Guerlain, Jean Patou and Joan of Arc : Intriguing Article

Perfume experts have helped prove that relics thought to have been those of Joan of Arc are forgeries made from an Egyptian mummy – by sniffing them. … when Sylvaine Delacourte from Guerlain and Jean-Michel Duriez from perfume maker Jean Patou sniffed the charred relics, they smelt hints of vanilla and burnt plaster, according to Nature, which published the study today. The plaster smell was expected, because the 19 year-old was burnt as a witch on a plaster stake to prolong the spectacle for the audience, but vanilla smells are not created by cremation. Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist who led the study, said: ‘Vanillin is produced during decomposition of a body. You would find it in a mummy but not in someone who was burnt.’ ” Read the rest of this fascinating article in LifeStyleExtra UK News. Thanks to Karen for the link.


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  • Elle: Absolutely fascinating! Thanks for the link. Who knew that there were such distinctive smells from corpses from different time periods? And that a decomposing body can produce a vanilla smell. I’ll remember that next time I’m in Sephora and there are umpteen dozen vanilla scents around me. But quite disturbing that innocent cats were thrown on those bonfires for witches. OK, the witches were innocent too, but I’m still bothered by the cats being sacrificed as well. April 6, 2007 at 4:44pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, I felt exactly the same way when I first read the article. Poor cats… Just the other day I was at the pet shop looking at kittens. An owner remarked that nobody wants the black ones, therefore, they end up adopting and keeping them as store pets. I actually would want a black cat, when I finally manage to get one.

    Vanillin as a by-product of decomposition struck me as a fascinating fact. Who knew! April 6, 2007 at 6:05pm Reply

  • Tommasina: I’m also fascinated by the vanillin thing. Both my husband and my father have commented on the ‘corpse-like’ smell of Tazetta paper white narcissi grown by me and by my mother; and my husband is likely to know, in a way, being a minister (that sounds bad but I hope you know what I mean!). Both men said that the smell is one, to them, of putrefaction. I suppose they *may* be picking up the indolic quality of narcissus; but then again, neither of them has that reaction to, for example, gardenia or jasmine. Both have extremely good noses (at least for wine), too. April 7, 2007 at 5:47pm Reply

  • History is full of frauds when it comes to relics, but the way the truth was sniffed out in the case of the alleged remains of Joan of Arc shows that perfumery is as much a science as it is an art. Perfume fact: vanillin is derived from wood pulp and petro and used in perfumery. Japanese scientists at the International Medical Center of Japan have found a way to extract vanillin from (hold your breath)– cow dung. It will not be permitted in food, as traditionally derived vanillins, but it could be permitted in perfume. I guess the old saying, your s*@# smells like roses will now be, your s*@# smells like ice cream 😉 April 8, 2007 at 10:38am Reply

  • k-amber: Wow, very interesting stories by Tommansina and I enjoyed them very much.

    Kaori April 9, 2007 at 3:04am Reply

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