The Stars Are Isles perfumer Sandrine Videault died the other day, and it was a sad thought that someone so very talented should have such a brief stay on earth.  The event also made me realize, how ephemeral are the creations of perfumers.

Her output in fine perfumery, at least, was small.  She created a perfumed “Canticle of the Senses” as a scent installation, recreated the smell of Kyphi for the  Cairo Museum, and did Ambre Indien and Violeta for Esteban and Les Neireides respectively.  But you won’t find either of those scents easily, if you find them at all. Such is the nature of perfumery that fragrances disappear with alarming rapidity, sometimes before you had a chance to register their presence, or that of the perfumer who created them.

You can find Manoumalia which she did for Les Nez, a perfume which was supposed to incorporate a few smells from her native New Caledonia, and the tui-tui with which the indigenous people rubbed themselves during ceremonies, though she said that some of the other ingredients were too rancid for western tastes.*  She may have been correct.  I,  for one, could never wear Manoumalia, though I recognized clearly that it was a scent of place, and intensely evocative of something that I’d never met.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately for us who live in the US, she had completed another perfume with an Australian businesswoman and flower arranger Saskia Havekes** resulting in the fragrance Magnolia Grandiflora, which looks like it is based on the smell of the old Bull Bay magnolias, a wonderfully pre-historic flower with a very idiosyncratic scent.  This was probably just the sort of project that would have attracted Ms. Videault, who seems to have had a genius of sorts for reconstruction whether from nature or history.

She was one of the last young perfumers to be taught by Edmond Roudnitska, as well as (I have read but cannot remember where) Pierre Bourdon, and some of these two men’s wonderfully subtle art came through in her fragrances, less elegant perhaps than Bourdon’s, more elemental than her master Rounitska’s.

Still, I wish I could have encountered more of her scents, and her early demise reminds me of how hard perfumers can labor to catch something so evanescent that it can literally be blown away on a breeze.  In this case, the ineffable atmosphere of place. The creation of beauty, though, is always a good use of time, whether that time is long, or as in Ms. Videault’s case, unfairly short.

Another interview in French can be found here.

* The tui-tui included a bit of the very old LT Piver scent Reve d’Or as a base of sorts.  This information comes from Perfume Shrine which did an interview with  Ms. Videault a few years ago.

**And I’m indebted to Jordan River of Australian Perfume Junkies for posting about Ms. Videault’s last project, Magnolia Grandiflora.

(The blog title comes from Moby Dick:

“…for it was not unlike the custom of his own race, who, after embalming a dead warrior, stretched him out in his canoe, and so left him to be floated away to the starry archipelagoes; for not only do they believe that the stars are isles, but that far beyond all visible horizons, their own mild, uncontinented seas, interflow with the blue heavens; and so form the white breakers of the milky way.”


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2 thoughts on “The Stars Are Isles

  1. A more beautiful tribute could not be written. Thanks for this, for taking time to remember Mrs. Videault’s life work in such a lovely fashion. It’s a weirdly sobering and energizing reminder of the ephemeral quality of life. It makes me want to go out and really live and love in whatever time I have. I think I’ll go find my sample of Manoumalia to fragrance my journey today. Be well.

    • Thank you for your kind comment, and excuse me for getting back a day late but we have construction going on around here and the living room ceiling has just come down! Dust and confusion reign.

      Can’t think of a better way to remember Ms. Videault than through her work. So spritz that Manoumalia and enjoy it to the fullest!

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