Perfume Review & Musings: Poupée by Rochas

One last perfume review before we take off for France and land in the capital of perfumes. We adore Paris and its Eden-like public gardens in the spring.

There is also a less glamorous side to Paris as well that has come to the forefront of the news: the riots and the projects that are less than scintillating and postcard-like.

I would recommend watching Mathieu Kassowitz's movie entitled "La Haine" or "Hate" in English if you want to open a vista onto the world of the under-privileged Parisian "banlieues" and appraise the tears in the French social fabric. It paradoxically turns out to be a beautiful movie, turning boredom, dullness, quotidian dreariness into objects of aesthetic contemplation and emotion. If it were a perfume, you would need a cement note to convey the starkness of those lives.

Spring came early in Boston; my whole body felt lulled by the new softness of the air which was already suffused with a different summery quality of light that anticipated the New England dog days while we were still all standing at the cold cusp of winter.

So on my recent quest for a spring fragrance I happened upon Poupée by Rochas. I found its name to be somewhat unusual, enticing, suggesting both a pretty child's toy, a doll, and a certain type of prettiness that is, in essence, cute. The conflation of these two universes, that of childhood and of sophisticated womanhood made this scent stand out and piqued my interest. Or maybe it was the pink. No, but really, this name, I feel, is quite unusual for a fragrance...

The marketing of this fragrance is oriented towards women who are less than 25 years old and the publicity suggests that it is referring itself to the archetype of the woman-child or baby-doll. However, the name of the perfume stops short of conjuring up that ambiguous representation for me. The word "poupée" is just too cute and is not as commonly used in women's conversations as "doll" in English, relegating it more firmly to the realm of things childish and adorable. (I'm trying to imagine the notes of a perfume that would be called squarely "Femme-Enfant" but find the thought a bit too perverse to linger on it... well, maybe a bit... strawberry milk-shake, baby talcum powder, and tuberose?) Anyway, why do they specify an age category? Or is this a way of reinforcing the attractiveness of the product? Everybody knows almost everybody wants to feel young nowadays, especially in America where even the dead wear makeup to fake lively blood coursing underneath rosy painted cheeks. Youth is all the way in and old is out not to mention decrepitude and corruption of the flesh. This is just to stress that Poupée can potentially be worn by everyone in the kind of society we live in.

I expected this fragrance to be very pretty and so it is. It is even rather ravishing. But I also further reflect that the pretty daughter's sex-appeal cannot match that of her gorgeous mother, Rochas Femme. The bottle's shape shows off a curvaceous womanly figure that previously came to be associated with Femme. The cap's shape is the same too, except that Poupée's cap or hat, if you will, offers a plushy orangey texture that suggests softness, tenderness, but also hip modernity. The material and the red-orange color are inspired by Olivier Theysken's mercurochrome dress and haute-couture coat hangers. (He is Rochas' Artistic Director.) The color of the scent is a delicate pink while Femme is ambery.

To my surprise, as I inhaled it, it made me immediately think of L'Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse aux Papillons Extrême! Poupée is both peppery and flowery in the same vein as LCAPE; it is more intense than the Extrême version of La Chasse, also more luscious, while La Chasse Extrême is more understated and urbane. Poupée was issued in 2004 and LCAPE, with the new pink pepper note, in 2005, while La Chasse dates back to 1999. They do not feel like slavish imitations of each other however, but rather like variations on a soon-to-become classic association of astringent pepper and flowers. I'm also thinking of Caron Coup de Fouet and Parfum Sacré as examples of that combination, but my memory of them are not very distinct. Poupée however, curiously enough, appears to be much more neglected by perfume aficionados than LCAPE -- It is fruity unlike La Chasse. Pineapple is listed as a note and in the opening moments it smells of a peppery grapefruitey pineapple, mingled with soft orange blossom. Pepper is not officially listed as a note, but the scent is definitely peppery and not just on my skin, but also in the bottle. (Edited: I just went to visit the Rochas website and they do list pink pepper as one of the top notes. I had relied solely on Osmoz which doesn't list it -- Osmoz, if you read this, please add it.) The peppery trail meanders through the developing stages of the perfume, while one passes from an initial fruity phase to a lovely showering of freshly cut flowers, still fruity, in the heart stage which is composed of gardenia, green jasmine, tuberose, and, hmmm, hazelnut which adds a sweet, slightly fruity/woody/burnt note to the heart, rounding it off.

In this sense, although it is very different from Femme, it is also reminiscent of that same type of transition from fruity, slightly gourmand, to flowery. It does remind me of Femme in a structural way, a certain common tonality and progression are recognizable, as if forming an undercurrent. The base notes do not have as much depth as in Femme although they are unusual: they are sort of waxy and buttery, because of the balms note, and it is also a bit bland, softly vanillic, thanks to benzoin, but bordering on plain blandness. In the very last stages, it reminds me of the scent of cocoa butter. It is also reminiscent of a classic French lip balm called Dermophil Indien. This barrier of wax and butter seems to prevent the sandalwood, the benzoin, and the amber from developing to full strength. It is the part of the perfume that is the most acquired taste and would take the most time getting accustomed to, while at the same time discouraging a profound attachment to it, as far as I'm concerned, due to its lack of depth, at least on my skin, unlike its mum's dry-down, Femme's, which is just glorious.

Mimi Froufrou's advice: always try a perfume on YOUR skin and sleep with it before deciding to reject or adopt it. Preferably, spend a few days with it.

Photo is from Imagination Perfumery

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