Politics and fashion obviously influence all fragrance houses, so while the fifties perfumes tended to scream ‘madam’; the sixties ‘young and beautiful’ and the eighties ‘sex and power’, the seventies, in general, to me at least, shout ‘depressed.’ Yes, there was disco and emancipation, but the dark, masculine chypres that abounded for women in that difficult decade were just that: dark. If they had a colour it would be brown. This was fine for houses like Givenchy, whose Gentleman and Givenchy III were convincingly hairy, animalic and horny, ready to get out the velours and groove. Nina Ricci, however, whose lady-like fragrances of the prettiest porcelain pink and yellow are some of the lightest and most feminine scents ever made, could never be described as brown (incidentally my most hated colour).
It is fascinating, then, to look at the scent that Ricci released into this velvety seventies environment, ‘Farouche’ (which translates as sullen; shy; lacking social graces…) a strange choice of theme and her only ‘moody’ perfume, a weird floral chypre that Michael Edwards, world authority on perfumes and author of many a seminal text, lists as one of the all-time greatest perfumes ever made. Though on Fragrantica, where you can still get vintage bottles of this long forgotten creation, there are fans clamouring for its return to the main Ricci lineup because they love its delicacy (no chance in hell, ladies!), I must say I personally agree with one reviewer who phrased it perfectly:
“It’s very dated; cranky like it’s wearing polyester, and shy because it’s older than everyone else at the party and wants to go home; put comfy shoes on and be wild in the only way it knows how: dancing alone to Neil Diamond”.
I once had a beautiful vintage parfum of Farouche in Baccarat crystal flacon, but could never fathom its mysteries no matter how many times I tried it (just couldn’t connect to the crestfallen, more narrow-eyed formation of the classic Ricci template – those strange additions of galbanum, clary sage and cardamom to the usual aldehydic florals and musks), so I gave it to my Japanese dressmaker friend Rumi, who immediately pronounced herself in love. To her it has a dignity and mystery, an emotive sense of detachment, and is also redolent to her of Japanese paper and of incense in temples – the smell of the wood after decades of smoke – and, most crucially, intelligence.
I could agree. But there was just something in that sour, dusty, exacting and ill-humoured perfume I could not abide.