France has had a Ministry of Culture since 1959 – incidentally, just a spritz away from Serge Lutens’ boutique, since the Ministry is housed in the 18th-century Palais Royal.
Fashion, design, rock music, comics, the circus, were all brought into the cultural fold in the 80s. But it took another quarter of a century for the French Republic to acknowledge that perfume, too, was a form of art, and a major contribution to French culture.
Somehow, I’m not surprised that it was the current Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, a writer, filmmaker, television producer and talk-show host, who finally invited perfumers in. And not a moment too soon, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Société Française des Parfumeurs.
Yesterday afternoon, the order of “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres”, a honorific title given to those who have illustrated themselves in the arts and letters, was bestowed to five seasoned perfumers, diplomatically selected to represent the Big Five: Daniela Andrier (Givaudan), Françoise Caron (Takasago), Olivier Cresp (Firmenich), Dominique Ropion (IFF) and Maurice Roucel (Symrise).
The Minister made a beautifully written, well-documented speech (kudos to his ghostwriter). The newly-minted “Chevaliers” each spoke a few words: Daniela Andrier defended creative freedom but admitted her mouth had gone dry; François Caron, with tears in her eyes, simply dedicated this honor to the memory of her recently deceased parents; her brother Olivier Cresp promised he’d go on surprising us; Dominique Ropion read a speech in which he swears he slipped a couple of spoonerisms, which he is renowned for making; Maurice Roucel was down-to-earth and droll, and took a moment to photograph the audience, the Minister and himself.
What will this ceremony change for the industry? Will the Ministry move at last to protect still-extant masterpieces of the past and grant them a status as national heritage, so that they can be exempted from regulations and restored to their former glory? Will the matter of authorship be addressed? Will there be funds and resources allocated to exhibitions, historical research, preservation of heritage and archives? Will the Osmothèque get more support so that it can at least open a branch in Paris?
For the moment, it is a symbolic gesture, but most perfumers I spoke with told me they were deeply moved, and hopeful. And also a little parched, since champagne ran out early. And peckish since the “canapés” were too weird to eat. So guests trickled down to see the exhibition curated by Annick Le Guérer in the Ministry’s windows, which includes atomizers of historic scents reconstituted by the Osmothèque, such as Patou’s Moment Suprême or Rigaud’s Un Air Embaumé.
One of the first people I ran into as I was lining up to give my invitation was Michel Roudnitska. As Frédéric Mitterrand spoke, I watched him taking pictures – he is a photographer as much as he is a perfumer. And I couldn’t help thinking of his father, who fought long and hard for perfumery to be considered as an art.
Edmond Roudnitska, who the Minister called “the figure of the Commander” in an oblique reference to Mozart's Don Giovanni
– never got an honorific decoration. But his spirit was surely hovering under the gilded moldings.
“Le Ministère est au parfum” exhibition, Jan. 23 to March 18
It was about time to do so. I just hope it doesn't stay only by this.RépondreSupprimer
Civava, as I said, it's really just a symbolic gesture at this point. And, well, I didn't want to rain on the parade, but Shakira also received the same honor recently...RépondreSupprimer
Shakira received this honor for perfume?? I hope not, I hope it was for her dancing, she is an amazing dancer.RépondreSupprimer
Marla, no, she was named "Chevalier des arts et des lettres" by the French Ministry of Culture. What I meant is that the medal is handed out to a fair amount of people, including a few whose contribution to French culture is not glaringly obvious.RépondreSupprimer
Shakira as a treasure of French culture?? I admit I am confused. Though I'm sure a lot of young French dudes would be happy to tell me why she is indeed their treasure! And the world is more confusing to me every time I read the news these days....RépondreSupprimer
Marla, well... sprinkling a little stardust on the Ministry and spreading goodwill in other countries is, I suppose, all good for PR.RépondreSupprimer
That was a marvellous report - many thanks. How very human the perfumers sound. Pity about about the catering!RépondreSupprimer
Annemarie, as it turns out, was a piece of gastronomical performance art, but we only found out after being given our "goody bag" -- the exhibition booklet, plus the acknowledgments for the buffet. Had I know that, I might have approached the food with a different attitude. But frankly, milling about and socializing isn't quite the way to appreciate experimental cuisine, is it? I don't think many perfumers caught on either... and yes, they're *very* human!RépondreSupprimer