The love story of Napoleon and Josephine is one of the most well-known. When they met, he was a young French General while Josephine was a widow with two children. Her husband had been guillotined during the Terror and she herself had narrowly escaped death thanks to the fall and execution of Robespierre. Napoleon fell madly in love with her and the two got married.
Their love story didn’t start well, as Josephine didn’t like Napoleon much at first and cheated on him, and ended in divorce, but the two nonetheless remained devoted to each other. When Napoleon died, his last word was “Josephine”. Hers was “Napoleon”. Tragic, isn’t it? We are all acquainted with their story, their accomplishments and their fall from power, but what is less known is that this imperial couple left their mark in the history of fragrance too.
Scented baths and perfumes
Like all women, Josephine loved perfumes and scented baths. She often treated herself to luxurious baths infused with Houbigant’s ‘Quelques Fleurs’, the first true multifloral scent ever made. Her favourite floral notes were rose and violet (the latter was a favourite of Napoleon as well), which are beautiful and feminine, but she also loved sensual exotic scents that included musk, vanilla and cinnamon.
Josephine also introduced Napoleon to perfumes and scented baths, and he soon found out he loved to smell good. He preferred citrusy scents such as Aqua Admirabilis, created by Gian Paolo Feminis, which is said to be the first coulogne ever made, and Eau de Cologne by Houbigant, which he used every month for rubdowns. Once on the throne, Napoleon would commission unique scents for him and his wife too. But let’s start from the beginning.
Le Vainqueur and L’Imperatrice
Jean Francois Rancé was a talented perfumer. His company had become famous for his perfumed gloves which were loved by the aristocracy and, in 1795, Rancé decided to turn entirely to perfumery. He was also an admirer of Napoleon and created several fragrances inspired by him such as L’Eau d’Austerlitz (The Water of Austerlitz) i La Gloire a l’Aigle Francais (Glory to the Eagle of France). His creations were modern and refined and soon won him the attention and recognition of Napoleon and Josephine.
Legend has it that before his coronation, Napoleon asked Rancé to create two fragrances, one for him and one for Josephine. He specifically asked the perfumer to make sure that his fragrance didn’t overshadow and overpower Josephine’s when they were in the same room, but they also had to be in harmony so that, when the two lovers came together, they would merge to create a whole new and unique scent. Napoleon’s scent was called Le Vainqueur (The Victor), while Josephine’s L’Imperatrice (The Empress). It was presented to her in a beautiful Sevres porcelain box.
I’ve also heard a different version of the story. It says that Rancé had created Le Vainquer for Napoleon and Josephine liked it so much that she asked the perfumer to create one for her too. Personally, I tend to believe the first version but, whatever their origin, all the courtiers fell in love with the scents and wanted to smell like the imperial couple. Napoleon though wanted exclusivity and demanded the perfumes not be released for 200 years after the coronation!
The time was up in 2004 the two fragrances were relaunched. L’Imperatrice was renamed Josephine while Le Vainquer retained its name and they can both be bought on europerfumes.com and retail at $135 and $120 respectively. I’d really love to try Josephine. And you?