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.