Heritage perfume brands are an odd breed. It takes a well-thought out plan to revive it without trivializing it. There are not a lot of successful case studies. One which has succeeded is the revival of one of the first perfume brands; Houbigant. Ever since the Perris Group acquired the brand, they have treated it with respect. Elisabetta Perris has been the primary creative force for the Houbigant releases since 2010. In 2015, she began working with perfumer Luca Maffei. Together they have found the right balance of traditional and contemporary in the perfumes they have produced. The latest example is Houbigant Bois Mystique.
One of the ways to generate that balance is to have some throwback accord using contemporary materials. The range of the modern perfumer’s palette allows for combinations those at the beginning of modern perfumery could only dream of. What this means is there is a vintage sensibility fleshed out with the perfume version of CGI. Throughout the time I wore Bois Mystique I enjoyed Sig. Maffei’s twist on classic accords.
That starts right at the top with a modern extract of ginger surrounded by a classic set of spice notes in cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper. Piercing the simmering heat is a shimmering incense. It provides a chilly foil to the heat of the spices. It also blazes a path for the subtle florals of iris and neroli. The florals flit around the open spaces left to them. This all heads to a completely comforting base accord. Soft woods of guaiac, cypress and cashmeran are suffused with the warmth of amber and myrrh. The final stages are a softening of the early heat but it appears like a natural decay from the spices to the wooded base.
Bois Mystique has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Bois Mystique has been the scent of my favorite scarf over the last week. It shines in the bitterly cold weather. Bois Mystique is a Retro Nouveau perfume which is modern in materials but classic in effect.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Neiman-Marcus.
I’ve mentioned in the past we had family friends who had a proper expansive garden. Almost all my scent memories of flowers and gardens come from playing in that garden as a child. One of my favorite times in that garden was the shoulder season when spring has not quite given way to the relentless heat of summer. As my friend Buddy and I would run towards the garden the scent of the flowers at full bloom would reach our noses a split second before the green leaves and grass joined in. It was the moment when nature herself was a powerhouse floral fragrance.
One of the earliest floral powerhouse perfumes was 1912’s Houbigant Quelques Fleurs. It is not as celebrated as many of the other contemporary perfumes of the time but perfumer Robert Bienaime was trendsetting even though others would have more success with what was initiated in Quelques Fleurs. First is the use of aldehydes. Quelques Fleurs was one of the earliest to use them. Second was to trend away from single flower focal points. Most perfumes chose one floral ingredient followed by many supporting notes. M. Bienaime assembled an all-star floral chorus of lily, jasmine, rose, and carnation. Quelques Fleurs is an unsung innovator of the early days of modern perfumery.
In 2009 The Perris family acquired Houbigant and under the aegis of Elisabetta Perris a consistent effort has been made to honor the past while also making Houbigant relevant to the present day. Ms. Perris has done an excellent job by not hurrying the process. It has been a steady release of perfumes which have the style of the original Houbigant perfumes. As for the innovation Ms. Perris has chosen to work with perfumers who like to try new things. In 2015, she collaborated with perfumer Luca Maffei on Cologne Intense. Now she returns to Sig. Maffei to ask for Quelques Fleurs Jardin Secret.
I imagine that a perfumer might take a deep breath before agreeing to do a new version of one of the classics. Except in my interactions with Sig. Maffei I have seen his affection for the historical. I have also seen his affection for wanting to write some of his own. Which means he tends to leave his fingerprints on anything he works on. The same is true for Quelques Fleurs Jardin Secret.
Quelques Fleurs Jardin Secret starts with a fabulous top accord of bergamot, mandarin, and neroli. The original opened similarly except the neroli plays a much more prominent role in the early going. This is a green indolic neroli which sets the stage for Sig. Maffei’s version of an all-star floral chorus as he uses magnolia, rose, and narcissus. This is an expertly blended accord of all three with the neroli providing background along with ylang-ylang and jasmine. Then a modern version of the vintage ambery musk base is composed of sandalwood, amber, and synthetic musks.
Quelques Fleurs Jardin Secret has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I have been spending some time with the original Quelques Fleurs in preparation to write this review. I found its power to be overwhelming at times. Which makes sense as the idea of how much is too much was just beginning to be explored in the early days of modern perfumery. Over a hundred years later perfumers have a much better idea of what is the correct balance. Which is why I prefer Quelques Fleurs Jardin Secret to the original. It is just better balanced with all the same presence. As I enter the shoulder season this year Quelques Fleurs Jardin Secret is going to carry me back to my childhood in the garden.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Houbigant.