Fougère Royale, Part One (Houbigant, 2010)

This is a first impression review of Fougère Royale (the 2010 reissue, not the original). I received my sample earlier today, and I've been wearing it for a few hours. My interest in this fragrance stems from a deep love of fougères, both traditional and aromatic, a genre of masculine perfumery that never ceases to amaze me. This fragrance has come under a lot of fire since its release four years ago, mainly because they named it "Fougère Royale" and set the bar about as high as it could go. Everyone expected this thing to smell like the original 1882 fougère by the same firm, just freshened up a little bit for the modern world with newer chemicals and perhaps an extra note here or there. Instead, Houbigant created an entirely different fragrance, an aromatic fougère, which is a real change-up. It disappointed people.

Some of my readers may be unfamiliar with what an old-school traditional fougère smells like, so I'll offer two good examples. One of the original fougères was a feminine "sweet floral," as the H&R Genealogy calls it, a little barbershop scent called Canoe, which was released in 1935 to compete with Liz Arden's Blue Grass. It wasn't long until guys appropriated Canoe (they weren't interested in Blue Grass), and it has since become the reference fougère for wetshavers, beloved by many a badger brush-wielding family man. It's basically a brisk snap of lavender, followed by a super-powdery coumarin and musk base accord. The other traditional oldie is Pinaud's Clubman Aftershave-Lotion. Same thing, but with more rose and a vanillic coumarin.

If you know these two fougères, you know what a traditional fougère is supposed to smell like. The wonderful thing about traditional ferns is that they're cheap, but they smell great. There's nothing about the fragrance structure that demands a premium budget. You just need a healthy shot of linalool, some geraniol for floral depth, coumarin, and your pick of any bland white musk. Combine those elements, and voila - you have a fougère. The last of the commercially successful old-fashioned ferns was Brut, which was eventually marred by the banning of musk ambrette, though it still smells quite good today. In a way, Brut was the precursor to the aromatic fougères of the seventies and eighties, with its clean-dirty herbal musk presaging things like Azzaro Pour Homme, Kouros, and Lapidus.

Interestingly, the 2010 version of Fougère Royale smells somewhat removed from the barbershop fougères I've described, yet it uses the same structure. I believe it references a different kind of old-school fougère, something a bit less coumarin-focused and sweet, something woodier, more herbal, more "outdoorsy." Think of Worth Pour Homme, Moustache by Rochas, and Patrick by Fragrances of Ireland, and you have a better idea of the kind of fragrance Rodrigo Flores-Roux created. I've read about his thought process in approaching this fragrance, and it sounds like he wanted to adhere to traditional fougère conventions without succumbing to the same-old, same-old. He also had a sizable budget to work with, so the materials at his disposal were of much higher quality than anything coming out of Idelle Labs.

There's a warm glow in my heart as I smell this fragrance today. For the first time in a long time, I'm smelling an expensive semi-niche perfume that feels like it's deserving of its exorbitant price-tag. This is the sort of thing I wish Creed would release, a straight-up woody fern with elegant floral and herbal flourishes. It's not a very complicated scent, really - we're talking about a strident, super-bright bergamot, lavender, and geranium accord in the top notes, which still reminds me of aftershave, despite the quality of the oils used. The mid brings a hay-like coumarin accord, with its dry, grassy quality balanced by patchouli and chamomile, a simple but effective arrangement. It smells green, fresh, and refined. I don't get an excessively powdery quality from this combination of notes, although there is a bit of a talcum powder edge, hinting at the oldies mentioned above.

The musk in the base is a mite cleaner than I would have liked it to be - I wonder why the perfumer didn't use a more animalic note here - but ultimately the base is mossy and warm, and very, very masculine. The men of yesteryear weren't inclined to wear fragrance, so if they did indulge, it was with something not to be mistaken for "ladies perfume." There's no mistaking Fougère Royale for anything other than a man's scent, and a very conservative one at that. I'm reminded quite a bit of Moustache as I smell this, and I wonder how my impressions will develop in the days to come. All I can tell you right now is that this is a very good fougère, and I'd like to own it. It is beautiful, a special composition made by a talented nose who knew what his formula had to live up to. He delivered it. Thank you Rodrigo, and thank you Houbigant.

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