Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Robert Piguet/Raucour Calypso: fragrance review & history

Leafing through mythology books while researching on Nausinous, the son of Ulysses and Calypso the couple appearing in Homer's Odyssey, I cannot help but marvel at the invisible threads that tie history, perfumery and the great imagination of inspired creators such as Robert Piguet. His fragrance Calypso encapsulates the ethereal and yet alluring qualities that the eponymous numph was renowed for in a most refined way.

It is with stupendous surprise that one learns that Rober Piguet, born in the Swiss town of Yverdon in 1901, was originally trained not in fashion but in banking! So much his couturier and creator of stylish fragrances reputation has preceded him among the cognoscenti! A young boy of 17 he moved to the fashion capital of the world, Paris, and landed a job first with Redfern and later with fashion legend Paul Poiret. His industrious and inquisitive spirit resulted in the founding of his own salon in 1933. There he provided Parisian women with his own creations as well as those of alumni Antonio Castillo, Christian Dior, James Galanos, Marc Bohan, Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain. Although his couture side of the business is largely forgotten apart from the historic scope (he retired in 1951 and died in 1953), his perfume business is very much alive. This is thanks to at once the tremendous fame that his pioneer fragrances Fracas (1946) and Bandit (1944), both by iconoclast perfumer Germaine Cellier, have created, as well as the respectful treatment his compositions have received in the hands of Joe Garces of Fashion Fragrances and Cosmetics Ltd. after a limbo state of the brand while under Alfin inc.

In researching Calypso the fragrance, I tried to find visuals and was aided by my friend Octavian who provided the image herein. On it there is a bottle not unlike the bell-shaped jars of today's Lutens bottles for his Paris-exclusives which bears the name Calypso by Raucour. The brand Raucour is most probably inspired by a personage in French history: Françoise-Marie-Antoinette Saucerotte, nicknamed Mademoiselle Raucourt or Françoise Raucourt, was an anti-Revolutionist tragedian living in the late 18th century France and the Directoire period, famous for her roles as Medea, Semiramis and Agripinna. Could Calypso, the nymph who fell in love with Ulysses/Odysseus and kept him captive on her island for 8 long years following his nostos from Troy, be another one of the roles which would fit her? The tragic quotient of the role, with its clash between the vagaries of the heart on the one hand and the predecided by the Gods fate of Ulysses (namely to return to his home and family) on the other, is not antithetical to her range.
Additionally, her predeliction for aromatic substances in the form of exotic and rare plants such as frangipaniers and baobabs in her Château in La Chapelle Saint-Mesmin lets the imagination roll with fragrant images...

The Renoir company simultaneously produced the perfumes Renoir, Raucour and Piguet while the Piguet trademarks were filled by Renoir during the war. The depicted Calypso from Raucour is in the same bottle and packaging Renoir used for Messager/ Cattleya or Dona Sol (that were also sold later under Raucour brand and credited to Piguet in several guides). This puts an interesting spin into the alleged launch date of 1957 or 1959 for Piguet's Calypso. In those older days aroma-producing companies (the equivalent of today's big boys, aka Givaudan, Firmenich, IFF etc) formulated the jus with less speed. Therefore in light of the above clues, could we assume that Calypso by Raucour and Calypso by Piguet are indeed the same fragrance? If so, the date launch should be pushed in the previous decade, placing it firmly alongside its olfactory "inspirations", more of which shortly, Whatever the truth is, the scent itself is revelational in some respect.

Piguet's Calypso olfactorily reflects the qualities of both spicy floral and green floral facets, resulting in a refined composition that alludes to both L'Air du Temps (its carnation tinged airiness) and Ma Griffe (its green buds on the mountaintop dryness). Calypso's daintily mossy garland is woven into delicate lacework that enhances these themes and in the canon of current Piguet fragrances which impose their presence it presents something of an anomaly. However it is for those occasions exactly that one is advised to look back at the history of a house when pronouncing judgement on terms of aesthetics: The Piguet portfolio included legion of fragrances once upon a time, with some of the lesser known being: Augure, Cattleya, Fou, Dingo (all from 1945), Gambade (1946), Grande Epoque, Rollon, Hirondelle, Brigand, Dark Herald, Donna Sol, Mimo, Esclave (all from 1947), Estampe (1948), and Messanger (1952).

