Houbigant Fougere Royale ~ fragrance review

Houbigant Fougere Royale

Whenever I hear or read the word “fougère” I don’t think of ferns, I think of Houbigant Fougère Royale (1882) — which shows how perfume obsessed I am. Years ago, I got my hands on several old bottles of Fougère Royale (1950s version) and enjoyed every drop of that crisp, sprightly fragrance; I’ve never found a replacement for it, so I was thrilled when I heard Houbigant was reissuing Fougère Royale this year.

Fougère Royale was the first fougère perfume, and was composed using natural bergamot, lavender, clary sage, geranium, heliotrope, rose, orchid, carnation, oakmoss, musk, vanilla, and synthetic coumarin (synthesized in the laboratory from salicylic acid). Fougère Royale’s use of a synthetic note gave it the distinction of being the first “modern” fragrance. Fougère Royale translated the “idea” of ferns into scent; it did not try to duplicate an existing smell — it created a new smell. Fougère Royale’s creator, perfumer Paul Parquet, said: If God gave ferns a scent, they would smell like Fougère Royale.1

Before I go further, let me state the obvious: there’s no one alive today who smelled original, 1882 Fougère Royale. In the 128 years since its debut, its discontinuation, its reissue, its second discontinuation (I won’t get into the troubled history of the Houbigant fragrance house), and the brand-new version issued this year, Fougère Royale has gone through, and this is an understatement, many reformulations.

The Fougère Royale I loved smelled of summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), and let me quote myself: Fougère Royale smelled “dry and bracing, with a wonderful harmony created by the lavender, heliotrope, oakmoss and vanilla.” What I liked about my “old” 1950s Fougère Royale was its spirited mood…its chutzpah — even after all those decades in the bottle.

According to the Houbigant PR materials, “new” 2010 Fougère Royale has been “reworked,” “revived” and “modernized” into a “contemporary style” “reformulation” by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux (working alongside creative director Roja Dove, who’s listed in Houbigant press releases as “the world’s sole ‘Professeur de Parfums’”).

New Fougère Royale claims fragrance notes of bergamot, Mediterranean herbs, lavender, chamomile, Rondeletia leucocephylla, geranium, Rose de Mai, carnation, cinnamon, amber, oakmoss, patchouli, tonka bean and clary sage; it goes on strong with herbal-scented bergamot (sage and lavender leaf are most noticeable) that reminds me of Guerlain Jicky. Carnation and cinnamon make a quick appearance in mid-development and are smooth, “background” aromas. Fougère Royale’s base notes of creamy amber, vanillic tonka bean, sheer patchouli and “silken” moss are well blended and present a “united front” — the individual notes don’t stand out boldly.

I would describe new Fougère Royale as a streamlined aromatic fougère. The spirit of my 1950s Fougère Royale is certainly present, but its lighter, fresher character is submerged under new Fougère Royale’s weightier, more opaque and creamy notes.

New Fougère Royale almost strays into my fougère "no-fly zone" – the land of old-style shave soap and aftershave lotion scents, but overall I find it a respectable, good-smelling fragrance made with high-quality ingredients; and all that talk of modernization, reworking, and contemporary styling didn’t produce a copy of or an interesting reincarnation of the Fougère Royale I knew. Who knows how 2010 Fougère Royale compares to 1882 Fougère Royale….

Fougère fragrances have crowded the men’s fragrance counters for over 100 years, so the arrival of “new” Fougère Royale doesn’t pack a punch or fill a need; the granddaddy of fougère fragrances has been duplicated so often and so well that this new, expensive version seems unnecessary, and a bit opportunistic. Nostalgic Perfume Lovers: sniff before you buy.

Houbigant Fougère Royale is available in 100 ml Eau de Parfum for $170; there is also a limited edition “pur parfum” version (housed in a lacquered wooden presentation box), 100 ml for $600.

Note: top fern image (cropped) via Wikimedia Commons.

1. Perfume Legends by Michael Edwards, HM Éditions, 1996; p. 12.

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  1. Persolaise says:

    Wow, it looks like we’re basically in agreement. The quality of the materials is what impressed me too. I will be very interested to see how successful this turns out to be, in terms of sales.

    • Kevin says:

      Persolaise: so far, not much publicity…and here it is the holidays

  2. Jaimie D says:

    Didn’t Luca Turin say in The Science of Scent that he got to smell a very exclusive version of the original at the Osmotheque perfume museum (www.osmotheque.fr) at Versailles? Maybe my memory is bad and it was a later version, but I thought he revered this particular scent as much as you seem to, and found it quite amazing to smell. I can’t even imagine the treasures in the Osmotheque. My mind can’t ecompass it!

    • Kevin says:

      Jaimie D: can’t remember and I did read that book…but anyway, I’m the sort who wonders about such recreations: did Houbigant supply the complete, original “recipe?”…or was it reconstructed by “machine/technological” means…I’d only trust I smelled original Fougere Royale if I could go back in time…! HA!

    • Persolaise says:

      Jaimie D, you’re absolutely right. In The Science Of Scent, he describes smelling the perfume at the Osmotheque:

      “Fougere Royale starts … with a muted pianissimo of strings, giving an impression of tremendous ease and quiet power. … This is the reference smell of scrubbed bathrooms, suggestive of black and white tiles, clean, slightly damp towels, a freshly shaven daddy. But wait! There’s a funny thing in there. … It’s a touch of natural civet … Suddenly I understand: we’re in a bathroom! The idea here is s**t, and what’s more, someone else’s s**t, that faint shock of slighly repellent intimacy you get when you go to the loo at someone’s dinner party and smell the air.”

