“Smell is a word, perfume is literature.”
~Jean-Claude Ellena, perfumer to Hermès
A few weeks ago, I found myself researching perfume and perfume bottles. I always give my Regency Era heroines a distinct fragrance, but I also try to stay period accurate. And, I don’t always want them smelling like roses or lavender, two popular scents of the period. Yes, I know lavender is soothing, but it always reminds me of my great-grandmother’s linens. She kept little hand-sewn lavender sachets in her cupboards and drawers.
Previously, I’ve used scents for my heroines that are slightly citricy, but they are always combined with another fragrance, say, Lily of the Valley or lilac.
I thought I might try to use heather for Isobel Ferguson, since Virtue and Valor (Highland Heather Romancing a Scot, Book 2-June 24, 2015) is set in Scotland, but found that the musky scent was actually more commonly used as a base for men’s colognes than women’s.
Brooke Culpepper (Wagers Gone Awry, Conundrums of the Misses Culpepper, Book 1-April 7, 2015) is too poor to buy perfume, though her cousin, Blythe, has quite a talent for brewing herbs and could make Brooke a bottle of rose water.
Since I personally can’t abide the scent of violet perfume (and it reminds me of old ladies) I can’t force my heroines to dab that fragrance behind their ears even if all the other ladies of the ton are wearing it.
Jasmine is a favorite of mine for my Regency heroines, as are vanilla, apple and orange blossoms. I’ve never used spicier scents like mint, rosemary, cloves, or cinnamon-based fragrances, though they were common ingredients in nineteenth century perfumes too.
Hmm, the Culpeppers grow three varieties of mint. Perhaps I’ll have one of the other Culpepper Misses wear a mint-based perfume in one of the other books in the series. Or better yet, maybe one of the heroes, maybe Hawksworth, will. I read that ginger, mint, and lemon leaf make a nice manly cologne—sounds lickable too. Sandalwood was immensely popular with the gentlemen, and I confess, I do like the smell myself. Tristan, Marquis of Leventhorpe, a hero from the Conundrums of the Misses Culpepper series, wears sandalwood.
What I didn’t know was that, often, there wasn’t a whole lot of distinction between men’s and women’s perfumes. A gentleman was as likely to splash on a dab of rose water as a lady was. I can’t envision my hero, Heath, Earl of Ravensdale, from Wagers Gone Awry doing that, though. I’m thinking a dandy would be more likely to go the flowery route than a Corinthian.
But I digress.
The art of perfume making was introduced to Europe around the 14th century, and France became the epicenter for perfume production. Originally, only the very wealthy could afford the costly fragrances, and their use was intended to cover body odor rather than to attract the opposite sex. Remember, bathing wasn’t all that popular, especially whole body emersion, and those fancy garments weren’t laundered regularly, so they, too, were, shall we say, less than fresh.
It wasn’t uncommon for noble women to create their own signature scents or have one created for them. I can understand that. I’ve worn the same perfume for over twenty years, and people often tell me they know it’s me before they see me, because they can smell me coming. I do hope they are referring to my Jessica McClintoch and not some other odor!
Floris of London—still in business by-the-way—is a well-known shop whose original owner, Juan Floris, was a barber. He began tinkering with various mixtures and produced scents that were favored by Beau Brummel himself.
I found a supposedly authentic Rose Water Recipe, if you’d like to take a stab at making the concoction yourself. There are only three ingredients: rose petals, water, and ice.
Perfume bottles ranged from very simple glass (even clay) with a cork stopper, silver flasks, and to incredibly elaborate cut crystal covered with vermeil overlay. I’ve got hundreds of vintage perfume bottles on my Her Essence Pinterest Board if you want to take a peek.
So do you have a favorite fragrance you like romance novel characters to wear? Do you have a signature perfume that you wear? Or are you someone that doesn’t like perfume at all.