VERSAILLES, France - When Francis Kurkdjian, one of France's premier perfumers, set out to re-create a fragrance of Marie Antoinette's, his greatest fear was that it would stink.
After all, he reasoned, the 21st-century nose might have little tolerance for the potent potions that the famous queen and her court used to mask the smells of their opulent but odiferous 18th-century environs at the Chateau de Versailles.
Sillage de la Reine ("In the Wake of the Queen") - an amber essence of jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose, iris, cedar and sandalwood - was released for public sale in December.
The deluxe version, 81/2 ounces in numbered Baccarat crystal flasks, costs $10,500. At that price, it is locked in a vault, available for purchase only via the Internet. For aristocratic pretenders with less princely pockets, a crystal phial containing just under an ounce is available for $450 in the chateau gift shop.
"It's a real queen's perfume," said Elisabeth de Feydeau, a historian and professor at the Versailles School of Perfumes, who made possible the revival with her discovery of the recipes for Marie Antoinette's favorite fragrances among musty boxes of centuries-old documents warehoused by the French government. "It's very luxurious. The person who buys this perfume wants to own something a queen should have."
The floral bouquet carrying the moniker of the queen, who was beheaded in 1793 during the French Revolution, has become one of the chateau's most elaborate commercial marketing ventures in recent years. Ten bottles of the $10,500 Baccarat were produced, and five have been sold, including one to Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, who also purchased 25 of the smaller perfume phials, Versailles spokesman Jean-Francois Quemin said.
The chateau is using the proceeds to buy Marie Antoinette's ornate wooden traveling case from a collector for $455,000.
Historian Feydeau said her initial suggestion to friend Kurkdjian that he try to replicate a fragrance from more than 200 years ago met with an adamant: "Impossible, impossible. It would be too expensive."
"You can play music from the 18th century. You can restore paintings. Why not try to re-create a perfume from the 18th century?" asked Feydeau, 40, who spent two years researching the book that was the perfume's inspiration, A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer.
Kurkdjian, 37, who had made his name designing fragrances for Guerlain, Christian Dior and Elizabeth Arden, began studying 18th-century perfume materials and techniques. Only natural ingredients; no synthetic scents like those used today.
He and Feydeau researched Marie Antoinette's favorite flowers - roses, jasmine, orange flowers, tuberoses - and pored over the notes of the palace perfumer, Jean-Louis Fargeon, who insinuated himself into the court at Versailles creating perfumes, soaps and pomades for the royals.
Reading the words of the queen's personal perfumer - "fruity, heavy, flowery" - Kurkdjian began developing "an olfactory sketch in my mind, more of a feeling than an actual recipe," he said.
"The biggest difficulty was to explain to the responsible people at Versailles that it wasn't an historical perfume," he said. "Usually at Versailles, you restore something, you find the right piece of wood, you re-create something the same way it was."
But the perfume "is something Marie Antoinette could have worn. . . . We're not sure she did."
Kurkdjian used rhizomes from a Tuscan iris - cured for five years, just as they were in the queen's day - and the highest-quality essences and oils.
After six months of floral experimentation, Kurkdjian said, he reached "a point when what you have in front of your nose matches what you have in your mind."
Does "In the Wake of the Queen" capture the true essence of Marie Antoinette?
"It's not the perfume of the queen," Feydeau said. "In the 18th century, you weren't just a Chanel No. 5 woman. You had many perfumes because you couldn't keep the essences very long."
The chateau describes it as representing "the olfactory preferences of the young queen."
Feydeau said the perfume - which bursts out of the bottle in a bouquet of competing scents, then after a couple of hours of wear settles into the fragrances of a summer evening in a lush garden - turned heads and elicited compliments when she wore it to events at the chateau.