Truant’s Report: Rochas Femme, Sissel Tolaas, Milestones & Luca Turin’s New Perfume Blog


I’ve been unwell, dear readers, really not myself at all lately. I lost my mojo due to a flare up of chronic illness, and haven’t had much energy to write. But I’m getting back on the horse and I’m not going to fall off again. I’ve been a truant from Perfume Polytechnic but now I’m back and making up for missed lessons. Here is a little update on my recent smelly adventures and discoveries…

Rochas Femme Where Have You Been All My Life?

While I’m an eager beaver when it comes to perfume, and though I try to smell most of what I can lay my nose on — with the exception of many recent commercial releases, which I often find uninteresting — I still haven’t smelt every perfume out there, including some of the classics. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what I’ve smelt and how it smelt, unless I make notes about it. I might have smelt a fragrance once in a discount chemist somewhere, or at a friend’s house, and then swiftly forgotten what it was like. Unless one has a vast scent library, it can be hard to keep track of things.

I have only been on this olfactory adventure for a little over three years, and I live in Australia, a rather isolated island, where it seems impossible to find and sample certain perfumes. Here, you take what you can get, what you can find, and what friends can share with you. It can be a patchy self-education, but I try my best. My nose is maturing and developing with all of the wonderful indie perfumes I’ve been sent to review and I find I’m more open-minded (open-nosed?) than ever before. But it’s still only a fraction of what’s out there…

Despite these limitations, I estimate that I have nevertheless smelt at least a thousand perfumes by now. I haven’t kept track. Even though this is only a small percentage of what’s ever been produced, it’s getting to the point now where not much surprises my nose, and when it does, or when I instantly adore something, it’s a good and surprising thing. It reminds me of the early days, when I first decided to study perfume, and every single fragrance smelt new and exciting to me, because I had experienced so little at that stage.

Tastes change also, so what didn’t appeal a year or two ago might now be the instant love of my life. As is the case with my recent rediscovery of Rochas Femme, in one of those family-run chemists that stocks odd and interesting bottles of perfume, heavily discounted, in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Rochas Femme was ubiquitous at various discount chemists a couple of years back, and I did try it then, but it didn’t grab me. Was it too vintage-smelling, too mature, too animalic? These are the reasons why I love it now, but a couple of years ago, I don’t think my nose was ready for those qualities.

The formulation I stumbled across the other day was the one created prior to the recently revamped formula of 2013, when Rochas seemed to sex up all their fragrances and packaging and jack up their prices accordingly. Femme was originally one of legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska’s creations, way back in 1943, and it was reformulated in 1989 by Olivier Cresp. You can read more about the fragrance’s history and the differences between the formulations at Bois de Jasmine. No doubt, my bottle dates from some time in the 2000s, and I’m not sure how many reformulations it’s been through since Cresp reinvented it in the late 80s, but regardless of this, I love it. I’ve heard the vintage versions are better, and if that is the case, I can’t wait to try them.

Femme reminds me of Feminité du Bois, the original version, by Shiseido, which I luckily happen to have a small decant of, but it’s sexier somehow. It’s fruity, but not overtly sweet. The fruit (plum, apricot and peach) is ripe, lush, slightly tangy and syrupy, like sticking one’s nose in a bag of mixed, dried stone fruit and inhaling. The spice notes are apparent yet well-blended, warm and cosy. There is a cumin note in Femme that I understand puts some people off, but it appeals to me immensely. It’s not overbearing here, as it is in some perfumes. Femme reminds me of warm, sexy, unwashed skin. The whole composition is deeply human, sensual and sexy without being crass. It sits just inside the bounds of decency and I feel like I’m wearing a naughty secret when I put Femme on.

I usually loathe perfume writing or discussion that focuses solely on a perfume’s ability to allure, as if it is merely (and nothing more than) a “marital-aid”,  or a pathway to “panty-dropping” (a term used and discussed at length in various online fragrance forums). It’s cliché and base to speak of a good fragrance in this way, but Femme smells like a body, and that I can’t ignore; the most beautiful, softly sensual and sweet female body. But she is more than just sexy: Femme is warm, inviting, cuddly and comforting. I want to smell like her.

On Reaching Milestones

Perfume Polytechnic has now been viewed 30,000 times. Thanks to all readers of this blog for making it so. I know it’s a small number of views compared to what some of the über-blogs and websites out there receive, but as a solo fragrance blog writer, and without any advertising to promote this little site, I am quite happy indeed to have had such an audience. Thank you for visiting my blog, one and all!

Smell Artist Sissel Tolaas – Lecture at the National Gallery of Victoria

Alas, it has already been a month since I attended a fascinating lecture by Sissel Tolaas, Norwegian smell artist extraordinaire at the National Gallery of Victoria, and I still haven’t written about it. The lecture was such a jam-packed, whirlwind survey of her work to date that I will have to spend a significant amount of time going over my notes and photographs, and research Tolaas’ work further, in order to do justice to her amazing olfactory installations. Stay tuned for tales of cheese made out of the bacteria from David Beckham’s soccer boots, among other amazing things…

Luca Turin’s New Blog: Perfumes I Love

This morning I was overjoyed to discover that the inimitable Luca Turin has started a new blog called Perfumes I Love. The blog was only started a few days ago and I discovered it completely by chance via a friend on Facebook today (perfumer Sultan Pasha, whom Turin has just written about). This goes to show that Facebook, about which I have many doubts and reservations, is useful for some things.

I have been waiting with bated breath for the last couple of years as I’d heard rumours that Perfumes: The A-Z Guide that brilliant and witty, encyclopaedic review of more than 1,200 perfumes, written by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez — was going to be updated and republished. I’d also heard rumours more recently that this was not the case, and, confused, I wondered what might transpire. Well, it seems that this blog is going to be Turin’s new outlet for fragrance reviews. Perfumes I Love will (as Turin explains in his Mission Statement) only include reviews of perfumes that Turin loves, focusing mainly on indie and niche fragrances, and the occasional commercial release. All perfume lovers should head on over immediately!

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