SCENT OF A WOMAN : : : FLEUR DE ROCAILLE by CARON (1992)

Fleur de Rocaille is the 90’s, powerhouse honeyed uberfloral often erroneously assumed to be the perfume in the movie Scent of A woman identified by Al Pacino – who (over)plays a blind, cranky retired military colonel with a marvellous sense of smell and the ability to recognize fragrances fluttering from the skin of the fair sex. When this old grump then meets his protegé’s mother (Frances Conroy) for the first time on a cold Autumnal day in New York state – leaning in a little he catches her scent and says, knowingly, ‘Fleurs De Rocaille.’

‘Yes’, she says, taken aback.

That extra ‘s’, here, is crucial.

The original Fleurs de Rocaille, created by Ernest Daltroff in 1934, is a very different entity to its much more strident, unrelenting and at times, even slightly tacky, almost fifty yearl-later follow up. A tremblingly vulnerable, very poetic, musky floral aldehydic scent based on lilac and a posy of other flowers that is at once almost too pallidly emotive to bear, emitting the sense that it truly does intimately know the deep horrors of this world and just wants to be forever protected from them; Fleurs is painfully feminine, exquisitely constructed, otherworldly (if rather old-fashioned, or at the very least; truly not of these times), and yet, because or despite of all this, somehow rather irritating. Sometimes, with Fleurs De Rocaille, you just want to slap it back into reality.

The 1992 release of the ‘new version’, in contrast (minus the ‘s’, still with the lilac, but with a whole bunch of strongly perfumed flowers besides,; gardenia, jasmine; a ton of honey all drowning in amber and sandalwood, very starlet barfly), actually coincided with the film – which I must admit, I thought was utterly dreadful at the time, but which I now, in my young dotage, almost feel a nostalgia for and wouldn’t mind watching again : at the very least it would be fun to see which perfumes Lieutenant Frank Slade gets right and how The Ladies react when the preternaturally gifted nose and army man comes in closer and tells them what they are wearing.

For sure, Fleurs De Rocaille would have been rather special for 1992, no longer fashionable, very much a personally selected gem of a perfume, and would also, you can be certain of this, have smelled quite lovely on Christine Downes ,as she stands looking rather seduced by his attentions in the beautiful light. As he says, ‘auburn hair, beautiful deep brown eyes…’ – a Pre-Raphaelite, glowing delicacy that is ideal for this scent.

If, in contrast, the Woman had been wearing the just released Fleur, we would have an entirely different aura indeed and our Frank might have been quite overwhelmed; repelled, or quite likely, just more blatantly horny. Part of what I consider to be a trilogy beginning with Grès’ Cabotine in 1990, Fleur De Rocaille in 1992, and then Dior’s Tendre Poison in 1994, these three Power Flower bouquets form a very datable, immediately early nineties vibe, at least to me (smelling Fleur De Rocaille in a Chinese restaurant yesterday evening – I had been compelled to go out to Isezakicho in Yokohama and buy a vintage bottle of this Caron as I had seen it sitting in a window in an old junk shop one day and even though I knew that I didn’t entirely like it, I felt like I had to have it. Just to add to my collection, for completism; to be able to smell it again – – – but as I was saying, D, listening to me blah blah blahing about the chronology of fragrance trends and how it was quintessentially nineties, said that on smelling it, surely, it was more eighties, and in many ways he would absolutely right: but during ‘the period of adjustment’ following the end of the loud 80’s florals, there was actually an (ever) diminishing continuation of those brash, intoxicating themes in a lot of mainstream perfumery (think Christian Lacroix C’est La Vie! Ungaro Senso, Ricci Deci Dela etc) even as the gaunt skelettas of the ozonic lotuses were simultaneously gaining in popularity and rendering these out of date florals out of date.

Yet, you know, to me, there is also something rather timeless – or should I say memorable, relevant – about Fleur De Rocaille, just in a different way to its much more rarified relative, Fleurs, who will always be off in a world of her own. And wearing a little – trust me, you need only a very little – on the back of my hand, last night, as the nuclear orange blossom/ lilac slowly morphed into a musky, ambered cedar, I could actually detect the DNA of its antecedent somewhere in the heart of its base (Caron has always claimed that Fleur was a ‘reworking’ of Fleurs). Where Cabotine and Tendre Poison are tighter, cattier, and much greener, Rocaille is quite loose (in many senses); more unapologetically erotic. Possibly stumbling a bit after having too much to drink. A bit ridiculous, like this vintage ad from when it first came out: (“a flower that is not easily picked:’)

Indeed, you could almost even possibly go so far as to say that that is something really rather ‘shameless’ about this perfume, which also gives me another reason to rather like it. When we talk about ‘innocence’ in relation to human history, I doubt that there ever has been such a time in reality, but in retrospect, the period when this perfume came out, for me at least: the tail end of the Economic Bubble in Japan – where Cabotine was a smash hit, Tendre Poison also, and probably Fleur De Rocaille too – was in many ways dumber, ignorant, carefree; silly. There was no internet; the world felt more contained, and a woman could go out on the town on a Friday night wearing a perfume like this and feel sexy, magnetic, and believable. Applied in the right dosage, I am sure that she would, to many, have proven to be irresistible.

