I once knew a woman called Celeste. We were not close friends by any means, we only met 2 or 3 times at a friend’s place, but she stood out in a crowd let me tell you. You see, Celeste wouldn’t go to work like you and me… hop on public transit, work, have lunch, work some more and come home. On no. Celeste ALWAYS had a story. And later in the evening with friends when she was asked how her day went, she would always start her story the same way, “Mon Dieu! Mais qu’est- ce que je vais vous raconter? Mais par OÙ commencer?” (translation : My God! What will I tell you? And WHERE do I start?”) And it wasn’t for show… she really sounded exasperated by the story she was about to tell. It was just too big! Of course, by the end of the story we were all in stitches and in fact it was a very simple little story but with that famous introduction, she had everyone’s attention.
And this is EXACTLY how I felt when I started thinking of and curating an upcoming perfume exhibition. WHERE do I start? Luca Turin starts his story of modern perfumery in 1868 with an article on the isolation of coumarin in The Journal of the Chemical Society. Fourteen years later, Paul Parquet of Houbigant would use coumarin in Fougère Royale and that seems like a reasonable place to start. Doesn’t it? Chandler Burr, on the other hand, stated in an interview last year that although he would mention Fougère Royale, he would start HIS story at his upcoming exhibition with Jicky (1889). And certainly that makes sense too, being the first fougère to use two synthetics, coumarin and vanillin.
But you know… I decided to go way back and start my story in 1709 when Giovanni Maria Farina introduced his Eau de Cologne based on a family recipe. I figure… first, the genre is still very popular today more than 300 years later and that alone is amazing. But secondly, if it wasn’t for that initial Eau de Cologne, Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain might never have tried his hand at perfumery with his Eau de Cologne Impériale (1853) and Raymond Goery might never have let François Coty mix ingredients in his pharmacy and create his popular Cologne Coty. And without just those two great perfumers… who knows how the story would have evolved. No… for me, those early 18th and 19th century eaux de colognes are key and that is where I’ll start my story.
Getting back to Celeste, I don’t know how many times I would recount a Celeste story to a friend the following day and I could barely contain myself for laughing but the expression on my friends’ faces said it all. I guess you had to be there.
Top image : Les Chuchoteuses (2002) by Rose-Aimée Bélanger
Bottom image : Photo of Buster Keaton