Quelques Fleurs: Eternal Feminine

quelques-fThis is a Christmas post which means a little off beat.   I tried to think of a perfume for which I have always had affection and of which I have a very long memory. Quelques Fleurs was it.

Houbigant which is the creator of QF has a lengthy history.  Arguably Houbigant is the oldest of the great French perfume companies having been founded in 1775 which makes it one year older than the United States. Francois Houbigant’s shop, A la Corbeille des Fleurs, was patronized by both Marie Antoinette and Madame du Barry, the familiar “basket of flowers” was the recognized sign not simply of the shop, but of the house, and has remained as a company symbol.  You can see it on such late Houbigant perfume labels as Apercu from 2002.

It was Paul Parquet though who, after acquiring the company in 1880, really made the reputation of Houbigant.  He decided to bring synthetics into his compositions, and two years into his ownership produced Fougere Royale.The second perfumer to revolutionize matters at Houbigant, was Parquet’s assistant, Robert Bienaime, who created Quelques Fleurs.  It was the first true multi-floral fragrance.

La Corbeille des Fleurs

La Corbeille des Fleurs

Quelque Fleurs you see used synthetics, probably aldehydes, and a fruit note to commence the fragrance. Let me stop right there for one moment.  Up until that point most feminine formulas were for simple floral fragrances that began with easy bergamot statements of a declarative sort.  Here I am clean and ladylike, like say, Creed’s Fantasia de Fleurs.  That’s a similar perfume not too distant in time from QF.  How does Quelques begin? There is orange blossom, citrus oil, and tarragon, or in other words, there is an accord and it is complex: fruity and green and faintly herbal.  It’s not simple, it’s complicated, but reads like the sunniest invitation to come in and sit on the veranda for a spell.

Then there is the mid section of QF which is complex too but creates one unified accord. This is to my nose lilac dominated. There is heliotrope in there and rose and jasmine and something else, possibly vanillin, and carnation, but the over all effect is of a lilac filled basket of flowers. This is just about irresistible.

An early ad for Quelques Fleurs

An early ad for Quelques Fleurs

The ending differs from perfume to edt.  The QF L’Original features sandalwood and oakmoss, tonka bean, amber and civet.  The older formulas have more vanilla, civet, honey, heliotrope and musk.  I have the L’Original and I do smell civet in there and amber really more than any other factor. Still it is a sunny and friendly perfume that doesn’t let go.

This clinging power seems to be a hallmark of old Houbigants.  They don’t suddenly dissipate like Patous, or burn down to a mousse de saxe ember like Carons, nor yet do they exit trailing their tonka/vanilla scented trains like Guerlains, no they just curl around you like house cats.  They are animalic to a fault, familiar very quickly.  More than any other perfume house they are cozy.  That is their secret.

I already wear Le Parfum Ideal which was a most unlikely choice for me.  Small, squat, and dark, smelling of wood, flowers, and cigarette smoke, I had decided fastidiously that L’Ideal showed its age  and was not for me.  BUT, the scent had character.  Quelques Fleurs is even more easy to love.  It is so deliciously girly, so overtly fond of pink velvet and feathers and small dogs and cats, and so obviously the sort of perfume that a femme would wear, that you just can’t say no.

Robert Bienamime created a masterpiece.  Funny thing, nowadays it’s hard to suggest this with everybody ooing and ahing over Chanels and Guerlains, but trust me this- yes this- was one of the inspirations for Chanel No5.  QF is softer, fuller, and more wearable. There is a bit of Joy coming along in QF, but not the drama you associate with that rose, jasmine and civet typhoon.  This is Houbigant, and that means something you can’t ever forget, like Daisy Buchanon in a lace dress at eighteen. QF is functionally immortal, but all great perfumes are.

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19 thoughts on “Quelques Fleurs: Eternal Feminine

  1. I shall have to unearth my QF and wear it in tribute to this fine writing.

    Wishing you all the best for 2017,

    cheerio!

    • And the best of 2017’s to you too!

      I do hope that you enjoy your QF sample. It is a fine easy perfume to wear, so much so that I often sleep in it 🙂

  2. I knew nothing about either the brand, or this perfume when I scored a hand-made sample of it at SF Nordstrom during one of the early sniffing sessions (5? 6? years ago). Then it took me a while to figure out a scribble on the label – it’s not the easiest name to fit 😉
    I wish I had read your beautiful tribute to this perfume back then: I would have paid more attention to testing it. I don’t think my sample has survived but I’ll try to look for a bottle the next time I’m in a store that might carry it.
    Your voice in the Perfumeland is so distinct and different that I keep being amazed (in a good way, similar to how I feel when I apply one of great perfumes) every time I read your posts.
    Happy New Year to you, and let the writing inspiration be with you no matter what happens in the World (but we’ll hope for the best, right?)

    • Thank you, gosh that’s just made my evening!

      Quelques Fleurs has been so beautiful in its many iterations that I do wish it were not so obscure now. It’s a shame really. I have not tested the new bottles that are out there, mine is an eighties edp I bought inexpensively but it is still very lovely and very lasting. Here’s hoping that you enjoy it.