Looking at the Caron website, I see that many of the classic Carons have been repackaged and redesigned (yet again ), though I think these look rather intriguing.

I have no idea, however, if the current Fleur de Rocaille smells similar to the original, but the notes are almost the same, and the in house description of ‘an assertive personality…excessively generous‘ certainly sounds familiar and about right. Probably, in some ways, a slightly polished, more up to date version of this perfume might be a good idea, as the bottle I have – slightly tired; some top notes not at their best – the perfume inside stronger than ever as though it has been macerating itself into a frenzy for three decades, awaiting my inevitable arrival – is, as I said, definitely from A Particular Time. Like the much more troubled and troubling Fleurs, however, it also has its own, inimitable place in the perfumery canon. And in truth, the title of the film we have been referencing, The Scent Of A Woman, suits it just as perfectly.

19 Comments

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19 responses to “SCENT OF A WOMAN : : : FLEUR DE ROCAILLE by CARON (1992)

  1. The early 90s seemed to be the start of the hypersweet perfume trend that evolved into the craze for ethyl maltol bombs that persists to this day. Vanillas began to trend heavily too as I recall. My meager perfume collection in 1992 consisted of Laura Biagiotti’s Roma, Coco Chanel eau de parfum, Amarige, and Ricci’s L’Air du Temps. CSP’s Abricot Vanille, Versace Blonde, Creed’s Spring Flower, and Lolita Lempicka were the only other scents I purchased in the 90s. Oh the days before niche took off and my tastes had not quite settled.
    Movies I saw in 1992: Howard’s End and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Both more a series of carefully crafted vignettes rather than a well developed storyline. I had just graduated with my doctorate in San Francisco and moved to a posh suburb in the SF BAY area. Time to transition from makeup counter gal to a REAL JOB. Busy, busy, busy and finding decent housing in California was always a chore.
    I have never tried a Caron fragrance, never seen them on offer anywhere. I think they would be too heavy for my taste now.
    You used “whole bunch”! Isn’t that an Americanism that the British can’t stand?

    • Probably – but I have become quite Americanized in some ways after living here where the US lingo prevails! ‘Shall we get the elevator to the movie theater’ could credibly issue from mine and d’s lips, where it should be, for a Brit ;’Shall we take the lift to the cinema?’, this assuming you are in some department store with a cinema at the top like in Japan.

      Anyway, Roma, Blonde, Amarige, all the ones you mention I really like actually, and I agree that there was definitely always a trend for the sweet ((Tresor! Oh my god) even as the aquatics were doing their thing simultaneously. This Caron fits in with these 90’s trends, but I worship the house and its earlier perfumes for their oddness and poetry. You might find them quaint, but I don’t think they are heavy.

      (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by the way……..you have no idea how much impact it had on me. I was literally walking around speaking with a Transylvanian accent afterwards, and you can never have too much Merchant Ivory).

  2. Macerating itself into a frenzy sounds enviable, but have to admit Fleurs is more likely to suit my introverted self. Pulled the ebay trigger to find out, as you’ve intrigued me.

  3. Wild Gardener

    Chapeau

  4. Tara C

    I wore Fleur de Rocaille and Cabotine when they were launched for a couple of years, got compliments on them too, despite them not being « sexy » scents I had one coworker who found Cabotine very enticing. Poison was my sexy siren scent.

    • I mean Poison (which you know I love) is more ‘obviously’ sexy – in other words, too much – but Cabotine has that very flirtatious aspect; the duality of the green ginger lily aspects and the sexier musk sandalwood undertones: I love the idea of your coworker finding it ‘very exciting’; getting all hot and bothered each time you drifted past. Do you know Fleur De Rocaille? It’s like Cabotine’s flagrantly unashamed older sister.

  5. I never wore Fleur de Rocaille, because I was so devoted to Fleurs, and I did not want to be unfaithful. I also assumed it wouldn’t be to my liking, but now you have me so intrigued that I might have to search for a vintage bottle on eBay, not even knowing if I would truly like it. I do adore all the notes in it you described, and I do adore a loud, sexy, brash fragrance…but of course. I think I will have to get this, I do.

  6. JulienFromDijon

    By serendipity, I got a partial vintage old Fleurs de Rocaille bottle at a auction house. (Now I’ll have to see if it has the “S” on fleurs).

    It was in an affordable lot, among interesting display bottles -a Goutal, a Hermès cologne-, and ugly factices or crummy bottles.
    After taking forever to throw away the truly broken and ugly ones, and wash the others, I stopped in front of Fleurs de rocaille. It should have been off, by far, the liquid was dull. But it happened to be quite good!

