Madame Rochas ~ perfume review

Madame Rochas fragrance advertMadame Rochas perfume bottle

Isn’t it strange how two perfumes can have the same list of notes and yet sometimes smell so different? Lots of perfumes start with bergamot, neroli, or lemon, then segue to rose, jasmine, and iris with maybe some lily or tuberose thrown in. Then the perfume drys down to some combination of sandalwood, vetiver, amber and maybe tonka or vanilla. Racier scents might have civet, patchouli, musk, or oakmoss in the base. Of course I’m being overly general here, but so many scents have the same ingredients and yet smell so different. Madame Rochas is a case in point.

Helène Rochas — the real Madame Rochas — took over the House of Rochas when she became a widow at only 28 years old. It was 1955. Helène was the woman for whom Marcel Rochas commissioned Edmond Roudnitska to create Femme as a wedding present. By 1960, Helène was ready to add a new perfume to the Rochas brand, one that was easier to wear than Femme. She looked to Chanel No. 5 and Arpège for inspiration, and she hired Guy Robert to create it.

Madame Rochas has top notes of aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, and neroli; and heart of rose, jasmine, tuberose, and lily of the valley; and a base of orris, sandalwood, vetiver, and musk. Despite the similarity in notes and inspiration, Madame Rochas feels distinctly different from No. 5 and Arpège, and from Le Dix, for that matter. Madame Rochas is modern in the same way that Courrèges was modern. It feels slightly soapy, well-groomed, and active. It’s not floral in a pastel, summer way, but is dove grey and powder white.

Where Madame Rochas really parts ways with the other aldehydic florals I reviewed this week is in its dry down. After half an hour of wearing the Eau de Toilette, a clean musk works its way up front. Just when I thought I had it pegged, Madame Rochas surprised me again. To understand Madame Rochas, think of Jackie Onassis on the campaign trail with Jack. Women in Nebraska marveled at her unflappability, her mixture of American confidence and French complexity, her ability to be casual and formal at the same time. Just like Madame Rochas.

Madame Rochas was reformulated in 1989, and although I haven’t smelled the vintage version, it sounds like the reformulation was consistent with the original. Madame Rochas Eau de Toilette can be had online for as little as $12.95 for 30 ml in its classic columnar bottle modeled after old French salt bottles.

Note: image via Images de Parfums.

Shop for perfume

FragranceNetParfums Raffy

19 Comments

Leave a comment, or read more about commenting at Now Smell This. Here's a handy emoticon chart.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Lovely review! I recently tested Madame Rochas and was stunned to find out how familiar it smelled. It reminded me of my grandmother who died when I was 11 years old. The memories came on so strong that I'm sure this was the fragrance she used to wear. A bottle of this beautiful fragrance will be mine very soon.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you. With those memories and Madame Rochas' price, you definitely should have a bottle!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I love Rochas. Madame Rochas is a very classy fragrance. I remember the bottle…maybe my mother had it, but that was a long time ago. In the 80's I bought Byzance with special saved money, then Byzantine and in the 90's Fleu d'Eau, all by Rochas and they all have that typical musc scent coming up after some time. Think it's time to explore some more fragrances by Rochas.

    Lovely review you wrote.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Femme is my favorite Rochas scent, but I haven't tried them all yet. I really like how Madame Rochas has so much elegance, but low-key elegance. It's so clean and modern, but also a little musky, which is the part I like best.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Angela, I'm loving these reviews! I am a champion for older, less expensive fragrances that have so much more personality than newer, more often forgettable scents. I love Rochas frags in general, esp. Absolu and Femme. Haven't tried Madame because I thought the notes look too much like scents I already have. Now I'll have to try it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I'm so glad you like the reviews! I really expected Madame Rochas to smell like many other aldehydic florals and was surprised at its clean, confident, but ultimately warm and even a little naughty personality.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Angela, for reviewing some of our classics this week. At those prices and with those lovely, lovely bottles they seem hard to beat.

    I love pretty bottles, so for me, when considering a perfume, I have to like the bottle as well. I like the complexity and development of some of the older perfumes, especially viewed in the context of their time It certainly beats at lot of the newer ones on the market today (especially all those ghastly 'Celebrity Fragrances', which seem, IMHO anyway, little more than quick money makers).

  8. Anonymous says:

    I like pretty bottles, too. Even though decants are probably the smartest thing for me, since I have too much perfume to use a whole bottle for the most part, I love the bottles so much that they're hard to resist. In any case, $12.95 is a darn good price.

    I like old fragrances, too. I almost wonder if people were trained by society to have more sophisticated and accepting noses then. Now, if you wear perfume at all, even just a little, the person next to you on the bus might just scowl.

  9. Anonymous says:

    When I first tried this one, I was surprised at how much I liked it! I was expecting something musty and fusty, but it is fresh, crisp and elegant. Perhaps not something you would wear all the time, but a nice lady-like fragrance for putting on pearls and going to lunch.

    And you are right – its crazy how perfumes with the same ingredients can smell so different!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I was surprised, too, by Madame Rochas. Although I'm with you in that I wouldn't wear it everyday, I could easily imagine it becoming someone else's signature scent. It's clean and easy to wear.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Yay! I can comment!
    I've been reading this blog for so long: so informative and so addictive: while I am not going to run out and buy Femme or Madame Rochas, I would love to smell them on someone. You have reminded me however that I need another bottle of Eau Sauvage- I may pop out at lunch and see what the discounters on Broadway want for one…

  12. Anonymous says:

    I'm glad you're commenting!

    I love Eau Savage (note to self: put Diorella at the front of the stack). Femme might be a little much, but I think a man could easily get away with a gentle spritz of Madame Rochas. It's like slightly musky soap once the aldehydes wear off.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Very apt description of Madame Rochas. I'm not surprised that Rochas was inspired by No5 and Arpege which are two my of my very favorite scents. I think Madame Rochas is best worn by a woman with brown to brunette colored hair. A tailored suit, a Hermes bag and she'd get a lot of attention.

    This is a flattering,sophistcated scent that I wish more women would wear-even if they don't have a Hermes bag.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I think you've pegged the Madame Rochas woman really well! And it's certainly much more affordable than a Hermes bag, that's for sure.

  15. Anonymous says:

    There are so many great scents for women that smell even better on a man.

  16. Dizzy Dazzy says:

    I love Madame Rochas – brings back happy, happy memories. But, having discovered Amouage Gold, well it’s like turbo charged Madame Rochas. Love both.

    • Angela says:

      Gosh, how did this comment slip by me? I’m glad you discovered Gold!

  17. L'Homme Vert says:

    Madame Rochas has been a staple for most of my adult life and had remained almost unchanged until a reformulation in the early to mid 1990’s.
    I mourn the discontinuation of the eau de parfum around that time forcing me to search selected pharmacies & department stores hoping the sales assistants would take pity on me and sell one of the 100 ml. testers. Sadly this aldehydic beauty doesn’t age all that well so I’m rather dubious about buying this on eBay. The latest version in edt is acceptable although regular application is required, at least it’s still available.
    Heaven forbid should it be withdrawn entirely, that would be a travesty. Madame Rochas for me has similarities with Weil de Weil, Caleche & Infini to name just a few, Guy Robert was a genius with green tinctures and white florals !

    • Angela says:

      I wish I could have smelled the good, old Madame Rochas! And I couldn’t agree more–Guy Robert was truly a genius.

Leave a reply