Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rochas Moustache: fragrance review & history

Smooth-cheeked chaps have been the norm for more than half a century now and facial hair on men in the western world is considered either intello-boho or "tough guy, three day stubble, get in line missy!" But once upon a time when men fought in the Great War or assimilated la toilette in -perhaps less excruciatingly soignée- the manner of Hercules Poirot and his own profuse moustaches, facial hair stood for distinction. Moustache by Rochas is a scent that could make you grow such a virtual moustache if you belong to the modern clique of smoothly-cheeked guys and actually feel proud enough to admit wearing such a funnily named perfume.

The house of Marcel Rochas issued Moustache in 1948, as one of the select few fragrant specimens bearing the handiwork of that elusive (but talented) personality Thérèse Roudnitska, the wife of trismegistus Edmond (who also had his skillful hand in this) and the muse to her husband's Le Parfum de Thérèse (now in the Frederic Malle line). Thérèse, a student of l’Ecole de Chimie in Paris (she gratuated in 1941) apprenticied at the De Laire company at the laboratories of which she met her future husband. A romance blossomed, peppered with scented gifts: Edmond presented her with his eloquent composition It's You which he had composed for Elizabeth Arden. After romantic courtship they found Art et Parfum, a society dedicated to the art of perfumery in 1946. At the time Edmond Roudnitska was working with Rochas, having cemented both their fragrant notoriety with Femme, a masterpiece conceived in the most perilous and ravaged of occassions, Paris being occupied by the Nazis (1944) and right when Edmond had his hands in more prosaic tasks, such as finding a sufficient butter-taste substitute. According to his son, Michel Roudnitska (who gives the date of issue of Moustache as 1948, while some guides claim 1949 as the launch) "Moustache foreshadows Roudnitska's philosophy of creation - clear, simple and restrained". I couldn't have said it more succinctly.

Perfume history wants Thérèse to have instigated the spermatic idea and Edmond to have followed. At any rate the end result pleased him so much that he was put on record considering it a benchmark in masculine scents [Edmond Roudnitska, Que sais-je? "Le Parfum", Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 6th edition (2000)]. Roudnitska continued to produce scents for Rochas: Mouselline (formely Chiffon), Mouche (which means fly in French and was playfully named after the couple's cat), and La Rose; a collection of which sadly only Femme and Moustache subsist today.

The academic interest in Moustache is that it takes all the elements that have formed the repertoire of Roudnitska (the fermented fruits, like his beloved peach-scented base Persicol with aldehydes C14 and C18; the urinous aroma of animalic notes that recalls horses' sweat; the mossy yet fresh coolness in the background) and rearranges them in a masculine composition that pre-empties his work for both Dior (Eau Sauvage, Diorella, Dior-Dior) and Hermès (Eau d'Hermès). The aesthetic interest is that it smells old-fashioned in the best possible sense, distinguished in its unique use of lime on top (perhaps the best rendition of that note) and yet not like an antique that gets dusted once in a blue moon tucked inside the curios cabinet the rest of the time.
After the citrusy opening, the characteristic faintly floral and hay-ish powdery heart slowly gives way to the funk of the base notes with their sweaty, urinous and pungent leather impression which lingers quietly, intimately for a long time. Despite it being ,marketed as a masculine scent, women who find citrusy or "hazy" suede compositions to their taste should definitely give it a try.

Notes for Rochas Moustache: Lime, bergamot, pine, fruits, vetiver, moss.

The flacon of Moustache was initially produced in the curvaceous shape of Femme but was later substituted with the classic columnal bottle of Rochas fragrances with the brand name embossed on top the gold cap. A very recent redesigning made it square-shouldered in chrome tones.
The modern re-issue of Moustache is a bit more sharply citric to suit modern preferences for more refreshing top notes and less urinous, more polite, but it remains at its core an old-fashioned and proper scent that was well ahead of its time and still relevant after all those years. The older version circulates for reasonable prices on etailers.
You can get Moustache at Fragrancenet.com for the amazing price of $32.49 for 3.4oz. Also, using code LBRDY09 at checkout you get a further $10 off orders of $70 or more (on any products), valid through 09.11.09.

Pic of Moustache bottle by Rochas by Elena Vosnaki, of Therese Roudnitska via Michel Roudnitska's tribute Art-et-Parfum, vintage ad via trungtamnuochoa.com, modern flacon via fragrancefactory.com


  1. I am always interested to know their story; i remember asking myself why MOUSTACHE ?
    I saw a small bottle on Ebay a few days ago but I had to let go...i bought too much already.

  2. V,

    the stories are often fascinating! I love dwelving in them and searching for little anecdotes. ;-)
    Never mind, you will get your chance again and it might be inexpensive too.

  3. you're kind :)
    I tend to say to myself i could not i one lifetime know them all...one day i will visit the ODORTHEQUE ? (i'm sure i don't have it right but can't remember the name) in Paris. It must be a real pleasure. There must some of old Rochas and Patou ?
    cheers, V

  4. L'Osmotheque at Versailles! A museum vault of recreated fragrances indeed, yet there are some things which are approximated still (due to unavailability of certain materials or not knowing the exact formula). It's certainly worth the visit!

  5. hi,
    i love your blog!
    sorry about the late comment.
    what has me confused about moustache, it that my bottle (the cylinder) is the labeled as concentree. isn't this a different version from the original, or was it always named like this?
    it certainly does smell like one of roudniska's creations.
    what's the story here?

  6. Hello 9 and thanks for stopping by!

    So sorry for the late reply as well, just saw this.

    The concentree is a middle-stage concentration, after the EDC and before the recent reformulation. It's exactly like my bottle which I photographed in the article and smells as described. So, yes, I agree with your assesment, it does smell like a Roudnitska without a doubt.

    Hope this helps and thanks again!

  7. Dear Perfumeshrine,

    Thanks for this informative and in depth post. I would love to try it out just to see what it smells like. However, it is not easily available to buy at the shops. I'm only interested in the older version (not the most recent recreated version) that comes in gold cap and cylinder valuted flask. Being a fan of Edmond Roudnitska's creations, I know that I would like something he created (having said that I hated Eau d' Hermes - it's too leathery for me). I recently discovered that Dior has brought back Eau fraiche which I love very much. In fact, my grandmother puts her bottle in the fridge in the hot summer and she wears it after her bath.

    Moustache sounds intriguing and one side of me is saying go ahead and try it because it will be subdued and gentlemanly (as you would expect from Roudnitska) but the other side of me is slightly intimidated as the title Moustache reminds me of (no offence) gentleman's barber shops decorated in turkish tiles where my grandfather used to have his hair cut!! Please do enlighten! Thanks a lot.

  8. Dear Perfume Shrine,

    I've linked to you again. Moustache was a featured present for the man in your life in Vogue, 1959.

    Here's the link to my post. (There may be a better way of doing this, but I'm afraid to try the Google thing.)


    Thanks for all of your hard work.

  9. Dilettante,

    profuse apologies for the lateness in my reply:

    Do not fear the Moustache bearers. Moustaches can be a good thing. Think of the old British Empire. Think of gentlemen of old. It's refined and safe to wear today (it's not antiquated).

  10. Catherine,

    thank you so much, I appreciate the linkage :-)

    Interesting entry! I like how you intermingle your ideas.
    My review actually pertains to the Moustache bottle in my self-taken photograph (in the post) which is the older version found still in my stockists who haven't updated with the newer. It's not outwardly funky, only a hint is in there, which is consistent with Roudnitska sensibilities -naturally, as his perfumer wife working on this would share in his tastes.

    Thanks again for reading!


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