Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rochas Madame Rochas: fragrance review

"Give him Madame Rochas. A few drops at a time."
 ~New Yorker magazine vintage ad 27 November 1965

Madame Rochas was the signature scent of my grandmother in her mature years and lovingly picked by my own mother as well, when my grandmother passed away. They were unconsciously true to the wise words of a vintage ad: "Rule: Your perfume should change as often as your mood. Exception: Madame Rochas." It does make for a glorious signature fragrance...I well remember smelling the perfume on both women as a little girl, thinking it smelled simply wonderful. And it still does, transporting me to an elegant vision of old money class, beautiful restraint, no vulgar displays of anything, be it flesh or wealth. But that's not to say she's not sexy or femme either. Another vintage ad puts it well: "In France romance is a national passion. So is Madame Rochas". And it is indeed very much a "perfume in the French style".
Like classical art, this Guy Robert scented creation always felt like it was simply striking the right proportions.

Character & Attitude: A Grande Dame
To describe Madame Rochas feels a bit like ornamenting that which needs no ornament. Much like my maternal grandmother, she is a Grande Dame, never an ingenue, girl-next-door, damsel in distress or soubrette. This might be the reason this 1960 creation fell somewhat out of favor commercially in the last 15-20 years when perfumery reached its apogee of fragrance creation ideals focused on naive youthfulness, immediate accessibility or plain out weirdness for the sensationalist/witty effect. Much like on cannot imagine the generation of CK One approaching their elders' vanities with anything but a dismissed "pffft", one cannot envision Madame Rochas on anyone under 30. Unless of course we're talking a perfumista who dabbles in decades past.

On the contrary Madame Rochas is in a way Lanvin's Arpège revisited for the 1960s and the new jet set emerging, a sort of Parisian Mod, Jackie Kennedy shops French designers before becoming First Lady. Madame Rochas is also interesting as a milestone in perfumer's Guy Robert opus in that it set the stage for his Hermes Calèche to follow the following year, Madame Rochas' drier twin sister; the latter would would influence the market for quite awhile.

The fragrance was created specifically under the commision of Hélène Rochas, the young wife of the Rochas house founder, for whom Femme de Rochas was also made when she went into wedlock. She was only 30 when the perfume was officially issued, showing just how far and wide tastes in what is considered youthful have shifted.

Scent Description
The aldehydes open on a dewy but sunny April morning: Hyacinth, lemon and neroli are shining with green-waxy-lemony shades before an indeterminate floral heart opens with woody tonalities (tuberose, rose, narcissus and jasmine). The propelling provided by the muskier, mossier, lightly powdered (never talc-like) base extends the florals and woods on for hours. The complexity of the formula and the intricate structuring of its accords accounts for its radiance and tenacity.
The powdery orris feel is underscored by the fresh and at the same time musty vetiver; but the proportion is such that the end result doesn't smell musty at all.

This bright, vivacious, graceful bouquet gains subtly soapy nuances of corpulent lily of the valley with only a slight hint of floral sweetness; its delicious bitterness, almost chypré, lurking beneath the green flowers is its hallmark of elegance. Inedible, smelling like proper perfume with a surprising warmth, ambery-like, like honeycomb smelled at a distance, Madame Rochas is an aldehydic floral perfume in the grand manner and thanks to its perfect harmony, lack of uprightness and full on humanity it is among the most legible in this demanding genre as well, not to mention romantic and sensuous too.
If you thought you couldn't "do" aldehydic fragrances because you can't succumb to the most famous example Chanel No.5, maybe Madame Rochas will do the trick. It sums up good taste.

Notes for Madame Rochas:
Top: aldehydes, bergamot, lemon and neroli
Middle: jasmine, rose, tuberose, lily-of-the-valley, orris root, ylang-ylang, violet and narcissus
Base: sandalwood, vetiver, musk, cedar, oakmoss and tonka bean.

