Perfume review: Rochas Femme, Vintage & New

Rochas Femme, print advert

I’m staring at my bottle of Rochas Femme right now, and try as I might, I can’t see its reputed resemblance to Mae West. To me, it looks a lot more like Mighty Mouse. Not only does Femme’s bottle not look like Mae West, but its fragrance wings past the fusty, comic actress and lands straight on Marilyn Monroe: Marilyn as she rises from an afternoon nap, intimate, warm, hair mussed.

Femme smells voluptuous and intensely personal. It is the smell of your mother on her still-warm bed when you were a girl, or the scent that a maid in a posh resort shakes from the sheets every day. If I were in an elevator with someone I didn’t know who wore more than a dab of Femme, I might be uncomfortable, as if I had an unexpected window into her private life. Femme demands that you shed your social armor and relate to its wearer on a closer level. Femme isn’t an easy scent to wear.

Since Femme is so personal, you might expect it to be quiet, too, but it is big and lush, with impressive sillage. Mixed with the scent of woman are plums and peaches so ripe that if you don’t eat them now they’ll be no good tomorrow. I don’t want you to get the impression that it’s just another fruity scent, because calling Femme “fruity” is like calling Ravel’s Valse a “dance tune”. When you turn your arm to get another sniff, wafts of sandalwood just barely detectable escape from the fragrance’s main theme, lending a counterintuitive, almost soapy edge. Grounding Femme is an animalic, chypre base. The combination is disturbingly beautiful and impossible to ignore.

Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska created Femme in 1944 for Marcel Rochas to present to his wife; for Roudnitska's own wife Thérèse, he later created Parfum de Thérèse, released by Frédéric Malle after her death. (She sure hit the husband jackpot.) Olivier Cresp, the author of Thierry Mugler Angel and Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, retooled Femme in 1989. Femme’s fragrance notes include peach, plum, sandalwood, rosewood, lemon, rose, jasmine, oakmoss, patchouli, musk, amber, civet, and leather. Despite’s Femme’s update, it is still firmly rooted in the 1950s.

“But wait!” the astute reader says now, “What about the cumin? Doesn’t the new Femme have cumin?” I didn’t mention it, because I was afraid it might scare you off, but, yep, it does. It has definite cumin in the top, and it doesn’t fade for a good hour. But the cumin is gloriously unexpected and at the same time harmonious, like a girl with one brown eye and one blue eye. The original Femme smells more of lemon and aldehydes where the new Femme has cumin, but the feel of both versions over a few hours is similar. The old Femme is easier to wear than the new Femme, and I have to wonder if Cresp’s changes to Femme were to replicate the original’s surprise and carnality with an eye toward today’s blasé market. While I’d love to have a bottle of the original Femme, I adore today’s version, too.

My review is for the Eau de Toilette, which can be had online for less than $17 for 50 ml. (I’m aching to buy the perfume — can anyone comment on how it differs from the Eau de Toilette?) Chances are that four out of five of you who try Femme will reject it as old-fashioned, or even repulsive. But for that fifth person, Femme might lead to a whole different understanding of what perfume can be.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Angela, what a wonderful review! I'd love to smell the vintage Femme. I have the “modern” EDT and I love it. It's very spicy and leathery in an intensely feminine way. I've had this in serious rotation lately. Reading this makes me wish I had worn it today.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It is such a great scent in the winter. I woke up today to a blanket of frost outside, so thick it looks like snow. Perfect for Femme. As soon as my coffee is finished, it's off to the perfume cache for a spritz!

  3. Anonymous says:

    “Like a girl with one brown eye and one blue eye.” I love it!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I like your brand of aromatherapy! Lucky for me, the urine bit doesn't come out on my skin. I keep wondering how the parfum version treats the cumin.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Maybe I should have said “One brown eye, one blue eye, and a tasty lunch of tikka masala…” Thanks for the compliment!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Angela, lovely as always. Glad to see you didn't reject your first love after trying the vintage; it is interesting, isn't it, that most people seem to find the vintage easier to wear? Rochas does some weird things, but that's why I love the line. I'm not usually a huge peach fan, but I love the overripe quality you mention in this one.

  7. Anonymous says:

    *Warning of upcoming corniness*: When I first tried Femme, it made me see a different part of myself. I thought, I am this kind of woman, too. Isn't that strange? It really made me see myself in another way. I'd say that getting to know Femme could have taken the place of at least one session with a shrink.

    As much as I like the new Femme, I'd still love a big bottle of vintage Femme!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I've overlooked Femme for a long time, and your beautiful review has knocked some sense in me, I must get some and try it!

  9. Anonymous says:

    It's definitely worth a try, and maybe a second or third try if it doesn't grab you at first. It's a strange little perfume, but beautiful.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I've tried the updated version and really liked it (in spite of the cumin which in normally kryptonite to me). It is a very unusual ultrafeminine perfume – one I was surprised to enjoy. Love the pretty bottle, and would love to try the original.