      Happy New Year to you too Undina and I hope this one is much nicer and happier than last year 🙂

  3. Love your house cats image! Wonderful post, thanks. Happy new year top you!

    I have or have had samples of QF in its modern iteration, and also Demi-Jour, a 1980s rose-violet number (i get more rose than violet). Somehow I never took to either, and gave away the QF samples. I think I felt that both are similar to EL’s Beautiful but without being as good. And I only wear Beautiful about four times a year. But when I do I’m always glad, and grateful for the days when perfumes were perfumes and women were not afraid to wear them.

    • The phrase “when perfumes were perfumes and women not afraid to wear them” certainly chimes with and makes me think.

      I wore Demi Jour (honestly Blacknall what DIDN’T you wear?) when my daughter was a baby. It was a very romantic perfume and that is a quality missing in today’s perfumes. After all if perfume is not romantic-what is?

      Happy New Year, and here’s hoping it will turn out a good one for you and yours.

  4. So much to savour in this review, even though I am only on distant nodding terms with QF, and remember it as very feminine as you say, and quite ‘out there’ and va-va-voomy – in an innocent way.

    I absolutely loved “nor yet do they exit trailing their tonka/vanilla scented trains like Guerlains, no they just curl around you like house cats”. Splendid stuff!

    Happy New Year to you from across the pond.

    • Happy New Year from the New England side of the pond, and that’s a spot on characterization of QF. It is quite an innocent scent.

      When wearing old Guerlains I find that they are always a little bit salacious which puts me in mind of an ancient Two Ronnies program in which they proposed a TV semaphore including a sign : “danger knickers ahead”. Old Guerlains always have the knickers, Houbigants just have soft old cardigans 🙂

  5. Thanks, and yes, what’s the point of perfume if it does not make you dream? I enjoy the idea of a young mum wearing a perfume like Demi-Jour. I hope your daughter enjoyed it too.

  6. Hello and a Happy 2017 to you as well! I enjoyed your meditation on Quelque Fleurs very much. I love this perfume too, although I don’t have a very long history with it. l After acquiring a 1950’s EDT, I was so surprised by the perfume contained in my bottle that I began to research its history. The 50’s EDT and the 80’s L’Original are entirely different compositions to my nose, and the L’Original Extrait is yet another interpretation. It’s all good. I wrote about QF here:
    http://fragrancedaily.com/revisiting-houbigants-quelque-fleurs/
    if you would like to read it. (Hope it’s okay to post a link.) And I keep searching for a good vintage bottle of the parfum, like the one shown in your first image, but so far most I see are empty or nearly so–the unmistakeable sign of a well-loved and the often-worn perfume–so I will keep looking.

    • Well that is an interesting piece and I find it more so because I wonder the same thing about Ideal. BTW, links are fine.

      You confirmed what I had read, namely that Houbigant had reformulated QF. It had gone down market in the sixties and the formula sold then was debased. Then L’Original was released in the eighties.

      Here’s the question. Was L’Original closer to the 1912 formula or was the later one an inaccurate reconstruction?

      My Ideal I assume to be loosely like 1899’s Le Parfum Ideal, but don’t know for sure, old bottles that surface of that perfume are usually not in good condition. I will keep looking and report back if I find one.

      As for QF I suspect that the extract from the 50’s or earlier if you can find it are the best-however- hen’s teeth rarer than. Do hope you can find a pristine bottle 🙂

  7. Thank you for this review. Like the commenters above, I love the image of Houbigants dying down to curl around you like a house cat, along with the other ihouse dry downs. There is certainly a feel for each house.

    Quelques Fleurs is lovely, feminine and romantic. II made a batch of floral bouquet perfume samples for a friend who wears EL Beautiful, and she fell in love with QF, saying it seems more natural, like a garden. I told her she had excellent taste. Now I want to find vintage juice…and go try Beautiful again. Have a fragrant and joyful 2017.

    • Wasn’t it nice that your friend picked out QF? It’s the second time someone has mentioned Beautiful in connection with it, and I agree that really successful floral bouquets are not so common and Beautiful is the last one that really succeeded.

      The vintage is difficult but I hope you have luck. You may need to find the extract -if possible.

      Happy hunting and a healthy and prosperous New Year to you!

  8. I should be the ideal customer for Quelques Fleurs – femme and romantic and flowery as it is. But I’m not. It smells like floral-scented soap on me, which would be great if I wanted that. It’s sad. (I do like Demi-Jour, though.)

    • You know the beginning of Demi Jour always used to bother me but the end was fabulous, and the Quelques Fleurs is a peculiar business of aldehydes.

      They got into soap, the aldehydes . Also think they were in perfumes a lot earlier than we all believe. Just bought an ancient bottle of Le Parfum Ideal. Dating by the package and flagon must have been 90 years old at a guess. Stuff smells like Number 5/ Chypre. Also yes…soap.

      • Ah, my “smells like soap” aversion. I don’t often get it with aldehydes, though I understand why people would call aldehydes “soapy.” What bothers me is the orange blossom, and I’m guessing that a good number of those floral bouquets tend to contain, guess what, OB. Sigh.

        • Just out of sheer curiosity, do you have the same aversion to Neroli? Or is it orange blossom all the way? I mean do you go green when you smell Florida Water?

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