Mme. Alix Grès launched her design house, Grès, in Paris in 1942, and maintained control of her perfume line until the early 1980s. Parfums Grès has had a complicated ownership history since then. In 2002, it was sold by the Escada Group to Silvio Denz, and as far as I can figure out, his company still owns it.
Cabochard, probably the house’s best known perfume, was created by nose Bernard Chant, and launched in 1959. The notes are bergamot, mandarin, aldehydes, galbanum, ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, clove buds, oakmoss, tobacco, musk, iris, sandalwood, vetiver, leather, castoreum, patchouli and labdanum.
Cabochard starts with citrus and deep green notes. It is a dark fragrance right from the start, and the leather is apparent almost immediately. The floral notes are muted: when smelled from a distance they are barely noticeable, from up close, the jasmine is more obvious but still seems to weave in and out. It dries down to an animalic leathery chypre with woods, moss, and a touch of smoke. It stays very dry for the first hour, then starts to take on a hint of sweetness from the patchouli.
I am not especially fond of leather in fragrance, but Cabochard is very soft and smooth once it calms. As Guy Robert explains:
Technically, Cabochard is a rounder interpretation of Bandit. Bandit was a beautiful but brutal perfume which was far too leathery. It was so heavy and animalic a chypre that it shocked people. Bernard found a way to make the accord more flowery and mute the leathery aspect. (quoted in Michael Edwards, Perfume Legends, p 118)
I am trying the Eau de Toilette, and the lasting power is excellent. By today’s standards, this is very much a unisex fragrance. It is probably better suited to cold weather, though, and I am going to revisit this in the fall and see if it is something I would wear regularly.
It is hard to imagine that the formula has not been tinkered with since 1959, and in fact, Luca Turin has less than kind things to say about the current version. This is yet another fragrance that makes me wish I had started my smelling career 20 years ago.
In 2000 Gres introduced Air de Cabochard, said to be a lighter, more summery version, but I have not tried it. Cabochard qualifies for the budget category if you shop around. Both scentiments and imaginationperfumery have 100 ml bottles for less than $25.