    I think I like Rochas – I like Madame Rochas as well, which is a completely different perfume.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hello, Angela. I've been fiendishly lurking on this blog for quite some time now, but today your review moved me to create an account and post a thank you comment. I enjoyed reading this review, it is very well written.



  12. Anonymous says:

    Love you love you love you! Off to find (and possibly buy UNSNIFFED at that price) something that sounds wildly appealing. Although I should check — maybe I have a sample of this lying around…
    Cumin horrifed me at first. Total disgust. But the more odd things I smell, the more it appeals to me (for instance, now I love its strange addition to Serge Lutens' Oranger.) I think your suggestion that it was added to recreate the shock value of the original one is a smart one.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I've only smelled Madame Rochas on paper, but I'd really like to get to know the Rochas line better. (I'm sniffing my wrist right now, and the Femme has worn down to a dreamy, leathery, sandalwood warmth. So nice.) Note to self: try Madame Rochas.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for the compliment! And thanks for commenting, too. (I lurked for at least a year before I ever left a comment.)

  15. Anonymous says:

    I'd love to know what you think of Femme! I see it at Marshall's from time to time for a song.

    I wish I could talk to Cresp and find out what inspired him to make such a distinctive–and inspired–change to the original.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Oh thank you for this! I love it when someone can compare/contrast the old versus the new! It sounds like both are worthy of trying out, thank you :)

  17. Anonymous says:

    It's interesting to wear one on one wrist and the other on the other wrist and compare how they unroll. One thing I definitely noticed (and forgot to mention) is that the new EdT lasts twice as long as the old.

  18. Anonymous says:

    “I Am This Kind of Woman Too”

    Great title for something. It says so much.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Maybe an Aretha Franklin song?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Femme is one of my favourite perfumes in the world and personally I kinda prefer the new version with the cumin (a great reformulation, for once!). I don't understand this whole fear of cumin, it adds sexiness! I never get BO or anything like that, just lush amounts of womanly opulence in Femme.

    You describe it well.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Speaking of cumin, I'm wearing Gucci eau de parfum today, and I can smell a weak-hearted attempt to mimic the style of Femme, with cumin, fruit, and a little something animal. Of course they are different perfumes, but the Gucci doesn't hold a candle to the mix of bold and intimate that Femme makes. Femme really is in its own class.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Well, I've arrived pretty late here, but since I have just gotten my decant of the new Femme today, I wanted to comment…the earlier version was one of my mother's signature fragrances, and I had mixed feelings about ever wearing it myself — it seemed to me to belong to her generation and to her personally. But I was intrigued by what I heard about the new formulation, and as soon as the vial of precious fluid showed up in my PO box, well — all fears were put to rest. It's just glorious, the note of cumin unexpectedly wonderful, I thought. Warm and sexy, not culinary — no Annunziata Tandoori effect, thankfully. Just drop-dead womanliness. And by the by: what a great review.

  23. Anonymous says:

    It sounds almost ideal that Femme came out in a new version, just so that you could wear it without smelling exactly like your mother! I'm so glad you like it.

  24. Anonymous says:

    That's just what I thought, actually; but it would have been so solipsistic for me to say so, wouldn't it? So thank you for doing it for me :-). I think this baby's going to be on my short list of fragrances I can't live without.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Extremely late for the party, too. I tried this on a whim a while ago, and it's glorious; I find it very similar to Mitsouko on my skin, but warmer and more rounded. I love the cumin note – it's really what makes it stand out.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I agree–the cumin is what separates it from a million other peachy chypres, and I love it, too.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I would like to know something more about Femme cumin.

    Femme is a scent that I'm following from years '70 and I felt cumin even in the old version … Is it possible?

    I have also several vintage versions, but In Italy Femme is difficul t to find while in France, UK and USA there are a lot of sellers…

    I love cumin and I'm also preparing a cumin mother tincture in ethanol 95°… It's smell goood!!!

    I use cumin a lot in the kitchen … It's fantastic!!!

    Sorry for my English, but I'm Italian.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Your English is terrific, no apologies needed.

    I have what is supposed to be vintage Femme parfum and I can smell cumin in it, but I'm not 100% sure that it's vintage. On the other hand, I don't get cumin at all in the vintage Eau de Toilette, although there's definitely an animalic edge. To me, it's the cumin that really makes Femme what it is. I'm glad to know you like cumin, too!

  29. Anonymous says:

    I am wearing this one today. It is so cosy and warm like soft blanket on cold winter day :) It has some Guerlain perfumes quality. The notes are not sharp but very much soften. I can clearly feel the peach. And cumin? Hmm.. Cant really feel it. It is a right perfume for me today.

