Monday, May 18, 2009

Hermes Caleche (Parfum)

As a 1961 creation, Caleche has been around nearly a decade before I was even born. thus, by the time I started to be aware of perfumes and the women who wore them, it was already a fairly recognisable classic. I never gave it any more thought than to other aldehydic scents like Chanel No. 5 or Arpege. It smelled soapy and perfume-like and neither my mom, Queen Of White Flowers, nor I, who preferred big orientals, had any reason to keep it around. Chanel, Hermes, Lanvin... they were French, elegant and I probably considered them boring for longer than I care to admit.

Hermès perfumes pre-Ellena might have lacked the marketing concepts and direction that would have put them on the best seller list, but many of them made strong aesthetic statements and were quite iconic in their own way. Caleche, a crisp, well-tailored chypre, is an excellent example of a mostly-extinct perfume style. These scents that used to define femininity would probably be appealing and wearable to a modern man.Caleche is dry, clean and very understated, once you get over the fear of aldehydes and flowers.

The bottles I own are both of the parfum extrait. One is from the early 80s and the other more recent. It's important to note, because just like any other veteran perfume and perfume house, Hermès have reformulated Caleche (and probably more than once).

The differences between my two bottles are quite striking. The older one has a dark streak hiding just behind the prim and proper soapiness. The oakmoss tramples the floral heart quite easily and takes Caleche to secret places. I find it sweeter and a touch more feminine than the newer version, which is decidedly cleaner in the opening and dries own to a warm and pleasant vetiver, albeit pale. The new Caleche feels less French, more no-nonsense and a bit faceless. I still like it well enough to wear it when I need something calm and centering to start my day, but I can't really say that it's an interesting perfume. I guess it's more of a nice relic.

Once again, all of the above is about the parfum extrait. The juice sold as today's Caleche EDT is not even funny.

Caleche in parfum extrait can be found at Hermes boutiques ($130 for 0.25 oz), but both my bottles were eBay finds, which is the way to go for vintage.

Photos of Jeanne Moreau with Annette Stroyberg and Roger Vadim from


  1. Hi, did your parfum bottle from the 80's come with a plastic lid underneath the golden cap? Mine does, the box ref is 5.201 and has an inscription that reads HERMARK CORP. Agent NEW YORK - NY 10022 1 FL. OZ, both on box and on the bottle cap. It is vintage but there was no apparent evaporation which is weird (plastic lid?), the jus is a golden brown, smells aldehydic and clean on top and rapidly veers towards darker and ambery notes in the fond, unfortunately I don't detect oakmoss.


  2. You should smell actual Calèche anew.
    I detect an effort in rose and jasmin extracts in recent years, that's rare for mainstream perfumery!
    I'd call that a late influence of Elena on the quality. The price tag a risen a bit too, even if you calculate the redution of -20% for whatever reason all year long.

    So try again both EDT and soie de parfum. I do like the "soie" one now (flowers!), and almost the EDT (for it's faceless soapy flower dry, falsely retro).
    I can't emphasize enough to get your hand on a fresh tester though. Fresh flowers are dying quick on these shelves.

  3. I forgot : what I like now in it, is that it's very gilded and sunny.

    It's abusively soapy (the "soie" less so, and that's why), it verges on making you seem older, but as Elena masters hesperidic top notes and weightless radience, Calèche can be worn as a long-lasting cologne, or as if you smell of luxury furniture rather being doused in... you know... normal perfumes for the body.


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