Friday, October 23, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 3 (Femme)

This is Part 3 of a series of five posts in which I'll recommend variations on a classic. Today it's Femme by Rochas. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Femme, or perfumes with similarities.

(In part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in part 2, Joy, and in the next two posts I'll explore No 5 and Chanel 19.

Femme was created in Paris during the war in 1943. The 'nose' behind the fragrance was Edmond Roudnitska, who's now regarded as something of a legend in the perfume industry, which is as much to do with his innovatory approach as his talent for creating beautifully balanced classics of perfumery.

Most people will be aware of at least one of the following: Femme, Diorama, Eau d'Hermes, Eau Fraiche, Diorissimo, Eau Sauvage, Diorella and, released posthumously by his son through perfume company Frederic Malle, Le Parfum de Therese. (If you're interested in reading a more in-depth post about Roudnitska, here's a post I created last year - Roudnitska.)

In later years, Roudnitska's perfumes became more minimal, more in keeping with the streamlined sixties and Dior's clean-cut monochrome designs, then the seventies when people began to favour a more casual, outdoorsy style.

It makes sense, though, that one of his first, and ever popular perfumes, embodied the idea of abundance - a lush harvest of fruits, woods, spices, musk and leather. For me, Femme is the quintessential perfume of Autumn and the idea of abundance is also subtly echoed in the curved bottle that suggests the female form.

Like Joy, and Shalimar before it, this perfume was targeted toward women who sought an air of sophisticated elegance. It's interesting perhaps to speculate on the fact that in this era, young women too aspired to this sophistication, poise and mystique.

The ingenue style embodied so elegantly by women such as Audrey Hepburn arrived in the 60s and we can imagine Hepburn exuding the white, radiant chic of Diorissimo, whereas Mae West and Sophia Loren, who were both the 'faces' of Femme in its advertisements, are far more suited to Femme's lush warmth.

Roudnitska created Femme in the midst of WW2, and to me this perfume, taken in this context, poignantly suggests a longing for security, or a carefree life of pleasure while everything around was in chaos -  a fact emphasised by the setting in which it was created:

“Let me tell you, I created Femme in 1943 in Paris during the worst days of the war in a building that had a rubbish dump on one side and a paint factory on the other,” Roudnitska

With Femme, Roudnitska wanted to create a thing of beauty, an escape from brutality and a celebration of everything good in life.

It's a perfume I've long been familiar with, because my mum wore it a lot in the 70s, then sought other perfumes when the original Femme was reformulated in the late 80s due to the restriction on oakmoss. The latest version, brought out in 2013, relies on cumin for the spicy, musky notes, and some find this aspect slightly heavy-handed. The general tone is still Femme-like - autumnal and warm, but the lovely suede-like leather isn't there.

A year or so ago, I tracked down two pre-80s versions of Femme for my mum. Both retained the original character, with the slightly later vintage most resembling the Femme my mum would have worn. She was delighted to rediscover Femme, and in fact this sparked a renewed enjoyment of perfume!

Before I recommend perfumes with a similar mood, these are the original Femme's notes: Apricot, plum, cinnamon, peach, bergamot, rosewood, lemon, rosemary, carnation, iris, jasmine, clove, ylang, rose, leather, amber, patchouli, musk, benzoin, vanilla, oakmoss.


Contemporary perfumes similar in style to Femme..

As with the two previous classics Joy and Shalimar, there's nothing quite like Femme these days; it's a classic complex blend in a grand French style, but there are quite a few perfumes that share aspects, or recall Femme's warm autumnal mood..

Classics of the same era or earlier might include Mitsouko by Guerlain , but though that's autumnal and complex, the mood is more haunting. I recently discovered a few contemporary takes on the classic style by indie perfume company DSH Perfumes, which use a high amount of naturals. In particular Mirabella, which reminds me of spicy autumn leaves alongside tart plum, and Mata Hari, which recalls an earlier vintage of Femme, with darker, woodier notes.

Serge Luten's Feminite du Bois, which centres around a lovely rich cedarwood, has echoes of Femme and shares many similar classic fruity notes - plum, cinammon, peach and musk, but the feel of the perfume is simpler, perhaps earthier and less mysterious.

 If you love Femme's suede-like leather, then you might enjoy Lancome's Cuir de Lancome. I offered a sample of this to my mum, and though I say so myself it was an inspired choice as she went on to acquire a full bottle! It doesn't smell like Femme, but it has a similarly sophisticated, rich, warm aura, yet more contemporary.

Taken in a more indulgent direction, the rich ,complex, gourmand aspects of Femme are echoed in Cartier's Le Baiser du Dragon. I love this rich woody, dark chocolate/boozy perfume, even though it's not really my style! It's very comforting and has a lingering mysterious musk that recalls classic perfumery. Some people hate it and find it too complicated, but it's worth a try if you like the idea of a rich, indulgent, winter-style gourmand.

In a lighter more effervescent direction, Yves Saint Laurent's Yvresse (formerly called Champagne) is a fruity chypre that's remained very popular since its release in 1993. It shares Femme's fruity/spicy elements, but it's far sharper and lighter. It might appeal to fruity chypre perfume lovers in summer, but it is a divider of taste so test first! From the same decade, Shiraz by Natura features autumn fruits and spices and is not disimilar to Luten's Feminite du Bois, which also brings me to Dior's Dolce Vita, one of my own favourites, like a sunnier version of Feminite du Bois (though its recent reformulation lacks depth).

Out of interest, it's well worth acquiring a sample of Frederic Malle's Le Parfum de Therese, as mentioned earlier, this is a posthumous release (by Roudnitska's son, Michel) as it has all the elements of a classic Roudnitska from the spice and leather notes of Femme to the summery overripe melon of Diorella. 

And so we come full circle back to Roudnitska himself. Le Perfum de Therese was never released in his lifetime because it was made exclusively for his wife, Therese. Such a romantic gesture!



  1. Interesting article. I have always thought of Guerlain Mitsouko as an "edgier" version of Femme. Both have peach, spice and a chypre base.

  2. Yes, I'd agree it's edgier, or to my nose more sultry or dark. Glad you enjoyed the post :)