One of my very first really fine perfumes was the original Jean-Louis Scherrer for women (also known as simply Scherrer), and at the time, almost a quarter of a century ago, I did not even know exactly what a chypre perfume was. I just know that I had never smelled anything quite like it and that it was light years away from the romantic florals I had favored back then. This fragrance was released in 1979 by the fashion house of Scherrer when it was still helmed by its founder and was the first of several Scherrer scents. The company was already known for its luxurious and elegant fashions meant for women of both means and a keen sense of style, and the perfume reflected this perfectly. One of my sisters was wearing Alexandra by Alexandra de Markoff around this time, and it was also a chypre, though it was denser, sweeter and perhaps a little more conventional, though still very distinctive and jam-packed with oakmoss, which was my favorite thing about it although I did not know why at the time. I went through a couple of bottles of the Scherrer in the fabulous Eau de Parfum before I moved on to something else, and somehow I never got back to wearing it, though I still loved it. Recently I took a friend who was looking for something “green” to my favorite perfume shop and she fell in love with it after I suggested it as an option. Trying it again brought the memories back to me in a rush and I craved it all over again.
I could tell that the Scherrer fragrance my friend fell for was not quite the same as my old favorite; for one thing it was an Eau de Toilette, since the EDP had been discontinued some time ago. It still packed a punch though, since one of my favorite things about it is the stupendous amount of oakmoss in the formula. The new juice is lighter in color than even the old EDT, but it’s still as distinctive in character as the original one. Now my curiosity got me looking for the older stuff so see how it compared, and as luck would have it there was a vintage bottle of EDT for sale online at a ridiculously low price, and even better, I located a mini of the vintage EDP. Fortunately for me, this is a sleeper of a scent that is not in very high demand and the appearance of the bottles is so similar that it’s easy to assume that they are all the same.
Jean-Louis Scherrer is a green chypre scent somewhat in the manner of Carven’s Ma Griffe but much less sharp on top, and though it shares the heavy dose of oakmoss it has a deeper base and exceptional lasting power due to the presence of vetiver and civet, and hyacinth, rose and jasmine add to both its haughty beauty and its longevity. The initial impression of the older version is that of the classic “perfumey” chypre, evoking images of ladies dressed in stylish suits with proper hats and gloves. Once the immediate opening is over it becomes more streamlined and modern, and it takes its place right beside Jolie Madame and the old Givenchy III as chypres for grownups, no-nonsense and powerful. The newer EDT is greener in a different way, less chewy and somewhat related in character to 1998’s Balmain de Balmain, and the moss is obviously “tree moss” rather than straight oakmoss, as it lacks the earthy astringency of the real deal, though still very tenacious, and I remember clearly that the original scent I had was darker on top, so the difference is not just due to the age of my “vintage” bottle. (It’s hard for me to think of something from only thirty years ago as vintage, since I am considerably older than that.)
When my mini of the EDP arrived I as almost afraid to open it; would it be as wonderful as I remembered? Oh, yes indeed. Darkly green to the point of danger with a massive amount of galbanum on top, honed to a fine sharpness that comes close to bitterness and absolutely dripping with oakmoss, it has an almost leathery character, veering toward being too astringent with the overwhelming oakmoss, but never getting to that point, since it is always grounded with the rich florals and animalic notes that give it such a luxurious feel. This is a perfect scent for feeling like a rich, powerful and sophisticated woman, but it’s also damned sexy with its low growl of base notes humming along below the radar. If this perfume were a person she might be actress Ida Lupino, the glamorous star who also ended up directing both movies and television shows and writing for the screen at a time when it was simply unheard of for women to have any power on the business side of Hollywood. The EDT is more than adequate for most situations, and for those who like to mix it up a little, this fragrance also makes a superb masculine. The Eau de Parfum should be deployed only when truly necessary, when either intimidation or seduction is called for. It works just fine for both.
The current Eau de Toilette is available at better perfume shops and online; check on auction sites for the vintage bottles. After trying the current formula and the older one side by side, I am happy to report that any reformulation that has occurred is minimal except for the regrettable but IFRA-mandated absence of real oakmoss, and I can recommend the modern one enthusiastically. The biggest disappointment is the lack of an EDP or Parfum to bolster the line since I know that loyal customers would snap that up like candy. Kudos to the company for keeping it as true as possible; I also tried the old and new versions of Givenchy III together recently and I was shocked at what had been done to it; the new one is somehow both dull and harsh, lacking in the sprightly herbal quality so unique to the original and flattened by overuse of synthetics. I am grateful that such a fate has not befallen Jean-Louis Scherrer, my favorite green chypre of all time.
Image credit: World War II era publicity photo of Actress Ida Lupino via skylighters.org