  30. Anonymous says:

    It sounds like it suits you perfectly!

  31. Anonymous says:

    I am waiting winter to smell it again…

  32. Anonymous says:

    It shouldn't be too long before it's here….

  33. Anonymous says:

    Your enticing review made me order a bottle of this right away. I have now worn this three times, and try as I may, I just cannot love it! I really want to, but I guess I fall into that “four out of five” category. After the scent of a great grandmother wears away, all I can smell is a stench that is reminiscent of body odor. I really tried to love it. Oh well–another bottle of Rochas Femme will be listed on E-bay soon!

  34. Anonymous says:

    I can definitely understand how you might not love it. It is a VERY particular, personal smell that borders on off-putting. It's sort of like a really pungent truffle or an overripe cheese–it can be heaven or pure disgust depending on how much you like that sort of thing. I definitely wouldn't wear it to the office.

    Better luck with your next purchase!

  35. Anonymous says:

    OK, *really* late to the party here. I bought a tiny sample of this several months ago, didn't care for it, and put it away. This week I took it out to try again – and now I'm loving it! Amazing how much my nose has developed and my tastes have changed over my first year as a perfumista. You are right, it is a very intimate, womanly fragrance. It is fruity without being overly sweet. The cumin doesn't yell, but is there in an amount just sufficient to give it an edge. It has the peachiness of Mitsouko but is warmer, I think. It may be full bottle time for this one!

  36. Anonymous says:

    I'm glad you like it! It's not for everyone, but I love it. The good news is that you can find it pretty cheap at discounters. I bought my bottle at Marshall's.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for replying! I have now purchased Mitsouko–am I going to be disappointed? What about your take on Chanel No. 5 and No. 22? I value the opinion of a perfumista such as yourself, not to mention, a wonderful writer,too. I love your reviews–even though they trick me into thinking Rochas Femme smells wonderful! Just kidding–“to each her own.”

  38. Anonymous says:

    All of those perfumes are good ones to sample first–they're all wonderful, but they're not always easy for a fresh nose. Mitsouko especially has the reputation of being something it takes a while to thoroughly appreciate. But just keep it around and keep trying it every few months.

    The Chanels have a lot of aldehydes up front that could make them smell old lady-ish until you have acquired a taste for it. Now Smell This has reviews of all of them. Good lluck!

  39. Anonymous says:

    Good to know, thanks for the tip!

  40. Anonymous says:

    Good to know, thanks for the tip!

  41. Anonymous says:

    Got a bottle of the EDT from Parfum1, and my only disappointment is that I find it very light. It looks like the EDP, in anything other than sampler size, is not sold in the US?

  42. Anonymous says:

    I just checked my bottle, and it's the EdT, too, but it still smells pretty powerful–sometimes too powerful, much as I love it–to me. I wonder if it's been done over again?

    What do you think of the cumin note? I love it, but not everyone does.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I have both the edp and edt, but edt is already strong.

    The scent lasts a lot and become one with the skin and clothes…Wonderful!!!

  44. Anonymous says:

    Yes, it is!

  45. Anonymous says:

    Hope I didn't get a dud, is Parfum1 trustworthy? I do like the cumin, it's just enough and not overdone. I have a sampler size of the EDP and that is more of a concentration that I like.

  46. Anonymous says:

    I've had good experiences with them in the past. It just may be that you've found a good match in a scent and actually want it richer!

  47. Anonymous says:

    You're probably right, this one just seems to smell as I think my skin should smell, and I want more of a good thing. My solution to the light EDT is to spray lavishly after a shower! So far, my husband hasn't sneezed around me, and no one has run away screaming…. ;-O

  48. Anonymous says:

    Hurray! Sounds perfect.

  49. Iseult says:

    I want to thank all of you that are responsible for setting up this site. I’ve recently been looking for a fragrance for myself. Everything that I tested seemed insipid to me – the reason that I’m entering late twenties without having a perfume. I started reading your blog and came across this particular review and it inspired me to look into trying this scent personally. I have to admit that the first thing that came to mind is: ” wow – fantastic!” This perfume just fits me and I wouldn’t have found it without you guys. So, thank you! And suggestions and advice to other such treasures are welcome. Either way, I’m going to be combing through all the old reviews and posts.

    • Angela says:

      Thank you! You must be jumping straight up to the top of the perfumista ranks, too, because as beautiful as Femme is, it isn’t exactly an easy fragrance. I’m glad you like it!

  50. parisa says:

    I need an advice. If I adore new Femme (my favourite), can I buy an old one without trying first? You think it`s safe purchase?

    • Angela says:

      Well, it depends. Femme was made in many different formulations over the years, and it really suffered (in my opinion) toward the end. It became more tame and less animalic. If you were able to get Femme from the 1950s, it might be wonderful. In the late 1960s, not so wonderful. I think it depends on the price, too. If it’s a bargain, why not? You can always sell or trade it if you don’t like it. Good luck!

