Isn’t it strange how two perfumes can have the same list of notes and yet sometimes smell so different? Lots of perfumes start with bergamot, neroli, or lemon, then segue to rose, jasmine, and iris with maybe some lily or tuberose thrown in. Then the perfume drys down to some combination of sandalwood, vetiver, amber and maybe tonka or vanilla. Racier scents might have civet, patchouli, musk, or oakmoss in the base. Of course I’m being overly general here, but so many scents have the same ingredients and yet smell so different. Madame Rochas is a case in point.
Helène Rochas — the real Madame Rochas — took over the House of Rochas when she became a widow at only 28 years old. It was 1955. Helène was the woman for whom Marcel Rochas commissioned Edmond Roudnitska to create Femme as a wedding present. By 1960, Helène was ready to add a new perfume to the Rochas brand, one that was easier to wear than Femme. She looked to Chanel No. 5 and Arpège for inspiration, and she hired Guy Robert to create it.
Madame Rochas has top notes of aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, and neroli; and heart of rose, jasmine, tuberose, and lily of the valley; and a base of orris, sandalwood, vetiver, and musk. Despite the similarity in notes and inspiration, Madame Rochas feels distinctly different from No. 5 and Arpège, and from Le Dix, for that matter. Madame Rochas is modern in the same way that Courrèges was modern. It feels slightly soapy, well-groomed, and active. It’s not floral in a pastel, summer way, but is dove grey and powder white.
Where Madame Rochas really parts ways with the other aldehydic florals I reviewed this week is in its dry down. After half an hour of wearing the Eau de Toilette, a clean musk works its way up front. Just when I thought I had it pegged, Madame Rochas surprised me again. To understand Madame Rochas, think of Jackie Onassis on the campaign trail with Jack. Women in Nebraska marveled at her unflappability, her mixture of American confidence and French complexity, her ability to be casual and formal at the same time. Just like Madame Rochas.
Madame Rochas was reformulated in 1989, and although I haven’t smelled the vintage version, it sounds like the reformulation was consistent with the original. Madame Rochas Eau de Toilette can be had online for as little as $12.95 for 30 ml in its classic columnar bottle modeled after old French salt bottles.
Note: image via Images de Parfums.