Rochas Secret de Rochas (2014): A Tribute to Parisians' Elusive Allure thanks to Chypre as an Overlooked Gourmand {Perfume Review & Musings}


Secret de Rochas was launched at the end of 2013 and more widely distributed from 2014. It is now in 2015 available in Germany. Composed by in-house perfumer Jean-Michel Duriez, it is a tribute to the fashion of Marcel Rochas expressed through the fruity-floral chypre filiation with the classic Femme (1945) and the recreation of a sense of mystery - whose most diurnal aspects are elusiveness and discretion - a hallmark of the allure of Parisians. Duriez explained,

"I am continually fascinated by scent, obviously, but I am particularly captivated by the emotions and memories they evoke. I am not an intellectual perfumer; I work entirely on instinct,"...

The perfumer, further musing on his source of inspiration, added,

"The French phrase je ne sais quoi, which is so often used to designate a kind of chic that is elusive and yet instantly recognizable, is really about subtlety and wit. I never go for the obvious. I believe that a light touch can be incredibly creative and daring. For me, subtlety goes hand in hand with chic. Parisiennes have a very personal and daring way of dressing and wearing fragrance, but without being literal or taking themselves too seriously. A Parisienne will never reveal everything about herself; there's always something about her that's a little mysterious and hard to describe. You're just instinctively drawn to her."

Duriez started out with the simple idea of creating a fruity-floral chypre in which the osmanthus would replace the plums and peaches of Femme. Osmanthus is known for its interesting facets of apricot, but also leather. It is a flower which smells a lot like a fruit, or a perfume. The nose then saw a natural filiation appear with Femme which gave him the idea of using a "secret ingredient" appearing in the classic as well.

How Does it Smell Like?

The very first impression one gets from the aura of the perfume escaping the bottle is that of a vapor of osmanthus tea. You already sense that this is going to mingle delightfully with the scent of natural skin. As you lift the cap, you are able to catch chypré nuances which move in the air like shimmering reflections on a brocade.

As you spray on the scent, you are struck by its fruitiness - it smells like white peaches hanging in heavy syrup - allied with rose. Duriez has confessed to mango, passion fruit and peach. It smells also subtly plummy - a reference to Femme - and there might be some strawberry.

It reminds you a bit of Balmain La Môme (2007) for its particular jam-like ambery rose quality, and slightly heavy hooded lids. The white musks start emerging, powdery, a bit brash, with a definite nod to the laundry detergent bottle. The main tension at first seems to be one playing out between a clean, contemporary allegiance to clean, hyper-washed white musks and a more classic accord of ambery rose - the saltiness of ambergris surfaces - with spicy undercurrents.

What is interesting I find is the way in which the powdery white musks fade into a darker more incensey impression and even one which slowly starts to smell like hippie-era patchouli, and even a rather unexpected, thickish sensation of leathery violet. Incense can smell soapy, like expensive soap, so the passage from one to the other is logical in olfactive terms, albeit denotes attention to this continuum which will not be noticed by everyone. Serge Lutens L'Eau and L'Eau Froide have also played upon the continuum incense-soap.

The mind wanders in the direction of a head shop in Katmandu, of an Indian shop filled with exotic aromas of incense and spicy dry foods. It smells uncannily like the inside of a sub-continent spice box, or even pastry box. There is something here which reminds me of Cabochard by Grès, another chypre which was reportedly inspired by a stroll Madame Grès took on a beach in India. In it, there is a covert note of incense. I feel there is a touch of exoticism which might come from that here too.

There is supposed to be a secret in Secret de Rochas, an ingredient which plays a key role and which will never be revealed, only known to the in-house perfumer. Admittedly, this is a statement that you could apply to all compositions. In an age when you can analyze a fragrance formula scientifically with graphs, the secret ingredient is probably hiding only temporarily or imperfectly. If it is not just an ingredient, but an accord or a base, than things could get more complicated.

What is decidedly striking is the way in which the fragrance feels a bit like a Lush product, not too far off the olfactory range covered by Karma. There is an Indianness about Secret de Rochas which reminds you that the house has concocted Sira des Indes, inspired by an Indian dessert. At times, you seem to catch a whiff of fenugreek, of asafoetida, of sweet coconut pastries dipped in rosewater. It really feels like the chypre composition is daydreaming about the Taj Mahal.

I started reviewing this fragrance in March last year. Re-reading parts of it, I note that I then already spoke of asafoetida, but also fried yellow onions in ghee, and Sira des Indes. I am cooking an Indian meal. The gourmand, exotic substratum is there, then and now. Yet, the conclusion of the scent is not gourmand in any obvious way. A hint of paperwhites narcissuses makes sure an amount of floral decorum remains. The more abstract spirit of the chypre moves in, making you feel like you are reading about food rather than consuming it, dreaming about dense sweets whose names you've forgotten but not their fondant texture, made of compacted coconut feeling almost like sweet, melting lard giving way under your tooth.

There is an end-of-the-meal accord which you can spot in chyprés, which makes them in my book forerunners of gourmand perfumes. It is the scent of freshly ironed Damask white table cloths, half-empty glasses of wine, remnants of cigarette smoke, occasionally, stains of rose-scented lipsticks, and a flavor of umami floating, which makes them be less tailored than they seem. Such a chypre may not require you to wear your belt less tight, but it definitely suggests that time of relaxation after a good meal when conversations are softer and cheeks rosier. It seems impossible in the end to dissociate French fashion or allure from their food culture, and certainly, the sensuality of their culture.

Fragrance notes are:

Rose and Green Notes, Mango, Passion Fruit and Peach, Osmanthus, Jasmine Sambac, a secret ingredient,Transparent Moss Accord, Patchouli, and Musky Notes.

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