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The story of Jean-Louis Fargeon, the perfumer of Marie-Antoinette

Fargeon et ses parfums

The most beautiful stories are often a blend of several, converging tales. Behind Maison Gellé Frères’s history stands the story of Jean-Louis Fargeon, perfumer of the Dauphine, Marie-Antoinette of Austria. And that’s the tale we’ll explore today, by leaping back into the past, to the Age of Enlightenment.


A most precious legacy

Jean-Louis Fargeon comes from a long line of perfumers-apothecaries, renowned for their health concoctions and “beauty perfumes”. He was born in 1748 in Montpellier, the Mecca of French perfumery in the 18th century thanks to its medical faculty, which was the original cradle of perfume creation in the city. There, he acquired the know-how that would allow him to move to the capital, as Jean-Louis Fargeon had dreamed of the grandeur of Versailles since his childhood…

First steps in Paris, first scents met with resounding success

Our young Southerner opened his first Parisian boutique in Rue du Roule, in the 1st arrondissement. Faithful to his dynasty’s reputation, he created care products and perfumes that would serve as inspiration for modern cosmetics. He made numerous products: perfumed gloves, floral compositions, make-up, ointments, invigorating waters, eaux-de-vie, and lavender waters… His shop quickly aroused curiosity and became a temple for Parisian coquettes, while his laboratory soon became a lair for scholars and enthusiasts. But Jean-Louis Fargeon did not forget his childhood dreams, and his ambitions only grew larger. After all, Versailles was only a few miles away…

A very special customer…

Jean-Louis Fargeon met Madame Du Barry, the last favourite of Louis XV, who succeeded Madame de Pompadour. She became his client. Daughter of a seamstress and a monk of the Third Order of Saint Francis, she who was nicknamed “Mademoiselle l’Ange” was initially destined to an ordinary life. But her stunning beauty left no man indifferent, and she was noticed by Louis XV, who offered her to settle in comfortably in Versailles. She was despised for her modest origins and envied by the Court – especially by Marie-Antoinette. Whatever the gossip and rivalries, it was Madame Du Barry who introduced Jean-Louis Fargeon to this new league of potential customers.

Jean-Louis Fargeon, perfumer for Marie-Antoinette and her children

Jean-Louis Fargeon possesses a definite yet uncommon edge to seduce the Queen of France: he knows how to adapt his creations to the tastes and moods of the Dauphine, as he elaborates bespoke scents suited to each circumstance. When the Dauphine gave birth to her first child in 1778, for example, he created an “Eau d’Ange” (Angel Water), gentler and less spirituous than the “Esprits Ardents” (Ardent Spirits) she had enjoyed until then. Jean-Louis Fargeon also perfumed the Queen’s baths with small homemade balls made from incense and blueberry or quince oils. It was said among courtiers that a visit from Marie-Antoinette would always leave a sweet smell of spring behind…

Portrait of Queen Marie Antoinette of France (1755-1793), after 1783. Private Collection. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

After the French Revolution, Jean-Louis Fargeon remained fully devoted to the royal family. He was arrested during the Terror for a case of false Assignats, a fiduciary currency, but was ultimately acquitted on the 9th Thermidor, the day of Robespierre’s fall. Despite these events, he never gave up on his career and signed a treaty of perfumery in 1801 and, above all, became the official supplier for the imperial court. He died in 1806, not without entrusting his precious knowledge to promising young perfumers…

Jean-Louis Fargeon and Gellé Frères: passing down know-how

Jean-Louis Fargeon’s story merged with that of our Maison when he bequeathed his know-how and plant expertise to the Gellé brothers, Jean-Baptiste and Augustin. They in turn opened their first boutique in Paris in 1826 and enjoyed the success we still know today, with the royal brand now perfuming modern queens all over the world.

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