It isn't often that a flower arrangement at a perfume launch threatens to divert attention away from the fragrance itself, but this is precisely what happened on the morning of the 24th of November in the intimate setting of the Penthouse & Pavilion suite at London's Dorchester hotel. About fifteen guests had gathered for Roja Dove's and Houbigant
's re-launch of the latter's classic Fougère Royale
, but their initial reaction on entering the venue - with its mirrored walls and heavy burgundy drapes - was not to reach for the bottles but to stare at the exquisite composition in the centre of the breakfast table.
Freshly cut lemons and oranges nestled amidst bunches of lavender, geraniums and long-stem roses. The dusty hues of tonka beans and cinnamon contrasted with the vivid colours of the fruits and petals. And underneath it all - only just discernible - was a large patch of moist, green moss. The significance of the display was, of course, immediately clear: it was composed of the key ingredients which have made the fougère one of the most enduring genres of perfumery.
As Mr Dove explained, the original Fougère Royale - created in the 1880s by one of Houbigant's owners, Paul Parquet - marked the first instance of the use of a natural isolate - coumarin - in a perfume. This development allowed the creation of more abstract, "fantasy notes" and essentially gave birth to modern perfumery. In some senses, Fougère Royale became the victim of its own success: its basic accord was so compelling that it inspired an endless stream of near-imitations, many of which paled in comparison to the genuine article. The ubiquitousness of these substandard clones eventually caused the general public to view the characteristic scent of a fougère as "cheap" and old-fashioned.
In order to overcome these negative associations, the team responsible for Fougère Royale's remake decided they would have to remain faithful not to the exact make-up but to the intentions of the original perfume: to evoke a fresh, instantly likable image of nature. Houbigant's Gian Luca Perris (right with Dove) explained that it was impossible simply to re-use Parquet's formula, mainly because of IFRA regulations - which restrict the use of coumarin - but also because several of the bases in the vintage composition are no longer available. He also asserted that an exact re-creation would have been considered far too sweet by modern tastes.
According to Mr Perris, Houbigant decided to turn to Roja Dove for assistance with the project, and he subsequently consulted Rodrigo Flores-Roux, senior perfumer at Givaudan and creator of several fragrances for Donna Karan, John Varvatos and Tom Ford Private Blend. Their plan of action, as outlined by Mr Dove, was to lift the new perfume out of the realm of ordinary fougères by not worrying about costs, and by obtaining naturals from Robertet and synthetics from Givaudan. The final product contains generous doses of lavender absolute, tonka bean absolute and the famed Rose De Mai. Its bottle features lattice-style etchings reminiscent of the well-known Houbigant flacon created by Lalique. In keeping with 19th century practice, the new Fougère Royale will not be marketed specifically as a masculine or feminine scent.
As the guests sprayed their wrists with the perfume, the discussion around the table inevitably turned to the subject of anti-allergen legislation and the increasingly strict rules being imposed on the perfume industry. Considerable surprise was expressed at the fact that the world's major perfume houses are not protesting with greater force about the limits within which they are now expected to work. Even more astonishment was conveyed by those who had never considered the seemingly-inexplicable discrepancies between the standards deemed suitable for the food industry and those applied to perfumery. For example, anyone can buy and ingest as much basil as they wish, but the proportion of basil oil in a fragrance composition is currently restricted.
When asked if he can imagine a time when a perfumer will be allowed to use any material in any quantity as long as his or her creation carries a 'health warning', Mr Dove ruefully shrugged his shoulders and shook his head in uncertainty. However, as the guests began leaving the room - noses glued to wrists - at least one voice was insisting that the time has come for the organisation of a serious, orchestrated campaign to preserve the world's perfume heritage.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Fougère Royale will be launched in the USA, the Middle East and key European capitals. It will be available in shops from February 2011. To read Persolaise's own review of the perfume, please click here.
About the author
Persolaise is a UK-based writer and amateur perfumer who has held a strong interest in the world of fine fragrance for over two decades. He is currently developing his own line of perfume. You can find out more about his work at www.persolaise.com or by emailing him at persolaise at gmail dot com