The next 10 fragrances in my 100 Great Perfumes Series encompass the launches from the 1950-60s, the decades of relative prosperity on the one hand, and of great geopolitical shifts on the other. The fragrance fashion of the time leaned towards warm, sultry blends, against which perfumer Edmond Roudnitska started to rebel by creating radiant, sheer compositions. The woody-leathery chypres became more common in both the feminine and the masculine markets, setting a trend for an austere elegance. Those were the decades that set some of the strongest trends for the future, many of which persist even today.
21. Intimate (Revlon, perfumer Ernest Shiftan, 1955) discontinued
Intimate by Revlon was a great American success. It took the complex and luxurious idea of Christian Dior Miss Dior and made it into an accessible, mass market fragrance. Miss Dior has an intricate layering of leather, tuberose, green and moss notes to suggest a perfectly cut diamond. Intimate, however, has a softer and plusher character. It accents the floral facets of the composition, playing up the rose, narcissus, and jasmine. It is lush and opulent, a fragrance that is easy to love. Intimate, with its strong floral component, influenced quite a few leather chypre fragrances such as Givenchy III and Jill Sander Woman Two. Subsequently, the heady floral accord came to play an important role in Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds. While Intimate has been discontinued, it is still available widely at various online discounters (even in its current version, it is much closer to Miss Dior than the current Miss Dior!)
22. Chanel Pour Monsieur (Chanel, perfumer Henri Robert, 1955)
Fragrance expert Michael Edwards once told me that the closest thing to Coty Chypre is Chanel Pour Monsieur. Since then, I have had a chance to smell Coty Chypre in its various forms and I completely agree with Edwards’ assessment. While Pour Monsieur has a more polished elegance than the roughhewn Chypre de Coty, it nevertheless captures some of its main elements—the interplay between musk, leather, moss and citrus. The delicious touch of cardamom gives Pour Monsieur a cool spicy twist which works beautifully with the languid backdrop of moss and woods. Over the years, Pour Monsieur has been made fresher and more hesperidic, yet it has not lost its strong character. I smell its structure in Yves Saint Laurent YSL Pour Homme, Eau de Guerlain, Tom Ford Japon Noir and to an extent, in Frédéric Malle Cologne Bigarade.
23. Diorissimo (Christian Dior, perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, 1956)
All of those fresh florals flooding the market today owe their existence to this exquisite fragrance from Dior. Created by one of the most legendary perfumers of the 20th century, Edmond Roudnitska, Diorissimo was a breakthrough not only in terms of its remarkable and novel structure, but also from the perspective of blending photorealism and abstraction. Until the early 20th century, most fragrances were simple blends representing a particular natural scent—violet, rose, orange, rosemary, etc. With the introduction of new materials to the perfumers’ palettes and the change in tastes towards the abstract and impressionistic, fragrances likewise took on a new character. Diorissimo did something novel still—inspired by the fragrance of lily of the valley, it captured not just the scent of this delicate flower, but the whole experience of spring. Experiencing it is like stepping into the mild, sunny April day, when everything feels exhilarating, new and fresh. As delicate as Diorissimo appears, it nevertheless has a strong character and an extraordinary complexity. The current version is somewhat thinner and sharper. On the other hand, the parfum concentration is much closer to what Diorissimo used to be. Guccy Envy, Kenzo Parfum d’Été and Ormonde Jayne Tiare are worth exploring for their beautiful lily of the valley notes that possess the same exquisite harmony that Diorissimo pioneeered.
24. Vétiver (Carven, perfumer Edouard Hache, 1957) M
Although Vétiver de Guerlain is likely to come up as the gold standard of vetiver fragrances, it was Vétiver de Carven that set the trend for this earthy, green note to be used in such a large quantity. Vétiver plays up the citrusy and spicy facets of the raw material derived from the roots of vetiver grass. Cool minty notes offset the green richness, while patchouli and amber lend the composition a dark, warm quality. A similar idea, albeit sweeter, darker and spicier was used in Vétiver de Guerlain and subsequently influenced a whole generation of woody fragrances, from Givenchy Gentleman to Annick Goutal Vétiver. Vétiver de Carven was re-introduced in 2005 and then discontinued in favor of a new version, Le Vétiver de Carven, which Carven claims is the original.
25. Cabochard (Grès, perfumer Bernard Chant, 1959)
Next to the bold leather chypre like Cabochard, Chanel Cuir de Russie appears as quite prim and proper. Cabochard (derived from an archaic French word “caboche,” which means stubborn or headstrong) is a marvel that has been tremendously influential not just in the feminine market, but also in the masculine as well. Its juxtaposition of dark leather and wood with the fresh and aromatic notes of citrus and galbanum has produced a whole slew of offspring, from Aramis, Miss Balmain, and Halston to Montana Parfum d’Elle and Estée Lauder Azurée. Cabochard itself was a reinterpretation of Robert Piguet Bandit, a fragrance of unusual character, but with a very aggressive stance. At the same time, Cabochard was not simply a Bandit lite, but rather a further exploration of the leather chypre idea. Today, this style of perfumery is not very common, but niche fragrances like Tom Ford Bois Marocain, Etat Libre d’Orange Rien and Amouage Memoir Woman pursue the similar dry woody idea that is explored in Cabochard. Cabochard itself has been reformulated many times over the course of its lifetime, with the current version being particularly thin and pale. If you are not familiar with the original, it is best just to smell Aramis (see below), which is Cabochard minus the floral heart.
