Josephine Baker, Arpege, and a Decorating Fantasy

In an age when the phrase “style icon” is used to describe virtually any actress or model who hires a professional stylist and receives loans of designer gowns for red-carpet events, it can be hard to remember that there was a time when true, one-of-a-kind stars like Josephine Baker captured the public imagination.

But, to the point: Am I the last person to learn that Josephine Baker’s favorite perfume was Lanvin’s Arpège?

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I don’t remember what exactly I was searching for, but I came across this interesting piece of fragrance trivia…and something even better.

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From 1947 to 1969, Baker owned a fifteenth-century château in France’s Aquitaine region. According to a fascinating article in Departures, Baker personalized her new home, Château des Milandes, with “a shrine, which she named the Jorama, replete with wax figurines re-creating scenes from her eventful life…a J-shaped swimming pool, an experimental farm, and a simulated African village with conical straw huts.” The estate was also open as a tourist attraction, complete with a nightclub and a hotel for visitors.

But, the best part (for perfume-lovers like ourselves):

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Baker commissioned a new bathroom decorated in colors and patterns inspired by the Arpège bottle and packaging. It has been preserved for present-day visitors to admire, and it’s an Art Deco fantasy.

Here’s another shot (both of these photos come from Flickr):

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Whoever designed the room incorporated the glossy black background and brilliant gold details of Arpege’s 1920s packaging, including the solid and broken golden lines that appear below the two figures on the bottle.

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The light blue sinks, tub, and toilet might have been inspired by the color of the puff included with Arpège dusting powder.

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Did Baker really keep this many bottles of Arpège around at once, or did she save the empty boxes? or is this just a fancy of the château’s current owners? It doesn’t really matter; it’s all part of the fantasy.

You can read more about Arpège and its bottle design here, at Bois de Jasmin.

Images: Josephine Baker via Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Lanvin Arpege powder ad (1951) via H-Prints; photos of bathroom at Château des Milandes via Flickr user Petter Grahl Johnstad.

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16 thoughts on “Josephine Baker, Arpege, and a Decorating Fantasy

  1. OMG. That’s like my dream bathroom.

    Arpège is maybe my favorite perfume, if it even makes sense for me to talk about “favorites.” But I’d like the bathroom regardless!

    It’s an interesting historical bit, because wasn’t there a Guerlain perfume inspired by Baker as well?

    1. Arpege is gorgeous. I love the classics, and even though Arpege has been reformulated, it still stands head and shoulders above most fragrances on the market.

      I know that Etat Libre d’Orange released a Josephine-inspired fragrance a few years ago… must do a litle more Guerlain research!

    2. Sous le Vent was created for Baker. Josephine came from my hometown, East St. Louis, IL, one of the toughest and saddest places in the country, looks like she came a long way from it. But then again being born there the only way to go is up, lol

  2. Gorgeous! Just increases my love for Art Deco.
    Now, while I agree that the bottles and boxes may be set decoration, are there really so many for someone who loved the scent? Setting aside the mirror reflections, there are only 2 open bottles — a parfum, and an EdP and while the 3 “back-up” bottles do look more like decor, she wouldn’t be the only person to use pretty packaging to enhance a bathroom, or to have 1 back-up EDP and 2 back-up extraits. (defensively defending perfume duplications!) :-)

    1. Actually, I agree — it’s not *that* many, not for a real perfume-lover, not to mention a woman who lived with such dramatic flair! I *hope* she owned several at all times and applied the scent liberally! :)

  3. Ooh, I love the Arpege-inspired bathroom! It makes me fantasize about a fragrance-themed showhouse, where you would enter each room and try to guess from the decor which perfume inspired it.

  4. I just fainted seeing this bathroom! In my 20s Arpège was my favorite fragrance when wearing black. Art Deco? What more can I say about it except it’s one of my favorite style! I just love the idea of this little “modern capsule” set up in a classic fifteenth century French Château. Now I wish I had that beautiful powder box! :)

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