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Wild Gardener

La fougère est morte, vive la fougère

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Fougère Royale was of course the original fougère. It was not only the first example of the genre but also one of the first fantasy perfumes - abstract creations that don't draw their inspiration from nature.

Paul Parquet's great and novel idea was to create a perfume structure based on the contrasts and harmonies of three different materials : the fresh aromatic smell of lavender, the sweet and powdery hay-like odour of coumarin and the resinous dark orange of bergamot.

As well as this three part structure, there's also a floral heart of geranium with smooth white flowers and carnation, and also, possibly, a touch of animal musk.

Because of the dearth of aromachemicals in 1882 the structure feels a bit diffuse and lacking in shape. Without many clear single notes in his palette the perfumer had to aim for subtlety of nuance, rather than clarity of form or bold direction. FR thus tends to haze and merge; but as the early lead taken by lavender moves towards coumarin the richness of the profile is a real delight. Later, the quality of expression drops off a bit as it moves into the bergamot phase. The practical life of the profile is not that long compared to some modern, synthetic-heavy fougères, and once the nuances - which the perfume relies on for impact - have merged, it becomes more of a bland skin scent. There is also a faint metallic overtone which I find a bit unpleasant, and this must be counted an off note.

Although FR is, frankly, a bit hit and miss, there are several reasons why this could be. It's possibly a fault of the original composition, or the lack of synthetics may have played a role despite the best efforts of the perfumer. And there is always the spectre of reformulation in a perfume that was made some sixty-odd years after the original launch.

The type of the product and its age are two other factors that must be taken into account. This is a barbershop hair lotion in a wonky brown box with hand glued stickers; to make the hair 'supple and pliant' it says. It looks like it must be a version of the original formula dating from the 1950's, or possibly earlier, but it would be a miracle if it smelled like the original EdT from the 19th century. We are looking through a glass darkly here, allowances must be made...

What can be said with confidence however, is this. In one fell swoop Fougère Royale established the structure of the fougère as we know it today, and in all essentials it hasn't changed. Because it's an ensemble of supporting players the fougère has no very strong direction of its own, and as a consequence can support a wide range of prima donnas in a starring role.

Some notable themes that have been imposed on it are : Canoë - aldehydic floral, Brut - sweet, Azzaro pour Homme - anisic, Paco Rabanne pour Homme - green, Drakkar Noir - shaving foam, Tsar - fresh, Bleu de Chanel - spiky woods, even Chergui - with red fruits. In this case the hay, which forms an important part of the tobacco accord has a clear resemblance to the coumarin in Fougère Royale. There are no doubt others that can be added to the list, the fougère seems to be endlessly protean.

When Fougère Royale is compared to modern fougères it can be seen to have clear limitations. But even if this isn't such a great perfume in itself, its legacy is great - and lasting. Its versatile structure of lavender, coumarin and bergamot has become the foundation of a perennial genre. One that has gone in and out of style for 130 years but shows no sign of fading away. Long may it reign.

Updated 7th December 2019 at 09:16 AM by Wild Gardener

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  1. JaimeB's Avatar
    Very good recap and analysis of the original... Have you smelled the most recent reformulation from Houbigant? If so, does it deal well with the limitations of the original in your opinion?
  2. Wild Gardener's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by JaimeB
    Very good recap and analysis of the original... Have you smelled the most recent reformulation from Houbigant? If so, does it deal well with the limitations of the original in your opinion?
    Thanks.
    No I haven't smelled the new one so I can't say.

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