Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guy Laroche Fidji: fragrance review & history

Fidji by Guy Laroche, coming out in 1966, revolutioned the industry in more ways than one: First, it was at chasm with the previous French aesthetic perfumes coming out from French houses & designers. Here there was a fragrance which represented escapism, but that escapism was communicated in very American-shaped methods. Secondly, it showcased that apart from imaginative names (a tradition which knew some excellent examples in the past anyway), every perfume had to deliver a specific story, a story that would address a need and a desire of the audience to whom it was aimed at. Fidji succeeded beautiful but it also happened to be a beautiful perfume to begin with.

Composed by one of the unknown forces in the industry, nose Josephine Catapano, long before perfumers became rock-stars or began composing fragrances to evoke orgasmic effluvia, Fidji, a freshly green floral with tropical inclusions of ylang ylang and carnation, is a fragrance representative of its times and one which influenced many following it, such as Guerlain's Chamade, Cacharel Anais Anais, Chanel No.19, Givenchy III, Climat and even Charlie by Revlon. Fidji pushed to its extremities, on both ends of its skeleton, could be said to have inspired even Lauder for her bitter chypre Private Collection. After all, Catapano also worked for Lauder and IFF for years where she later became the mentor of Sophia Grojsman. Michael Edwards confirms my theory when he says:
[Fidji] “pioneered a new generation of fresh perfumes: Norell (1969), Charlie (1973), Gucci No 1 (1975) and a hundred other fragrances following its lead”.

Guy Laroche launched Fidji at a time when the youth market seemed like a particularly desirable budding segment to advertisers; what with the upheaval of the 1960s which brought out the power of young ideals and the romanticism of following your heart, and what with the desire of the young to map out their own territories, their own olfactory landscapes. These landscapes often revolved around the East or civilizations away from the Western anxieties...such as those of the South Pacific where the Fidji islands are located and the managers of the brand were taking their vacation when the idea formed. The Beatles were leaving for India and the hippies were gathering at Haight Asbury. Refound paradises were especially suggestive. The market demanded different approaches than the traditional "keeping up with the Joneses" social approach (a respectable perfume to assert one's spending power) or the heavy seduction games of old. Thus woman became "an island and Fidji was her perfume" as the memorable motto went. Women-isles through the years clutched the bottle closely to their smooth bosoms in the glossy images; women as famous as supermodel Linda Evangelista who posed for the ads in the early 1990s.

The olfactory inspiration for Fidji comes from another youthful (in its time) classic: L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci. The salicylate heart with the clove-y tint was taken apart and enrobed in a new cloth, the rest modernised by Catapano accordingly and given a very fresh fuzzy start which is green rather than peachy, and a base with more patchouli and sandalwood which lasts well.
The opening impression of the Laroche scent is one of bitterish freshness with a cool (rather than warm) heart of flowers in which hyacinth pops its head, at odds with the modern expectations of a tropical evoking fragrance atavistically smelling of suntan oil and tiaré blossoms. Fidji isn't especially tropical despite the name and feels just as fitting in an al fresco lunch in the Hamptons in June, silk dresses in shades of paradise birds blowing softly in the breeze, as it does in an outdoor cafe in August-hot Barcelona with Verner Pantone S chairs laid out in orange and green. Its feminine sensuality is derived from the milky woodiness of sandalwood and the subtle musky trail it leaves on skin after the fresh floral notes and the mossy green dissipate; it behaves with delicate elegance and knows its place, even if it keeps its escapist fantasies close at heart.

Unfortunately, Fidji is among the creations which are best savoured in older formulations, as the modern Eau de Toilette, a rare sight at department stores or online, alongside its ancillary products, seems a bit thinned out, although still quite pleasant and many cuts above many more recent launches. Vintage Eau de Cologne concentration looks like a fine medium if you can't get yourself some of the old parfum. It's still available although rarer and rarer in some auction sites.

Notes for Guy Laroche Fidji:
citrus (lemon), galbanum, hyacinth, ylang ylang, carnation (via clove), spices, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, orris, vetiver, oakmoss, sandalwood, patchouli, balsam, musk, ambergris.


  1. This is one I wore back in the day. It was both a favorite and not a favorite, very distinctive. I don't think I would wear it again -- especially since it has been reformulated.

  2. Anonymous15:17

    I wear it, maybe once a week and love it. Together with Anais Anais, L'air du temps, Fidji is in my top10. I guess it is the carnation I like in it most.

  3. Karin,

    funny you say that: I know of quite a few people who like it and then don't wear it!

  4. Lavinia,

    we're both carnation lovers, it seems :-)
    I do wish modern perfumery would revisit this note: I'm looking forward to Serge's take in summer, myself.

  5. Yum, this sounds perfect for me. I love green perfumes, and I'm a little obsessed with hyacinth right now. Thanks for the review.

  6. I didn't really get carnation out of it on me. It is sharp and green on me and very distinctive.

    I wore it back when I thought I had to finish a bottle to get something new, so consequently while I saved $$$, I also got extremely tired of a fragrance and wore it when it wasn't a first choice.

    It was strong and pungent, much like the original YSL Rive Gauche, but different.

    To me, because I wore it so long ago, it feels dated. I'd rather find something newer that is still classic.

  7. Funny! it did start out bitter. And I didn't get any patchouli out of it either.

  8. K,

    high chances are you'll like it! It's rather elegant and at the same time sentimental, if that makes sense.

  9. Karin,

    perception is a funny thing and I bet yours is as valid as mine. Thanks for explaining your reasoning in such detail.

    The carnation is inspired by L'AdT, but the effect is different: there it took center stage, here it's less of a protagonist, mollified under the other flowers (the floral note is rather undistinguishable in its parts). Yes, it's sharpish, though I hadn't thought of it in the scheme of RG: now you've put ideas into my head!

  10. And oh, the patchouli is subtler than what passes for patchouli nowadays (maxed up!) or what was considered "head-shop" patchouli in those days; but still more than in L'AdT which was my reference/comparison.
    This is well-mannered stuff at any rate. ;-)

  11. Anonymous23:05

    I had the good fortune of finding a $12 bottle of Fidji EDT at an antique store just last week! It was very large, over half full, and wonderfully fresh. I enjoy it a great deal and have spent quite a bit of time looking up vintage magazine ads online to get a sense of the fragrance's history and its marketing strategy. Thank you, Helg, for posting what was (for me) a very timely article. As always, I love your blog.

    P.S. Any idea how to determine whether a Fidji bottle is the reformulated or vintage version?

  12. Oh darling you spoke about Fidji! How much I miss it along with Nuits Indiennes! At times I see it online but I am not sure if this is the formule I used or a new one. But I remember I bought it in France the first time, in a little village. that day was just Fidji, the Fidji I have always wanted to visit. Because in those times the name of a perfume caused in me such great sensations. everything was according to the name and the perfume, the ad was exactly special as the perfume, going together along with the perfume. I miss it and will one day get a vintage one. xx

  13. Anonymous20:38

    I think I also used to have a bodylotion named fidjii, or am I just quite wrong?? I still remember the fragrance--lovely

  14. I used to use this perfume back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I bought a bottle recently not realising that they had reformulated it and think it smells same as i remember x


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