Nina Ricci – Farouche

Nina Ricci – Farouche


The Nina Ricci fragrance line is one that I did not traditionally have much exposure to growing up, as none of the women in my family wore it. I did have a distant aunt who sometimes wore L’Air du Temps, but we’ll save that for another post. No wonder then that the house’s 1973 release Farouche failed to catch my attention until now (there were after all plenty of other fragrances to keep me busy).

I recently purchased an assortment of vintage perfume minis, and one fragrance included in the assortment was Nina Ricci’s Farouche in the Eau de Toilette concentration. While I have a decent knowledge of French, I will admit that I was not familiar with the word “Farouche”. Interestingly, I did not look it up until after I had tested the fragrance several times, fearing it might skew my impression. In that vein, I will keep its meaning silent until the end of the post.

Farouche opens with some fizzy aldehydes adding lift to a soft orange and galbanum melange. While galbanum fragrances generally make weak in the knees, Farouche comes on like a whisper. The heart unfolds to a gentle floral bouquet of jasmine, lily-of-the-valley and geranium, to which iris lends a hint of powder, While carnation and clary sage add a bit of a twist, Farouche’s overall character remains moderate. The fragrance wafts up again after a about an hour or so, revealing a mossy, vetiver base, reminiscent of classics such as Ma Griffe, but executed with a subtle hand.

In fact, my main issue with Farouche was its faint presence, which made an otherwise lovely fragrance with all of the hallmarks of a classic, slightly forgettable in the face of other mossy, green giants. That being said, this lightness of character would make it a perfect scent for someone just starting to explore the genre, as it touches on all of the aspects of a mossy green floral. I can only imagine how lovely the parfum concentration must be, though I have heard that is subtle as well. The Eau de Toilette bottle is lovely, with its slender neck is reminiscent of a swan, while the flacon for the parfum (reportedly made by Lalique) resembles a heart.

And in case you are still wondering (and have not searched for it yourself), Farouche translates as shy. Perfect.

Floral Aldehyde

Notes: Aldehydes, Mandarin, Bergamot, Galbanum, Peach, Honeysuckle, Carnation, Iris, Lily, Clary Sage, Jasmine, Lily-of-the-Valley, Rose, Geranium, Cardamom, Sandalwood, Amber, Musk, Oakmoss, Vetiver.


Guerlain – Nahéma

Guerlain – Nahéma


Still from Benjamin ou les Mémoires d’un Puceau”

“Mon grand-père Jacques m’a dit un jour:

‘Mon petit, n’oublie jamais que l’on crée toujours des parfums pour les femmes qu’on aime, qu’on admire et avec lesquelles on vit’

Et c’est comme cela que tout a commencé.”


“One day my grandfather Jacques said to me

‘My little one, never forget that one always creates perfumes for the women one loves, admires and those with whom one lives.’

And that is how it all began.”

So begins the book “Parfums d’Amour” by Jean-Paul Guerlain, in which he describes the journeys, both literal and figurative, he undertook to arrive at his fragrant creations and the women who inspired him. Although the story behind the inspiration for Nahéma does not appear in Parfums d’Amour, this introduction could not more perfectly describe the fragrance, which along with Jicky, is perhaps among the more well-known of Jean-Paul’s amorous anecdotes.

What would a perfume inspired by the paragon of beauty, Catherine Deneuve, smell of? For Jean-Paul Guerlain, whose 1979 fragrance Nahema was inspired by the award-winning, supremely talented and breathtakingly beautiful actress, the answer was simple. The archetypal symbol of romantic love: the rose. And what a rose he created.

Legend has it that Jean-Paul made 138 attempts at the creation before reaching perfection. Nahéma, which translates as “born of fire” or the “fiery one” is an incredibly ripe, lush rose.  With its plummy and peachy facets, which give the fragrance a fullness and ripeness well beyond a simple soliflore, he achieved a rose so compelling that it takes on a nearly three-dimensional aspect. While rose fragrances are often dismissed as being “old-fashioned”, Hyacinth adds a delicious tension to the fragrance, making this a rose that could never be mistaken for anything less than a sexpot.

catherine deneuve benjamin 1

While I do not find Nahema to be particularly “fiery”, there are oriental aspects which when combined with the ripe fruit notes and Ylang-Ylang suggest a degree of feminine intimacy, not unlike Rochas Femme. Much like a young Catherine Deneuve, Nahéma is inexplicably lush and sensual, like a woman in a crimson velvet gown full of voluptuous curves.

