When I recently compared Guerlain classics to their reformulated versions, I decided to do a similar exercise with Caron next. I already knew that some fragrances were reformulated beyond recognition, but I did not anticipate how different they were going to be. Yet in some cases I was pleasantly surprised to find beautiful perfumes, similar to their original versions. Below are my notes that I hope might be helpful to other fans of this remarkable fragrance house which seems to be losing its identity lately.
To make the comparisons I used the same guidelines as I did recently with the Guerlain classics. With some exceptions, which I will note, I have only compared the extrait de parfum concentrations. I relied on testers at Bergdorf Goodman and at the Caron boutique. While Caron fragrances have been reformulated a number of times over the past few years, I looked only at the fragrances sold today. I have included all fragrances sold today, except for Eau de Reglisse, Eau Fraîche and Eau Pure (Violette Préciuese, Miss Rocaille, Eau de Caron and Eau Forte have been discontinued).
Star rating (referring only to the reformulated versions): 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
The original Acaciosa is a jasmine-orange blossom composition with an intense animalic note of leather and musk. The latest version misses the dark amber and animalic facets almost entirely, which makes Acaciosa a pretty, but unremarkable jasmine.
The dark citrusy chypre of the original Alpona can still be glimpsed in the current version; however, the softer oakmoss notes in the base render it less exciting. It is not a bad fragrance and as far as Caron reformulations go, it is a decent one. Nevertheless, I would rather explore green chypres like Estée Lauder Private Collection or Cristalle EDT instead of Alpona.
This spicy violet, underpinned by luscious vanilla and creamy woods, is one of my current Caron favorites, both for being truthful to the original formula and for its cheerful, vivacious character. It has a distinctive, memorable presence.
A carnation gold standard, Bellodgia has been made less spicy and dark, but it still preserves its vivid flower petal rainstorm impression. While I miss the original’s smoldering spicy darkness, I still enjoy the bright rose-carnation accord in the current version. The parfum is richer and warmer, while the Eau de Toilette has a pleasant green note adorning the spicy floral heart.
It took me several trips to the store to convince myself that I am not mixing up my testers. En Avion in its current form smells nothing like its original version–a dark orange and jasmine accord suspended over a rich leather and amber backdrop. En Avion now smells like a white floral blend sprinkled with anise. A good scent for soap or shower gel, but it does not work for me as a fine fragrance.
A surprisingly good reformulation which delighted me with its creamy violet and toasted almond macaron twist. The Eau de Parfum has a fresh green note, which contrasts nicely with the honeyed sweetness of mimosa. Overall, a wonderful mimosa based composition.
Fleur de Rocaille
A sheer rose-peony with a coconut note lending it a milky sweetness. I do not have the original to compare because I never liked this modernized version of the classical Fleurs de Rocaille. All in all, the current formula does not inspire me to explore this fragrance further.
Fleurs de Rocaille
The parfum smells like a cheap functional fragrance version of Chanel No 5. The harsh aldehydic top note lacks the original’s plush rose, jasmine and ylang-ylang notes.
Whenever people accuse me of being biased towards vintage fragrances, I point to Caron French Cancan, a vintage of little merit. The original was a heady blend of various floral notes (jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, lilac) on a warm musky base. The new version is a cheaper variation on the theme. The Eau de Parfum is even less interesting.
The original Infini is a velvety aldehydic floral with the rich iris, lilac and tuberose heart wrapped in tonka bean and vetiver. Infini today is similar, but the quality feels poorer, with the synthetic sandalwood overtaking the drydown. Still, it is an interesting floral idea.
Originally, Lady Caron was a rather boring white floral bouquet that smelled like an air freshner. Today, it is not that different, except that it smells even sharper and cheaper.
The original version is an interesting aromatic fougère with a rich stewed apple-pear note. The version sold today is missing the rich fruity component. It is instead stronger on the green, herbal notes with a distinctive marine vibe. Pleasant, but unremarkable.
This is an excellent fougère with a strong jasmine and orange blossom accord, giving it a languorous quality which is so unexpected in this type of aromatic woody composition. The current version is still excellent, just as good as what I first smelled 15 years ago.
A Caron I can live without, Montaigne in its reformulated state is not that different from the original. The only difference is that now it is sharper, with a screechy sandalwood note in the drydown that has replaced the original’s creamy accord. In this case, I compared only the Eau de Parfum versions.
Muguet du Bonheur
Muguet du Bonheur used to be very similar to Christian Dior Diorissimo, albeit with a stronger green note. Today, it is even greener, packed with the aroma-materials I generally associate with functional perfumery (fabric softeners and detergents). The parfum is much better but I would still take the reformulated Diorissimo over the current Muguet du Bonheur.
The dark roses and incense of the original are rendered as furniture polish and ashes. Where the original had a beautiful natural rose note, I now smell mostly rose synthetics. N’Aimez Que Moi was never my favorite Caron, but in its current version, it is downright unwearable for me.
