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November 03, 2005

Fragrance Review: Parfums Gres Cabochard Vintage and Reorchestrated



Rated 4.5 out of 5.0


Star rating: 5 stars--outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars--very good, 3 stars--adequate, 2 stars--disappointing, 1 star--poor.

Cabochard, meaning “headstrong,” is an example of how a chypre fragrance can embody confidence and independence, playing upon the austere and dry qualities of the genre. At the same time, its aloof air is seductive, as some mysteries can be. It does not bestow its favours lightly, hiding its delicate floral heart under the dark layers of smoky leather and green notes. One feels compelled to unlock its secrets, revisiting again and again, and falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.

Not only was Cabochard very successful at the time of its release in 1959, its leather chypre composition inspired many subsequent fragrances. Therefore, its inclusion among the legends of French perfumery by Michael Edwards is only to be expected.  ...

Cabochard was a fragrance created for Madame Grès, a renowned couturier, who after opening her fashion house in 1942 in Paris became famous for her fluid designs that draped the body like folds on the Greek statues. Bernard Chant was the perfumer responsible for Cabochard, and even though Madame Grès did not personally like it, she felt that Chant created a gem with Cabochard.

Cabochard is often described as a softer take on the animalic darkness of Bandit. Indeed, if Bandit were to be polished to remove its rough edges, to soften its aggressive nature, and to mute its smoky leather, the result would be Cabochard, a leather chypre that is as assertive as it is graceful. A mélange of rich green notes, which is reminiscent of sliced green peppers and succulent leaves, creates an elegant transparent layer, under which an accord dominated by smoky leather is evident from the start. The leather reminiscent of a similar note in Chanel Cuir de Russie is subtle at first, hinting gently as to what might be present underneath the verdant radiance. Its strength grows over time, and as the hesperidic effervescence fades, calm darkness overtakes the composition.

The Eau de Toilette is sharper and more forceful than the parfum in its treatment of the leather notes. In the parfum, the vetiver and iris pairing truly shines, lending an alluring cool touch that provides a stunning counterpoint to the tobacco redolent darkness. A delicate floral touch is sustained against the foil of balsamic and earthy notes, creating an airy sensation that dispels the somber duskiness. The balance of light and shadows is an accomplishment makes Cabochard a particularly unique leather chypre.

Like many classical fragrances, Cabochard underwent reorchestration, during which the composition acquired a fresh citrusy opening, which amplified the mandarin notes of the original version. Translucent green notes unfold quickly, revealing a leather accord, thus following the development pattern of the vintage Cabochard. However, the dark animalic element is reduced substantially, and while the fragrance would definitely please green chypre lovers, I find that the darkness was an integral part of the original composition, conjuring Cabochard’s strong, confident and independent spirit.

There is also Air de Cabochard, which was introduced in 2000. It is a soft floral, with a sparkling citrusy accord over a heart of flowers that in Cabochard serve as ornamentations on the leather notes. The vintage version (in black-white print boxes) can be found on Ebay, while the modern Cabochard is available from online discount retailers like Perfumemart and Scentiments. The modern bottle features a black box and a glass appliqué bow, which is a nod to the fashion house of Madame Grès. She herself picked the bow for the original bottle.

Cabochard advertisement from Notes include bergamot, mandarin, galbanum, ylang ylang, jasmine, Bulgarian rose, clove, oakmoss, tobacco, musk, iris, sandalwood, vetiver, leather, castoreum, patchouli and labdanum.



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