A recent impulse purchase of mine was Hermes’s Caleche Soie de Parfum (1992). I’m not going to review it, as I agree in every respect with a review that Robin published on NST some years ago, that Caleche SdP is an elegant aldehydic floral, quite soapy in the middle and with a pleasant, woody drydown.
My main impression of this perfume is that it, and its older sister, the original Caleche (1961), are so, so ladylike. That is what aldehydes over a chypre structure will do, and in the 1961 Caleche this is especially so. (To me the 1961 lovely but unconvincing, but I have only smelled the most recent version of it. I gather that something has been lost in reformulation.)
The thing is, this quality of ladylike-ness is not one I care for. I don’t see the point of it any more. Sexiness, yes I do of course. Elegance, most definitely. Glamour, maybe. Prettiness, sometimes. But ladylike-ness to me is an empty, hollow quality, and it tries too hard. Ladylike-ness is to elegance what etiquette is to true, genuine courtesy.
Ms Ladylike puts too many flowers in her vases, and in her perfume. In my mind, First (1976), by Van Cleef & Arpels, falls into this category of being just too, too tasteful, as does Lauder’s Beautiful (1985). What about lush and complex florals from an earlier age, like Patou’s Joy, or Lanvin’s Arpege? No, they are probably too animalic for Ms Ladylike. Ms Ladylike rarely takes risks. Of course, because she is always relentlessly keeping up with the fashions, she may by now have accepted the cleaner, more minimalist trend in modern perfumery. I’ll bet Ms Ladylike is buying Jo Malone these days.
When Caleche Soie de Parfum came out in 1992, niche perfume houses were beginning to offer much more diversity for women aspiring to be something other than, or more than, ladies. So now we talk casually about notes of blood and semen being included in perfume, and Ms Ladylike would be aghast. (What next? Vomit?) However, the market for perfumes this extreme is surely small, and likely to remain so. Most of us still want to smell nice, somehow, when we apply perfume.
So is there a place for ladylike-ness in modern life, and in modern perfumery? Is anyone making perfume for ladies now? Does it matter?