My name is Anne-Marie and I am making my debut on Perfume Posse. I write regularly for the perfume blog Beauty on the Outside (botoblog.com). Other than that I’m just your regular ol’ perfume lover, except that I live in Australia, so my precious perfume purchases take just that little bit longer to get here!
You might think it crazy in an inaugural post that I should take on Rochas Femme and Goutal Mon Parfum Chéri, par Camille. The first is a towering achievement in the history of perfumery, the other a homage to it. But many great perfumes inspire comparisons with other art forms, and I am taking a musical direction for this post. I hope you’ll stay with me.
I must begin by stating straight up that I am discussing the 1989 re-orchestration of Femme. I love the modern so much that so far I have been refusing to risk spoiling that pleasure seeking out the vintage. I will get to it one day.
You will have gathered by now, if you know the modern Femme, that I am no cuminophobe. In fact, the nostril-searing blast of cumin feared by so many people almost passes me by. I do know what cumin smells like – I cook with it all the time – but what I get from Femme is a cumin note that beautifully mimicks the scent of warm, human skin.
Femme acknowledges that we all live in and perceive the world through our bodies. How could it be otherwise? And how are we to experience perfume except through the interaction of the perfume and our bodies? Why pretend otherwise? What Femme does is allow us to love our bodies. Yes! I just know I smell good in this and I am proud of myself.
When I wear Femme, too, I hear the sound of the violin, especially the wonderful violin concerti of the nineteenth century. The closest to Femme for me is the first movement of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto.
Rich, raw, tender, exotic. Here it is in a 2007 recording by Janine Jansen:
If Femme is the violin, Mon Parfum Chéri, par Camille for me is the cello. There is a similarity in style: both are fruity chypres with added spice. Yet when I first smelled Mon Parfum Chéri in the EDP concentration I was stunned by the dark patchouli in the opening. There is no preamble, no sweet introductory melody in flowers or citrus, but a dark and almost harsh medicinal patchouli-and-plum accord. The wrench of it reminds me of the opening bars of the Elgar cello concerto. Here’s the incomparable Jacqueline du Prés snatching beauty out of the dark earth, just as Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen do with Mon Parfum Cheri:
Those soaring melodic lines reveal tender details that had been wrapped inside, like the notes of violet and heliotrope wrapped into Mon Parfum Chéri. I’m not especially aware of iris as iris, but I don’t doubt it is there, refining the patchouli, perhaps, and making the perfume sing.
And sing it does, just like that glorious cello in the hands of Jacqueline du Prés. There is nothing fussy or aggressive or over-performed in her style. She draws no excess of attention to herself but brings the music to us with supreme conviction and control.
Similarly, I don’t sense any fussy excess in Mon Parfum Chéri. I ignore the satin, lace and lipstick references in the marketing and packaging. It doesn’t need that stuff, not for me anyway. Look at how the hair swept off du Prés’ brow reveals the strength and sensitivity in her face. See what I mean? It is enough.