Notes: Peach, Bergamot, Citrus Notes, Aldehydes, Green Notes, Rose, Jasmine, Lilac, Hyacinth, Lily of the Valley, Ylang-Ylang, Peru Balsam, Vanilla, Vetiver, Sandalwood

Robert Piguet – Baghari

Robert Piguet – Baghari

Woman in Fur

While we often have a mental picture of the 1950s as a time of feminine restraint, the fragrances of that era paint a different picture altogether. Perhaps due to the fact that woman essentially inhabited a different sphere than men, far away from stuffy office corridors with their recycled air, their perfumes seemed to have some lifeblood in them. Even the airy aldehydic florals had something hefty lurking within to give them a backbone.

When Francis Fabron’s vintage Baghari walks into a room, she commands attention. The opening aldehydes have a kick to them, as they heave rather than sparkle. The waxy, tallow-like opening has an orange-amber richness similar to Caron’s Nocturnes and Givenchy’s L’Interdit, interestingly another fragrance created by Fabron.

Baghari Robert Piguet

The opening is suggestive of the animalic undercurrent of the fragrance to follow, and while Baghari reveals a bosomy floral bouquet, it shares a complexity with Piguet’s Bandit by Germaine Cellier – the hint of something beneath the surface.

The fragrance, like others of its time, is remarkably well-constructed and gives an impression of roundness and depth, like an embrace from an old friend on a cold night, the scent of her fur tinged with perfume and smoke to create a scent that is more than the sum of its parts, the scent of a woman.

Baghari was reformulated by Aurélien Guichard and while the fragrance is suggestive of the original Baghari, it lacks its driving force and personality. Still, it makes a lovely daytime companion for stuffy office corridors.

Notes: Aldehydes, Bergamot, Citrus, Rose, Lilac, Ylang-Ylang, Lily of the Valley, Jasmine, Vetiver, Benzoin, Musk, Amber, Vanilla.

Balmain – Ivoire

Balmain – Ivoire27115-pierre-balmain-perfumes-1988-ivoire-hprints-com

Elegant and polished like the keys of a piano, Balmain’s 1979 Ivoire perfectly captures the sensibility of its time and of the refined, luxurious fashions of its creator, Pierre Balmain. While the fragrance can go head to head with the big, bold and brash fragrances of the 1980s, it possesses an earthy quality characteristic of the 1970s. While the name Ivoire, French for ivory, conjures for many images of a big white velvety floral, Ivoire is positively green.

From the outset, Ivoire is dense and layered. On my skin, the fragrance does not unfold in the typical top-heart-base progression, rather it unleashes its depths all at once. Ivoire is green, herbal and floral, with a pungent, spicy warmth at its depth. And while the fragrance does take some twists and turns throughout the day, revealing bright citrus and hints of floral underpinned by galbanum, the warmth of oakmoss and musk is ever present. The drydown is a creamy, woodsy and slightly soapy pillow.

I have a small vintage bottle from the 1980s that I take out whenever I want to feel especially elegant in a confident, Chanel No 19-esque  manner, so I was thrilled to see that Balmain had re-issued the fragrance in 2012. While perfumers Michel Almairac and Jacques Flori are certainly talented in their own right, the beauty of the original was unfortunately lost in translation due to restrictions on perfume materials. The re-issued Ivoire leans more toward a straight floral, and feels sharp and unbalanced without the richness that only true oakmoss and musks can bring. And while it does not possess the elegance of the original 1970s ads, the new marketing photos are a knockout.

ivoiredebalmainvisuelpuNotes: green accord, galbanum, bergamot, lemon, aldehydes, lily of the valley, rose, hyacinth, jasmine, carnation, orris, orchid, geranium, cedar, musk, oakmoss, amber, raspberry and sandalwood.

