No, we don’t talk about table ladies at a dinner. But about women who maintain the tradition of the oldest French perfume house Guerlain (1828). These ‘dames de table’ practice the craft of manually covering perfume or extract bottles.
During this process, called ‘baudrugage’ a membrane is wrapped around the neck of the filled and brushed bottles. Formerly it was a peace of hog’s bladder ! The membrane is entwined with silk or golden threads, then the cord is sealed with a wax cachet. By doing so, the bottle becomes hermetically sealed. The threads are then bearded (barbichage) and brushed (brossage).
Nowadays ten ‘dames de table’ work in the Guerlain Ateliers in Orphin, France. After an internal training of two years they should be able to seal twenty different perfume bottles in the prescribed manner. The time required for the whole process varies up till more than half an hour a bottle!
Last year I visited the Maison Guerlain, 68 Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
That day, two ‘dames de table’ had come over from Orphin in order to work on all kinds of perfume bottles, which were brought to them by several customers.
I met a somewhat older couple who had travelled as much as 160 kilometers, especially to come to the Maison Guerlain. Madame had brought along two antique Shalimar flacons, that had belonged to her mother. The bottles had to be filled with the precious extract, after which the ‘dames de table’ could practice their traditional craft.
Monsieur joined his wife to capture the whole process in photos. After arrival at home the flacons would get a place of honour in the room, which madame had specially arranged for her collection of perfume bottles.
And as monsieur somewhat secretly, but incontestably proud confided to me: “every woman has her own folie (foolishness)”.