Thesis “The privileged perfumers, suppliers of the court of Versailles (17th-18th centuries)” (2018-2021)

Guerlain (via an Industrial Agreement for Training through Research contract - CIFRE) is financing this research project which is being developed into a doctoral thesis by Alice Camus, supervised by Lucien Bély, professor at the Sorbonne Université, with the support of the Centre de recherche du château de Versailles.

Antoine-Jean de Villeclair, Flaconnier, Paris, 1755-1756, Musée des Arts décoratifs, inventaire 57965. © Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris/Jean Tholance.

The Ancien Régime was a crucial period in the development of the profession of perfumer. Drawing on the origins of this craft also highlights today’s profession by giving it a temporal depth and historical richness. It is why this project is being financed by the perfume house Guerlain. Guerlain, which celebrates its 190th anniversary this year, 2018, is part of the historic tradition of excellence in French perfumery, the origins of which date back to the Ancien Régime. The provision of this financial support by Guerlain, one of the jewels of French heritage, gives real meaning to this research, and links the perfumery of the Ancien Régime with that of today, bringing added value to this expertise. The history and heritage of perfumery and of these perfumers therefore serve this traditional industry of excellence.

Furthermore, a scientific collaboration has been undertaken between Guerlain and the Research Centre, which welcomes Alice Camus as researcher in charge of this project. This prestigious partnership ensures the coherence of this project, which is organised at the location itself where these perfumers carried out their trade.

This research aims to study the perfumers who supplied the court of Versailles, from Louis XIV to Louis XVI. In the 17th century, the profession of perfumer became a reality. It was the glove makers who seized on this skill and created a monopoly. From then on, the glove makers-perfumers made perfumed gloves, whose popularity peaked at the court of Louis XIV, along with scented water and all cosmetics such as face powders, creams, rouges, eyes shadows, soaps and even paste for the hands. They also sold scented pastilles to burn, scented sachets and various potspourris. These perfumed products were bought in large quantities by courtiers who were obliged to conform to a specific look in keeping with the court criteria on appearance.

This thesis is part of a socio-cultural history. The research, therefore, seeks to offer a deeper insight into the social milieu of the perfumers who supplied the court of Versailles, by highlighting the networks that these men belonged to. Some perfumers have built up veritable dynasties. Such is the case of the Huet family, which supplied the French court for four generations, with Michel Gallois, François Huet father, François Huet son, and Claude-François Prévost. This thesis will seek to better understand these men.
The research will also determine the cultural profile of these artisans by analysing their furniture, their clothes and their way of life. We shall also, of course, study the products they made, and highlight the suppliers with whom they had close ties, in order to shed light on the circulation of the raw materials.

This project will result in a number of publications and further developments.

Antoine-Jean de Villeclair, perfume bottle case, Paris, 1755-1756, Musée des Arts décoratifs, inv. 57965. © Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris/Jean Tholance.
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