Ah, serendipity! In the perfume world, serendipity means coming across an “unknown,” hard-to-find, or simply badly distributed fragrance — in a care package from another perfume fanatic, on a friend’s dresser, as a free sample in a perfume order. I’d never have sought out Parfums Grès Cabaret on my own — an always-generous Now Smell This friend recently sent me a spray decant of the scent.
Germaine Emilie Krebs was 30 years old before embarking on a career in couture; Madame Krebs became known as “Alix Grès” — Madame Grès (‘Grès’ was an anagram of her husband’s first name: Serge). Grès’ dressmaking skills became legendary, and she’s always been known as a “designer’s designer.” Grès had one great perfume attached to her fashion house; a trip she made to India to research textiles supposedly inspired 1959’s Cabochard by perfumer Bernard Chant. (I’d love to smell vintage Cabochard; perhaps serendipity will provide me a sniff one day….) Madame Grès sold both her lucrative perfume business and her couture house in the early Eighties, and she had no involvement in the many perfumes bearing her name after 1982.
Cabaret (2003) was created by perfumer Michel Almairac and contains notes of rose, lily of the valley, peony, pink bay, violet, blue orris, patchouli, incense, sandalwood, amber and musk. Reading that list made me imagine Cabaret as a womanly, overpowering perfume — an “old”-style French fragrance. Pas du tout! Cabaret is fresh (without being fresh-ozonic) and can easily be worn by a man.
Cabaret’s opening is cheerful: there’s a burst of cool, lemony tea rose (the fragrance reminds me of my favorite rose-scented soap, Crabtree & Evelyn’s Rosewater glycerine bar). As Cabaret’s rose note “softens,” I smell light lily of the valley, clean (not musty) violet, and a pinch of orris root powder. The rose note hangs in there through the dry-down when it’s joined by faint incense, “white” musk, and faded patchouli. If you’ve always looked for a rose water fragrance that lasts — and is more interesting than pure rose essence — do try Cabaret. At times, Cabaret reminds me of a “watercolor version” of Eau d’Italie Paestum Rose.
If there was ever a designer who had no “cabaret” aesthetic it was Madame Grès. I can imagine her looking at the ugly-as-sin Cabaret bottles (they remind me of cheap maracas Barbie and Ken might shake at one of their "beach parties"), disassembling her famous turban and wrapping the cloth around her face in shame. However, if Madame had any pleasant memories of citrus, roses and incense, she would have left her nostrils uncovered and enjoyed the scent, if not the look, of Cabaret.
Grès Cabaret is an Eau de Parfum and is available in 50 and 100 ml sprays; there is also a 24 ml Parfum Baccarat Edition (with music box — Oh, how I’d love to know the tunes it plays!) I have not smelled Cabaret Homme (2004); please comment if you’ve tried it.
Note: upper right image is Yvette Guilbert by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec via Wikimedia Commons.