Fragrance Editions: Vintage vs. Modern & Bottle Design
The original Madame Rochas was introduced in 1960 and was re-issued 1982 in its second edition, re-orchestrated by Jean Luis Sieuzac. The original bottle design represents a replica of a 18th century bottle which was in the collection of Helene Rochas herself. The box is printed like a tapestry.
The new edition design was adapted by Pierre Dinand and is available in 30, 50 and 100 ml of eau de toilette.  The box is white with gold lettering.
The new version of Madame Rochas is somewhat lighter than I recall and less spicy- powdery, emphasizing green floral notes on the expense of balmy, woody ones. But it's still classy and collected at all times and a bargain to get.

Who is it for?
I would recommend this for all Calèche, Climat de Lancome, YSL Y, Guerlain Chamade and even Dioressence lovers. Climat is much more powdery and immediately aldehydic, Y is more chypre and Chamade relies more on hyacinths. Dioressence starts with sweeter notes in the openening and is much more animalic-smelling in the deeper notes, especially in the vintage orientalised verion. Madame Rochas could also be a great fit if you like things like Rive Gauche by YSL, Paco Rabanne Calandre, Revillon Detchema or Tauer's Tableau de Parfums Miriam.


  1. Over on fragrantica.com, there is an interesting forum thread about the recent discontinuation of this lovely scent.

    We may need to say a sad farewell.


  2. It was a lovely perfume!!!
    A REAL ladies one .

  3. Hey, don't say a word against weird. I use birch tar oil undiluted instead of fragrance when I feel like it; admittedly, it annoys the hell out of some people.

    And now I'm not exactly off to dig up my small bottle of Madame Rochas as I'm at work, having my coffee break, but I'll get back to it when I'm home. Need to reevaluate.

  4. Sarahbelle,

    oh geez, this is seriously BAD news!! Thanks for bringing it here.
    How can anyone replace Femme, Eau de Rochas and Madame Rochas? These are irreplaceable gems!! *throwing my fist on the table with a bang*

    1. Anonymous00:44

      Je suis desole! My favorite through many decades. Nothing even comparable.

  5. M,

    hi there!

    Indeed, very lady-like, REAL lady, as you succinctly point out. (I kinda think this is exactly why my grandmother who was a real lady and a most kind person chose it in the first place).
    It's a pity that there are not more perfumes of this calibre (if not style) available today.

  6. L,

    (nice to see you! how are things?)

    nothing against weird per se (love some weirdos myself), but this is not what a classic French perfume would/should aim for. MR does not and wouldn't ever dream of.
    It's very lady-like and totally incongruent with modern sensibilities in a way, which needs appreciation exactly for what it is: a well-bred womanly elixir that should small good as much going as it would coming.

  7. lalique12:57

    Lovely review of one of my absolute favorites. My father brought me a bottle back as a present from his travels when I was 15 yrs old and I loved it then as I do now. Amouage Gold is like an Arabic-speaking Mme Rochas flying to exotic lands on a magic carpet. I guess it's not surprising given they were both created by Guy Robert.

  8. Anonymous13:59

    My mother had one of the old gold-lace encrusted bottles of this in her drawer when I was growing up. I used to sniff the cap & still recall its wonderful sharpness. I bought one of the reissues a couple of years ago and was of course disappointed. The sharp elegance is gone. The new softer version is a tame, powdery floral. I just bought a bottle of somewhat vintage Calandre, however, and was surprised at how it evoked the old Madame. I have a newer Calandre that's also missing the sharp undernotes, so I guess it's a lost art.

  9. Cheryl14:27

    It seems P & G are discontinuing all
    Rochas fragrances. Femme and Tocade have pride of place in my rotation and sadness is all I can feel.

    Didn't think the fakery that passes for beauty, scent and grace could get any lower...I was wrong. The Emperor really has no clothes.

