Henri the faithful friend

Henri Barbas was born in 1907 into a family of chemists. Both his father and uncle worked with the Curies. Henri was a timid boy who gave off a lot of charm, although he didn’t really realise it. His parents lived in a sweet little house with a garden, not far from rue d’Assas.

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He spent a lot of his time in time in the Jardin du Luxembourg and met Suzanne when they were only 10 years old. A solid friendship was born between them, something that would last their entire lifetime. It is together that they got to know the “spoilt trio” as they cheekily called Odette, Charles and Serge, who all came from very wealthy families.

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Henri was fascinated by Serge from the first time he set eyes on him, but the decorum and taboos of the era stopped them from ever becoming a couple. Serge’s numerous attempts to advance their relationship went unnoticed, mostly because of Henri’s timidity, and so a deep and rather exclusive friendship evolved between the two boys, continuing through their adolescence. They were inseparable, and often seen accompanying Odette from nightclub to fashionable nightclub. Going their separate ways after a night on the town was always a tender, joyous but frustrating affair.

Henri was a brilliant student, and his family had hoped he would become a great chemist, a suggestion Henri entertained with little enthusiasm.

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Henri’s uncle left to work in Munich with Bruno Storp, taking part in the adventure that was to become the Maison Drom, creators of fragrances for the biggest perfume manufacturers. Henri went to visit him during the summer of 1924.

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His uncle had started off in the company as a simple chemist, but very quickly M. Storp noticed his talent for scents and the ease with which he could create a fragrance. Henri stayed at his uncle’s side the whole time he was there, fascinated by this professions he know nothing about. His uncle allowed him to create his very own fragrance. Henri decided to call it « le Baume ».

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Returning home from Munich with his precious creation, Henri decided he would become a perfume creator. He concentrated on succeeding in his chemistry studies, and passed with honours. After this, his father allowed him to become an assistant in his laboratory while Henri waited to enter the chemistry faculty.

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However, Odette had a few connections in some famous fashion houses, and managed to get him a job first at Jeanne Lanvin, then Coty and finally Patou.

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Henri however very soon became frustrated, believing his talent to be underexploited. Shortly after Serge left for Shanghai, Henri decided to stop everything and study horticulture at the Ecole du Breuil, followed by the Potager du Roi.

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In 1928, he definitively left behind the crazy nightlife of Paris and moved to a house on the edge of the Marne river, paid for by the generous amount of money left to him by his uncle who had died prematurely in a fight in Munich, in which he defended a rabbi being attacked in the street by members of Adolf Hitler’s party. Henri started working on a number of varieties of plants and trees, founding a horticultural company that supplied quite a few of the gardens and terraces of the 5th and 6th arrondissements, once again thanks to Odette, his ambassador of sorts.

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Although he had left town for the suburbs, Henri stayed in contact with his friends. Odette often came to hide away in his superb house (where she even had her own room) and Charles was a regular visitor for long walks along the Marne. Suzanne wrote to him regularly, telling of her adventures in the USA, and she used his services when choosing the plants for the Hôtel Jardin de l’Odéon and its terraces. Claudine also often enjoyed the calm in Henri’s home, and found him to be both a discrete and faithful friend. Although drafted into the war, Henri quickly returned after receiving a leg injury. However, he became very active in the resistance movement, and his house became a hideout for numerous companions on their way to England. Henri remained in contact with everyone, even if life slowly obliged the friends of the Odeon group to drift apart.



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