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February 22, 2006

Perfume Review: Rochas Femme


"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 paint factory on the other," remarked Edmond Roudnitska about one of his most sensual compositions, a perfume that smells of woman’s skin and ripe summer plums.

Some perfumes become classics because they are based on appealing, commercial accords (carnation and patchouli, patchouli and maltol, to name some examples), and others gain the status of legends because of their haunting beauty, even if it presents a challenge. Femme’s beauty is arresting and spellbinding, its main accord heavy like a heart filled with longings. …

Its perfection lies in Roudnitska’s ability to create a harmonious balance between aldehydes, fruit, woods and mossy notes. The dryness of Femme’s chypre accord is softened by the violet tinged plum; the tropical lushness of flowers is supported by the dense richness of sandalwood. I am overcome with emotion imagining this ravishing beauty created in the middle of a war torn city out of whatever materials Roudnitska could discover at the time.

That being said, it is not the easiest fragrance to wear, given its aggressive sensuality and lack of sweetness. Femme is seductive and cruel at the same time, a vision of beauty that makes one lose all senses. Partly because of its challenging nature, Femme has not escaped from being altered, and its perfection compromised by the changes that were implemented against Roudnitska’s wishes and without his involvement.

The complete reorchestration of Femme took place in 1989, when Olivier Cresp won the brief to modernize it while maintaining the integrity of the composition. This task is not unlike attempting to clothe Michelangelo’s David. Cresp recreated his vision of Femme based on the memories of the sublime classic being worn by women in his family. The reorchestrated version maintains the chypre voluptuousness of Femme, fusing a cumin note into the plum and peach sweetness. It is lighter and more gourmand than the classical version. Despite my misgivings, I would say that it is a well-done reorchestration, and while I enjoy it, the new Femme would never displace the original Roudnitska’s version for me. As certain beautiful visions leave a long lasting impression, Femme will always be the glorious dream filled with a bittersweet yearning.

Rochas Femme includes notes of bergamot, peach, prune, rose, immortelle, jasmine, ylang-ylang, ambergris, musk, oakmoss, sandalwood. It is available from select retailers and a variety of discount online stores. Femme comes in a bottle designed like a female form, with the rounded shoulders and wasp waistline invoking the models used by Marcel Rochas, inventor of the bustier.




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