The 19th Century period we term ‘La Belle Époque’ was a heady mix of artistic creativity, political power and shocking scandal – most of it created by, or orbiting around, the so-called ‘Queens of the Night’. Who were also known as ‘Les Cocottes’…
Stunningly beautiful courtesans worshipped not only for their looks but their singing, dancing and conversational skills, these ladies were the names on everyone’s lips. Celebrities at the height of their fame, they wielded great power along with their many charms. Entertaining to excess, seducing with skill, their antics made headlines around the world, imposing both their style and taste on Europe and far beyond.
Along with the Cocottes’ desire for fabulous clothes from the very top designers, immaculately coiffured and elaborate hairstyles and all manner of gourmet delights to feast upon when they were done with ravishing the men, they set a craze for fine perfumes as beautiful and unusual as they were themselves.
Inspired by these incredibly vivacious and diversely characterful women, Anaïs Biguine (left) – who is also founder of the successful independent, literary-inspired perfume house Jardins D’Écrivains – debuted this fabulously feminine and evocatively opulent range with three unique fragrances based around the most well-known of ‘Les Cocottes’.
‘More than anything,’ AnaÏs explains, ‘I like to study the lives of people who have had a fascinating existence. The Cocottes de Paris, also known as the “horizontales”, were top of the range. They were the first women of their time to claim their freedom. Of course they had “protectors” but these women were doing the choosing – and only princes, kings or rich bankers found favour.’
Continues AnaÏs: ‘They despised mundanity, and in order to differentiate themselves, created a fashion, an attitude, expressed their art – and had perfumes specially made that were more scandalous than those more regularly worn at the time. This connection with character, with seduction, is a dream of a theme for a perfume creator like myself! I completely and utterly immersed myself in this world. I chose three of them because each of them really represented something very different and made her mark on the incredible history of the Belle Époque.’
Of Melle Cleo (1875 – 1966, pictured right), Anaïs comments: ‘Cleo de Merode was considered the world’s most beautiful woman. An absolute star, she captured her contemporaries’ imaginations.’ Whatever Cleo did, wore or purchased was immediately copied; people simply couldn’t get enough of this fascinating creature and wanted to be just like her. Her namesake fragrance seems simple and sweet at first, then blossoms into a complex and nuanced journey – a kind of olfactory choreography with unpredictable variations – much like Melle Cleo herself…
La Belle Otero (1868 – 1965) was ‘a beautiful gypsy with an insatiable nature. The ‘Queen of Elegance’, she was frequented by kings and rich bankers from Paris to New York, St. Petersburg to Monte Carlo. She was the most spellbinding and ruthless courtesan of the Belle Époque.’
Otero was to become one of the most infinitely sought after women in Europe, devoting her days to dancing with abandon, having tempestuous affairs with handsome men, decking herself out in precious jewels, recklessly gambling and throwing wild parties. And her embodiment, in fragance? A musky woody-floral, fusing neroli, pepper, ginger and fig, its heart weaving violet, musk, lavender and narcissus – and with a suitably sensual finale of frankincense, sandalwood and iris.
La Castiglione (1837 – 1899) ‘burst upon the social scene, where she brought a sense of newness; she was perfectly beautiful with a boldness that makes her fashionable,’ explains Anaïs. Virginia Oldoïni, Contessa di Castiglione was famous both for being a spy and Napoleon’s mistress. Almost nocturnal, La Castiglione was deeply mysterious, loving to shock with her striking looks and artful photographs. Inspired by this utterly intriguing character, this fragrance – with its incense, cedar, patchouli and black licorice heart, and its base notes of amber, myrrh and styrax – is, unsurprisingly, suggested to be worn to by candlelight.
And we’re pretty sure that after spritzing Les Cocottes – which capture three utterly engaging women’s characters in fragrant form – you’ll be wanting to kick off your shoes, dance on the tables and beguile all with your charms, too…