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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Lady Never Tells: Apercu by Houbigant

By Donna

Sometimes – often, in fact – you just need a perfume that you can wear anywhere. Not too strong, yet with good lasting power. Not too sweet, but unmistakably feminine and elegant. Well-mannered and easy to live with, but not so popular that everyone else is wearing it too. You might call it your “Goldilocks” scent – it’s a perfect fit. I discovered just such a one recently in the form of Aperçu by Houbigant.

I acquired my bottle of Eau de Parfum with some good luck in a prize draw. (Thank you, Sweet Diva!) I had read a couple of reviews of this fairly obscure perfume some time ago and I thought it sounded like something I would very much like to try. Lo and behold, soon I had the pretty round-shouldered bottle in my hot little hands. As soon as I tried it I knew I had found a winner.

Aperçu opens with just a little burst of spice, which subsides fairly quickly, only to show up later in the drydown. It’s clove and cinnamon, two of my favorite accords. Oakmoss is immediately apparent to me, but it is restrained. Once the spice retreats the scent becomes a lovely floral chypre, eventually transforming to a distinctly woody drydown, smoothed by silken sandalwood. I did not really expect this somewhat dry style of scent from Houbigant; there is none of the clingy powder that is so often found in perfumes from this house. A gentle sweet freshness comes from behind the veil of lemon and bergamot. I knew I detected ylang-ylang, white flowers and neroli, but the presence of cassis was a pleasant surprise. This is one of the fruity notes that is always welcome for me. It gives the scent a round ripeness that is nonetheless slightly astringent. This fragrance is one of those balanced blends that I really like, no single note dominating and no “overdose” of any one ingredient to throw the composition out of whack. (It is not until it has been on the skin for an hour or more that the patchouli even appears to me, and even then it’s just a whisper. Many scents with patchouli in the base make it known right away.) I find myself pressing my nose to my arm frequently to partake of the lingering woods and moss, even many hours after application.

I have been wearing this scent regularly and I have found that it is very well behaved even in the summer heat and humidity. The spice notes become a little more prominent when the temperature soars, but the overall effect is never sticky or sweet. I look forward to wearing it in the cooler weather to come when I hope it will reveal even more facets of its character.

I hope that I have not given anyone the impression that Aperçu is ordinary, or even austere. Subtle and refined, yes, but sexy in its own way. More of a Greta Garbo than a Jean Harlow, but sexy nonetheless. It conjures up a woman who might wear a severely tailored suit – with lacy lingerie underneath. A woman who does not advertise her charms freely, but saves their expression for her private time. As the product of a somewhat Victorian upbringing, I can really appreciate the hidden power that this approach entails. Only one who knows this woman very well will ever be invited to visit her inner sanctum, only one who is worthy of her will ever have this privilege, and that is just exactly the way she wants it.

I have my Fracas moments, to be sure, but for the most part I keep my light under a bushel, so to speak. When I am interested in someone romantically, I may not flaunt it openly, but when the time comes that I want that person to know I am interested, it will be made perfectly clear to him, but not necessarily everyone else in the world. I find that having a delicious little secret is just as sexy as “going public” with one’s amours. Aperçu appeals to me as a perfect scent for the woman with deep but quiet passions.

Fragrance description, from Aperçu by Houbigant is based on a 'lost' recipe. Launched in 2000 it is a sophisticated scent of citrus and with rich florals. Top notes: bergamot, neroli, jasmine, tuberose, lemon, green leaf, heart: bois de rose, geranium, cinnamon bark oil, ylang-ylang. Base: vetiver, sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, clove, cassis. (This scent was first released in 1925 and re-formulated in 2000. I would so love to get my hands on a vintage bottle!)

It is widely available from Internet discounters, but you are unlikely to find it in any stores except dedicated perfume boutiques. It should be more popular of course, but like so many releases without designer cachet or celebrity endorsement, it will never get the attention it deserves. Too bad – this one could go a long way toward dispelling the anti-perfume backlash. Just think about it; one day everyone magically shows up to work wearing something like this instead of whatever Froot- Loopy horror is currently in vogue. That’s never going to happen, but I can do my own part by wearing it whenever the occasion calls for it – which is pretty much anytime.

Image credits: Aperçu bottle from Photo of actress Greta Garbo in 1924 from commons/

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Blogger tmp00 said...

sounds delicious!

7:28 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

I had no idea it wasn't rereleased till 2000. It really is a beautifuls scent, but one of the things that I love most about it is that it's so wonderfully inexpensive - great thing in this time of financial belt tightening.

9:41 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Tom, it is, and in a charmingly old-fashioned "perfumey" sort of way.

3:39 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Elle, that is a real bonus too! When the time comes for me to acquire another bottle it won't be painful in the least. :-)

3:41 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having a delicious little secret is very sexy indeed. I love your description and the notes sound yummy - on my to try list it must go.

4:36 PM EDT  
Blogger poodlegirl said...

Donna, I couldn't agree with you more! This is a lovely fragrance, and once I sniffed it, I was not at rest until I bought myself a bottle. I think this one would be very easy to like for those who tend to shy away from chypres. It's not a powerhouse, as you pointed out, but extremely well-mannered.

8:25 PM EDT  
Blogger TrippleJN said...

What a nice review. I'm inspired to go try this one right away. It sounds like what I want right now.


10:59 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Sabina, I really think it's worth a try!

1:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Poodlegirl, I agree, some chypres can be intimidating (think Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum!) but this one is very easy to live with.

1:02 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Tripplejn, thank you, and I hope you can find this lovely scent near you.

1:04 AM EDT  
Blogger TrippleJN said...

Funny, I was thinking about Paloma as I read your review. I had a bottle of that after high school, and wore it only occasionally but really liked it. I just recently saw several bottles, unopened in boxes, for sale at our local TJMax here in town. I was tempted to grab one, but it's been years since I've smelled it. :)

10:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Donna...I am so happy that this bottle (an unsniffed purchase!) found it's way into good hands. I bought it--a mistake on my skin--and sent it off to Sweet Diva. Your review was lovely, and I'm thrilled it works so well for you!

3:43 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Sybil, what a small world, that's what I call six degrees of separation, perfumista style!

Sorry it did not work for you, but I am really glad I discovered it. Thank you for passing it along so another person could enjoy it.

10:54 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought a bottle based on this review and I love it! It is, indeed, sexy but not at all overpowering. Just a lovely, warm scent on the skin.

6:04 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now a comment for you Donna, I see you are also posting reviews...I am such a scatterbrain that I didn't make the connection until now. Just bought this unsniffed as it seems loved across the boards by the blogs.
And I'm a sucker for a good chypre with oriental leanings...sounds like this is one that would give "bearing" and "carriage" to the delightful. Hope your cold is clearing up. Happy New Year.

4:18 PM EST  

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