Carven – Ma Griffe

Carven – Ma Griffe


My eyesight is very poor, a circumstance which at times provokes sheer panic at the thought of not being able to read, which is essential in my line of work and my life as I know it. When asked which of the five senses they would give up, people are often quick to sacrifice their sense of smell without taking into consideration the impact this would have on their lives. Aside from the obvious lack of scents, flavors would be gone as well. Think of how many scent-triggered memories and associations you treasure: the smell of a loved one, autumn, holiday cooking – these would all be relegated to the territory of imagination. Indeed, life would take on a flat and somewhat frightening existence, since we often perceive things with our nose well in advance of our eyes.

Imagine how much more terrifying this loss would be if one’s passion and livelihood depended upon it. At the time perfumer Jean Carles created Ma Griffe, he was largely anosmic. Anosmia is condition whereby one loses their ability to perceive odors. Let’s put aside the fact that if any of us tried to create a fragrance with no sense of smell it would probably resemble kerosene, but the fact that this man created a beautiful and unique fragrance is astounding and a testament to his abilities as a perfumer.

The French term “ma griffe” is literally defined as “my claw”. While the fragrance would later be repositioned (both in its chemical composition and its advertising) to fit this definition, it was initially portrayed with the more subtle, figurative translation of Ma Griffe, namely “my signature” or “my label” as in a designer’s label. Ma Griffe was launched in 1946 by the design house Carven. Madame Carmen de Tommaso, Carven’s founder, was a proponent for innovative clothing, meant to suit women in their everyday lives and the house’s “signature” scent clearly reflected these sensibilities.

My main experience of Ma Griffe is of the vintage, and while this does possess an intense, green burst of galbanum and citrus in its opening (I felt I could almost see the green) it quickly offers brief, veiled glimpses of the soft, mossy heart that is to come. Ma Griffe in its original form is not the talon-bearing sabertooth alluded to in later advertisements which depict a woman’s hand clawing deep marks into a man’s back. While its composition and character are assuredly memorable, Ma Griffe is more like a playful feline which gently rakes its nails over your arm and then proceeds to arrange itself cozily in your lap.

While the heart notes feature jasmine and rose, this is by no means a sweet fragrance. More prominently featured are dry and warm facets of iris, musk and oakmoss. Even the vetiver, labdanum and sandalwood take on a tone which is more mossy than woody. While most mossy fragrances offer the impression of rain-soaked forests, Ma Griffe feels more like a walk in the forest on a dry day, when the soaring oaks and ma griffetheir mossy inhabitants are warmed by the sun and give off a dry, slightly powdery musty odor. If you are not a fan of oakmoss or musk, this may be a challenging fragrance. While its character is not overpowering, it is certainly distinct. For me, this fragrance takes me back to hours spent exploring the forest behind my house, in search of magical creatures both real and imagined.

Unfortunately, Ma Griffe has been repositioned into something of a bargain basement fragrance due in part to regulations regarding the use of oakmoss, in addition to financial considerations. The current incarnation plays up the more “aggressive” factors of the fragrance and has unfortunately all but destroyed the velvety drydown. While I cannot recommend the reformulation, I find the original to be exceedingly unique and would wear it more often if my supply of it were not so limited.

Floral chypre

Notes: gardenia, greens, galbanum, citrus, aldehydes, clary sage, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, orris, ylang ylang, styrax, oakmoss, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, and labdanum.

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle – Iris Poudre

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle – Iris Poudre


Iris is one of my favorite perfume notes, so I am constantly seeking out fragrances where it is prominently featured. The 2000 launch of Iris Poudre taught me, however, that not all irises are created equal. Indeed, Iris Poudre, while undoubtedly lovely, is not very iris-like, nor does it contain much poudre (French for powder). The nose behind this fragrance is Pierre Bourdon, the man behind behind such classics as Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros, as well as Feminite du Bois in collaboration with Christopher Sheldrake.

Several have drawn comparisons between Iris Poudre and Chanel No 5, however the aldehydes in Iris Poudre are more evanescent than the sparkling champagne bubbles of Mademoiselle Chanel’s iconic fragrance. Where No 5 is crisp, Poudre is shimmery. While the iris becomes more prominent in the heart, it feels overshadowed and is rendered almost fruit-like by the presence of ylang-ylang, magnolia and jasmine. Absent from Iris Poudre is the metallic tang of iris or its deep, earthy root smell. While the fragrance takes on a delicate, fluffy warmth in the drydown thanks to some delicious, nearly edible amber and musk, I found that the absence of the ghost-like aspects of iris gave the fragrance a slightly two-dimensional feel. A serious contender, but unfortunately not the winner for the top iris fragrance. iris poudre2

Notes: Bergamot, Orange, Rosewood, Ylang-Ylang, Carnation, Magnolia, Jasmine, Muguet, Violetta-Rose, Aldehydes, Iris, Musk, Amber, Sandalwood and Ebony.

