I mentioned that I’ve bought a couple of vintage perfumes on eBay that have had ‘burnt’ top notes. Madame Rochas is one of them, so I thought I’d try it today against a modern version of the eau de toilette, to see how the burnt, crunchy topping affected my enjoyment of the rich, smooth interior.
I love Madame Rochas because it is quite frankly weird. It has a strange opening with some wacky aldehydes that Luca Turin says smell like ‘just-snuffed candles’. I can’t think of a better description, though it’s stranger and more haunting that simply candle-snuffs to me. In the vintage, this is burned away completely and there is just a rasp of hairspray and over-toasted oils. But fear not! In most vintage ‘fumes it’s just the top notes that get damaged, because they’re the lightest and most volatile ingredients in a fragrance. Once you wait for them to wear off, you get the original heart and base of the fragrance.
While my vintage left wrist is still making me say ‘eurch!’, my modern right wrist has moved on to the lovely salty floral notes of the modern Madame’s heart. As the fragrance develops, the salt fades gradually to reveal what the Rochas website assures me is ‘every flower in creation: jasmine, rose and lily of the valley’. As I’ve mentioned before I can’t tell what is or isn’t in perfume, so forgive me for just sticking with ‘floral’ and ‘rich’ and ‘warm’. However, according to Fragrantica.com, when he composed Madame Rochas, Guy Robert put aldehydes, bergamot, lemon and neroli at the top with flowery heart notes of jasmine, rose, tuberose, Lily-of-the-valley, Oriss root, ylang-ylang, violet and narcissus, whilst the base contains sandalwood, vetiver and musk, along with cedar, oakmoss and tonka beans.
Anyway, those floral heart notes are where the two fragrances – vintage and modern – meet. But my vintage left wrist is more garbagey and plush because I’m guessing that Guy Robert’s original jasmine was the skanky indolic kind and he probably had a dollop more oakmoss in there than now, while my modern right wrist is lighter and still a touch salty (I find Tocade a little salty too, if that helps – maybe it’s a Rochas style).
The base is warm, round and maintains the difference between the two eras – that gently salty twist to the modern eau de toilette keeps hovering above the base of creamy sandalwood and gentle musk. This modern Madame has more evident links to Hermès Calèche, another of Guy Robert’s creations, while in the vintage version the growly indolic rumble in the background reminds me of his Dioressence. The modern is certainly a floral aldehyde, but the original smells more like an oriental to me. They are both absolutely gorgeous in their own ways, and neither cost me more than £25. This is good stuff but it’s not big bucks.
I love this fragrance, for its individuality as much as anything else. It’s a bit of a forgotten beauty, but it’s as classy as they come, without being stuffy.