Friday, July 26, 2013

Carven- Ma Griffe (Vintage Perfume)

Ma Griffe in vintage perfume formulation is a joy for those of us who love floral-green chypres with a healthy dose of yesteryear. Oakmoss, aldehydes, orris and a good solid dry base that fits a fashion house founded by a designer who trained as an architect. Like Carven fashion itself, Ma Griffe didn't invent the wheel when it was launched in 1946. It couldn't eclipse its contemporaries from Robert Piguet, Balenciaga, or Dior, which have all made a certain statement, but it brought this particular style to perfection.

I always think of green aldehydic perfumes as very French. Ma Griffe has the same quality that combines the urban elegance of great shoes, a beautiful powder compact that's housed in a timeless handbag (where there's also a spare scarf in case you need to tie your hair back). The sharp greenery with a hint of soap was later in the 1970s translated as an outdoorsy-sporty fragrance, which was captured in many of the newer print ads; but back in the day, Ma Griffe and others like it were simply elegant feminine perfumes. They were womanly and went well with the beautiful suits and dresses produced by Carven.

Wearing vintage Ma Griffe today is very pleasurable for me. My old extrait de parfum is heavy on the powder, oakmoss, and labdanum. The tender floral heart has faded a little, eaten alive by earthy orris, but the dry-down on all its glorious oakmoss has survived like an old sitting room that had all its treasures covered and preserved for decades. The sensuality of the base notes spreads and amplifies on my skin and has a wonderful longevity, even if the sillage is low. The late dry-down has quite a bit of vetiver which reminds me of some versions of Caleche,  dry but with some fire in its core. Mostly, Ma Griffe is a classic chypre and is worth your time (it's relatively easy to track down old mini bottles) if that's your thing.

Ma Griffe has probably gone through several reformulations over the decades. I've had several minis and concentrations and they varied not only in their state of well-being (sometimes the top notes were completely gone) but also in the dominant part: green and greener, soapy or sensual, more oakmoss or more vetiver. Carven and Ma Griffe with it were re-booted in 2008, but I haven't tried the newest version. Please comment if you have: is it as good? Does it resemble the old stuff?

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  1. Asafoetida is listed as a note in Ma Griffe, which may explain why my 1st reaction to an uncertain vintage from ebay was, "call the gas company, the stove's about to explode!" Asafoetida contains mercaptan, which is added to otherwise odorless natural gas precisely for it's fetid smell. Other qualities of Ma Griffe are indeed splendid, but that one note, well, I just cannot get past it.

  2. this is the perfume my mother wore when i was a little girl, and for the longest time, i thought it wasn't as glorious on me as it was on her - it really was "her" perfume. she also wore joy and my sin, but this is the one i remember her applying when she and my dad would go out.

    there was a lousy, watery reformulation of this in the mid or late '90s - it was a pale ghost of the scent. but the latest edp is really not bad at all. it actually smells like ma griffe.

    i prefer my vintage extrait, which has held up quite well, but if i want an easy hit of ma griffe, i reach for the newest edp.

    sadly, my mother, who is losing her memory (and refusing to admit it) doesn't remember ma griffe. oh, well. i do.


  3. Ahh Ma Griffe, one of my favorites. A former co-worker wore it so very well, I am always reminded of her when I smell it.

  4. Contrary to popular belief and opinion, perfumes are meant to be
    worn within one or two years at the most once opened. Some of course will hold up a bit longer than that; but to expect them to stay the same for fifty years or so is rather naive. They will change in time and lose their original punch, or will 'turn' as the popular phrase terms it; in addition, most having been reformulated to comply with current laws concerning ingredients.

    I think I read once that Ma Griffe was one of Vivien Leigh's favourites. I never enjoyed the fragrance myself, but it was popular and beats a lot of what passes for perfume today.

  5. I first smelled Ma Griffe in the early 70's as a scent strip in Seventeen magazine, when I was a high school senior. I thought it was the most exquisitely beautiful perfume I had ever smelled, but sadly, it didn't return the love. Every time I tried it on my skin, it somehow "turned" and became harsh and unpleasant. For some reason, something in my skin chemistry clashed horribly with Ma Griffe (by the way, ma griffe is French for "my signature" in the sense that an artist signs his or her work). Reading your blog does bring back memories of that first unrequited perfume-love.

  6. Dear Non Blonde
    The present day Ma Griffe to my mind is not bad at all.
    It has that abstract quality that both the best greens and certain aldehydes possess.
    Wearing it is almost like watching the world through vert gauze.
    A word of warning though, a anatomist friend of mine says that it smells exactly like cadavers. Not unpleasant to his way of thinking but others may have their own view on resembling the scent of a preserved corpse!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  7. i know this was a post about perfume. BUT! i cannot stop staring at that amazing carven coat! with the sleeves, the SLEEVES! i find myself seriously considering if i could commission such a coat. so elegant and striking. oh, Gaia, you have started something here.

  8. I recently came across two bottle of Ma Griffe at an estate sale - one is the vintage parfum of which there was only about 10% remaining and the other is the Eau de Cologne (splash)which was full and still sealed. I'm not sure how old this latter bottle is, as both came in boxes that were beautifully clean and well preserved but the cologne does look newer. Anyhoo, I first tried the parfum and was instantly aware of the underlying asafoetida lurking behind the green veil. It wasn't as unpleasant as I expected - as an herbalist, I'm familiar with the rankness of asaf - but it isn't something I would reach for on a regular basis. Throwing caution to the winds, I broke the seal on the EDC and gave it a whirl and this time, I couldn't identify the "cadaver" smell as I think theperfumedandy might have been referring to; just green, green and lots of citrus with a hint of earthy moss. Refreshing and clean, it put me in mind of a garden after spring rain.
    ANd I too have been lusting after that coat ...


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