“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.