The Queen of Flowers

The history of women, perfume and the Haut Var are inextricably linked in Alain de Savigny's biographical novel. biographical novel by Alain de Savigny

The Queen of Flowers.

"La reine des fleurs" was the nickname given to her grandmother Charlotte-Jeanne-Marie de Villers-la-Faye, Vicomtesse de Savigny
de Moncorps, Marquise de Rostaing (1848-1932).

Women preparing branches at Europe Mimosa in Mandelieu in 1982 - Photo André Abbe
Women preparing branches at Europe Mimosa in Mandelieu in 1982 - Photo André Abbe

Burgundian origins

Widowed at an early age, she married for the second time the Marquis de Rostaing, owner of the Domaine du Neïsson in Seillans, a village in the throes of serious economic difficulties. It was on these lands, in the early 1880s, that Jeanne de Rostaing decided to breathe new life into the village by creating a flower-growing business whose produce would go directly to the perfumeries of Grasse. She soon expanded the business, transforming the essences into perfumes (not forgetting beauty creams, scented powders, etc.).

Jeanne's third husband, the Vicomte de Savigny de Moncorps, contributed to the expansion of "Parfumeries de Seillans" by making available land he himself had acquired near Neïsson. Thanks to the vision and skill of its founder and her loyal collaborators, the company enjoyed decades of international commercial success. Appreciated by the public in France and around the world, they also won numerous medals at national and international exhibitions.

Not surprisingly, the First World War curtailed the perfumery's activity (although it did develop a few products to relieve war wounds). Early in the war, one of its buildings was transformed into a field hospital at the expense of the owner, who never received the financial compensation initially promised by the French government.

At the end of the war, Jeanne was getting on in years and needed money not only to live on, but also to continue her charitable activities. She therefore decided to sell her perfumery and continued to live at Le Neïsson, which she decided to sell as a life annuity. After the unexpected death of her buyer in the late '20s, the business was taken over by the Chauvet family (who processed lavender in the department still known as the Basses Alpes) in association with a New York firm, Fritzsche Brothers Inc. Alain de Savigny concludes his book by noting the decline of the company from the 1930s onwards, and again during the Second World War.

In the sixty years following the conflict, it resumed its commercial activity, but without the dynamism of its early decades, and eventually disappeared. The novel also evokes the small world of privileged people who, by the 1860s, had made the Mediterranean coast their home. This was the case, for example, of Alphonse Karr, with whom
Jeanne and her husband maintained long-standing ties of friendship and neighborliness. Like him, she owned a house in Saint-Raphaël, l'Oustalet dou Capelan, in what is now the Santa Lucia district. L'Oustalet's claim to fame is that, in the spring of 1866, it was here that Gounod composed his opera Romeo et Juliette.

This fictionalized biography of Jeanne de Villers-la-Faye, Vicomtesse de Savigny de Moncorps, Marquise de Rostaing has multiple interests, but the focus on her professional energy, ambition and talent during a period when the role of business leader was almost exclusively in male hands deserves our attention.

Photo: André Abbe

Other sources

Other sources on Jeanne de Savigny and her company:
An article published in Var Mag' - Le magazine du Conseil Général - N° 134 - August 2008, pp. 6-7.

Information on the death of her second husband does not correspond to what Alain de Savigny
wrote in his book.
A short documentary, with a slide show, by Dany and Claude Poirier on an exhibition
on Jeanne de Savigny organized in Seillans, entitled "Conférence parfumerie de Seillans".

It's interesting to note that the Wikipedia article on Seillans has a section entitled "Personalities linked to the commune" where Jeanne de Savigny's name does not appear. It is possible to make changes, but it is preferable to be registered on Wikipedia, which I am not.

Nadine Bérenguier, February 2023

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