Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rochas- Madame Rochas (Vintage Perfume)



In honor of perfumer Guy Robert who passed away this week, I'm using the last drops I have of a very old bottle of vintage Madame Rochas. This fragrance was created in 1960, commissioned by Hélène Rochas and poured into a bottle of her design  five years after Marcel Rochas' death. In 1944 Marcel Rochas had Edmund Roudnitska compose Femme de Rochas in honor of Hélène, his gorgeous teenager bride. In later years she commented (to Time Magazine) that her late husband played Pygmalion with her, and apparently did so with great success, as his still young widow took control of the Rochas brand and as its CEO turned the label into a huge perfume house. She also became a style and etiquette authority in her own right, which explains why in 1960 she wanted to redefine her perfume identity and do it her way.



Hélène Rochas told W magazine in 1984: "Women should have a fragile air, even if they are not". One can agree or disagree with her, but it's interesting to see how this statement reflects in her perfume. The voluptuous Femme, a Mitsouko cousin, could be called many things, but it has no fragile air. As a powerful executive, 33 year old Hélène Rochas chose to go the dainty way with a floral-aldehyde perfume that holds itself high and may have a spine of steel, but it keeps a very proper ladylike facade.

I admit that up until the last decade this entire genre of aldehydic florals (with the exceptions of Chanel No. 5 and Arpege) smelled pretty much the same to me. Up until I started spending some serious quality time with Caleche (a 1961 Guy Robert creation), I doubt I would have been able to tell them apart, and probably also  confused them with the chilly 1969 Paco Rabanne Calandre or 1971 Rive Gauche (neither are buy Robert, but the influence is quite evident). I've reformed since then, and have fully embraced Caleche in vintage extrait de parfum. Madame Rochas is a bit more difficult for me. I perceive Caleche as somehow warmer (yes, I know), while the very distinct muguet note in Madame Rochas sends chills down my spine. Madame Rochas is greener in the top notes, and while the old formula definitely smells mossy it is not a chypre and is less plush.

I wonder if back in the early sixties one of these fragrances was considered younger and more delicate than the other. My money is on Madame Rochas with its silver bells "voice", though interestingly enough it is Caleche that held slightly better through reformulations and the revolving doors of fashion. Madame Rochas is still a crisp floral, a bit soapy (according to Tania Sanchez in The Guide it's a cheap soapy, but I don't have any of the current juice on hand to confirm) and very proper. I know this style is considered dated, but I love the green chill of aldehyde-infused hyacinth and narcissus especially on hot summer days. It doesn't last beyond a couple of hours (might be deterioration due to the bottle's age), but it leaves behind a clean green powdery feel that never turns sour.

Notes (via Jan Moran): hyacinth, neroli, aldehydes, greens, lemon, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, iris, lily of the valley, violet, narcissus, tuberose, amber, cedarwood, sandalwood, moss, vetiver, musk, tonka bean.

Images: vintage Madame Rochas 1960s ads via hprits.com, photo collage of Hélène Rochas from http://theredlist.fr.

7 comments:

  1. I used to steal my mum's Madame Rochas from her dressing table, and as I got older, when I had enough pocket money saved, I would buy myself a little bottle (or ask for it as a Christmas present). I then forgot about it till the early 80s, and then splurged on the perfume and all the accompanying products, like talc and soap. Shortly after it tragically underwent a "makeover" and I couldn't bear it any more. I miss the old Madame Rochas! Jillie

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  2. I don't understand why anyone would want to look like today's starlets or models with their cantaloupe boobs and inner tube lips and exposed... well, everything, when you could be (or at least wish to be) as elegant and mysterious and sophisticated as Helene Rochas. But I guess I'm just an old fuddy-duddy.

    I wear Caleche and adore it. It is both beautiful and bracing. The modern version is much crisper and greener than No. 5, I love it on a summer evening when it's 98º and I still want to feel pulled together. An elegant, snappy, crisp-linen-shift of a floral.

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  3. The phrase "green chill" made me think of YSL Y instantly. I definitely get a frosty, AC-like effect from heavy aldehydes!

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  4. Whenever I go to Europe I get "Eau de Rochas" which is a green, bigarade-like chilly cologne splash and I love it. All the women in Mallorca smell like it in the summer. I adore the Madame Rochas aesthetic! Will have to try it out next time I'm there....

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  5. My mother used Madame Rochas when I was a girl. For me, it was the perfume of mothers, and I planned to use it when older and a mother. I've never done it, but in my late teens I used Rive Gauche and then Calandre because they reminded me of Madame Rochas.

    My mother doesn't use Madame Rochas anymore, now that she's a grandma, she's into Carolina Herrera. Now, I'm a mother, and I wear Caleche, love the stuffe. In Spain, you cannot get M. Rochas anymore.

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  6. When I bought a quarter ounce of Madame Rochas, I got disappointed.
    I expected a full blast of rose, and the luxurious notes to ring in a sensuous way as Guerlain's extraits do.
    Instead, Madame Rochas is very chypre, a vetiver laced one in the austere fashion of chanel no19 (that I admire, but don't fancy). The ingredients smells luxurious, but in "more is more" display that stifles the fun out of it. And the aldehydic "déjà vu" bothers the intricate mysterious mood of it all.
    It makes me feel like old "Miss Dior" : good ingredients, competent structure, but lack of a direction.

    I already owned an Amouage Gold extrait bottle snapped on ebay, and Gold extrait feels to me like a perfected Madame Rochas.
    I stress on the "extrait", because the extra dose of rose in it smoothen the all structure. The edp fall flat in comparison, and is again a more vetiver laced story.
    Gold extrait is blurred but not blah, to sum it up. It still doesn't have a proper direction, but has an evolution and a purpose. Rose and labdanum freshness and jasmine and vetiver that vanishes fast, then a muguet main floral accord that links the opening bouquet to the incense mellatic ground. The drydown is still blurred but makes you breath deep biblical incense like you'd be conveying a religious mood for yourself wherever you go, with echoes of all the previous coumpounds.

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  7. don't these old vintage fragrances get rancid after a couple of years? i wonder how one could still use them after decades!

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