Charbert – Ambre

Charbert – Ambre


One of the challenges of vintage perfumery involves researching brands which have not survived the test of popular sentiment. Every once in a while I will stumble upon a fragrance for which I am unable to get much background on, both in terms of its composition or information on the house that created it. When the fragrance is as unique as Charbert Ambre, it can be especially confounding, as there is no explanation for why this house closed its doors, leaving this unique creation all but lost to time.

According to Nigel Groom’s New Perfume Handbook, Parfums Charbert was founded in 1933 by William Gaxton and Herbert Harris. The firm, which was based in New York, produced both perfumes and cosmetics for the middle market of American consumers. The firm had a trademark drum shaped flacon (see photo at right) which housed many of its perfumes, including Ambre. Ambre was released in 1940 and by all accounts, Charbert ceased operating approximately twenty years later in 1963.

Ambre starts off with a soapy, green opening somewhat reminiscent of Lucien Lelong’s Tailspin. These are not the soapy aldehydes of a Chanel No 5, instead, Ambre’s opening feels like the precious little soaps that one sets out in a guest bathroom to give visitors a sense of luxury. Unlike other “green” openings, Ambre feels neither overly sharp or medicinal, coming across instead as fairly soft and warm. The true beauty of this fragrance however lies in its heart and base, which reveals a warm, vanillic amber, soft and velvety smooth. The base reveals subtle hints of spice and woods, but they serve to round out and deepen the amber, without competing for dominance.


For those accustomed to bold amber fragrances such as Serge Lutens’s Ambre Sultan or even L’Ambre des Merveilles by Hermes, Charbert’s interpretation may seem somewhat tame. The fragrance features an average sillage and longevity, making it suitable for wear in various situations and occasions. This makes it an amber fragrance uniquely suited to the Spring and Summer months, when this fragrance category can feel a bit stifling. If anyone out there has more background on Charbert, I would love to hear about it.

Amber Oriental

Notes: Green notes, aldehydes, vanilla, amber, spices, resin, woods and musk.

Coty – Muguet des Bois

Coty – Muguet des Bois


One spray of Coty’s Muguet des Bois and I am instantly transported in time: to afternoon walks in the woods and the innocence of shared childhood secrets. Muguet de Bois was created during one of history’s darkest hours, in 1942 when the dark specter of WWII shrouded the world in darkness. And yet this lovely soliflore (a fragrance based on the scent of a single flower) is the freshest breath of innocence and light imaginable.

Lily of the Valley is often associated with purity and innocence, making it a frequent choice for wedding bouquets. In France, it is customary to give Lily of the Valley as a gift on Fête du Travail, which falls on May 1st, in celebration of Spring. Tradition states that King Charles IX of France was given Lily of the V alley on May 1, 1561, as a good luck charm and he subsequently offered the flower annually to the ladies of his court. Ironically, all parts of the plant are highly poisonous. Even more confounding is the fact that while Lily of the Valley is known and treasured for its distinct aroma, the scent cannot be distilled from the flower and must be painstakingly re-created.

Muguet des Bois opens with a slight bitter green note, reminiscent of a freshly cut stem, which quickly gives way to the soft soapy freshness of Lily of the Valley. While the fragrance is for the most part a singular Lily of the Valley note, there are subtle shades of warmth from jasmine and rose. As the fragrance dries down, there is a suggestion of woods, enough to give the fragrance a bit of depth. A touch of sandalwood and musk also give the fragrance a slightly smoky quality, reminiscent of Summertime picnics. While the fragrance is not as complex as Diorissimo, it is nonetheless lovely and a believable Lily of the Valley. Muguet des Bois would make a lovely Spring or Summertime fragrance, when one is in the mood for something light and uplifting. It is also a perfect bedtime fragrance, promoting dreams of silent forest walks.

Forest_lily_of_the_valley screensaver


Notes: aldehydes, orange, green leaves and bergamot, cyclamen, lilac, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, rose, sandalwood, musk