Where have you been all my life?
This was what Danielle asked herself on first spritzing Rochas Femme. She sent me a generous sample, and I had the exact same reaction. I remember the moment, standing at my front window blinking with recognition not at the sight of my front garden in its autumn colours, but at this fragrance. It was not just that it reminded me of other fragrances I had smelled before. It was that I could see myself in it. It was mine.
The version of Femme that Danielle and I were both smelling is the 1989 reformulation. Famously, this is the one with cumin in it. Cuminophobes should read no further. Lovers of vintage Femme: sorry.
There are many great reviews of Femme out there, but my favourite is this passionate meditation by Elena on Perfume Shrine. Unlike many other people, I am not reminded of sweat when I smell cumin in perfume. To me it is just a skin-mimicking ingredient that makes Femme smell profoundly human. (See: cumin rhymes with human. Cute huh?) It’s not a coincidence that many of the ads for the 1989 formulation feature lots of skin. Nothing blatant or gratuitous, but just the curve of a woman’s back or shoulder, or the drift of her cleavage.
Thinking about Femme, I was struck by a remark made by Denyse Beaulieu in her book The Perfume Lover (2012). She wrote that she has never seen the point of bespoke perfumes, and in conversation with her, Serge Lutens said (p.120):
Perfume is made-to-measure by definition if you recognise yourself in it. Perfume is the subject, just as the tiger is the tamer’s subject. Making a perfume for someone? The perfume is forgotten! It is not itself an more!’
To me this means that the perfume is just there, and you define it and make it your own through the filter of your own tastes, aspirations and life experiences. I love this idea because it suggests that you don’t need to constantly chase the costly, the rare, the bizarre, the niche. Any perfume could be the one for you. If you find your story in it, it’s yours.
My first whiff of Femme immediately brought to mind two other perfumes by Femme’s creator: Edmond Roudnitska. Le Parfum de Therese is one, but I cannot deal with its melon note. Diorella is a great love of mine, but it lacks Femme’s intimacy and sensuality. I recognise Femme’s peach note in other famous peach chypres: Mitsouko, Yvresse and Gucci Rush. I wear them all, but Mitsouko sometimes seems dusty and musty to me, like a scent you would notice on Miss Havisham‘s wedding dress. And I save the exuberance of Yvresse and Rush for special occasions. Femme I wear … well, not every day of course, but often.
All of that said, spring is coming here and I doubt I will wear Femme much in the heat. Diorella will carry me through just fine.
19 thoughts on “‘Where have you been all my life?’: Rochas Femme”
I used to wear Rochas Femme a lot, and still have an old mini-bottle of it. I would still wear it a lot if there weren’t so many other perfumes vying for my attention.
Yes, that’s always the problem isn’t it? Regularly I clear off all the bottles and samples that accumulate on my dressing table and just leave three or four key favourites. Of course those ‘favourites’ change quite often!
Lovely post! I think the quote by Serge Lutens and your interpretation are spot on. It all makes scents sense. Miss Portia turned me on to Femme and I must say it is a wondrous cloud.
And so cheap! You can buy it anywhere on the internet and yet know for certain that you are not going to smell it on every second person you meet on the street (unlike CK1, Light Blue, Eternity, J’Adore etc). Thanks for your comment!
I haven’t tried Rochas Femme and knowing how I usually react to cumin I don’t think this perfume is my story but I liked reading your story. And I’m a little jealous of you being able to enjoy it.
Hi Undina, if you get a chance, perhaps you could give Femme a go, just for interest? Sometimes a note that is a no-go for you can work, depending on the context. Conversely, I’m usually fine with cumin in perfume but the cumin in Le Labo’s Rose 31 is a turn-off. I don’t hate Rose 31 but sniffing it, I do actually realise why many people run from cumin. Vintage Femme is cumin-free, I think, but not nearly so easy to come by in good condition. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
It’s interesting: I love Rose 31 🙂
I won’t refuse to sample almost any perfume that other perfumistas love. It’s just that there are perfumes that I’m actively seeking and there are those that just wait a chance for me to come by.
AnneMarie, I loved your post and found myself nodding in agreement with what you have to say about bespoke perfumes.
Regarding Femme, it is gorgeous stuff indeed. Asali sent me a decant of vintage Femme, and though I don’t know what year it dates to, she was right when she told me that I would probably like it since she knew that I own and adore Amouage Jubilation 25. Have you smelled that one? (The woman’s version, not XXV, which is the men’s). The two are almost dead ringers. I prefer Jubilation 25, because it is much richer smelling, but considering the price difference, it should be. If I didn’t already have Jubilation 25, I’d definitely seek out vintage Femme.
I only just learned of the resemblance between Femme and Jubilation 25. Dilemma! Given how much I love Femme, should I try J25, or let sleeping dogs lie? I think after a decent interval I will give it a go. Even allowing for all the Amouage hype, J25 must be made of better quality materials surely.
Well, now you did it… I read your review and went out to sniff it at the mall. They wanted a ridiculously little amount for, like, 3.4 oz So, after wafting around in it for about an hour, I went back and treated myself to it. Not sure what I’m going to do with 3 effing ounces of the stuff, but I am certainly going to smelling great for a good long while!
Yikes! And all my fault. Congratulations! I also am the proud owner of one of those adorably huge bottles. It feels so decadent and so yummy. I hope you love it.
Totally agree with filtering perfume through life experiences. Femme was one of my first purchases when I willingly jumped down the rabbit hole, after years of trying to deny my interest in fragrance. Not sure which reformulation I have, but to me it’s a lovely plummy/leather/skin scent, with just a whisper of lightly-slept-in-sheets. The bottle is one of my favorites – graceful curves w/o the bling that make so many look like carnival prizes. And the fact that I can actually afford and easily obtain this beauty without sacrificing my retirement (7yrs 9mo 21days – not that I’m counting) makes it a treasure.
Sounds from your description that you have the current version, which is the one I prefer. (Carnival prizes – yes! I see plenty of those on the celebuscent shelves.) You will get years of pleasure out of Femme and never regret the small outlay. Lovely!
I am a cumin hater, but I didn’t stop reading. 🙂 Beautiful review, even though I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to wear this.
I tried this for the first time last summer, and really liked it; the cumin wasn’t too much for me either, and I remember wafting it on a hot day while attending a local Highland Games and feeling just slightly naughty (in a good way). This is really sexy stuff if it works for you.
And now, with your review and Portia’s recent review, I’m seriously wondering why I haven’t picked up a bottle yet, especially since there’s nothing else like it in my collection. I believe this is going to be a September treat for myself. 🙂
Thanks Dionne! The reason you don’t have it already could be that these days it is only available in a hulking great 100 ml bottle! That is enough to give every perfume enthusiast pause. It seems that Rochas d/c the 50 ml bottle some time ago. You do sometimes see 50 ml bottles and minis on ebay.
I’ll give it a go in the heat and see how it performs. Sounds fun.
I too love this in the heat. Seems like so many of the fragrances regarded as wintry scents work best for me in the summer, when they kind of…activate in a different way. Habanitas and Femme both become something entirely different for me depending on the season I give them a go.
Interesting! It is spring here and I have just put my Habanita into hibernation. I’ll get it out again for a warm-weatehr experiment. Habanita has so many facets, it will be interesting to see which ones emerge in the heat. Thanks for your comment.