Mystere de Rochas is another one of those green woody chypres with more than a touch of animalic skank that makes the hardcore chypre lovers among us sigh and go crazy on eBay while the normal part of the population secretly wishes we stop kvetching and use up the last drop of our beloved vintage bottle so they don't have to smell it on us ever again.
If you've been around vintage perfume and their lovers enough, the last paragraph should give you a pretty good idea what Mystere de Rochas smells like, but let's talk about it some more. I find the green chypres of the 1970s completely irresistible. Maybe because they're among my first perfume memories (not through my mother, though, who to this day detests them), or simply because I think oakmoss smells amazing. And oakmoss is the first thing I get from Mystere. Dark, tinged with damp earthy dirt and velvety, the oakmoss in Mystere never lets go. There's more to it, of course. The opening offers the green silver wind chymes of galbanum and hyacinth. They pave the way to all that's forest green, cypress and bitter orris. The floral heart is anything but girly or wimpy. I admit that other than the hyacinth and its close pal, narcissus, I find it difficult to identify the individual flower notes- I feel like this about many older perfumes- they are blended into an abstract idea, not a Laura Ashley print. This is why to the modern nose Mystere de Rochas and its ilk, the original Versace and Armani, don't smell particularly feminine. They can easily be worn by a chypre loving men.
The dry-down lasts for the better part of the day and brings you all the oakmoss-patchouli-civet you can take. There's a touch of dark wood that keeps Mystere from going all the way into scary animalic territory. It's crisp enough to be all boudoir but might scare little children too much, especially if all they've smelled so far is the generic modern fruity florals. When I was gathering images for this post I considered using something from the just-released Red Riding Hood movie. It has the right idea and visual, but for the life of me I can't fathom the sweet and stunning Amanda Seyfried wearing Mystere de Rochas, even in her most disturbing role as Lilly on Veronica Mars.
Mystere de Rochas was discontinued years ago, probably even before IFRA took away our oakmoss. You can see from the second ad (1983) how they tried to keep it relevant for the Kajagoogoo generation, but it just didn't work and I'm not surprised. Bottles can still be found here and there, online and in small shops.
Mystere ads from 1980 and 1983- hprints.com
Fashion photo by Helmut Newton for Vogue Paris, September 1971