Review: Chanel Boy — 4.5 points

Much like how Gabrielle Chanel had played with the code of women’s fashion, perfumer Olivier Polge experimented with the fougère accord in creating Boy (Chanel, 2016). This perfumery accord was born when perfumer Paul Parquet created the eponymous Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882). The accord classically revolves around lavender, oakmoss, and sweet coumarin, but also contains a citrus top, geranium and spicy herbs in the heart, and woody or animalic notes in the base. It is traditionally associated with masculine fragrances. But Polge was determined to flout that rule and toy with the accord. The result is nothing short of brilliant.

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Already, the fresh top of Boy is a tell-tale sign. It is Chanel; it is aldehydic with penetrating citrusy and rosy notes. These come hand in hand with grapefruit and fresh lemon. The effect feels like an effervescent champagne with a rosy tinge. Accompanying that is lavender aplenty with its aromatic, herbal, and floral charm easily felt. This sublime lavender of Boy runs the show for the rest of its top-note freshness.

The composition, then, segues classically into a rosy geranium heart, but it takes a surprisingly soft turn here. A touch of orange blossom and jasminic brightness wraps around the sharp geranium. A rich sandalwood accord evinces an intimate caress towards the dry down.

It becomes enveloping, but also with a dusky accent. At first, the tonka bean note of coumarin provides a warm sweetness, like a gentle fondle. This develops into a full embrace with the powdery sweet vanilla and heliotrope. There is also a hint of hidden desire in hot patchouli and civet that feels like a nod to the classic Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). But contrasted classically by the mossy note of Evernyl, this sensual sweetness has suddenly acquired a rough-hewn signature. Around this mossy sweet powder forming the dry down is a rich musk cocktail that keeps Boy soft and intimate for all of its day-long duration—those who are anosmic to certain musks may thus find this part of Boy to be a whisper.

The fougère accord is manipulated in Boy to reveal an interestingly tender side. Whilst the classical trinity of lavender, coumarin, and oakmoss as well as the animalic touch of civet are kept, the character of fougère is made softer, borrowing elements of feminine fragrances. The fresh introduction consists of aldehydic and rosy notes beside the traditionally hesperidic notes. The powdery sweet coumarin is enhanced with heliotrope, vanilla, and musks. In this way, the accord sways towards its rosy and enveloping side. With Boy, Polge has saliently demonstrated the flexibility of this perfumery accord.

I think the reinvention of the fougère has been in the making, and Boy is almost the tipping point. Looking back in 1921, there was Maja (Myrurgia, 1921) whose fougère elements of citrus, lavender, geranium, and woody vetiver are hidden beneath a dominant spicy oriental personality. Then, only a decade ago, perfumer Jacques Polge perhaps tested the water with the patchouli and amber of Coromandel (Chanel, 2007) that resembles the rose-patchouli fougère of Zino Davidoff (Davidoff, 1986), except for the fact that lavender — one of the defining elements of a fougère — is absent in Coromandel. And, though Brit Rhythm For Her (Burberry, 2014) marries lavender and rosy peony, it is still a fresh floral rather than a fougère. But with Boy, the classical fougère has entered a new ground. Boy re-orchestrates the classical fougère to interesting effects. It may well pave the way for a revolution, and the next descendant of Boy might surprise us.

But, for now, I am quite enamoured of its rosy freshness and mossy-yet-sweet powder with that restrained elegance of Chanel.

Source: chanel.fr

History and Review: Houbigant Fougère Royale — 4.0 points

Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882) is a composition that represents the defining turn of perfumery. It is the first fine perfume to employ a synthetic compound, coumarin, the principal odorant of tonka bean. It also started the trend of complex, abstract ideas in perfumes. Most evidently, it gave birth to the fougère or ‘fern’ family, which is an interplay of lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin. In this accord, citrus usually adds a sparkle to the top, whilst the heart often contains geranium, and the base contains woody, animalic, and/or ambery notes.