      Kevin, I don’t know what you think, but to me, the civet/animalic aspect is entirely non-existent in the new version.

      • Kevin says:

        Persolaise: same here…no civet

  3. sarahbeth says:

    Coincidentally I just received a Neiman Marcus catalogue today which had an insert of this. It is definitely lively and very classy, but $170 is a bit on the steep side!

    • Kevin says:

      SarahBeth: the pricing does seem “off” when I smelled the fragrance.

    • I also received that same catalogue today as well. Smelled “ok” on the strip. Would def have to try on skin. Thanks for the review Kev.

      • Kevin says:

        C: I’m gonna faint … did you write “would def have to try on skin”? What’s the world coming to if YOU don’t buy before sniffing? HA!

  4. Tama says:

    These perfume categories still confuse me. I wouldn’t be able to tell a fougere from a chypre if you paid me, mostly because I have no reference to how those things are supposed to smell, and there are so many oodles of variations.

    This sounds pretty nice, though. I don’t think I have known anyone who wore the older version so I would have no comparison.

    Sigh. I seem to be getting to a point where 100 mls isn’t expensive until it hits the $250 mark….

    • Kevin says:

      Tama: well smell this, YSL Rive Gauche pour Homme and I think you’ll recognize the fougere aspect…and maybe English Fern by Penhaligons. So many of this type on the market… And money aside…I don’t want 100 ml of anything!

  5. Donald says:

    I haven’t smelled it yet, but $170 for 100ml is a reasonable price if it’s a good fragrance. The quality of the ingredients sounds high.

    50ml bottles of Serge Lutens retail for $120 or $140. It’s cheaper than that, and cheaper than many other niche lines, per ml.

    My bottle should arrive in a couple of days, so I’ll be able judge it soon enough.

    • Kevin says:

      D: no, it’s not outrageously priced in 100 ml. if you love it…but I always resent that size as my only option.

      • Donald says:

        Oh, I’ll agree there. I rarely choose a large bottle of anything when there are smaller options.

        15ml and 30ml bottles should be available for every fragrance in my opinion.

  6. annemarie says:

    Thanks fore the review Kevin. I seem to be in a romantic phase, and Houbigant and its fragrances sound deeply romantic and elegant to me, probably because so much has been lost. (Loss being an element of romance, no?) The Perfumed Court has a decent selection of Houbigant offerings, including vintage Fougere Royale EDC. Not cheap tho’.

    • Kevin says:

      AnneM: I’m a much HARDER person re: perfumes than I used to be…all that romantic advertising stuff no longer moves me unless something smells DIVINE and original…plus, Houbigant, the “house’ reconstruction, is far removed from, let’s say, THE Houbigant perfumery that Marie Antoinette and Napoleon knew. HA!

  7. Stephen says:

    Excuse me if I write out of turn, here, but does anyone else find ‘Professeur de Parfums’ a little pompous?

    • OperaFan says:

      That title was bestowed by Guerlain when Mr. Dove worked for the company. I do think to call him the “world’s sole PdP” is a bit over the top.

    • Kevin says:

      Stephen: yes…and the ONLY one in the WORLD to boot!

  8. Jillie says:

    So interesting to see Houbigant bring back some of their discontinued fragrances. I wonder what the chance would be of them offering us Essence Rare again? I loved this and could never understand why it disappeared; it was so classy, and the nearest equivalent nowadays might be Annick Goutal’s L’Heure Exquise. Maybe it’s best just to smell it in my memory though, as restrictions would probably mean they couldn’t use the same ingredients, and costs might prove prohibitive, resulting in a pale copy of the original. Ah well ……

    • annemarie says:

      Yes, when Givenchy re-introduced L’Interdit in 2002 (I think) loyal fans were heartbroken. Smelled by itself, I thought the new was okay, but I’m not one of those people who grew up loving the old.

    • Kevin says:

      Jillie: I’m sure Houbigant will see how the newly reissued scents fare before moving on…or back to the archives.

    • DoryCubana says:

      and Parfum Ideal? Luca raved about it…

  9. ceelouise says:

    I haven’t tried this, but I don’t think it’s likely to be worth the price.

  10. Nice review. It seems at least worth at try, but the price seems a little steep.

    • Kevin says:

      ceelouise/healthyfragrance: the price is steep for what the fragrance is..but the 100 ml. looks like a bargain up against that 600 dollar boxed bottle, doesn’t it?

  11. DoryCubana says:

    yes, but it seems all niche companies interpret the phrase “sky is the limit” quite literary, shooting prices right under the clouds.

  12. mikitina says:

    I also tried the original made at the Osmoteque, although this is only an interpretation because many of the specialities are lost, and the quality of ingredients is not great at the osmoteque. I find the new one to respect the original, and you can feel that they used the best ingredients. Personally I bought a bottle and I am using it everyday now. Price; this product is well worth it.

  13. HDS1963 says:

    There is a general amount of griping about the fact that this isn’t the original Fougère Royale. Well, duh! of course it isn’t!

    What it is however is a very well blended, expensive smelling and utterly charming fragrance. It wears light but with an elegant aura and is perfect for the gentleman about town. Enough to make a presence but not enough to over-power.

    I have been drawn to this fragrance time and again when in Liberty in London and have consistently impressed by it’s elegance.

    It is no surprise therefore that I have finally bought a bottle – although admittedly not at the £100 plus price point.

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