  51. Robin R. says:

    Angela, funny what a difference even a couple of years makes. Now it’s very hard to find vintage (seventies and earlier) Femme at a good price online — or at ALL, for that matter.

    A couple of answers, as a old-timer. First, I really think that anyone who finds a bottle of Femme from the seventies won’t be disappointed on the sexy/animalic front. The formulation, as far as my nose can tell, stayed the same through that decade, and into the early eighties at least. I have a bottle of seventies Femme eau de cologne and I am astonished every time I wear it; I swear, it runs circles around many an edp of the 21st century! The leather and civet is amazing, and the thing is amazingly intact.

    Vis-a-vis Femme in parfum strength, that’s all I ever bought in the seventies, so I’m reasonably familiar with it. To me, it’s sweeter, lusher, more fruity and over-ripe than the lighter concentrations, which tend to the leather — at least in older bottles. I haven’t tried the new one, but from what everyone has been saying, it sounds lovely in its own right.

    Once again, Angela, I have you to thank — and you to curse — for my new addiction to heavenly old bottles. It makes plunking down a credit card for something new and expensive seem SO much easier than trolling online for that elusive vintage lemming! :-)

    • Angela says:

      First, let me say that I was inspired to dig out my bottle of Femme for a spritz! It’s been too long. Whew! If there was anything like sex in a bottle, this is it.

      Since I wrote this review, I acquired a few mls of the parfum, and I agree with your assessment completely. I’d love to know what you think of the current version of Femme.

  52. wendy05 says:

    hi Angela! Just wondering if since last August you perhaps also found time to compare the edt and the edp ..i see both versions on ebay and am not sure which is best. Also, how “bad” is the civet note in both versions? I recently treated myself to a nice bottle of Jicky in perfume (after deciding that the edt is really quite nice actually and thinking perfume must surely always be better/nicer than edt) and was in for a HUGE shock when after about 10 minuted a big ole civet cat came in the room sticking its, eh, glands in my nose.. Civet and i are not quite friends yet, so i want to be careful with anything else containing civet. Still, Femme is being listed as a chypre (if i am not mistaken) and i am a sucker for a good chypre… thanks in advance! Cheers Wendy

    • Angela says:

      I’ve smelled the old PdT and the EdP and parfum, but that’s all. But I really don’t think you need to fear civet in Femme. Jicky’s civet is really, really pronounced to me, and I don’t get any of that in Femme. Femme is a rich peachy chypre. The part of Femme that most often turns people off, I think, is the cumin in the new version. I really like it, but not everyone does.

      • wendy05 says:

        thanks Angela. Hm.. I guess the chances of finding cheapish old bottles are slim, but as cumin does not deter me (too much) and as you say the civet is not as in your face as in Jicky I am sure I’ll like the new version. The hunt is on!

  53. Subhuman says:

    I’ve been having a spate of bizarrely good luck with blind buys lately, and Femme is my latest acquisition. (100ml of EdT on eBay for peanuts.) If there’s such thing as an oriental chypre, I nominate Femme as its figurehead. So. Much. Spice. My nose barely registers the ripe fruit and florals, it’s all neon cumin and smoky sandalwood, with a subtle leather underpinning. I think I’m in love. Unfortunately I received my bottle in the middle of a heat wave here in Ontario, and this is the most emphatically un-summer scent I can think of. I can’t wait for the weather to turn so I can rock Femme (as a man…hah!). If it weren’t for this review Femme would never have been on my radar, so thanks a bunch, Angela!

    • Angela says:

      Hurray! I’m glad Femme is working for you. I can’t imagine it in the heat, though. Whew. I’d love to smell Femme on an Homme.

  54. Dizzy Dazzy says:

    The newer recipe is not as nice as the original. I have a tiny bottle of perfume from 1986 – still fresh – and when compared to the new version you can really notice the difference, although the new recipe does settle down to practically the same as the original. Femme is voluptuous, warm, spicey, and cuddly. It is distinctive. I find that Acqua di Parma ‘Iris Noble’ is not unlike Femme. I like both.

    • Angela says:

      It’s so hot here now it’s hard to think of wearing Femme, but I do love it!

  55. raluca says:

    I didn’t realise that the EdP is out of production and now I desprately realize that is out of stock and my local perfumery sold the last bottle thay had, two weeks ago. Where can I find this perfect fragrance anymore? (the EdP) heelp

    • Angela says:

      I just know there are more bottles out there! Don’t give up yet. Have you tried parfum1 and scentiments?

  56. raluca says:

    Thanks Angela, parfume 1 have it, indeed. A treasure.

  57. plattdujour says:

    I can show you how Femme recalls Mae Wests curvy figure if you tell me how to upload a small jPeg

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