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Original Fougère Royale

The fougère family is one of the most popular and versatile style. It includes iconic successors like Jicky (Guerlain, 1889), Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973), Azzaro Pour Homme (1978), Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent, 1981), Drakkar Noir (Guy Laroche, 1982), and Cool Water (Davidoff, 1988). Recent launches such as Brit Rhythm For Women (Burberry, 2014) and Boy (Chanel, 2016) can reaffirm that the fougère never goes out of style. For this reason, Fougère Royale is simply revolutionary.

In creating it, perfumer Paul Parquet used coumarin in combination with the natural essences of citrus and aromatic herbs. The result gave a twist of character to the familiar classical eau de cologne. Its complexity made Fougère Royale intriguing to discover and its strong character was memorable.

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Re-launched Fougère Royale in 2010

Even in the re-orchestrated version by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, there is no mistaking its fougère identity. Although thin, the building blocks are still in place. The transparency and freshness of bergamot open the composition to an aromatic character marked by a combination of lavender and Provençal herbs. Geranium also lends a green accent. Meanwhile, the spicy contrast is provided by nutmeg and a carnation accord. The notes are well-blended and nothing specifically stands out.

These cool herbs are paired with a warm mossy musk. It recalls the bitter-sweet, classic note of a barber shop with animalic suede-like warmth. Its contrasting idea of cool and warm notes is not unlike the striking contrasts found in many of Guerlain’s creations that succeeded it, starting from Jicky (1889).

The re-orchestrated Fougère Royale is worth a sniff just for the fact that it is a milestone in perfumery. From the brightness of its hesperidic opening and the rustic charms of aromatic herbs to the surprising ruggedness of mossy notes, the re-formulated version offers a glimpse of the classical fougère accord with modern transparency. However, its lasting power will surprise you. It also feels neat and smart with a penchant for old-school stylishness. It easily puts many modern launches of this year to shame.

Sources: houbigant-parfums.com, aromyth.com

  1. Perkin, W. H. (1868). “On the artificial production of coumarin and formation of its homologues”. Journal of the Chemical Society. 21: 53–63.

Review: Guerlain Jicky — 4.5 points

Legend has it that Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) was named either for the English lass, of whom perfumer Aimé Guerlain was enamoured, or for the nickname of his dear nephew, Jacques Guerlain. But, for certain, Jicky claims the title of ‘the oldest perfume in continuous production’.

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What makes it special is the creativity of Aimé Guerlain. He made use of what he knew and had at the time. He exploited the popularity of the fougère accord, which had been successfully pioneered by Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882), and experimented with the increasingly affordable synthetic compounds. The result was that Jicky was not only an imminently attractive fougère but also one with a memorable signature that began to take shape and would later set the framework for later oriental icons of Guerlain like Shalimar (1925) and Habit Rouge (1965).

Jicky, as a classical fougère, features lavender, a material that possesses herbal, floral, and warm gourmand facet. Aimé Guerlain dressed it up with a lot of sparkling citrus, a sprinkle of herbs, and a warm vanillic base.

The aromatic freshness of lavender is expanded by citrus and herbs in the top. Bergamot and lemon lend their hesperidic sparkles. The original formula of Jicky likely contains as much as 32% bergamot oil and 2% lemon oil, with a boost from linalool obtained from distilled rosewood. Rosemary and thyme add an agrestic accent, giving it a rustic Provençal charm.

In contrast, the warm base that emerges later accentuates the sweet gourmand aspect of lavender. It is a powdery mélange of iris, vanilla, tonka bean, and sandalwooda rudimentary Guerlinade, if you will. The use of aroma chemicals such as coumarin and vanillin gives Jicky a special sweet vanilla character. The animalic overtone of civet is also there, like a creamy ganache. Jicky settles into this warm animalic powder with an aromatic backdrop of lavender and herbs for most of its duration.

Jicky might have a familiar ring to its predecessor Fougère Royale because of its fougère structure, but its juxtaposition between raw citrus and vanillic base lends a different character. This memorable contrast would not be possible without the use of aroma materials that give a strong signature to Jicky. For such a creative twist on a familiar accord and a memorable character, Jicky is very special.

