Somewhere, maybe between magnolia and vanilla, is your scent. Only your nose — with a little help from Bourbon French Parfums — can discover it.
The perfumery, established in 1843 by August Doussan, normally caters to New Orleans’ leading families. But on June 4, it came to the West Baton Rouge Museum in Port Allen.
Mary Eleftorea Behlar stood behind a table filled with brown bottles, explaining the perfumery’s history. She bought the business in 1991 from Alessandra Crain, who inherited it from her grandmother, Marguerite Acker Beauregard. Beauregard bought the business from her employer, Doussan. The Bourbon French Parfum Co. continues to do business in the French Quarter on the corner of Royal and St. Ann.
Behlar and her assistant, Anne Hall, separate their box of scented oils into categories of florals, spices and powdery. They often conduct scent-blending sessions outside the shop, many times for bachelorette parties.
This session coincides with the museum’s exhibit, “A Louisianians’s Grand Tour of the Belle Epoque,” which follows 25-year-old Aurelie Levert’s 1900 trip to Europe. The show runs through July 20.
Levert grew up on St. Delphine Plantation in West Baton Rouge Parish. Her trip took her to the World Exposition in Paris, which included the latest advances in perfumery.
“We use natural scents whenever possible,” Behlar says. “But we’re limited by regulations.”
Audience members — 24 women and a tag-along husband — keep their eyes fixed on the bottles, which are full of possibilities.
A one-on-one session at the shop usually costs $80. Once the scent is blended, it’s kept on record.
“Forever,” Behlar emphasizes. “We consider ourselves a living museum.”
When Behlar evacuated New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she grabbled only her records of clients’ scents.
“Everything else could be replaced,” she said. “The records couldn’t.”
The scents can be made into creams, powders and colognes. Each in the group received only a small vial of their mixtures on this day.
Only five people at a time were allowed at the table, each receiving individual attention. Sweet smells filled the museum’s Brick Gallery as bottles opened.
Everything is based on preference. If a client likes a certain scent, it’s set aside. When the collection finally comes together, Behlar and Hall squeeze a few drops of each into the vial, then mix them with a good shaking. The result is something as unique as the wearer.
“It’s something that only you can wear,” Behlar explains. “This scent will not smell the same on anyone else. This was made only for you.”
Bea Gyimah agreed. The Baton Rouge Community College English professor attended the session because of her interest in historical and cultural programs. She walked away with something that’s become a part of her own history.
“The process wasn’t difficult,” she says. “There came a point when I knew the scent was right. I knew I didn’t want to add anymore, and I love the essence of it. I’m pleased with how it turned out.”
Somewhere between vanilla and magnolia, was Gyimah’s scent.
“It’s uniquely my own,” she says. “It’s my own signature fragrance.”