The other day I acquired a classic: Fleurs de Rocailles. This particular classic isn’t in vogue. Right now I’d say that weighty orientals are all the rage , but this is a season in which Spring cannot come soon enough for me, so when I saw a bottle of Fleurs de Rocaille on Ebay I bought. Then the perfume arrived packed with extravagant care, and I discovered the old extract had never been opened. I was the very first wearer of this perfume which must have been forty years old or older. How appropriate.
F d R is the sort of perfume which gives most perfume lovers pause nowadays. They think the fragrance will smell old fashioned and the bad reviews which the Caron line received several years ago in The Sanchez and Turin Guide still influence people negatively. However I collect them. At last count I owned 12, and all of them are rich and lasting perfumes. But up until now I’d avoided Fleurs de Rocaille. .”Masterly but staid affairs” Luca Turin wrote of both Fleurs and Nuit de Noel,”that bring to mind well to do ladies outside the church after Sunday service, all voilettes and pillbox hats.” Who wants to be masterly and staid, aside that is, from the late Henry James? Then Turin went on to quote his landlady in Paris who had said that of the two greatest perfume houses in France, Guerlain was for cocottes while Caron was for duchesses. (She didn’t mention Cotys at all which makes me wonder who they were for? Shop Girls? Dental Hygienists?)
This peculiar little statement has come to make some sense to me. Old Guerlains are retro engineered hits from other houses. They’re inherently conservative. Cocottes after all have to toe the line and wear what is fashionable, otherwise they might lose their clientele. Carons though, like the duchesses, are often originals and can be just as odd as they choose to be.
In a word though, and despite my collection, Fleurs de Rocaille was un- expected. It was green. Commonly called a floral aldehyde the overwhelming impression, the overture if you like, is Spring time. This seemed familiar to me and I pulled a perfume I also own, Jean Patou’s Vacances. Both are Impressionist landscapes of Spring time. But Vacances which is based on an accord of lilacs and mimosas is softer and more relaxed. Fleurs de Rocaille has got carnation mixed in with the lilac and the result is more focused. Also from the beginning you realize that F d R is going to be a much more complex scent than the delicate Vacances. Things are going to change.
At first under the influence of the aldehydes the perfume becomes a bit soapy and sharp but gradually softens, and begins to relax underneath the initial accord of carnation and lilac like a tight bundle of flowers brought home from the market. First you get lilacs and then increasingly you smell carnation.
This Spring time bouquet also contains roses and jasmines and you become aware of them too while the perfume seems to expand under your nose as you smell those roses which are still accompanied by the jasmines and carnations. You’ve got quite a crowded corsage of florals by now ( this trick of pervading your atmosphere is one of the nicest qualities of the old Carons). They seem to expand even more until you are now wearing what feels like an entire dress of flowers, and this impression lasts for hours on me. This is no doubt the reason for Fleurs’ success for so many years, this illusion of wearing a fabric of flowers.
Then much later the perfume begins to dry down to oakmoss, sandalwood, and some musk, but the softness of this drying off is equivalent to a peau de soie slip sliding off a shoulder and is just as smooth. What began as the proper outfit for Sunday has stripped down to the negligee worn on Sunday night.
Fleurs is surprisingly versatile. As a number of people have remarked on blogs and in perfume forums, floral aldehydes are amongst the very easiest and most versatile scents to wear everyday. Fleurs can go shopping with you, drop off the kids at practice, can go to work ( very sparingly applied) and can drink a glass of Chardonnay or Viognier with you at six thirty and not square off against the wine. This is why this perfume has stayed in production this long. Fleurs is wide awake and may not be for cocottes because it is not remotely sexy, but it is immortally pretty.