Out of the Past: Cabochard by Parfums Grès
I check in on the discount stores like Ross, TJ Maxx and Marshall’s regularly just in case something interesting shows up in the fragrance department. So far nothing has been as good a find as a bottle of Balmain Jolie Madame for about fifteen dollars a few years ago (and I am still kicking myself for not buying all they had in stock) but I do run into some nice things sometimes. Recently I got lucky again, for there on the shelf among the apparently unlimited supply of Curve, White Diamonds and Red Door was one 30 ml bottle of Cabochard Eau de Toilette by Parfums Grès, in the special limited edition 50th anniversary packaging, for only $7.99. Needless to say, it now has a new home.
When I opened it up, I was surprised to find that it was actually quite good; despite the obvious reformulation it was still recognizable as one of the iconic leather chypres of all time. The signature notes of sharp citrus, iris, tobacco, patchouli, pungent herbals and of course leather are still apparent. There are a number of floral notes listed for it but the iris seems particularly prominent in this modern formula, which open it up quite a bit from its original rather dense character. Mercifully, it is still almost entirely devoid of sweetness except for some airy floral notes in the beginning, and the paring-down of reformulation has still left the herbs, leather and tobacco in their starring roles. Once I actually wore it I found that I liked it quite a lot, more than I expected to, considering my longtime allegiance to the original.
Of course, I had to compare it to my prized bottle of the vintage parfum, which is not really fair to the new juice. The 1959 Cabochard has a chewy, intensely herbal and very complex aroma with a distinctly smoky character. I find it to be much less animalic than its near-contemporary Jolie Madame, but no less compelling. It is as tightly constructed as the plot of a classic film noir, all shoulder pads and smoldering looks and fedora-wearing silhouettes against the window blinds as shadowy figures move under murky streetlamps on foggy nights in the big city. You really have to like herbal notes to appreciate it, and if it were released today as a niche line masculine, no one would blink an eye. It’s hard to believe that this classic fragrance was once very mainstream and highly popular in its original version. Just think, at one time women were not expected to wear the liquid equivalent of cotton candy on their skin! I can see it as the precursor to perfumer Bernard Chant’s later composition for Clinique in 1971, Aromatics Elixir, with which it shares the unusual array of herbal tonalities, and perhaps the latter fragrance pushes the limits of that style even more. Cabochard’s main point is the leather, and once the drydown has commenced it is very long-lasting, as perfumes of this genre usually are.
What really struck me about Cabochard and the character of the current formulation versus the original is how much of a parallel there is between these two and the old and new versions of Jolie Madame. In each instance, a huge and almost intimidating leather chypre was modified and tamed to suit the current taste for fragrance, although I don’t know why that particular decision needed to be made; in a post-Angel world, you would think a perfume with a big personality would not be all that problematic. That said, I really enjoy the newer incarnation of Jolie Madame too, as it is very well done and I can wear it to work – just try that with the vintage these days. I wore the new Cabochard to the office and no one seemed to have a problem with it at all. Had I smelled either of them without reference to the originals, I would have thought they were just really nice, streamlined modern leather scents. I would like their respective makers to issue them in Eau de Parfum, but even in the existing concentration they both have good longevity, a tribute to their basic chypre structure and materials. Now if only the old and the new could coexist, one for day and the other for evening, or should I say, one for real life and the other for a fantasy existence filled with sexy, dangerous intrigue and mystery. Maybe we can’t have that kind of a life, but we can wear Cabochard and feel as though we do.
Image credits: Actress Jane Greer in a pivotal scene from the classic 1947 film “Out Of The Past” via the captainsmemos.com. Iconic night scene from “The Big Combo” (1955) via filmsnoir.net.
Disclosure: The fragrances tested were from my own collection.