    I classified it as a lactonic (nutty) aldehydic white floral, a genre that can easily bore me. (It seems that every brands had one, as today for fruitchouly. With them, I picture a young lady of the bourgeoisie, fresh on the sunday morning, ready to go to the mass. She’s still redolent of the soap, there is a small array of understated flower, like her pretty hair tucked in place, and a hollow haze of remanent white notes, like deer and laundry muscs, used as mind-reading shield for the moment of the confessional.)
    But here it had the greasy facette of good flower ingredients.
    To my surprise, it had a lot of the pollinic feel of my beloved Chamade. It’s the kind of perfume that works much better on fabrics.

    You’re helping me by quoting lilac as a note, in it.
    Also, I got the same reaction, expecting boredom, then intrigued by the good quality, and its novelty. It smells as if it was meant to be vintage. It’s hard to pinpoint it to a decade.
    (Even Chamade, who’s supposed to be 60s peak, was realize in 1969, so it was the 70s so to speak, despite its timelessness.)

    It won a strange place from my perfume library, because I think that I’ll never wear it. For iris-y screechy aldehydes, I’d go directly to 90’s no5 extrait, for spring flowers verging on psychedelic, to Chamade, and for lactonic nut … -clove musk sandalwood and ambergris- to “Que sais-je” from Jean patou, one of the small 6ml edt vial of the reissue by Kerleo in the 80’s 90’s.

    So Fleurs de Rocaille was saved from the Niles, I mean the sink.

    • I love your analysis.

      I also agree that there is definitely something innately boring about it; too fixed and unchanging. It has that ubiquitous feel from a certain time that you feel too. At the same time, I do think that the right woman (let’s face it, most men would smell ludicrous in this) could smell hot as fuck wearing this at a bar on a Saturday night. It is definitely extremely sexy.

      • JulienFromDijon

        Yes, I can see a woman wearing “Fleurs de rocaille” at a bar, on a Saturday night. To compare it with a best seller, one can still find this sort of retro chic bouquet today in “Flower” by kenzo, top and heart notes. The extra depth of “Fleurs de rocaille” would project well at mid-range from bodily warmth, and goes along well with drinks and snacks.

        Yesterday I wrote with someone about the known similarity between “Flower” by Kenzo and the late “Royal bain de Caron”. The topic was about iso-E-super, about how people grow hyperosmic of it (headaches), but most creators still use it by the ton. And I think that “Flower” has good dose of it, while Bain obviously didn’t.

      • ‘goes along well with drinks and snacks’ – you are hilarious!

        I agree that Royal Bain is similar to Kenzo Flower, but can’t personally see the Fleurs in there; then again, I know your nose is busy as hell and detects everything that is there, so you are probably right! Is it the (fake) lilac?

  7. JulienFromDijon

    I can be wrong, and I’m an amateur.
    I see two reasons in favor of the similarity between old “Fleurs de rocaille” and the later “Royal bain de caron” and “Flower”.

    1° The benjoin and ambery vanilla axis, right to the drydown.

    Such perfumes are devilishly heavy on vanilla, and the incense part of benzoin makes them appear lighter and drier.
    It’s said that the trick already existed in XVIIth century “L’eau d’ange”. (benjoin and plain styrax, rose, some cloves, cinnamon, labdanum and deer musk.)

    On this huge act of balance, the powdery notes are also here to soak the syrup.
    For example, the iris butter, half between rice powder and horse hair, the carefully weighted spices, sometimes the coumarin.
    And I’d say that you have some free hands for the floral in the top notes, wether you want a restraint “dry floral” (royal bain), an irisy glossy “Flower”, or a fat bouquet like vintage “Fleurs”.

    The hint is to detect when benzoin always dominate vanilla and other resins in the composition.
    Such perfumes are quite rare, compared to the classic amber juggernaut “labdanum + synthetic vanilla galore”.
    (ex : “Chamade”, “Habit rouge”, “Parfum d’hermès”, … papier d’arménie, … “Ambre 114” d’histoire de parfum, …)
    If the composer took great care for the benzoin to remain the dominant basenote, expect heavy machinery behind it. It’s a curtain effect.

    2° The top notes mimic champagne and white wine, when they smell of white grapes that are a bit off.

    Here the hint is counter-intuitive. I’d say, you have to detect the numbing effect of violets.

    Wether you chose for a poised “dry flower” sillage, or a frantic frontstage with a fat bouquet, the whole will have to be hazy and tipsy.
    There will be odd players like melon, in Royal bain and Flower, and sweet peas and lilac in the Fleurs de rocaille. Aldehydes are already a bit weird themselves, smelling of vials of vitamin pills. First batches of synthetic vanilla had guaiacol in it. It is weirdly pollinic and slightly smokey, and lends a smokescreen to the heavy vanilla in Jicky and Shalimar.
    The violet numbs the nose, so you can be a bit blind to the mess in the first act.

    And Violet can introduce the iris of the second act. And if the drydown has woody undertones in the last act, it creates a link with the woody violet of the begin, lending a faint illusion that some of the beginning melody is lingering.
    L’heure bleue extrait does that. As a last plump curve, Fleurs de rocaille seems to have some real sandalwood in the third act, to soak all of the remaining momentum.

    Booze, vanilla, that’s why I picture such perfume to tag along well with the food to come, at the bar. And why Fleurs de rocaille smells bosomy in the dark 😀

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