Forgotten Fougeres

In the beginning was Fougere Royale.

That’s fougere pre-history to you and me.  We live in CW era, to be specific, the post Cool Water era.  Cool Water was such a tsunami in the world of fougeres (the fragrance based on the fantasy fern accord of lavender and coumarin) that nothing has been the same ever since it crested.  We can’t really  recall a time when fougeres weren’t classified as masculines.  I mean, Cool Water was certainly aimed at men, rather like a cool water canon, and hit them, square in the wallet, with the first dihydro-myrcenol powered aromatic fougere in 1988.  The result was that fougeres, which already appeared to be a masculine preserve, effectively became a masculine perfume cliche.

The interesting point here, though, is that the fougere was not originally a masculine type of fragrance, any more than the chypres or the leathers were, and the early examples of the genre tend to bear that assessment out.

Consider the perfume house of Dana.  In the US it is associated now with pharmacies and big box stores.   Dana wasn’t, however, always down market.  In the 1930s Dana produced popular mid- market fragrances such as the sweet amber Tabu (1931) so beloved of my mother.

But Dana also seems to have specialized in the fougere for women, like 20 Carats (1933) produced in a bottle containing gold leaf, and then the better known Canoe (1935).  They were both bought and loved by one or two generations of women before someone started associating fougeres with men, and then Canoe was systematically shelved in the after shave section of drugstores in the US. 20 Carats disappeared, and Canoe was gender typed, a fate it didn’t deserve.

The female fougere also seems to have been popular with Spanish and South American women. The Spanish firm of Myrugia was already in on the game with Maja (1925) and Flor de Blason (1927).  Everyone knows Maja because of the nearly ubiquitous soap, and the formula is still a great strategy against summer heat.  Something about its sprightly dry florals seems to cool you and dry you simultaneously.  Flor de Blason, meaning The Flower on the Coat of Arms, is rare now, though I did once see a bottle or two on  Ebay.

Here is a genre so far out of fashion that it is just begging to come back.  Canoe, which I know from the- ahem- deodorant, is still pretty terrific smelling. The deodorant costs about five dollars over at Harmon Drugs, and is much, much nicer than any number of fancy scents that I have sampled from niche perfumers.  You can smell Canoe all the way through, it never goes dead or sour, and is perfectly wearable by women.   If you can wear Chypre or Mitsouko, you can wear Canoe.

Still skeptical?  Here is Luca Turin on the subject of said Canoe in his original Guide from 1994:

“The real poison is not the  neon fruit compote of the same name that Dior inflicts upon us, it’s this  vivacious creamy, scent of a poisonous flower head that the perfumery has chosen to call by the  flattering name of ‘fougere’ to hide its synthetic origin.  The descendant, they say, of the legendary Fougere Royale (Houbigant) and the ancestor of Brut (Faberge), Canoe is as bony and nervous as an Art Deco Pegasus.  The pennants on the line that spell out its name (on the label) flap in the blue, electric atmosphere of a regatta held during the season of the Mistral. A perfume to wear with white flannel.”

See what I mean?  And yet no one wears and no one comments on this perfume.

Then too, 20 Carats is back. The last time I heard of that scent, it had been briefly revived by  a man whose mother had used the fragrance in the thirties and missed it, so he had a new batch made up for her, and I found out about it by reading that how-to manual for codgers, The Vermont Country Store Catalog. Subsequently, I stumbled across the Dana Classics site (nope, not affiliated) and found out about the re-issue.  20 Carats is thirty dollars for the bottle, which is just like the original one, and has little flakes of gold leaf floating in the perfume like wistful bits of social and economic aspiration in liquid suspension.

According to the company, it is a proper attempt at reconstruction with head-notes, heart-notes and a dry down.  I’ve smelled a lot less than that many times in recent perfumes.

Perhaps we ought to stop being so gender specific, and so label conscious, and become a bit more intent on value for money.  Anyway, my money is on one or another of these old formulas making a come back.  I mean to say, if such Depression era fixtures as Fiestaware plates are back, why not fougeres for females?

 

 

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4 Responses to Forgotten Fougeres

  1. Mals says:

    Fougeres are the one genre I can’t manage to wear. Maybe it was coming of age in the rigidly gender-stereotyped 80s, maybe it was that all my early boyfriends wore Brut or Drakkar Noir… I don’t know, but I can’t wear a fougere without feeling that I’ve got Y-fronts on, when I don’t have the proper boyparts for them. Canoe I think smells terrific, but I want to smell it on a guy.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      But here’s the thing, some of these old fougeres I think didn’t have that seat up/seat down dichotomy we tend to run into later. I can’t find 20 Carats, darn it, and neither could I ever find that really old fougere Le Trefle Incarnat, but I betcha they weren’t so tough. Check out what this poster said about 20 Carats, not so bad eh?

  2. Bryan Ross says:

    The sole reason women seem to have for avoiding fougeres is their gender association, which flies in the face of what so many perfume enthusiasts claim, i.e., “perfume is unisex.” It seems that sentiment is amended with, “except fougeres: they’re just for guys.”

    A good fougere is deceptively friendly, despite whatever headiness or complexity it may possess. There’s that bright snap up top, be it from lavender, bergamot, galbanum, you name it. Then, properly speaking, there’s this sweet, lush heart. It’s Coumarin. It’s what holds the fougere together. Coumarin is often mistaken for being only useful in fougeres, but in fact it holds many chypres together, too (Grey Flannel and Sung Homme for instance). Classic aromatics like Paco Rabanne Pour Homme sometimes verge on sugar shock with how much focus is put on their coumarin note. If a woman feels she cannot wear a classic fougere, with its gilded-frame coumarin note, then I don’t understand how they could say differently for things like Angel, or Lolita Lempicka. My understanding from reading is that the original Fougere Royale was actually absurdly sweet.

    I think you have it right – looking back to classic fougeres proves this category is just as unisex as the others, and should be reclaimed by women. I would say the only exception to this notion is Kouros by YSL. If there is a woman born on whom Kouros can flourish, she will probably inhabit the not-so-silver screen, seventy-five years into the future.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      I’m with you on the essential gender neutrality of fougeres. And unlike most ladies I know, do routinely wear fougeres, Mouchoir de Monsieur for one.
      Interesting that you mention Kouros, and you’re probably right that it would suit a twenty third century androidess, but I rather liked it when it came out, though I could not talk my husband into wearing it. Sulk!

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