The story goes that in 1957 the clothing designer Hubert de Givenchy commissioned perfumer Francis Fabron to create a fragrance especially for his favorite client, Audrey Hepburn. Fabron had already earned his perfumer's chops as the nose behind Nina Ricci L'Air du Temps and the original Robert Piguet Baghari. Reportedly, Hepburn was so taken with the scent that when Givenchy mentioned marketing it she said, "But I forbid you!" So the fragrance earned its name — L'Interdit means "forbidden" in French.
Vintage Givenchy L'Interdit is a warm, feminine aldehydic floral with a hint of peach and strawberry, and a buttery sandalwood drydown spiked with incense. Like many aldehydic florals, it smells first and foremost like perfume. As the aldehydes fade, L'Interdit settles into a chiffon veil of scent that is subtle and beautifully blended. Its floral heart is creamy with ylang ylang, iris, and rose, but a pinch of spice keeps it from being flabby. As the scent fades it sweetens slightly and its softness feels like powder more than smells like it.
L'Interdit's original notes reportedly included galbanum, pepper, clove, strawberry, aldehydes, rose, jasmine, jonquil, violet, sandalwood, amber, musk, benzoin, iris, patchouli, vetiver, frankincense and tonka bean. L'Interdit would have complemented Audrey Hepburn well. It is elegant, youthful for an aldehydic floral, and wouldn't steal the limelight from the woman who wore it.
By 2002, the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy executives who owned Givenchy (Hubert had stepped down from the house in 1995) decided that L'Interdit needed freshening up. So they hired perfumers Jean Guichard and Olivier Gillotin to retool L'Interdit as a — you guessed it — fruity floral. Many of the original notes remained, but to me it all added up to the smell of strawberry-scented shampoo.
I know that old-fashioned aldehydic florals might have scared the profit-seeking LVMH, but linking the name of a hallowed fragrance with a genre of perfume that has been done a thousand times over didn't prove to be a smart move. Women who wore the original L'Interdit were incensed when they bought the new L'Interdit and found it profoundly altered. The younger audience LVMH sought didn't exactly line up for L'Interdit, and why should they? Fruity florals better than the new L'Interdit were stacked cheek-by-jowl at the department store.
I can't help but think of Chanel's canny reworking of Chanel No. 5 for a younger market when they created Eau Première. First, Chanel didn't discontinue No. 5, and its fans could always find it. Next, Eau Première didn't pander to market trends but maintained the elegant feel of No. 5 while rounding out its aldehydes and boosting its wet roses to make it a little more accessible, but still lovely and still clearly related to No. 5. As a result, Eau Première is a classic and will undoubtedly earn Chanel bucketloads more money than the reformulated L'Interdit ever earned for Givenchy.
In 2007, fifty years after L'Interdit was first released and the year of Hubert de Givenchy's 80th birthday, Givenchy began releasing reissues of ten of its fragrances, including L'Interdit, in their original formulas. The series is called Les Mythiques. I'm very happy to report that the Les Mythiques version of L'Interdit (shown above left) isn't exactly like the vintage version (additions include pink pepper), but it's a darned nice copy. The Les Mythiques L'Interdit's initial aldehydes are more rounded and golden than the vintage's Tokay-like opening, but otherwise they share the same ingénue grace.
Would you like Les Mythiques version of L'Interdit? If you are intrigued by No. 5 but find it a little cold, L'Interdit's amber and fruit might be appealing to you. If you like Chanel Bois des Iles' creamy drydown, I think you might like L'Interdit, too. If, on the other hand, you never quite saw eye-to-eye with the classic Chanels and scents like Balenciaga Le Dix, Hermès Calèche, and Guerlain Liu smell old fashioned and too perfumey for you, you might want to give L'Interdit a pass.
As for me, if I didn't have my eye on a bottle of Guerlain Vega, another warm aldehydic floral better suited to me, I'd have a bottle of Givenchy L'Interdit on order right now.
The reformulated (2002) Givenchy L'Interdit is still available online and at perfume stores, but Givenchy's website no longer lists it. The Les Mythiques L'Interdit is only available as a 100-ml bottle of Eau de Toilette. It retails for $85 but can be found at internet discount retailers for less.
Note: image at top right is via Images de Parfums.