  10. THAT'S IT. I will finally go and just snag me a bottle of Mme Rochas. I've been thinking about it for some time, but it might be now or never.

  11. Mimi Gardenia15:08

    I can't believe they are discontinuing this. How sad. Soon we'll be left with just the Justin Bieber Juices of this world. It's not right.

  12. Anonymous15:21

    Thanks for this thoughtful review. Coincidentally, I was wearing Madame Rochas yesterday when I read it, in honor of Guy Robert.

    Your assessment of who would like M.R. is absolutely correct. It reminds me of the parfum version of Calandre, which I once owned.

    ~Suzy Q

  13. Lalique,

    that's such a thoughtful gift! And at such a perfect introductory age. There's something about being presented with proper perfume for a young girl that is so glamorous, so grown-up, so...adult. Assuming the juice is so too, of course (not something from Justin Bieber, LOL)

    Love your description of Gold!

  14. Anon,

    alas this kind of sharpness and well-cut, shapely tailored effect in perfumes went out the door with the last tailored clothes. Now it's all hooded tracksuits in bright colours in fake velvet and huge trainers in bright colours. Egh!

  15. Cheryl,

    it's a travesty, I cna't think why. Surely they're not fast sellers and the brand is largely unknown, but it was ripe for a resurgence and it looked like it would happen taking in mind the recent fashions developments. Inexplicable!

    Unless -I guess- they aim to bring on NEW stuff, just like they did with Balenciaga (we should only be so lucky as to get something nice as the first "modern" Balenciaga is, though I do lament for the old of course)

  16. M,

    you simply can't go wrong IMHO. Even the newer edition is pretty good stuff. When one starts with great genes...

    Grab a bottle, I don't think you will regret it.

  17. MG,

    I know.... :-(

    I suppose the only solution is to make a point of buying what we like, to buy it at the brick & mortar when possible (so that the sales look good to the companies, I don't think discounters count) and to keep on buying & sharing with the rest of those we think would be interested in the hopes that we garner enough sales for our favs not becoming discontinued.
    In such hard times, extreme measures are required.

  18. Suzy,

    thanks for the compliment and glad I pegged the right profile of the ladies who would love this one.
    Calandre is such a beauty and a sleeper, though it survived for so long. I do hope they never stop making it (and never ruin it either). Parfum...wow, that's a good one!

  19. Anonymous02:35

    Vintage Madame Rochas is my favorite fragrance of all time I think. The vintage parfum & PdT especially were exquisite, the EDC sharper and less sublime but still gorgeous. I can't find it in myself to be sad that it's discontinued because the modern version bore no resemblance whatsoever to original Madame Rochas, so in my view MR was dead a long time ago. According to 'Perfume Legends,' original Madame Rochas used very high quality essences, and that fact was clear in its glorious scent. The modern version smelled like industrial cleanser, there were no quality essences in sight and it smelled nothing like Madame. I am happy that it is gone now, as it was a depressing, cheap, poor mockery of original Madame Rochas. What was really sad was the people who picked up the modern version and then thought that they knew what Madame Rochas smells like. Thank goodness that cheap dreck bearing the Madame Rochas name is gone now. I'm grateful to have a stash of the vintage stuff.

  20. Anonymous21:34

    This was my mother's signature perfume. I wish I could find some, scent is a strong memory trigger for me. It would be like having her with me again.

  21. Anon,

    I too was psyched to see the re--re-issued version of Madame Rochas, though I have yet to see an actual bottle on an actual counter to try it out. But at least they're honest enough to admit the reformulation, repackage and hope for the best.
    Madame Rochas used to be a fabulous perfume many moons ago. May it continue to grace women in the future.

  22. Anon #2,

    I can totally feel your pain. My own used to wear it (after my grandma who also wore it) and it would mean a lot smelling it again as I remember it.
    Old bottles do crop up on Ebay, though it's a risky bet in the sense that they don't always keep well.
    Thanks for sharing your story with this scent!


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