26. Brut (Fabergé, perfumer Karl Mann, 1964 ) M
Brut is a victim of its own success. It quickly gained a strong following after its launch in 1964, and through the combination of celebrity endorsements and a smart marketing campaign, it became the defining masculine fragrance of the 1960s and 1970s. Yet, soon it became so ubiquitous that its hip factor vanished. That being said, the original Brut was an excellent fougère, combining the warmth of amber and vanilla with a fresh herbal accord. The result was at once effervescent and sultry, with an amazing tenacity. The current version (which is now owned by Fabergé in partnership with Idelle Labs / Helen of Troy) is thin and soapy. For under $10, it is still a decent fragrance, although it bears only a faint similarity to the original. The echo of Brut’s ambery fougère idea can be found in Zino Davidoff, Paloma Picasso Minotaure, and Chanel Allure Homme.
27. Habit Rouge (Guerlain, perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain, 1965) M
A marvelous example of Guerlain’s classic combination of baroque richness and polished elegance, Habit Rouge deserves a whole chapter, rather than just a single paragraph. It is a beautiful ambery oriental composition in which the woody and oriental facets are foiled by the green orange blossom note. The effect is at once new and familiar, with the classical citrusy freshness providing a sparkling quality, while the leather and vanilla of the base lend Habit Rouge a mellow warmth. The bloodline of Habit Rouge is that of Shalimar, but the strong orange blossom note gives it a different character. Habit Rouge has engendered the whole oriental branch of masculine perfumery and its influence can be felt in many masculine fragrances, from Cartier Santos to Calvin Klein Obsession for Men; from Royal Copenhagen to Escada Pour Homme. Givenchy Pi and Versace The Dreamer also bear elements of Habit Rouge, albeit in entirely different interpretations. The current Habit Rouge is still quite excellent, if much fresher and crisper than the original 1965 version.
28. Aramis (Aramis , perfumer Bernard Chant, 1965) M
Among leather chypres, Robert Piguet Bandit, Grès Cabochard and Aramis stand out for their memorable treatment of leather. Aramis does not compromise the bold, dramatic darkness that makes leather so beguiling, yet it presents it in a polished, elegant manner. With the floral notes toned down to a mere whisper, the herbal and citrusy accents give the main hue to the composition. Aramis became a great trendsetter soon after its launch, and today it is still among the best masculines on the market. In its leather chypre family, Aramis has inspired fragrance like Revillon pour Homme, Bijan for Men, Salvador Dali and Spazio Krizia Uomo. Still available in an excellent form, it can serve as a great leather chypre reference.
29. Fidji (Guy Laroche, perfumer Josephine Catapano, 1966)
The initial impression of the fragile, delicate beauty of Fidji belies its depth and complexity. Although it takes its main structure from Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps, Fidji offers a new spicy floral interpretation. Vivid and green, it blends the lush floral heart of rose, jasmine, tuberose and iris with the freshness of galbanum and vetiver. The development of Fidji is a marvel in itself—the fragrance initially explodes into an effervescent mass of green leaves and petals before settling into a seductive, velvety backdrop of amber, sandalwood and musk. Fidji inspired a number of fragrances, which themselves were important launches: Revlon Norell, Revlon Charlie and Lagerfeld Chloé. Even though Yves Saint Laurent Paris has a completely different character, its reliance on the interplay of woody-violet and green notes recalls a similar effect in Fidji. Still available in a good, if not stellar, form.
30. Eau Sauvage (Christian Dior, perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, 1966) M
There are many reasons for the impressive success of Eau Sauvage: the originality of the composition, the novel use of a floral concept for a masculine fragrance and the elegant character. Above all, Eau Sauvage took the classical cologne concept into a fascinating direction, with the final result being fresh, yet alluring. There are no heavy animalic or musky notes in Eau Sauvage, no oriental sensual notes or lush florals that usually spell languor. It is a fresh watery composition of citrus, basil and various aromatic herbs, with patchouli and violet tinged woods lending it a pleasant richness. Yet, as one wears Eau Sauvage, it feels like a second skin with a wonderful aura and a fantastic sillage. The fragrance has a beautiful radiance, which had not been seen until Roudnitska started exploring his new perfumery forms. Today, many citrus-herbal masculine compositions pay homage to Eau Sauvage, from Nina Ricci Signoricci 2 to Carolina Herrera 212 Men. The fact that Dior is still treating Eau Sauvage well (in the current form, it is very good,) attests to its strong following. Although Eau Sauvage is often mentioned as the first fragrance championing the use of the lemony jasmine note of hedione, it is actually used in trace amounts only, not anything particularly obvious. While hedione gives a novel airy quality to Eau Sauvage, it is not what makes this fragrance special. The most magical part is the perfect harmony between the disparate elements that result in an original and beautiful impression.
Photography: rose de mai from Grasse, an important perfumery raw material. Photo and information about Grasse rose festival are from Vintage Holiday.
Coming up next: the exhilarating era of green notes and the increasing perfume volumes