Paris mu­seum dis­plays scents of history

One-time lewd theatre turned into mon­u­ment to all things per­fume


PARIS— The flo­ral scents wafted into the 19th-cen­tury Parisian court­yard Fri­day out­side the launch of famed French per­fumer Frag­o­nard’s first flag­ship per­fume mu­seum.

The sprawl­ing build­ing — once home to a lewd Parisian theatre be­fore later be­com­ing a chic velo­drome — was ren­o­vated for two years to show­case the unique history and tech­niques be­hind the cre­ation of per­fume.

“The idea is to share our savoir­faire. It makes ev­ery­one dream. France is re­puted for per­fume, so our aim is to share the trea­sures we have ac­cu­mu­lated,” said Agnes Costa Web­ster, great-grand­daugh­ter of Frag­o­nard founder Jean-François Costa, who delved into the fam­ily’s vast col­lec­tions to cre­ate the mu­seum.

She un­earthed hun­dreds of art ob­jects, ex­otic vials, age-old dis­til­leries and ol­fac­tory de­vices that are now pre­sented to the public, many for the first time, along­side black-and-white archive footage.

Aside from the history, a new ma­jor mu­seum — now among sev­eral other smaller mu­se­ums in Paris ded­i­cated to scents — demon­strates both per­fume’s in­creased pop­u­lar­ity and its sta­tus as the fi­nan­cial back­bone of to­day’s glob­al­ized lux­ury in­dus­try.

“There are mar­vels in the con­tem­po­rary per­fumery cre­ation,” Costa Web­ster said.

“I think this is an art which will never end.”

The mu­seum shows the twists of fate and history that shaped the ol­fac­tory art form.

Vials and trin­kets trace how per­fume went out of fash­ion in the Mid­dle Ages but reached a new high in the 15th cen­tury, when French­men, fear­ful of dis­eases in the wa­ter, re­frained from wash­ing and re­lied on per­fume to hide bod­ily odours.

By the 18th cen­tury, trend­set­ter Marie An­toinette was dic­tat­ing what scents were in vogue — she pre­ferred flo­ral notes — and bot­tles reached the height of os­ten­ta­tion.

One scent bot­tle from Eng­land had del­i­cate gold and crys­tal dat­ing from 1760.


A “Cla­mart” per­fume bot­tle, de­signed by René Lalique in 1926, is one of the many ex­otic, os­ten­ta­tious vials on dis­play at the Frag­o­nard per­fume mu­seum in Paris.

Vials and trin­kets trace how per­fume went out of fash­ion in the Mid­dle Ages, but achieved new pop­u­lar­ity in the 15th cen­tury.

Age-old dis­til­leries are on dis­play to the public.

Agnes Costa Web­ster con­trib­uted fam­ily ar­ti­facts to the col­lec­tion.

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