The osmotheque, museum of lost perfumes

the osmotheque is an unusual place that preserves the formulas of lost or forgotten fragrances

From the inspiration of the perfumer to the bottling and marketing, the life of a perfume is made up of a succession of stages and know-how. But what happens when a fragrance is withdrawn from the market? What happens to its formula, its bottle? Is it doomed to fall into oblivion? Preserving our olfactory heritage and passing on this fragrant heritage is the mission of an unusual place: the Osmotheque.

The disappearance of a perfume

The law of profitability

Every year, many fragrances have to resign themselves to surrender and their marketing must be stopped. There are several reasons that can justify these olfactory disappearances. The first and most common is undoubtedly the financial reason. A perfume is an expensive product to manufacture, from the supply of raw materials to the design of the formula by experts, as well as advertising and marketing. In the ruthless world of mass market perfumery, a fragrance must meet need by being not too common, without being segmented, not too expensive to produce, etc. As a result, if a perfume is not profitable very quickly after its launch, there is a strong risk that it will sideline.

The scarcity of natural resources

In addition to the financial aspect, it happens that formulas can no longer be produced because some raw materials are “out of stock”. Certain ingredients of natural origin such as Haitian vetiver, Indonesian patchouli, Madagascar vanilla or Bulgarian rose are irreplaceable components in a composition. But when an earthquake, severe drought or repeated floods affect producing countries, cultivation and supply can quickly become difficult. Beyond the climatic reason, a political crisis can also tip the scales between producing and buying countries. The scarcity of species then has a direct impact on their price. Composition companies must therefore opt for rational management of their stocks. They must constantly anticipate to avoid a total stoppage of production.

The Osmotheque: the conservatory of olfactory heritage

An unusual place

But then what happens to these forgotten or disappeared perfumes? Many of them spend their retirement in the warmth of the shelves of the Osmotheque. At the beginning of the 1980s, the commission of the Société Française des Parfumeurs set itself the goal of listing, referencing and classifying all existing fragrances. This is how the idea of the Osmotheque was born. This place, unique in the world, acts as a large olfactory database. It lists raw materials that are no longer available, such as Tonkin musk, old formulas and more recently withdrawn bottles.

From the Greek “osmē” which means smell and “thêkê” which means storage, the Osmotheque is an olfactory library based in Versailles, France. It also has a branch in New York. It was founded in 1990 on the initiative of several great perfumers including Jean Kerléo and Jean-Claude Ellena. This true museum is open to all. You will come across professionals who come here in search of inspiration, amateurs seeking of history or simply curious people.

A crucial mission

“A perfume only exists if it is smelled” declared the founder of the Osmotheque. Perfume is an integral part of our history. It bears witness to the evolution of Man through the centuries because it has existed for millennia. From ancient Egypt, through the Middle Ages to the present day, we can imagine how many scents could have been lost forever. It is to prevent this from happening that the Osmotheque has made it its mission to revive these forgotten fragrances. And the task was not so easy! A real battle had to be fought to convince the major perfume houses to share formulas that had been secretly kept until then.

Meticulous work

During its creation, the perfumers behind the project had to make a giant sorting to list all the existing fragrances. They then sought their formulas and compositions from the perfumers or their heirs. Sometimes they had to dig into ancient writings to try to reproduce almost identical ancient juices. These ultra-secret documents are then archived to be protected from time and oblivion. Beyond the census, the Osmotheque reproduces these disappeared perfumes to make them known and smelled by all.  It ” carefully remakes long-lost perfumes, rigorously respecting original formulas. When one or more raw materials are not available, the fragrance is not reconstituted. The Osmotheque does not act as an interpreter but an archivist.”

The Osmotheque: olfactory treasures

To become the world’s leading perfume conservatory, the Osmotheque can count on volunteers. They are the ones who take care of preserving and developing the museum’s collection. Today this collection represents 4000 fragrances, including 800 perfumes that have disappeared and are preserved as true works of art. These are stored in the “cellar”. It is a place sheltered from aggressive light where argon, a neutral gas that prevents the oxidation of the precious juices, is diffused.

We find real olfactory treasures that have marked the history of perfumery but are no longer marketed. This is the case of Houbigant’s Fougère Royale or Chypre by Coty. This journey through time and scents takes us even further. You can thus discover the famous Eau de la Reine de Hongrie dating from the 14th century, the Vinegar of the 4 thieves from the 1800s or the Eau de Cologne that Napoleon made himself during his exile in Saint-Hélène. You won’t be able to smell these historical fragrances anywhere else…

So if you’re curious and want to broaden your olfactory culture, why not visiting the Osmotheque! Did you know about this unusual place?


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