, so I created a Rose Soliflore that consist of 14 ingredients dominated by Rose otto from Bulgaria, Rose absolute from France and Morocco as well as French Rose de Mai anchored with sandalwood.
This blend has been aging over the last six months and has changed many times. Month one- intense rose scent. Month two- hardly any rose at all. Month four- delicate fresh rose. Month six- very fresh rose-like scent, nondescript rose.
Jasmine has been an amazing, miraculous scent for millennia Catherine would have had as much of this as she could get. I created an intoxicating soliflore using 6 types of Jasmine including Sambac, Grandiflorum, Co2 and Sandalwood. (Catherine wouldn't have had access to Co2 extraction, but I just had to add it in.) A warm summers night breeze of jasmine intoxicates everyone who has smelled this perfume.
Natural citrus raw material can be a challenge to work with, due to growing conditions and locations. I created this using 14 essences including bergamot, yuzu, clementine and immortelle absolute. This is a quintessential, delicious citrus accord.
"Orange Blossom Soliflore"
Orange Blossom was one of Catherine's favorite scents, especially mixed with musk. (It was not known as "Neroli" yet.) I had fun with this one, since Los Angeles is often scented by orange and lemon blossoms. This is also an accord of about 10 essences: 2 types of neroli, orange blossom absolute, 2 petitgrain and peru balsam.
As a collector I have acquired a number of animalic extracts. I don't use them in my regular scents, but I wanted to use a high concentration in these perfumes to demonstrate what Catherine de Medici would have actually smelled. One of her favorite scents were from the Musk family. A discussion of musk usage in the Renaissance and other periods of history could fill a book. I made this blend to represent a very close representation of what she would have requested her perfumer to make for her leather gloves: the Jasmine soliflore with civet and true musk.
There has been a wide range of reactions when people sniff this perfume; some people love it, some despise it and others are simply fascinated with the origin of the ingredients.
"Orange Blossom Musk"
This was a true homage to Catherine and her famous leather gloves: Orange Blossom Soliflore and lots of civet. Most people have the same reactions as with the "Jasmine Musk".
It has been exciting to help the actors experience something their characters would have actually smelled in the 1500's. I'm creating a few more perfumes, one for an upcoming Fox TV series as well as a very interesting HBO series debuting in late 2014.
I'm also preparing a series of classes, taught here in Los Angeles at The Institute for Art and Olfaction starting in May 2014. The series is called "Elements of Nature" and will delve into different aspects of perfumery, with a focus on natural, plant derived ingredients. The first session will be "Ayurveda: A Modern Interpretation of Aromatherapy and Perfumery."
Scent has a very powerful affect on the body / mind connection and has been used for thousands of years to invigorate, calm, heal and create memories. This has been a very unique and exciting project and I hope you were motivated by my experiments.