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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jean-Louis Scherrer then and now: A Green Chypre that never lost its edge

By Donna

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

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Blogger carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Oh, I wore JLS back in the day and keep forgetting that I did -- even as a teenager I had a thing for chypres, I guess. I have to hunt up that old mini, but I'm afraid of the condition it'll be in. Thanks for reminding me!

3:26 AM EDT  
Blogger ScentScelf said...

Hooray! Green makes me happy...mosses, galbanum, grasses, many forms....

A kind perfumista shared with me samples of Scherrer, Coty Chypre, Millot Crepe du Chine. I am *so* happy to hear your words on the Scherrer; I think I have been purposely averting my gaze, afraid to know what the "new" version was. The news is good! Hooray!

Ida Lupino. There's another one I hope never is forgotten. My mother introduced me to her when I was young, pointing to the television screen and telling me how she directed, too. Maybe I should thank Mom with a bottle of the new Scherrer? :)

9:00 AM EDT  
Blogger EileenS said...

This is the chypre that broke the ice for me a couple of years ago. Prior to that, I just wasn't getting _IT_, whatever it was that made people love chypres. Because some wise folk said it was a must try, I got a sample. And loved it, probably due to the very green nature of Scherrer. This little step into the world of chypre led me to appreciate a few more, then a few more.. I'm very happy to have made journey.

10:38 AM EDT  
Blogger annunziata said...

I was a precocious, juvenile chypre-lover. In no other way was I particularly mature, but...anyway, glad you mentioned Alexandra. I love it, wear it often, and get many compliments on it. I will have to try the Scherrer!

11:08 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...

ooof- you had me at Ida Lupino

11:30 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always been a dedicated worshipper at the altar of chypre. I was without a doubt the most peculiar-smelling tweener at my school back in the day. Somehow I had missed this fragrance when it was originally in release, but thanks to hearing it praised in NST and now here, I picked some up on the Bay a while back and definitely see what all the fuss is about. Thanks for giving it some loving attention here. :)

1:05 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently scored a little bottle of the original perfume. One tiny drop releases an intense-yet-mellow liquid green that lasts all day. The oakmoss radiates an organic vibrancy -- almost alive. I can't even imagine why fragrances like this are altered and discontinued.

Surely there are houses out there who could profit by reissuing vanished treasures, or copies (Magie Noire has only a hint of it's old mossy/incense self & you have to overspray find it; No. 19s future is not looking promising; etc.

Where is some American manufacturer to give us back our oakmoss and citrus?

1:55 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Carmencanada, I hope your old mini is in good shape - both my vintage FB and the mini I got were in great condition, and who knows what they had been through before I got them.

4:17 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

ScentSelf, I am still hoping for a chance to try Crepe de Chine and Chypre myself - had I known C de C was actually a chypre, I would have done it a long time ago! For some reason I was under the impression that it was a powdery floral, no idea why!

Yes, Ms. Lupino was the real deal for sure!

4:19 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

EileenS, I am so happy to hear that! It is not as aloof as some others, it's more approachable, yet it makes an excellent gateway drug to such lovelies as Ma Griffe and Jolie Madame. :-)

4:21 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Annunziata, if you love oakmoss, you should appreciate the Scherrer. I am seriously considering finding an older bottle of Alexandra too - it would be one to suffer greatly under the new IFRA guidelines with all that oakmoss in it.

4:23 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Tom, I thought she was just so perfect for the Scherrer - smart and elegant! :-)

4:25 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Anonymous, glad to know that you found it to your liking! Once I figured out what a chypre was, there was no stopping me - if I had only known sooner!

4:26 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Lucky you, Anonymous! I am all about the green, can't get enough.

I cerainly wish they had not messed with Magie Noire, I remember how intense it used to be, it's just a shadow of its old self now, very sad. Too bad Lancome is still making it, otherwise maybe someone else could get the license and give it a restoration job.

Some of the niche companies are pointedly ignoring IFRA's rules, and good for them!

4:30 PM EDT  
Anonymous dissed said...

I still have about 1/4 oz. of parfum in a beautiful crystal bottle. Haven't worn it since I dropped it and spilled most of it on the rug. I always get a "goat cheese" note; it doesn't last. Suspect it's galbanum or oakmoss. Will have to go back and try this again someday.

5:11 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Dissed, I love goat cheese! ;-)

Seriously, I am on the hunt for the Parfum of this too; the EDP is wonderful but the Parfum was/is to die for.

6:02 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

Oh, how I adore this perfume! I first smelled it when I was an undergrad and vacationing in Paris. I was at a local grocery buying fruit when this woman walked by wafting an astounding scent. I instantly decided it was worth risking being ridiculed for my sad failure to speak French properly and try to ask her what she was wearing. She turned out to be quite kind and told me it was Scherrer. Have been wearing it happily ever since. Didn't realize the new version was not butchered (have been living off of vintage stock for some time now). Wonderful news! Thanks for this great review of a scent way too many people seem to have missed.

10:04 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you Elle! I was pleasantly surprised to find that it has not been ruined. The house has released several scents since this one,but nothing as good, IMHO. I never want to be without it again!

12:30 AM EDT  
Blogger saralevy said...

I loved JLS--another chypre from that era that I adore is Courreges Empreinte. Impossible to find but incendiary if you do!

6:09 PM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

They really knew how to make 'em, didn't they ?

Good to feel that old oakmoss love-
Now a vice, like so many others ;-)

[Beautifully rendered, sister-from-a-distance !]

8:36 AM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Saralevy, I had no idea that one was a chypre, never having seen it - now I must search!

3:38 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thank you, Chaya dear! My mission now is to seek out as much oakmoss-infused juice as I can so it will last me as long as the current banning nonsense is in force. Hopefully that's not going to last forever.

3:41 PM EDT  

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