Whenever I hear or read the word “fougère” I don’t think of ferns, I think of Houbigant Fougère Royale (1882) — which shows how perfume obsessed I am. Years ago, I got my hands on several old bottles of Fougère Royale (1950s version) and enjoyed every drop of that crisp, sprightly fragrance; I’ve never found a replacement for it, so I was thrilled when I heard Houbigant was reissuing Fougère Royale this year.
Fougère Royale was the first fougère perfume, and was composed using natural bergamot, lavender, clary sage, geranium, heliotrope, rose, orchid, carnation, oakmoss, musk, vanilla, and synthetic coumarin (synthesized in the laboratory from salicylic acid). Fougère Royale’s use of a synthetic note gave it the distinction of being the first “modern” fragrance. Fougère Royale translated the “idea” of ferns into scent; it did not try to duplicate an existing smell — it created a new smell. Fougère Royale’s creator, perfumer Paul Parquet, said: If God gave ferns a scent, they would smell like Fougère Royale.1
Before I go further, let me state the obvious: there’s no one alive today who smelled original, 1882 Fougère Royale. In the 128 years since its debut, its discontinuation, its reissue, its second discontinuation (I won’t get into the troubled history of the Houbigant fragrance house), and the brand-new version issued this year, Fougère Royale has gone through, and this is an understatement, many reformulations.
The Fougère Royale I loved smelled of summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), and let me quote myself: Fougère Royale smelled “dry and bracing, with a wonderful harmony created by the lavender, heliotrope, oakmoss and vanilla.” What I liked about my “old” 1950s Fougère Royale was its spirited mood…its chutzpah — even after all those decades in the bottle.
According to the Houbigant PR materials, “new” 2010 Fougère Royale has been “reworked,” “revived” and “modernized” into a “contemporary style” “reformulation” by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux (working alongside creative director Roja Dove, who’s listed in Houbigant press releases as “the world’s sole ‘Professeur de Parfums’”).
New Fougère Royale claims fragrance notes of bergamot, Mediterranean herbs, lavender, chamomile, Rondeletia leucocephylla, geranium, Rose de Mai, carnation, cinnamon, amber, oakmoss, patchouli, tonka bean and clary sage; it goes on strong with herbal-scented bergamot (sage and lavender leaf are most noticeable) that reminds me of Guerlain Jicky. Carnation and cinnamon make a quick appearance in mid-development and are smooth, “background” aromas. Fougère Royale’s base notes of creamy amber, vanillic tonka bean, sheer patchouli and “silken” moss are well blended and present a “united front” — the individual notes don’t stand out boldly.
I would describe new Fougère Royale as a streamlined aromatic fougère. The spirit of my 1950s Fougère Royale is certainly present, but its lighter, fresher character is submerged under new Fougère Royale’s weightier, more opaque and creamy notes.
New Fougère Royale almost strays into my fougère "no-fly zone" – the land of old-style shave soap and aftershave lotion scents, but overall I find it a respectable, good-smelling fragrance made with high-quality ingredients; and all that talk of modernization, reworking, and contemporary styling didn’t produce a copy of or an interesting reincarnation of the Fougère Royale I knew. Who knows how 2010 Fougère Royale compares to 1882 Fougère Royale….
Fougère fragrances have crowded the men’s fragrance counters for over 100 years, so the arrival of “new” Fougère Royale doesn’t pack a punch or fill a need; the granddaddy of fougère fragrances has been duplicated so often and so well that this new, expensive version seems unnecessary, and a bit opportunistic. Nostalgic Perfume Lovers: sniff before you buy.
Houbigant Fougère Royale is available in 100 ml Eau de Parfum for $170; there is also a limited edition “pur parfum” version (housed in a lacquered wooden presentation box), 100 ml for $600.
Note: top fern image (cropped) via Wikimedia Commons.
1. Perfume Legends by Michael Edwards, HM Éditions, 1996; p. 12.