Orange blossom, jasmine, narcissus on a musky ambery base, the original Narcisse Blanc was a very pretty white floral. The current version does not smell that different, albeit it is cleaner and brighter. Not a bad reformulation if you liked the original to begin with.
Narcisse Noir parfum is still a very good dark orange blossom fragrance. Even if it misses the animalic heft of the original, the opulent richness of the floral notes make up for the omission. The Eau de Toilette is less interesting: a pretty, uncomplicated orange blossom.
A blend of orange blossom, jasmine and rose, Nocturnes is suspended between a fresh layer of aldehydes and a dark base of sandalwood and patchouli. It was a perfectly nice soft floral bouquet, with a touch of darkness. Today it is much thinner, sharper and less luxurious. The character is the same, but the quality has plummeted.
The creamy, dark richness of Nuit de Noël is still intact in the current version of this Caron classic. However, the attenuated oakmoss note makes it somewhat less complex and beguiling. I still like this Caron though for its creamy woods, dark incense and swirl of dark roses. The parfum presents all of these facets beautifully, while the Eau de Toilette is thinner and sharper overall.
The femme fatale roses of Or et Noir are still dark and smoldering, with a wonderful mossy-patchouli undertone. The main difference is that I smell less natural rose and more rose alcohols, which lend Or et Noir an unexpected lemony and zesty quality. Still, it is a good dark rose for those who like this fragrance genre.
A dry oriental fragrance that avoids gourmand associations, Parfum Sacré is still a fantastic spicy composition. It is thinner and sharper than it used to be; however, it is balanced very nicely and the differences are less perceptible in wear than in some other Caron reformulations. There is now a Parfum Sacré Intense version which amplifies the rich woods and incense facets of the composition.
Pois de Senteur de Chez Moi
I admit that I do not find the original Pois de Senteur particularly interesting. Yet, it was a well-done, powdery floral, with a rich linden blossom and lily of the valley heart. Now it smells heavy and unbalanced, with the vanilla musk and heliotropine forming the main impression.
Wearing the original Poivre is an exhilarating experience that can only be compared to biting into a black peppercorn crust atop steak au poivre. The spicy rose underscoring the fiery pepper and woods lent the composition a certain dark vision of glamor. The current version is more pink than crimson, and as such, its beauty has been lost. The cinnamon, clove and pepper notes are quite attenuated, with the final result verging on bland. Coup de Fouet is the Eau de Toilette version of Poivre and it is even thinner.
Pour Une Femme
I love this fruity dark rose chypre composition. It has a bold, dramatic character, but the current version has so much screechy, sharp sandalwood that it makes this fragrance as pleasant to wear as to hear metal scraping glass. It is a shame because the original was quite striking.
I sighed with relief smelling this great Caron classic because it is still available in a terrific form. The luscious lavender and vanilla pairing are set into a rich accord of amber, woods and green mint — the gold standard of lavender fragrances.
Rose de Caron
The original is a pleasant, if somewhat dull, citrusy rose soliflore. The current version is similar, but it is extremely sharp and rather bland.
Royal Bain de Caron (Royal Bain de Champagne)
It used to be a unique floral fragrance that opened up on an incredibly effervescent note reminiscent of Napoleon’s favorite beverage. Over time, it dries down to a plush, velvety base of incense, amber and vanilla. Today, the balance is towards the floral-powdery facet, which changes the character. I would not say that it is a poor fragrance, but one can find better alternatives on the market–Guerlain Après l’Ondée, Kenzo Flower, or if you really want the effervescence of champagne, Yves Saint Laurent Champagne/ Yvresse.
It is telling that every time I try to write “Tabac Blond,” I invariably end up with “Tabac Bland.” Indeed, the new version is just that, a bland carnation. The original Tabac Blond has a dark smoky leather note that in combination with rich tobacco and sandalwood create a haunting, smoldering effect. None of those elements are present in what passes for Tabac Blond today. There is a hint of clove and sheer moss, a whisper of something green, but overall, Tabac Blond in its current form is not even worth smelling. Might as well try some other leathers on the market, like Robert Piguet Bandit or Chanel Cuir de Russie.
Those who love tuberose dominated fragrances will find Caron’s version very appealing. Like Fracas, it pairs tuberose with peach, but unlike the Robert Piguet classic, it is more polished and understated. Not a perfume masterpiece, but a very nicely done white floral composition. My bottle from 2005 and the current boutique tester are very similar.
Overall, I find that most Caron masculines have fared much better post-reformulation than the feminine fragrances. Yatagan is a super example of a rich, classical woody oriental, where a bitter absinthe note bridges a marvelous green accord of basil and pine needles with the smoldering base of patchouli and animalic notes. One of the most seductive masculine fragrances.