The vintage Calypso by Robert Piguet (not to be confused with the duty-free limited edition by Lancôme by the same name) was originally available in Eau de Toilette strength and extrait de parfum in the standard curvaceous and simple flacons of Piguet and makes sporadic appearences on Ebay. Since Baghari (1945) and Visa (1946) have been re-issued and so have Futur (1974) and the masculine Cravache (1963) recently, to varying approximations to the original formula, let's hope that the marvel that is Calypso is destined for Phoenix-like resurection as well.

Painting of Odysseus and Calypso, 1883 by Arnold Böcklin via faerymists.tripod.com


  1. Thank you so much for this historical in depth presentation! I was waiting for your review for a long time. I think there are many secrets and marvels locked in the Piguet history and I hope that one day we'll be able to appreciate the whole picture of this very creative and daring brand. As the perfumes were created by 2 great perfumers from Roure, now Givaudan, we can expect they were very well preserved in their archives.
    Solving the mistery of the year (and if the formula is unchanged) is essential in the understanding of the evolution of the accords. In those day a perfumer would transpose an original idea in several creations over the years until the great finale.

  2. The Scentimentalist00:07

    Wow! Fascinating. Sounds fiiiiiine!

  3. Fiordiligi11:10

    Oooh, what a wonderful article! Thank you so much for a fascinating read, dearest E. This is the sort of piece I could never tire of reading.

    I knew that Piguet was a couturier but I didn't know that there were quite so many fragrances associated with the house.


  4. Wendy07:51

    hi Elena! Yet another verrrrry interesting perfume history lesson.. and on one of Piguet's scents, no less... interesting how you do not, in fact, list Bandit amongst the RP reissues that are more or less faithful to the original formula. Guess we all know why that is!! (I wanted to add a smiley but the whole Bandit puzzle bums me out too much)

  5. Octavian,

    thank you for saying so and for providing the stunning visual too!
    It took me a while, that's true ;-)
    I dearly love the Piguet brand, they present a very involving portfolio and it is encouraging to contemplate that maybe the other formulae will be one day ressurected: as you say, it's not easy to access the development without the contexual "frame" of the contemporaries, nor is the intertextuality in its authoring discernible.
    Who knows, seeing as they are reviving other past gems, maybe they will head our pleas. Mr.Garces has been most appreciative of our thoughts so far.

  6. Scentimentalist,

    it is quite good and if you ever come across some give it a whirl. It's more delicate than usual tornados by Piguet, but none the less beautiful.

  7. D,

    thank you darling, hope you're having a good time!

    Yes, isn't it simply breathtaking just how many scents are associated with the brand? (and with lots of old brands really, not just RP). It's useful if only to put to sleep the myth that only now companies produce many fragrances: They do, no doubt, but it's the brands that got multiple, not the turnout so much.

  8. W,

    hehehe, well, Bandit is such a perplexing puzzle, but I adore its current incarnation, so no complaints from me. :-)
    Perhaps we might as well savour our bottles for what they are for as long as they last... ;-)

  9. Anonymous09:55

    dear elena, thanks for this presentation! and yes, it's true that calypso smells rather 40's than 50's in terms of complexity, spiciness, personnality. I think this fragrance is a Jean Carles' style. Daniel.

  10. Daniel,

    you're most welcome! (even if I only saw this late...sorry!)
    It would be most interesting to view this as a Jean Carles formula, which would be plausible no doubt (the spiciness and the cool mossiness like in Ma Griffe).
    It would be marvellous to find out for sure!

  11. Calypso - new version - is now on sale at Harrods, London. I was not very impressed on first meeting but I always persevere with the complex ones. Can't wait to hear how it compares with the original(s).


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