A note on the concentrations: I find the extrait de parfum indubitably richer than the eau de toilette. Already in the beginning, the bergamot is plump with tart-sweet and floral nuances, not so much as diffusive as that of the eau de toilette. Lemon oil is more pronounced as well. The lavender is rich with floral and herbal facets, and it lasts longer. Of note is the civet that feels like a ganache smoothing over the bucolic herbs. Its oriental vanilla and tonka bean accord is present in full glory. The emphasis of the extrait de parfum is on the aromatic and warm oriental character.

The eau de toilette of Jicky, however, starts on a more diffusive note of linalool-laden bergamot. Its lavender is more herbal. Civet puffs seem to come and go. The familiar oriental accord requires a nose pressed hard to the skin to detect. Overall, the eau de toilette feels like a hesperidic eau de cologne with herbal and oriental accents. Its lasting power is mediocre.

I have not tried the eau de parfum, so I cannot comment on that. But between the extrait de parfum and the eau de toilette, the former is classically rich and infused with a Guerlain DNA, but the latter is like a creative twist of a classic eau de cologne. Though not a die-hard Guerlain fan, I am partial to Guerlinade and would pick the extrait de parfum. Perhaps, spraying the eau de toilette on top to add the hesperidic brightness would be perfectalas, the price may not permit such a double purchase.

Sources: guerlain.fr, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

  1. Esposito, Lawrence J.; K. Formanek; G. Kientz; F. Mauger; V. Maureaux; G. Robert; F. Truchet (1997). “Vanillin”. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, 4th edition 24. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 812–825
  2. Reimer, Karl Ludwig (1876). “Über eine neue Bildungsweise aromatischer Aldehyde”. Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft 9 (1): 423–424

Review: Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur — 4.0 points

Named for the bygone fashion of men sporting their scented batiste handkerchiefs, the composition goes by the name of Mouchoir de Monsieur (Guerlain, 1904)handkerchief of the gentleman. It was created by perfumer Jacques Guerlain well over a decade after Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). Yet, both fragrances share an uncanny resemblance, and one can see the interesting development and twist that Jacques Guerlain did to Jicky, its iconic fougère predecessor by his uncle Aimé Guerlain.

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The lavender at the centre of its fougére accord reminds me of Jicky, and it is similarly dressed up with plenty of citrus, a bit of herbs, some fresh flowers, and a warm sweet base. The juxtaposition between cool and warm notes is also there. But this time, it is the floral accent and fulsome civet that set the tone for the fougère accord in Mouchoir de Monsieur.

The fresh aromatic facet of lavender is enhanced by the brilliance of its top notes: bergamot, neroli, and lemon verbena. These form the cool refreshing eau de cologne accord, and I can imagine gentlemen of those days dousing their batiste handkerchiefs with the concoction.

Contrary to Jicky in which the floral note of its lavender is left as such, Mouchoir de Monsieur embellishes the dainty purple florets with a bit of jasmine. Dollops of civet impart a mellow depth, much like a creamy dark chocolate ganache. It feels very dandy and polished.

The composition segues into a warm sweet powder combining orris, vanilla, tonka bean, and musks with the floral embellishments. Compared to the rudimentary accord in Jicky, the famed Guerlinade is more recognisable here with its floral, powdery, praline sweetness. Its warm vanillic base is fully enveloped by the sensual civet cream, much like the warmth of ermine robes. Mouchoir de Monsieur ends as a faintly floral powder with sweet animalic puffs of civet that stay close to skin for five hours; it does slightly better on fabric.

Mouchoir de Monsieur might be a derivative of Jicky, but that does not necessarily mean that it is any less interesting. In fact, I see it as an experiment of Jacques Guerlain to develop a unique character in the house style. Just like Jicky, the cool hesperidic and agrestic notes contrast sharply with the redolent vanillic fond. It is a beautiful duel. However, the floral inflection and redolent civet are where Mouchoir de Monsieur diverges from its forebear and flaunts its dandy appeal. And, I should think of its memorable character as a glimpse of the La Belle Époque opulence.

Source: guerlain.fr, Sotheby’s