Thursday, October 01, 2009

Parfums Grès Cabochard (Vintage)

Some reviews write themselves. You look up the launch year of Cabochard by Parfums Grès(1959, the perfume's advertisements from different years (the ones I used here are from 1966, 1974 and 1985) and the note list (bergamot, mandarin, galbanum, ylang ylang, jasmine, Bulgarian rose, clove, oakmoss, tobacco, musk, iris, sandalwood, vetiver, leather, castoreum, patchouli and labdanum) and you know the whole story. Cabochard is a leather chypre of the kind that is no longer made and will never be seen again because of IFRA.

Cabochard has the same cheekbones as Bandit, though not as outrageous. It's aesthetics is so different than what we consider feminine and refined today that I'd be interested to see how young women (college age, for example) who grew up in the age of empty aquatics and reformulated perfumes would react to something so strong and uncompromising. Other than feeling old, it made me think of something photographer Richard Avedon said about Dovima, the stunning model who ruled the 50s and retired in 1962:

“The ideal of beauty then was the opposite of what it is now. It stood for an extension of the aristocratic view of women as ideals, of women as dreams, of women as almost surreal objects.

It's a good reminder both of the period as well as of some of the best reasons not to idolize it. After all, we all love watching Mad Men and picture ourselves in the clothes, cars and old New York, but none of us really want to switch places with Don and Betty. But just as much of the fashion then was heartbreakingly beautiful, so were the great perfumes, and vintage Cabochard is a perfect example.

I have several bottles of both parfum and eau de toilette from various years, mostly 70s and 80s. Each smells a bit different, due to age, formula changes and who knows what else. All have the same galbanum green storm that is somehow tempered with beautiful citrus. In a couple of my bottles the citrus smells off at first, before whatever is left of it settles on the skin. Then there's smoke, a multi-layered tobacco note, an abstract (and somewhat perverse) floral hint and the glorious leather chypre base.

Returning to the Mad Men reference (obsessed? me?), Cabochard is something I could picture Rachel Menken wearing. From her statement hats and tailored outfits to her looks and personality.

Parfums Gres is no longer what it used to be, and I have a feeling that Madame Grès, a real couturier who created exquisitely draped gowns, wouldn't have been happy to know how the formulas were cheapened and the perfume mutilated again and again. The current EDT, sold at mall kiosks and discount stores for around $22 has very little to do with the real thing, just as the clothes you'd find at similar stores are not exactly Madame Grès. In The Guide, Luca Turin put it perfectly: "This is Cabochard chewed down to a frazzle by accountant moths".

Vintage bottles (the ones with the abstract black and white pattern) can still be found here and there, though their price on eBay has been climbing steadily. An EDP (in the new glossy black box) was available some years ago and is not a bad buy- it retains quite a bit of the original character.

Cabochard ads-
Mad Men photo-
The Errant Æsthete
Model Suzi Parker in a Madame Grès gown by Richard Avedon, 1957-


  1. Wonderful points you make about "Mad Men." I too am an obsessive fan, but also remember what a panty girdle felt like, as here in the Deep South we were expected to begin wearing them at age 14 or so. Also getting up an hour early to properly style your hair for work or school. And on and on. And, more than me, my mother, with the traditional girdles, garter belts, armored bras and bunion-inducing shoes.

    The clothes and styles were beautiful, though, and the perfumes too. I think that of all the vintage scents, the leathers would seem the most foreign to young women raised on synthetic frooty florals. They are from a different world.

  2. This is one vintage perfume which I refuse to search for and break my heart over: it used to be my (very tender) mother's signature scent along with Dioressence (equally ruined). It's really heart-wrenching smelling it and I can't get over it...too bad.
    Loved the way you wrote about it.

    Weren't people in the 50s and 60s looking like they all stepped off the sets of some film? Everything looked in place. Take even a modern woman or man (like in Mad Men, lovely ref) into the fashions of the era and they look like they escaped RKO pictures!

  3. I have some vintage cab. coming in the mail soon, can't wait. Thanks for writing about it.

  4. Hi, I have a bottle of Cabochard in its original presentation box. It is a 2 oz. bottle that is still half full. Unfortunately the grey bow is missing, but the fragrance still smells amazing. The bottle and box are not marked Eau de Parfum or Eau de Toielette. The bottom of the box is marked REF 160. Is this likely to be and EDP instead of an EDT?

  5. Can someone tell me how to distinguish between the vintage eau
    de parfum and the parfum? Not by smell but by bottle or box. Did Madame Gres choose a different bottle for the eau de parfum?

  6. I wear the current EDP (is that not in production anymore?) and it really is a lovely perfume even now. I haven't tried the EDT and I have a feeling I don't want to.

  7. I wore this amazing scent while modeling during the 60's and 70's. It was all I wore and part of me. There is a similar scent now but only in a EDP, I wish they made it in real perfume. Test sniff "Eau de Soir" by Sisley, Paris. I found it by accident in a free sample from Neiman Marcus. It took me back a few decades and its all I wear now.


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