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Image / Editorial

Perfumers have recreated a scent found in a 150 year old shipwreck

by Holly O'Neill
23rd Jul 2020

A perfume bottle found in a 150-year-old shipwreck has been recreated as a contemporary scent

In 1864, Mary Celestia, a Civil War blockade runner headed to North Carolina’s Confederate forces sank off the south coast of Bermuda. Almost 150 years later, in 2011, marine archaeologists examining the shipwreck found, nestled together, some shoes, wine and perfume, reports Atlas Obscura.

After 150 years at the bottom of the ocean, save for some mineral deposits on the bottle, the perfume was perfectly intact and clearly etched with the words “Piesse and Lubin London.” Dr. Philippe Max Rouja, Bermuda’s Custodian of Historic Wrecks brought the bottle to Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, the owner of local boutique perfume store Lili Bermuda.

She recognised the name immediately. “In the 1800s, London was a center of the perfume industry and Piesse and Lubin was the name of a prominent perfume house on Bond Street,” she told Atlas Obscura.“It was a perfume that Queen Victoria would have worn.”

Related: NASA are releasing a fragrance that “smells like space”

Ramsay-Brackstone reached out to her friend and fellow perfumer Jean Claude Delville of Drom Fragrances and they began working on a kind of DNA test on the perfume bottle, with a process called gas chromatography that can read the molecular composition of a scent and state the associated chemical compounds.

The perfume’s scent was a blend of orange, bergamot, grapefruit, orris, rose and sandalwood (think Chanel’s Coco Noir) with ‘animal notes’ of civet and ambergris.

Obviously, perfume has evolved over the last 150 years, so they worked to find modern alternatives to the animal-sourced ingredients and different solvents, as the perfume of the 19th century was designed to be worn on clothes and to mask the stench of London, and would be irritating for the skin.

Still, they wanted to achieve the perfume’s exact aroma. “We didn’t want to recreate just a modern version of the fragrance. We wanted to stay true to the original scent,” said Delville.

After 110 iterations, the scent was reborn and named Mary Celestia.

Curious about how Queen Victoria might have smelled in the 19 century? You can pick up a bottle online from Lili Bermuda for €113.

Lili Bermuda Mary Celestia, €113

Photography by Unsplash and Lili Bermuda.

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