The Osmothèque: The Biggest Collection of Scents Old and New

“Do you ever wish you could take a scent and bottle it up so you could remember it always?” asked the romantic while she sat on the edge of the spring grass and dipped her toes into the soft water. Perfumers are responsible for bottling scents, of course, and some of them are taking the steps to make these scents last forever.

In 1990, senior perfumers Jean Kerléo, Jean-Claude Ellena, Guy Robert, and collaborated to open a space which would preserve as many perfumes as possible. The space was called the Osmothèque, a title that combines the Greek words for odor (osmo) and storage (theke). Just as a bibliothèque archives books and the written word, the osmothèque was created to archive odors.

The osmothèque first opened in April, just as the very fleeting scents of spring flowers must have been at their peak. But while those natural floral notes were fading, the team at the osmothèque—largely comprised of perfumers who volunteer their time and are dubbed the “osmocurators”—was hard at work to begin collecting and archiving perfumes. The initial focus was on any perfume no longer available on the market, but the osmocurators also work to bring in formulas for all perfumes that are currently for sale.

It’s the collection of scents that are off the market—around 400 perfumes as of spring 2015—that makes the Osmothèque particularly magical for many. Many scents are discontinued or changed over the years, often to replace ingredients that are no longer allowed. For instance, the original Chanel No. 5 contained citral, which was discovered as a skin irritant and banned as an ingredient. You can still buy Chanel No. 5 but it’s not the same as the original, and a person seeking the memories associated with that particular scent will be disappointed with a modern day bottle.

A trip to Versailles, however, can provide just the original scent one might be looking for. As their website states, the Osmothèque does not interpret scents, it archives them. The osmocurators work to remake old perfumes exactly as they were originally. When the trio of French Perfumers began the Osmothèque, they were creating something that would turn into a huge collaboration. The archive only succeeds with help from perfume houses, perfume collectors, perfume making companies, and individuals. These people entrust their formulas to the Osmothèque which protects them and uses them to recreate long lost scents.

Once scents are recreated, the osmocurators tuck them away safely in the “cellar,” a space designed specifically to house and protect the perfumes. The cellar is kept at 12º C (around 54º F) and is free of daylight, plus the perfumes themselves are protected further with inert gas.

The Osmothèque regularly opens its doors to any curious nose, be it students, professionals, or the general public. In addition to maintaining the world’s largest perfume archive, it hosts conferences, perfume discovery sessions, and even children’s workshops. It’s just an hour or so from Paris by train or car, and by all accounts it is worth the visit.

Katrina Eresman

How to Make Your Scent Last Longer

It’s always disappointing when your favorite scent seems to evaporate from your skin before you can even arrive at your destination. While staying power sometimes depends on the perfume itself, you might be able to increase longevity by learning a little more about the things that affect the potency of perfume.

Storage

Perfume is extremely sensitive to its environment. That’s why a professional perfume archive like the Osmothèque is so particular about its storage space (12º C and no sunlight). Anyone can get more potency and more longevity out of their scents by following similar guidelines. The biggest keys are to keep your perfume out of sunlight, heat, and humidity. That means no displaying your bottles in the bathroom and no leaving your go-to scent in the car for convenience.

Application

As long as you’re not rubbing your wrists together after you apply, the wrists are a great place to put your perfume for long-lasting scent. These and other pulse points, like behind knees, elbows, and ears are good spots for application. You want to pick areas that will not be covered by clothing, and areas that are naturally warmer, as this will help them emit the scent. My favorite quirky place to apply scent is at the outside top of my armpit. However, do not put perfume directly on the armpit, since the ingredients could potentially irritate that sensitive skin.

Moisture

Dry skin doesn’t do so well at maintaining scent. That being said, you can often get a lot more mileage from a perfume if you first apply an unscented lotion to the skin. You can also take advantage of the moisture left over after a shower by applying your perfume immediately after bathing.

Frequency

The frequency of wear doesn’t truly affect how long a perfume lasts. However, it does have an effect on how much the wearer notices or enjoys it. If you love a scent, you might be inclined to wear it every day. But the better way to get the most personal mileage out of your favorite smells is to build a library of a few (or a lot) of perfumes that you enjoy, preferably with different styles. You might come to see perfumes like articles of clothing, and pick them depending on the mood or event. Sometimes it’s good to skip a scent all together, and instead spend the day enjoying your natural odor as well as the odors I experience wherever I go. When you come back to on of your favorites, it will have more potency to you throughout its wear.

Ingredients

All-natural is almost always an appealing descriptor, but when it comes to perfume longevity it might not be the best option. Essential oils often evaporate more quickly than man-made ingredients. For the best longevity, opt for scents that blend synthetics with essential oils and absolutes.

Structure

Perfumes are designed to evolve in a symphony of notes in a particular order. Top notes disappear the quickest, followed by middle and base notes. Since base notes last the longest, and have the heaviest molecules, perfumes that highlight notes like musk will be stronger longer. Lots of Possets perfumes highlight strong base notes. If you’re looking for earthy staying power, start with these recommendations from our post on Musk.

Katrina Eresman

French Fashion, Dangerous Scents, and Female Perfumers

Taurus season is here, and so is the birthday of Robert Piguet. The Swiss-born fashion designer had a handsome look about him, a charming smile with perfect white teeth, dark eyes, and a nose full of character. He looks like the romantic interest in an Ernest Hemingway novel. Maybe it’s his carefully groomed thin mustache, which suggests his impeccable style.

These days Piguet is known much more for his perfume line than for his fashion house, which ran from 1933 to 1951. He had his share of edgy designs, and purportedly once had is runway models wear masks and carry knives. Perhaps these designs reflected the sense of healthy rebellion it took for Piguet to say no to the family banking career and yes to a life of art.

Even though Piguet’s name isn’t part of the world of fashion any longer, he still left a significant mark. He was the one who trained Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy. These two have gone on to create some of the world’s most renown fashion houses, so in that way Piguet left his mark on the fashion world.

But enough about the men. Let’s talk about the women.

In the 1940s, Piguet decided it was time to try his hand at perfume. Wisely he sought out the help of perfumer Germaine Cellier. Cellier was a driven young woman who earned a chemistry degree in Paris and had been landing jobs at French companies like Colgate-Palmolive where she worked as a functional perfumer. Functional perfumes are those that we encounter every day in hand soaps, detergents, and the like. When Cellier met Piguet, she had an opportunity to shine beyond the subtleties of everyday scent.

And shine she did, creating Piguet’s first perfume Bandit in 1942 to be debuted in 1944, and later creating the famous scent Fraças. Bandit is said to be a sort of dangerous scent. It’s a leather chypre that takes something a little feminine and wraps it in a bad-ass attitude. You can read a pretty compelling review of it here. Cellier was praised for being a little unconventional and daring in her creations, and the edgy scent of Bandit was no exception.

Cellier proved her diversity as a perfumer when she created the more famous Fraças. This scent is like the light to Bandit’s darkness. It’s floral and delicate, and includes the best spring scents like Indian tuberose absolute, orange blossom, and iris root butter. Cellier designed scents for other perfume houses as well, and when she wasn’t busy working she was rubbing elbows with some of France’s most interesting characters, like Jean Cocteau.

It’s a pleasure to think about some of the best artists of every art hanging out on the banks of the Seine, and to fantasize about how the filmmakers inspired the perfumers, and how the perfumers inspired the writers, and how the writers inspired the painters. It’s all intertwined, and Piguet is a fine example of how perfume and fashion in particular seem to go hand in hand. But that is a story for another day.

 

by Katrina Eresman