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.