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Time in an Ambrosial Bottle

Astier de Villatte's trio of historic scents unite past and present to intoxicating ends.

A photograph of Astier de Villatte Parfums Historiques Shop Astier de Villatte



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MY FIRST ENCOUNTER with the Parisian home decor company Astier de Villatte was nearly two decades ago at the dinner table of an exceptionally chic New York City woman who worked in fashion. With every professional success, she would gift herself a new set of the company’s signature molded plates, which top black terracotta with a milky white glaze.

I have followed her example, using even the slightest excuse to add to my Astier de Villatte collection. I now have plates for four and a soupière, as well as the company’s stationery, printed on the last remaining lead-type press in France. On my last visit to the shop, I succumbed to the scented erasers, thinking I’d introduce my kids to aromatic school supplies. Instead, I kept them for myself. As for candles, it’s hard to pick a favorite: I yo-yo between the dark, smoky turpentine-soaked wood of Balthus’ Studio and the wet, grassy raw wood of Aoyama.

Ivan Pericoli and Benoît Astier de Villatte built their company on respect for Old World refinement and the slow pace of handmade techniques, advancing the French talent of transforming everyday objects into items of casual brilliance. With Parfums Historiques, they’ve taken olfactory prowess to the next level. Working alongside master perfumer Dominique Ropion and perfume historian Annick le Guerer, they have resurrected three sumptuous scents from the annals of history, as detailed in the gilt-edged book that accompanies the three-scent set and which goes deep on obscure plant composition facts and perfume lore.


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Le Dieu Bleu is a reincarnation of kyphi, the ancient Egyptian temple offering to the gods. It’s at once heady and honeyed, blending myrrh (believed to be the sun and sky god Horus’ tears) and yellow broom flower’s woody scent. After the spirituous odor of the altar offerings subsides, a soothing gingery freshness remains, recalling the sun’s reviving powers after a long, cold winter.

The recipe that inspired Artaban, a fragrance that first-century author Pliny the Elder called the “height of refinement,” was originally mixed for the king of Parthia in the first century AD and supposedly worn by Roman nobility. This intoxicatingly layered scent has no fewer than two dozen plant ingredients, sourced from all four corners of the Earth. On the skin, it settles like an unctuous balm and smells how I imagine Messalina or Cleopatra did after a bath of milk and honey.

Sugary yet sublime, Les Nuits was recreated from the dregs of a glass vial belonging to the nineteenth-century writer George Sand, and the perfume exudes roses and boudoirs. Sand, a woman writing under a pen name, was a covert feminist (long before there was such a term) who wrote romantic and highly suggestive novels and enjoyed gender-bending attire. The synthesis of Damask rose, patchouli, and iris — revolutionary at the time — would become a staple of French perfumery. Today it hits like nostalgia. This scent is close to my heart, recalling my cherished mother-in-law, a diehard Parisienne.



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Our Contributors

Polina Aronova-Cahn Writer

Polina Aronova-Cahn is an editor and writer who connects the interrelated dots of culture, style, and conscious living. Her work is focused on lifestyle communication, translating the tools of mindfulness and holistic well-being into approachable yet aspirational stories of deep human connection.

Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator

Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.

Departures and American Express do not provide, endorse, or guarantee any of the items, and the sale of such items is governed by the third-party seller’s policies, terms, and conditions.

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