Original (Shiseido Féminité du Bois):
Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
When Shiseido Féminité du Bois was launched in 1992, its strong core of cedarwood (a traditionally masculine note) was truly avant-garde. It presented a break with tradition and a new vision for feminine fragrances. These days, feminine scents based around a strong accord of woods are more common in the niche category but also in the mainstream launches. It is telling that Estée Lauder Sensuous, the first pillar brand release since Beyond Paradise, chose to take the rich fruity-woody character of Féminité du Bois as its starting point. Recently, Féminité du Bois was relaunched under the Serge Lutens brand, and once I got a hold of two versions, the original and the new, I decided to compare them.
Perfume is a living object, and it changes even after you bring a bottle home. If a formula is opened and is rebalanced, it is a given that the result will be different. Over time I have learned to accept it. I wear reformulated Guerlain Shalimar and Samsara with pleasure. Caron Nuit de Noël (even minus the mossy plushness) is still a wonderful fragrance. I prefer the radiant freshness of the new version of Hermès Amazone to the mossy darkness of the original version. In other words, a fragrance is not automatically destroyed by being reformulated. The main issue is whether the reformulation manages to retain the distinctive elements of the composition, its character and its signature.
I do not find that this was accomplished in the case of the new Féminité du Bois. The woody accord, which is the most distinctive element of the composition, is attenuated to the point of being pale and insipid. The strong impact of the violet-cedarwood note that oscillated between dark woods and warm fruit is reduced to the point of mere suggestion. While the original Féminité du Bois had a very impressive development—from the mezzo soprano of orange blossom to the basso profondo of woods, the new version maintains the same pitch throughout. It stays rather close to the skin and vanishes on the same pale woody-violet note that set its tone.
I probably would have been more disappointed by the new Féminité du Bois if the Serge Lutens collection did not include Bois de Violette and Bois et Fruits. Since they contain elements of the original Féminité du Bois, their vibrancy and intensity more than make up for its pallor.
Shiseido Féminité du Bois included notes of cedarwood, orange blossom, rose, violet, honey, plum, beeswax, clove, cardamom, cinnamon. Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois (fragrance family: classical woods) contains Moroccan orange, Turkish rose, Atlas cedarwood, violet, beeswax, honey, peach, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, sandalwood, musk. It is available from boutiques and retail stores such as Aedes and Barneys New York.
For the discussion of the original Shiseido Féminité du Bois, please see my 2006 review.